NBA: Wolves’ three graybeards come together

By Marcus R. Fuller St. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- As much as Kevin Garnett built his future Hall of Fame career on great seasons with the Timberwolves, he never pictured himself coming back. "Absolutely not," he said. "Minnesota was the l...

By Marcus R. Fuller

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- As much as Kevin Garnett built his future Hall of Fame career on great seasons with the Timberwolves, he never pictured himself coming back.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “Minnesota was the last place I thought I would end up.”

The same could be said for Tayshaun Prince and Andre Miller.


Both could have signed with NBA title contenders or at least teams looking to make deep playoff runs - not an inexperienced team trying to get to the postseason for the first time since 2004.

But they decided to join Garnett to create a veteran threesome that is committed to spending part of their twilight years mentoring a young and talented Timberwolves team.

School will be in session for several Minnesota players trying to learn from Garnett, Prince and Miller as the 2015-16 season begins with training camp this week.

“Lot of younger guys coming into the NBA, they have to learn on the go,” Miller, a 16-year point guard, said. “When you have a guy like Kevin Garnett who can rub off on the bigger guys, Tayshaun that can rub off on the wings, and you got Kevin (Martin) who can rub off on the (guards) and me rubbing off on point guards, it’s a good balance and good mix of championship guys and guys with good character. It’s definitely good for the young guys.”

Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders was the mastermind behind uniting the three veterans to take the pressure off players like last season’s rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins and rookies Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones.

Saunders is taking a leave of absence to battle Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but interim coach and former assistant Sam Mitchell understands what he wants from Garnett, Prince and Miller in the beginning.

Will they start? Will they play in crunch time? When will it be time to accept lesser roles?

Mitchell isn’t concerning himself yet with how many minutes the veterans will play.


“They’re going to be most valuable for us in the locker room and on the practice court every day, showing those guys how to do things,” Mitchell said.

Garnett, who said he plans to seek ownership of the Wolves, might be Towns’ boss one day. But they’re just starting to get to know one another as teammates.

Garnett described the Wolves’ No. 1 pick as “very” talkative, confident and skilled.

“We had pickup (games),” Garnett said. “Haven’t seen much of him other than what I seen in the (NCAA) tournament. But I look forward to working with him, just like the other young guys here. I’m open for anything these young guys need, try to help them the best way I can.”

Towns said the biggest question he had for Garnett was, “How do I become a championship player?”

“What’s the work each of us have to do to be a championship team?” Towns said. “Those little things can make the biggest difference in us being done early in the season or being in the playoffs and possibly winning a championship.”

Prince brings championship experience to the team as well, having won a title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. The 13-year year forward said he looks forward to sharing the knowledge he picked from Chauncey Billups, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton and other teammates.

“He knows what it takes to win,” Wiggins said of Prince. “He’s been around the league a long time. He’s one of those guys who can make the whole team a lot better.”


When Saunders coached the Pistons, he would allow his captains to control the locker room. Prince sees that happening immediately at Minnesota, especially with Garnett being quick to speak his mind “when he sees things that are out of line and out of character.”

“But it doesn’t hurt to have two or three guys to relay that message and get different perspectives from different people,” Prince said.

“When you have a young group of guys like this group, the most important thing when we start training camp is building chemistry with these guys, building camaraderie. When you’re getting ready for practice and getting ready for games, it’s important to let these guys know how to get prepared. There’s so many things going on now compared to when I (first) was in the league. It’s more important now than ever to be able to have guys remain focused at what the task is at hand.”

Even an older newcomer like 27-year-old Serbian rookie Nemanja Bjelica still can’t believe he’ll be playing with Garnett. Jones is in awe of the way Miller has had a lengthy NBA career despite a lack of great athleticism and quickness.

Miller and Garnett are both 39. Prince is 35, but he says he’s got more mileage because of several deep playoff runs.

The old guys still might have something left in the tank, though.

Miller joked that he, Prince and Garnett could beat Jones, Wiggins and Towns in a 3-on-3 game right now.

“The vets will win,” he said. “We’re tougher. We’re older and meaner.”


As much as the Wolves will benefit from the veteran leadership, Mitchell knows the young players can only get better from taking what they’ve learned and using it to take the reigns.

“There are going to be some nights where people think I should put the veteran guys in at the end of the game,” Mitchell said. “And I may do that, depending on how the young guys are playing. But at some point they got to learn how to play in those situations.

“Kevin is not going to be here three years from now. Andre is not going to be here three years from now. Tayshaun is not going to be here three years from now. So I got to make sure I do right by the organization first, and doing right by them is making sure these young guys get a chance to learn how to play in certain situations. It’s tough as a coach because you want to have a chance to win. Obviously, veteran guys give you a little better chance to win. … But do you want to win a couple games now or do you want to have a chance later on to compete for playoff spots and ultimately a championship?”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with the Forum News Service

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