What are we to make of Latrell Sprewell, a fine player who has spent most of a basketball lifetime playing for lousy teams? Is he a loser? He is, after all, the hothead who tried to choke his coach when he was the best player on the pitiful Golden State Warriors six years ago. And he's the head case who last year, when he was probably the second best player on the lousy New York Knicks, showed up at training camp with a broken hand he hadn't bothered to mention to the team.
But he's also a winner, the kind of intense, energetic, unselfish and emotional player who, if he has some talent, which Sprewell does in spades, is often seen leading a team of lesser lights into the playoffs. Though Sprewell did that his first three years in Madison Square Garden, there was little danger of it happening again.
He'll be 33 years old when the season starts and he's headed downhill, thanks in no small part to the fact that he's been playing out of position at small forward in New York, subjecting his body to five years' worth of big-guy pounding that no 195-pound shooting guard should have to withstand. His numbers have dropped off the last two years, but on the other hand, when he missed the first eight games of this past season, the Knicks went 1-7. When he came back, they basically played .500 ball the rest of the way. He's still got some gas in the tank.
The Knicks have been trying to unload him for two years and they finally succeeded Wednesday, sending him to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a four-team deal that brings Philadelphia power forward Keith Van Horn to New York. Van Horn puts up about the same number of points a night as Sprewell and grabs an extra couple of rebounds, but that's all he does. He's not the defender or the passer that Sprewell is, and he's soft. With the game on the line, Van Horn's not a guy you want to count on. Both in New Jersey and Philadelphia, he's made a disturbing habit of disappearing in the playoffs.
Even considering that Van Horn is five years younger, the fact that the Knicks have coveted him while doing everything they could to get rid of Sprewell tells you everything you need to know about the Knicks.
The trade includes two other big names: Glenn Robinson, who is more or less the same player as Van Horn but with a better ("The Big Dog") nickname, goes from Atlanta to Philadelphia, and Terrell Brandon goes from Minnesota to Atlanta, where he will continue to be unlikely to ever play again. He's a valuable property because his $11 million contract will come off the books in February, giving whoever owns him some room under the salary cap to make trades or sign free agents. Center Marc Jackson goes from Minnesota to Philadelphia in the deal, also for salary cap reasons.
Sigh. I spend a lot of time arguing against a salary cap in baseball on the grounds of fairness and letting the free market rule, but really the worst thing about a salary cap in any sport is that it's so damn boring to think about and leads to so much tedious maneuvering. I'm trying to picture that kid in Atlanta reading the paper: "Hey, Ma, the Hawks just got Terrell Brandon! His knee's too messed up to ever play again, but in seven months his salary comes off the books. Oh boy, I can't wait!"
Sprewell won't have to be the horse in Minnesota. The Timberwolves have Kevin Garnett, a superstar entering the last year of his contract. In fact, acquiring Sprewell is surely a way for T-Wolves management to show Garnett that the team is serious about improving after having been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round for seven straight years, and he really ought to think about sticking around.
That's a good plan as long as Garnett doesn't notice that the team has also signed overrated center Michael Olowokandi.
Minnesota's also picked up Sam Cassell, and with that group, plus Wally Szczerbiak, if they keep him, and Troy Hudson, the Timberwolves haven't quite cracked the West's big four, but they've inched a little closer. And considering that this year an out-of-shape Shaquille O'Neal and injuries to Chris Webber and Dirk Nowitzki paved the way for the unexceptional San Antonio Spurs to win the title, it doesn't hurt to inch a little closer.
The Timberwolves are an intriguing team having an intriguing offseason, not least because they've gotten Sprewell. He'll likely always be remembered for throttling P.J. Carlesimo, but the final images of Sprewell's career might be a little happier: Cornrows flying, helping Garnett lead Minnesota into the promised land of ... the second round.
Beats losing in New York.
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The life of a Sox fan [PERMALINK]
How much does it suck to be fan of the Boston Red Sox? I don't know the answer to that question, but I can guess. Red Sox fans look at the Yankees the way Boris and Natasha look at moose and squirrel.
A great illustration of that dynamic is Wednesday's entry in Ed Kubosiak's excellent Bosox blog Out of Left Field, in which he fairly crows about the Sox outmaneuvering the Bronx Bombers for the services of Scott Sauerbeck.
Boston got Sauerbeck, an ordinary lefty reliever who's been pitching well this month, from Pittsburgh for Brandon Lyon, a righty reliever who would have to go some to be ordinary. A pair of minor leaguers also changed uniforms. A small potatoes deal.
But here's the thing: The Yankees wanted Sauerbeck.
"It's always good news when the Yankees are crying after the Sox make a deal," Kubosiak writes, noting that New York had to settle for getting 46-year-old Jesse Orosco from the Padres. "Orosco has a 1-1 record and a fat 7.56 ERA this season, and was option No. 3 for the Yankees, so you know Steinbrenner is fuming that the Red Sox, for once, outmaneuvered the Yanks."
Crowing about outmaneuvering the Yankees for Scott Sauerbeck. That's what it's like to be a Red Sox fan.
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