THE NBA / MARK HEISLER : Novelty Has Worn Off in Minnesota


In the Twin Cities, where losing and threats about leaving have finally exhausted the townspeople’s vast store of good will, the records keep falling:

Nov. 9--The Lakers, once a big draw in their ancestral home, are greeted by 15,892, the Timberwolves’ smallest home crowd after four years of playing to 97% of capacity. The Lakers win by 23.

Nov. 11--Another record low, 15,109, sees the Chicago Bulls cruise, 112-100.

Nov. 12--Another record low, 13,278, sees the Boston Celtics roll, 114-101.

Nov. 25--Another record low, 13,190, sees the Philadelphia 76ers win by a tidy 38.

And here’s a date to note in your calendar:

Dec. 26--Clippers at Timberwolves, the Monday night after Christmas, with the Vikings playing the San Francisco 49ers across town and the football game on home TV. Anyone who isn’t being paid to be at the Target center, or isn’t in on a complimentary ticket, is a fan, indeed.


All but lost because of the Clippers’ futility, the Timberwolves started 2-13. Even more impressive, they did it with real players: Christian Laettner, No. 3 pick in the ’92 draft; Isaiah Rider, No. 5 in ‘93; Donyell Marshall, No. 4 in ’94.

Of course, with better luck and a move up of one place each spring, they would have had Alonzo Mourning, Jamal Mashburn and Grant Hill. Instead, it’s the pouty, the sulky and the rookie.

Taking them in order:

Laettner--To give this sourpuss his due, he cares about winning, tries hard, dives on the floor and tries to exhibit leadership, although in his inimitable style.

Take, for instance, his exhortation on the dwindling fan base:

“I’m not a fink like the other people in town who have given up on us. People who have given up on us already, we don’t want you on the bandwagon when we’re winning.”

Laettner’s numbers--15 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists--represent lows in his three-year career but mostly because he can’t stay out of foul trouble. This is partly because of his many snarls and grimaces at referees in his first two seasons. Laettner tries to suck it up these days, but referees, like elephants, never forget.

Rider--He’s got the whole package, upside down.

Talented but raw, he has never had much coaching and doesn’t look eager for any. He’s often late, always undisciplined and seems more interested in his slam dunk title (c’mon, they were in Minneapolis, who else was going to win?) and commercials.


Marshall--He just got here, is having trouble guarding small forwards and pressing on offense but looks promising. Has shown no head case tendencies, but maybe the other guys can show him how.

Then there’s management.

General Manager Jack McCloskey, who once built the Detroit Pistons into back-to-back champions, traded Felton Spencer for Mike Brown (?), Luc Longley for Stacey King (??) and a No. 1 pick for Sean Rooks (???).

There is little in this league more valuable than a Minnesota No. 1. If the Timberwolves choose among the top six this season and next, a decent bet, the Dallas Mavericks will get their ’98 pick, wherever it is, a nice haul for Rooks, a second-round draft choice.

At least, the Timberwolves didn’t abandon the Twin Cities, without giving the Twin Cities a chance to abandon them first. At this pace, they can embark for New Orleans by Feb. 1 and the townspeople will throw them a parade.


In a league run by the young and headstrong, with no great teams and most huddled around the .500 mark--at weekend’s start only three were on a 55-victory pace--entertainment is at a premium, so without further ado . . .

Here’s Charlie!


It’s getting tricky welcoming back Charles Barkley of the Phoenix Suns from his many injuries.


Before the season, Barkley said his goal was to play 82 games.

Then he said he might have to sit out the opener because of an abdominal pull.

Then he said he would have played except for the ointment he rubbed into his eyes at an Eric Clapton concert--is that what the young people do at those things these days?.

Then he went on the injured list because of the abdominal pull.

Then he played one game and went to the sideline again, prompting the Suns to predict he would return in a week.

Then he flew to Milwaukee on his own the next day and played.

Then he said he’d sit out games on consecutive nights.

Then he played the next night in Chicago.

In other words, it’s business as usual, with everything that comes out of his mouth inoperative five seconds later.

“My body is deteriorating,” said Barkley, holding court in Chicago last week. “There’s no medical term for what I’ve got. I’ve been playing basketball for 10 years and when you play like a kamikaze pilot, it’s gonna hurt.

“All those times when I was dunking the ball, I should have been laying the ball in, never saying I was tired even when I was playing 45, 46 minutes every night for those bad teams in Philly. That stuff comes back to haunt you.

“I’m going to start laying that stuff in. I’ll be happy with my 35 minutes a game. And when the ball is on the floor, let the other team dive for it.”


