T-Wolves Making Plans Without Smith

Friday, November 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves are making plans for the future without Joe Smith.

Smith could wind up with the Miami Heat or the Chicago Bulls after penalties issued against him by NBA commissioner David Stern were upheld by an arbitrator on Thursday. Dallas, Atlanta and New York also are believed to be on Smith's short list.

Do not expect Smith to return to the Timberwolves. Any financial incentive for him to remain with the Wolves was removed when arbitrator Kenneth Dam ruled that Stern did not exceed his authority when he voided Smith's contracts for the 1998-99, 1999-00 and 2000-01 seasons.

The ruling also stripped Smith of his so-called Larry Bird rights that would allow him to re-sign with his current team even if it is over the salary cap.

I think the league has made it very clear that they would like Joe to play somewhere other than here,'' Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said.

The Timberwolves, who can now offer Smith a one-year contract for no more than $611,000, are making plans without him.

``Now that there is a decision, the best thing for everyone is to move on,'' Timberwolves coach and general manager Flip Saunders said. ``We have to move on and put some finality to this.''

Short term, the Wolves are likely to lose a popular teammate and a good fit for star forward Kevin Garnett, who could play small forward on a big front line with Smith or power forward on a small front line with Wally Szczerbiak.

``It's critical,'' said Chauncey Billups, who said his friendship with Smith was one of the reasons why he signed with Minnesota during the offseason. ``It hurts us, definitely hurts us, knowing we probably won't get Joe.

``He'd have to sign for $600,000. He's worth a lot more than that. I wouldn't want him to put that kind of a strain on his family.''

The long-term affects of Stern's penalties could be more damaging. The Wolves also lost five first-round draft picks for making an illegal, secret agreement with Smith.

Smith was promised a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract extension that was to begin in the 2001-02 season after Smith played three seasons in Minnesota.

Taylor insisted that the Timberwolves still can be a successful franchise, pointing to a starting lineup with four players who are 24 or younger.

``The draft choices are important, but draft choices are not exactly what we need,'' Taylor said. ``We don't need more young players on this team. We need older players to surround the players we have.

``We took the policy of trying to attract people by being better teachers and making it fun to be here. And let's say we did need a draft choice. We could purchase a draft choice. It wouldn't be a No. 1, 2 or 3, but that wouldn't be available anyway. As a club, we are about as solvent as anyone. If we had to, we could go out and purchase a draft choice, and I don't know that we'll have to.''

Stern may not be finished penalizing the Timberwolves.

A hearing must still be held to determine which team officials had knowledge of the secret agreement. Taylor, vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale and other team officials could face one-year suspensions.