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Call off the wolves in Minnesota

Kevin McHale might have to think about the witness protection program after his latest deal. The former Celtic is getting absolutely hammered in the Twin Cities for making the Wally Szczerbiak-Ricky Davis trade. To read some of the stories Friday, McHale, who was part of the most lopsided trade in NBA history as a player, might be a part of the next-most-lopsided trade in NBA history as an executive.

''Worst trade in franchise history," penned the venerable Sid Hartman. Another columnist, Jim Souhan, wrote, simply, ''Why is Kevin McHale still allowed to make trades?" A third, Tom Powers, called the deal ''big move, small returns," then wondered whether Danny Ainge might have been the one taken by accepting Michael Olowokandi.

Actually, we won't know how this one plays out until 2008, when the Celtics likely will get the Wolves' first-round pick. Or maybe even 2009. And don't discount those conditional second-rounders the Celtics surrendered. (Just wondering, but why would you even bother making a second-round pick conditional?)

But methinks there is a tad of initial overreaction in the Twin Cities.

1. I don't know if they realize how good a player Davis has become. Usually, when grading a trade, you tend to think that the team that landed the best player got the better of the deal. Not always, but most of the time, as some deals are made purely for chemistry or monetary reasons. Is Szczerbiak demonstrably better than Davis? Probably. But it's not open and shut. Will he be next year, or in 2008? Davis has never played in the Western Conference and has not been on a team that has had a lot of national exposure. But he can be a terrific second or third option. The one concern about Davis is his obsession with stats and whether he can continue to improve and mature. If he can, he may be a lot more than a small return.

2. To me, the X-factor in the deal is Mark Blount, which is probably why Charles Barkley called the deal ''Roseanne Barr for Phyllis Diller." Blount was lost here the last couple of years and maybe this will humble him sufficiently to make him remember how he got the money he got. That clearly is what Minnesota is hoping, and the Wolves might actually see that Blount. Or something closer to that Blount than the one we've seen the last two years. If not, well, feel free to throw spitballs at the battleship. But you have to admit that Blount is an upgrade over Olowokandi. Just make sure the children are out of earshot the first time Blount fumbles a Kevin Garnett pass.

3. There could be another shoe to drop for the Wolves. I don't believe they are interested in keeping Marcus Banks, and he could wind up in Seattle or Cleveland, both of which have interest. So if the Wolves were to move him for, say, Flip Murray, would that quiet the riot? Probably not.

4. I guess I missed the enshrinement of Szczerbiak into the Hall of Fame. Hartman suggested that all four former Celtics ''will not match the contributions that Szczerbiak has made to the Timberwolves." Well, Davis by himself is pretty close when it comes to scoring. And Davis is a better passer, better defender, and two years younger. Yes, Szczerbiak played in one All-Star Game, or one fewer than Kevin Duckworth. Blount is an improvement over Olowokandi -- as if we needed to repeat that -- and Banks may be turned into somebody else. As for Justin Reed, well, how he's even on an NBA roster is baffling. I never saw in him what the Celtics said they saw in him.

5. The Wolves were 19-21 at the time of the deal. They were 19-21 with Szczerbiak playing as well as he's ever played. When you're 19-21, it is pretty hard to make the worst trade in franchise history. Minnesota fans had just seen the coach that McHale sacked last season come into the Target Center and leave with a vaporizing victory. There was talk of a McHale-Garnett contretemps in the locker room following a recent loss to Philadelphia, an exchange that the New York Post's Peter Vecsey reported Friday contained, shall we say, language that would make a sailor blush, to paraphrase the great Alan Jay Lerner. Szczerbiak had a tough contract to move and had been available for some time. Frankly, it was time. As was the case with Boston, it simply wasn't working.

Quartet of Kings men gone

With the Ron Artest-Peja Stojakovic deal finally completed, all but one of the starters from those terrific Sacramento teams a few years back is somewhere else. Vlade Divac has retired. Chris Webber was traded to Philadelphia. Doug Christie was traded to Orlando, moved on to Dallas, and has since hung 'em up. And now Stojakovic is a Pacer.

''They're not walking through that door anymore," quipped Kings player personnel boss Jerry Reynolds.

Said Geoff Petrie, the team's basketball operations boss and someone with a history of making shrewd deals, ''We had three great shots at the championship. But that team could not continue to exist, and sometimes that can be hard for fans to realize. It was an aging team. We needed to go in a different direction, and now we're just trying to avoid the law of inevitability -- or at least delay it."

