We continue to explore a series of ‘what-ifs’ in Timberwolves history with the draft night trade of Ray Allen back in 1996.
One of the most intriguing ‘what-ifs’ in Timberwolves history took place during the 1996 NBA Draft, also known as one of the best drafts in league history: Allen Iverson was the first-overall pick, Kobe Bryant was the 13th pick and Steve Nash was the 15th.
The Wolves took University of Connecticut shooting guard Ray Allen with the fifth-overall pick. They later ended up trading him to the Milwaukee Bucks for point guard Stephon Marbury, who was drafted the pick the before Allen was selected by Minnesota.
Both had successful rookie seasons, and it did not look like a bad move at first. With Marbury’s help, the Wolves made it to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. They also finished with a franchise-best 40-42 record after going just 26-56 the year before.
In terms of individual per-game averages, Marbury tallied15.8 points and 7.8 assists per game in 67 games while Allen averaged 13.4 points per game while playing in all 82 games.
The Timberwolves went 45-37 the very next season and nearly beat the Seattle SuperSonics in the first round, but things went downhill afterwards.
During a strike-shortened season, Marbury forced his way out of Minnesota. Despite his friendship with Kevin Garnett, he was jealous of being the second option behind him while also being paid less in salary.
Marbury and shooting guard Chris Carr were traded to the New Jersey Nets for point guard Terrell Brandon and a first-round pick, which ended up being Wally Szczerbiak. Marbury reportedly wanted the same six-year, $126 million contract that Garnett had received and told Vice President of Basketball Operations Kevin McHale that he had no interest in staying with the Wolves without that same deal.
Allen is one of the best shooters of all-time and will be in the Hall of Fame soon. Marbury was a good player, to be sure, but nowhere near Allen’s level. Marbury’s attitude was also an issue at times.
Marbury spent two-and-a-half seasons with the Nets. He performed well, averaging 23 points and 8.1 assists per game and was named to his first All-Star Game. The Nets, however, went only 70-125 (.359) during his time there.
He was later traded to the Phoenix Suns for point guard Jason Kidd. The Nets instantly improved with Kidd, making it to the NBA Finals two years in a row. The Suns, on the other hand, did not improve with Marbury in Kidd’s place. Once again, he played well, but his team did not.
Marbury averaged 21.3 points and 8.1 assists per game and made it to an All-Star Game in Phoenix, but the Suns made it to the playoffs just once in his two-plus seasons in the desrt, losing in the first round. In Kidd’s four-plus seasons with the Suns, they made it to the playoffs each season.
Marbury later spent four-and-a-half seasons with the New York Knicks before spending part of the 2008-2009 season with the Boston Celtics. He was offered a one-year contract for the veteran’s minimum after the season, but he declined. His career in the NBA ended and he played in the Chinese Basketball Association before announcing his retirement last month.
Though McHale certainly had his faults, you cannot blame the Marbury-Minnesota divorce entirely on him. Had Marbury been willing to stay, he and Garnett would have continued to be a very good 1-2 punch. Yes, McHale deserves blame, but not as much as Marbury. It was Marbury that forced his way out and could not handle being a sidekick. Nobody — including McHale — saw that coming.
The Wolves were knocked out of the first round of the playoffs an NBA record seven consecutive years before losing in the Western Conference Finals in 2004. Since then, the Timberwolves have missed the playoffs in the each of the past 13 seasons.
A team with Garnett, Allen and mostly average players would have certainly been better than just Garnett and other average players. Tom Gugliotta was offered a six-year, $86 million deal by the Wolves after the 1997-1998 season, but decided to sign with the Suns for less money. Given that Allen was not known for having an ego (Garnett and his 2008 Boston Celtics teammates would now disagree a little, of course), Gugliotta likely could have stayed put. Smith also then would not have signed with the Wolves, which means the fiasco would have never happened.
It would have been very difficult to keep him, Garnett and Allen all together for years to come, especially given that Gugliotta is older (28 during his final season with the Wolves) than both, but again a team with both Garnett and Allen would have been very good regardless. They may have even won a championship or two. Garnett also then may never have been traded and may have spent his entire career with the Wolves.
Some wonder what if Marbury did not force his way out of town. Bigger question should be, what if Allen was never traded for him in the first place?
In 13 seasons, Marbury averaged 19.3 points and 7.6 assists per game in 846 career games with five teams and was a two-time All-Star. Allen, on the other hand, played for 18 seasons, averaging 18.9 points per game and shot 40 percent from three-point range. He is the all-time leader in NBA history with 2,973 three-pointers made. Additionally, he appeared in 1300 regular season games with four teams, making it to 10 All-Star games and won two championships.
Marbury appeared in the playoffs five times, but made it out of the first round just once — in his final NBA season, as a backup with the Celtics. He also later regretted forcing his way out of Minnesota, even calling former Wolves coach Flip Saunders while still in New Jersey to admit his mistake.
There are many reasons why keeping Allen would have been a beneficial move for the Wolves. Of all the moves they should or should not have made, this should be number one on the list.
Even if the Wolves had not won a championship with Garnett and Allen, they may have at least made it to the NBA Finals and have been a very good duo. Garnett is also one of the best passing big men in NBA history and would not have had a problem finding Allen while being double-teamed. It happened in Boston, but it would have happened a lot more in Minnesota.
It’s hard to not think about what may have happened…