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More than trade bait 01.30.09 at 6:21 pm ET
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An NBA title with the Boston Celtics has made it easy to forget about Kevin Garnett’s days with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He is no longer the player who couldn’t win it all. Rather he is the champion who proved anything is possible.

Yet the former Celtics who were involved in the blockbuster deal are still known as ‘the guys traded for Garnett.’ It has been two seasons, though, since the move and now they are ready to make a name for themselves in Minnesota.

‘€œWe’re thankful for what [the Celtics] gave us but now we’ve got to set our own trends, set our own careers,’€ Ryan Gomes said in a telephone interview. ‘€œWe’re not with the Celtics anymore. We know who they have and what they’ve accomplished, but now we’ve got to try to set other goals for ourself.’€

Gomes, Al Jefferson, and Sebastian Telfair are the only remaining players on the Timberwolves from the 2007 trade. (Gerald Green and Theo Ratliff have signed with other teams.) Last season they finished 22-60, their worst record since the pre-Garnett era. In attempt to establish a new identity, the Timberwolves made off-season moves to acquire a highly-touted rookie and veteran shooter. Nonetheless they got off to an eight-game losing streak.

‘€œWhat people should understand is that we had high expectations coming into this season, with the trade of Mike Miller and getting Kevin Love and Brian Cardinal and Rodney Carney,’€ explained Gomes. ‘€œWe had high expectations and it didn’t work out for the first 35 games.’€

The Timberwolves were 4-15 when head coach Randy Wittman was replaced by former VP of Basketball Operations Kevin McHale. Ironically it was a Celtic great who got the Timberwolves playing their own style of basketball. They headed into the new year hot off a five-game winning streak.

‘€œIn the beginning we did go through a rough time,’€ Gomes said. ‘€œOur schedule in the month of December was real tough and we were trying to find ourselves. But now we’ve found ourselves and I think that’s why we’re playing well. Everyone’s understanding their roles and fulfilling them, and I’d say that’s the most important thing. Whenever you have success that means everyone’s doing their part.’€

Gomes points to a demoralizing loss as the source of their improved play. In December the Timberwolves (then 6-24) blew a 29-point lead in the third quarter to the Dallas Mavericks. In spite of losing, the Timberwolves gained confidence and momentum.

‘€œWe ended up losing that game and that was what turned it around,’€ said Gomes. ‘€œWe had seen what we could become and where we were at, and then they took it away from us. They kept fighting and kept pushing through it and believing they could win, and I think that’s what we took out of it. We had a tough stretch where we lost 13 games in a row early in the season and that game showed that we can bounce back and we can make something of the season. There’s a lot more games to be played, and once that came in January we got off on the right foot and we’ve been rolling ever since.’€

The Timberwolves are 9-3 since January 1, including upsets over the New Orleans Hornets and Phoenix Suns. They will look to continue their streak when they face the Celtics on Sunday in Boston. Their former teammates have taken notice.

‘€œFirst of all, Big Al’s playing like an All-Star,’€ said Kendrick Perkins. ‘€œSecond of all, Randy Foye has stepped his game up. Rodney Carney, the rookie (Kevin) Love, Sebastian (Telfair), they’re all playing well. Since coach Kevin McHale got the job, they’ve been playing well. They’re playing good defense and I’ve been watching them lately on TV, so they’ve been playing really well.’€

With just under 40 games left on their regular season schedule, the Timberwolves are nine games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference. A postseason berth is a longshot, but Gomes doesn’t mind waiting. Even if their time doesn’t come this season he is confident it’s only a matter of time before the Timberwolves establish themselves as a playoff contender.

‘€œI think the Timberwolves are a team on the rise and this year is not over,’€ Gomes said. ‘€œWe’ve got a lot of games to play and if we play the way we’ve played this month for the rest of the season, who knows where we’ll be. Hopefully we can maybe sneak in the playoffs and if not we could be right there. Next year should be our breakout year to take what we did this year and carry it over next year from the beginning and have a successful season. So the Timberwolves should be a team that teams should be worried about in the West and in the East because of the way we’ve been playing lately.’€

Read More: Al Jefferson, Boston Celtics, Gerald Green, Kevin McHale
Green passes up dunk 01.25.09 at 5:32 pm ET
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No matter how much he fights it, it is difficult for Gerald Green to shake the perception that he is just a dunker. He can shoot, he’ll tell you. He’s working on his defense, he’ll say. So Green is passing on the Slam Dunk Contest that he once dominated. This season isn’t about being a high-flyer. It’s about being a Dallas Maverick.

‘€œIt’s not really important,’€ Green said following the Mavericks-Celtics game in Boston (RECAP HERE). ‘€œIt’s just something that really my friends and family want for me. They wanted me to get into it this year. I said no.’€

Dunking may have been one of the skills that got Green in the NBA, but it couldn’t keep him there. In eight months he had been traded twice and eventually waived by his hometown Houston Rockets. He had been out of the league for nearly four months when the Mavericks signed him to a one-year deal last summer. Now Green wants to repay the Mavs for taking a chance on an unemployed 22-year-old.