Said Danny Manning from the other side of the room, “So what’s new about that?”

For the record, Barkley never averaged 45 minutes in Philadelphia, or 40, but the way things are going, the last guy I’m going to complain about is Charlie. Welcome back, for however long.


“The Chris Webber I know is a gentleman who will do anything he is asked to help a team win,” Michigan Coach Steve Fisher said. “The Chris Webber I know is a sensitive, respectful young man.”

Yeah? Whatever happened to that guy?

Did aliens take his brain and put in Derrick Coleman’s?

Having already embarrassed himself sufficiently, Webber prattled on last week.

He noted he was “no Jesus,” unnecessarily since his new team, the Washington Bullets, was then 0-4 with him.

He accused the Pistons, whom he had hoped to join, of lying when they claimed they couldn’t make a deal for him.

He lectured Washington fans on behavior after they booed the Bullets in a loss to the Lakers, and on loyalty after expatriate New Yorkers filled the arena and cheered a Knick victory.

“I would have definitely loved to play in Detroit,” said Webber, who couldn’t stand Golden State Coach Don Nelson. “They could have easily had me for what they did for Oliver Miller. Then they wanted to come to me but it was too late. So I have no intentions or desire to play in Detroit.


“They lied to the fans because they didn’t want their fans to be mad but believe me, they could have had me.”

On the Washington fans:

“How you gonna be a fan and do that (boo)? Don’t even come to the game, don’t support us. I’ve never been to an arena where the crowd cheers for the other players.”

The fans never did that in the Bay Area. Bet Nelson is looking better all the time, huh, Chris?


The gloom still tiptoes in on little cat’s feet in the Bay Area, where the Warriors went 2-5 without Webber. Said Indiana’s Dale Davis after a 123-96 Thanksgiving rout of Golden State, “(Losing Webber) definitely gives their team a different look. Webber is Webber. He plays big and he blocks shots and that’s taking a lot out of the middle when you take him out of there.” . . . Tim Hardaway’s hot-shooting start hid the fact that he can’t explode to the basket on his surgically repaired knee. Said Nelson, “He doesn’t have the same one-on-one capabilities that he had two years ago and that probably won’t come until next year, so we’re trying to get him involved in more screen-and-rolls and that sort of thing. We used to just clear a side like I do for Spree (Latrell Sprewell).” . . . Tom Gugliotta’s Warrior averages: 10 points, nine rebounds, shooting 38%.

The Knicks activated Doc Rivers, 34 and coming off major knee surgery, probably to showcase him. “If I play 48 minutes, I’m getting traded,” he said. . . . Charles Smith is finally winning Knick fans over after getting all those layups blocked in Game 5 of the 1993 Eastern championship series with the Bulls and struggling last season with a bad knee. “(It was) the toughest time I’ve ever experienced in basketball,” Smith said. “And L.A. was pretty bad. Arsenio (Hall) was on us every night because we were losing. But New York, I learned, could be a tough place to play.” . . . Pat Riley went off on the sideline when cold-shooting John Starks missed three wild three-pointers against the Bullets but pulled the drawbridge up when the press asked about it. “We have to stop passing judgment on every single thing that every player does on the court,” Riley said. “We’re getting too judgmental.”

Sam Bowie on former teammate Coleman: “Derrick has never been one to worry about somebody else’s performance. All he does is bring what he has and the other guys have to do what they have to do. What you get from Derrick Coleman is 20 and 10. But leadership doesn’t come with it. When I was here, everybody talked about how he didn’t practice and I’m sure that’s still happening now. I’m his biggest fan as a player because I saw him go to war in the (1992) playoffs against Cleveland. But people are what they are, and that’s why I don’t think he can be a leader.”


Unidentified general manager to the Boston Globe after Chicago General Manager Jerry Krause had let six CBA teams play at the Bulls’ practice facility: “How come? He’s already got one CBA team.” . . . Intimates of Bull-White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf say the fix is in for Michael Jordan to join the White Sox in September if he does anything at all at triple-A Nashville next summer. Despite the widespread acclaim Jordan reaped in a country mad for anyone who looks as if he actually enjoys playing baseball, Jordan slumped into the .250s in the Arizona instructional league, so he isn’t a lock.

The Nets have applied for a name change. The possibilities are endless, if not flattering, but one actually under consideration is Swamp Dragons. . . . Net General Manager Willis Reed, taking heat for passing up Wesley Person, now of the Suns, to draft nowhere-man Yinka Dare, needs a replacement for injured Kevin Edwards and is interested in Anthony Peeler of the Lakers.