The three championship shots to which Petrie referred were 2002, when the Kings were jobbed by the refs in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals and then lost Game 7 to the Lakers, at home, in overtime; 2003, when they lost to Dallas in seven games of the conference semifinals after Webber blew out his knee; and 2004, when they lost to Minnesota in seven games in the conference semifinals with Webber hobbling on one knee.

Green develops good workout habits

Celtics rookie Gerald Green may have wanted to get back to actually playing basketball, but he also is doing a lot of ''workout work" down in Fayetteville, N.C. One of the Celtics' strength and conditioning coaches, Walter Norton, just returned after spending a week with Green in North Carolina and reports that there were two-a-day workouts on days the Fayetteville Patriots did not play.

''He has been incredibly responsive to everything," Norton said. ''He has a terrific work ethic."

The two also drove north to Durham to catch one of Mike Krzyzewski's practices at Duke.

Bryan Doo, the Celtics' other conditioning coach, is due to pick up the ''workout work" with Green next month. In between, there are enough games and travel to keep him occupied, the Celtics feel.

Etc.

Accuracy counts (usually)
The Celtics came into the weekend in a virtual dead heat with the San Antonio Spurs for the NBA lead in team field goal percentage. Looking at the Celtics' record, here's my first thought: Why are they wasting all that good shooting? If, in fact, they overtake the Spurs in that category and still not fare any better in the standings, it would be unprecedented in the last 20 years. Going back to 1983-84, when the playoff format went to the current 16 teams, the team that has led the league in field goal percentage has averaged 55 wins, and two of them, the 1985 Lakers and 1992 Chicago Bulls, won the title. The Celtics led the league in field goal percentage three times in that stretch, but the Utah Jazz had the most shooting titles with seven.

National pride in Washington
The Washington Wizards' Gilbert Arenas said he has spoken to US National Team chieftain Jerry Colangelo about getting a spot on the team this fall in Japan. ''I think I was one of the first and I told him I would love to play," Arenas said. ''I'm willing to do whatever it takes, whatever the time commitment is, because, as I said to him, 'If you don't pick me, I'll still be playing anyway somewhere or working out.' " Arenas said he senses a renewed interest around the NBA from its marquee players in making what could be a three-year commitment to USA Basketball. ''This is probably as important, or more important, than the Dream Team in 1992 because we've got to get that gold back," he said. ''It's going to be a test. The world is going to be watching. Whoever is on that team has to play like every game is a championship game."

Star in the making
When Byron Scott, the coach of the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, had his preseason teleconference call with reporters in October, he said that rookie Chris Paul reminded him somewhat of Isiah Thomas. He hasn't changed his opinion. ''When we brought him in, I asked him who his favorite players were, and he said Isiah and Steve Nash," Scott said. ''I told him, 'You remind me of Isiah,' and that's high praise because Isiah is one of the toughest guys I ever had to play against. And right now, he's living up to those comparisons." We didn't see the best of Paul in either Oklahoma City or Boston, but the kid has game and a charisma that cannot be taught. Whatever ''it" is, he has it. ''The sky is the limit for Chris Paul," Scott said. ''It just depends on how good he wants to get. He has a lot of determination and a lot of will and he doesn't play like a rookie. I gave him the playbook and when he came to Summer League; he already knew half the plays. He did his homework, so that tells you how committed he is to be the best he can be."

Damaged goods
The Cavaliers are treading water as they wait for Larry Hughes to return; he hasn't played since Dec. 31. Cleveland lost seven of its first nine games -- including six straight -- without Hughes, who has a broken finger. But they bounced back to win four straight, including Friday night's 93-89 triumph at Indy. Still, other than perhaps Marcus Camby, is there any NBA player who warrants a ''buyer beware" clause in his deal more? Prior to joining the Cavs, Hughes had missed a total of 98 games over the previous five seasons with injuries ranging from a broken thumb to a broken wrist to a strained shoulder. Alas, it hasn't always been thus. Hughes did not miss a game his first two seasons in the league.

The balance sheet
Wally Szczerbiak is due $36 million in base salary over the remainder of his contract, starting next season. Mark Blount is due about $28 million over the length of his contract, while Ricky Davis is owed more than $13 million. So did the Celtics actually save around $5 million, as it would appear by these numbers? Not exactly. Szczerbiak, as it turns out, has easily earned bonuses and a trade kicker that adds another $750,000 or so to his deal annually. So it's closer to being a wash, especially when you factor in what the Celtics may have to pay for the No. 1 draft pick they get down the road.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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