‘€œI just really wanted to stay focused on basketball,’€ he said. ‘€œI didn’t want the misconception that everybody thinks I’m just trying to dunk. Dunking is fun. That’s not my skill. So that’s one thing I was trying to do, just stay focused on basketball and not really worry about it.’€

Green’s focus has been challenged by inconsistent playing time. He averaged 14 minutes per night in November, then appeared in just four games in December. He was on the court for just a minute in two of those contests. This month he has started twice but has not played in eight other games. On Sunday, he was in street clothes against his former team.

‘€œIt’s tough for me right now but I’ve just got to still think positive,’€ he said. ‘€œI love the situation, I love the organization, I love the team. I’ve just got to wait my chance. Right now it’s up and down, start, inactive. It’s tough, I’m not going to lie. But it’s a situation I’m dealing with.’€

The Mavericks appreciate Green’s commitment despite the sporadic minutes. He asks his veteran teammates for advice ‘€œall the time,’€ according to guard Jason Terry. What they see in his dedication goes beyond the box scores.

‘€œOh man, the kid has a tremendous upside,’€ said Terry. ‘€œWhen I watch him play, I think he could be an All-Star in this league. He just has to get on the right team and in the right system. When he has played, he’s helped us tremendously just because his athleticism. He can score with the best of them.

‘€œLike I said, he’s still young though. 22-years-old in his fourth year in the league, he’s going to have a long career ahead of him if he just stays humble and continues to work hard. He’s always in the gym shooting late nights, so his hard work is going to pay off eventually.’€

Nothing is guaranteed for Green, so he hits the court hard every time. Not only does it improve his game, it also challenges his teammates to be better.

‘€œHe’s just one of those guys who sticks with it, and you know if you’re guarding him in practice he’s going to come at you,’€ said Antoine Wright, adding, ‘€œHe comes into practice every day and treats it like it’s his game, and that’s something that you have to do when you’re not playing. And being a young guy, it gives him an advantage because it shows the coaches that he’s still in tune to what’s going on.’€

Even though Green is focused on the Mavericks this season, he isn’t hanging up his dunking shoes just yet. He has plenty of family in Texas who wants to see him in the 2010 contest in Dallas.

‘€œNext year will be a totally different year,’€ he said. ‘€œIf things go well I think I’ll probably do it in Dallas. I missed the one that was in Houston, but I’ve got a lot of family in Dallas and hopefully if I’m still in Dallas next year ‘€“ I’m a free agent so I don’t know how it’ll go ‘€“ I can’t predict the future but I know I want to get into the one that’s in Dallas.’€

Ask the Mavericks and they’ll tell you there will be plenty of chances to Green to dunk again.

‘€œHe’s a tough young player,’€ said Wright. ‘€œI think he’s going to be in the league a long time.’€

***

During his two seasons in Boston, Green played with six members of the Celtics 2008 championship team. He was happy to see his former teammates win the title, and even happier for those off the court.

‘€œThey deserve it. Those guys deserve it,’€ he said. ‘€œI was happy for them, but I think the most I was happy for was those people in sitting in the yellow and black seats out there. Those people, when we were losing 18 in a row when I was here, those seats were still sold out. So I really enjoyed it for my ex-teammates because I know where we came from, but those fans deserved it. They stuck with it, through winters and snowstorms.’€

And how about that championship bling? Tony Allen was the first to show it off, and Green was so impressed he placed a Blackberry on his fingers to demonstrate the size of the 92-diamond ring.

‘€œI started to steal it,’€ he joked, ‘€œBut it said a big ‘Tony Allen’ on it.’€

Read More: Antoine Wright, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Gerald Green
Moon Eyes Return to Dunk Contest 11.23.08 at 12:36 pm ET
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On Sunday Jamario Moon’s biggest concern is taking on he Boston Celtics. And while he is focused on each game at hand, the Toronto Raptors high-flyer can’t help but think ahead to February. That’s when Moon would like to redeem himself in the Slam Dunk Contest.

‘€œIt was big to be on the stage with a lot of the greats like (Michael) Jordan and Dominique (Wilkins). So to be able to be part of that, man, it was something big,’€ Moon said on a recent trip through Boston. ‘€œI would love to go back, love to go back because I feel like I’ve got something to prove.’€

This past February Moon finished third behind Dwight Howard and Gerald Green during All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. He entered the contest as an underdog but later realized he was his biggest competition.

‘€œI just don’t feel like I gave it my all,’€ he said. ‘€œI don’t know, I don’t know. I wasn’t nervous at all. I think I was holding back. I was trying to save my best for last when I should have just brought the best out and made it better at the end.’€

Just as defending champ Howard did after losing in the 2007 Dunk Contest, Moon is already planning a comeback. He would like to return to the contest another year wiser.

‘€œAlready, already,’€ Moon said of drawing up new dunks. ‘€œYou know what, I learned something about it. It’s really not too much about the dunk as it is the dramatics of it and what leads up to it. I learned a lot from it so if I go back, I know what to expect.’€

The 2009 Slam Dunk Contest will be held during All-Star Weekend, February 13-15 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Read More: Dwight Howard, Gerald Green, Jamario Moon, Toronto Raptors
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