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The Minnesota Timberwolves will be playing in Boston at a time when they've been talking trade with the Celtics, too.Wednesday night, then, brings the Wolves as agonizingly close as they can be to the player they lust for so badly . . . but can't get. Paul Pierce. No player at Kevin Garnett's elite level needs a scoring sidekick more than KG, and so no name circulating in the NBA's perpetually bubbling vat of speculation can hold greater appeal to Minnesota than Pierce. Approaching birthday No. 30 in May, and in his 11th season, Garnett has never been more versatile, on the floor and in those new adidas commercials. The only thing missing, as always, is a Kobe mode, where KG unleashes a string of 40-point games to rescue a roster filled with journeymen. That's not going to happen when KG's taking 16 shots a game. The solution? If he's really going to stay up there at the North Pole -- as he calls it and as he vows -- KG desperately needs to be paired with a create-his-own-shot scorer to haul the Wolves back into the West's elite. Someone who can capitalize on Garnett's passing vision, willingness to share and ability to dominate the game everywhere else. Of course, if you don't have the assets to pry the saintly Ron Artest away from Indiana when the Pacers are openly looking to make a trade, you're not going to be able to swing a Pierce deal. The recent disclosure from Wolves owner Glen Taylor that a transaction involving Michael Olowokandi was imminent -- with Boston's Mark Blount possibly taking Kandi's place as part of a multi-team exchange -- amounts to a concession from Minny that it lacks what it takes to score Artest. Sad but true . . . and there's more agony for Wolves Nation. I'm told that Pierce, who's been dealing with trade speculation since the June draft and knows it's not likely to go away any time soon, certainly wouldn't protest if he wound up at KG's side someday. On paper, they look like a dream tag team. Yet such a pairing could only happen if Danny Ainge consents to a deal that either brings Wally Szczerbiak to Boston . . . or a multi-team extravaganza in which Szczerbiak's presence triggers the assemblage of a package that convinces the Celtics to part with Pierce. Another long shot. Nevertheless . . . You can expect to keep hearing the Wolves mentioned prominently in the hunt for any quality scorer who hits the market. That means, yes, Minnesota is one of the few teams out there that can make a case for the pursuit of Orlando's Steve Francis. That also means the notion that New York's Stephon Marbury could someday be reunited with KG should be safely filed away. That means, furthermore, that Boston's Ricky Davis -- who's been on Kevin McHale's radar for years -- wouldn't be a bad Pierce fallback. You wouldn't rule any of them out with the Wolves because Garnett is the pass-first superstar in Minneapolis. He doesn't need a doubles partner who defers. Yet he also possesses the leaguewide acclaim and team-first commitment that originally made the Wolves believe that Artest, for them, wasn't so risky. The theory held that Artest, at the Target Center, would be more willing to accept his spot in the pecking order behind Garnett than he was in Indy next to Jermaine O'Neal. I'm not so sure that applies to Marbury, who has already decided once in his life that the Twin Cities weren't big enough for he and KG. But Francis? That's a possibility the Wolves will have to weigh, in spite of the concerns about Francis' contract and comportment, if Orlando maintains its interest in Szczerbiak and Trenton Hassell. Either way, Minnesota knows what it needs. Assuming that it can't steal back Chauncey Billups, and that Garnett simply can't ignore his unselfish instincts if he's not going to launch more than he is with such a thin supporting cast, they've got to unearth a go-to scorer somehow. ASAP. It'll probably never be Pierce, granted, but you get the idea. As close as they can get.
• Talk back to ... Marc Stein | The Daily Dime gang
• Dimes Past: January 6-8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14-15 | 16 | 17
Five questions with Bucks center Andrew Bogut:
Q: Almost halfway through your rookie season, how do you rate your progress?
A: Defense was the big thing I was worried about coming in, how I would adjust, and I think I've adjusted pretty well. I don't think I'll be a huge offensive threat this year just because we have so many offensive threats on this team. But the World Championships [with Australia in the off-season] will help dramatically and . . . going into my third year hopefully I can take over a little bit more of the reins.Q: You're averaging nine and eight. Are you satisfied with your statistical production? A: Rebounding-wise, yeah. Offensively, going to a team with so many good offensive players, it's kind of hard to say. Going to Atlanta would have been a different situation for me offensively than going to Milwaukee. It's just the situation you're drafted into and a lot of people don't understand that. I fill my role, and I think I'm doing a decent job. If I keep working hard, things will work out. Q: Does it feel like you're wearing a target when you're the No. 1 overall pick? A: Not any more. In summer league, yeah, because you're playing a lot of guys who don't have contracts. I think now it's just a matter of putting the ball in the hole. . . . I think I should be shooting 60, 65 percent [instead of 54 percent]. I've missed a lot of easy shots -- a lot of layups -- adjusting to the game and adjusting to the [NBA] shot-blockers. Q: How big a disappointment will it be if you fail to win Rookie of the Year? A: For me, not really. If you accomplish your team goals, you [accomplish] your individual goals. But obviously Chris Paul is the Rookie of the Year. He's led a team that struggled last year. He's had the biggest impact so far. What pick did he go, No. 4? Before the lottery, I thought he'd be challenging me for the No. 1 pick. Q: Only three No. 1 picks since 1986 have gotten their teams to the playoffs in their rookie season. What would a playoff berth mean to you? A: To do that would be a pretty special season. Getting to the playoffs would be sweeter than getting Rookie of the Year, I'd say. To play a seven-game series, sold out, everyone watching back in Australia and Croatia, I think that'd be even better than Rookie of the Year.
Readers respond to the latest edition of the ESPN.com NBA Power Rankings:
J Mithra: (Toronto): Nineteenth? Two weeks in a row? You keep doing that and we won't be able to sneak up on anyone. CB4 to the All-Star Game!
Tony (Walnut Creek): What a joke. How are you going to rank the Warriors behind the Raptors? I don't care if the Ws have lost 20 in a row, Toronto isn't in the same neighborhood. Figure it out.
Ogtay (Los Angeles): I am a huge Laker fan, but they are not the 10th-best team in the league. Not when the season started, not now and not at the end of the season. Please let us rebuild in peace.
Keith (Seattle): I actually like your Power Rankings for once.
Todd (South Bend, Ind.): If you continue to make good, honest assessments of the NBA landscape, what are people going to complain about?(Ed.'s Note: Flattery is sure to get you . . . a set of rankings next week to rile everyone up.)
Utah F Andrei Kirilenko: AK-47 was two steals and a block shy of another 5 X 5, but I suppose we'll settle for his first career triple-double: 18 points, 16 boards and 11 assists in Utah's 111-98 triumph over Toronto.
Phoenix Suns: We should probably give more spotlight to Sacramento's unlikely heroes: Kevin Martin (25 points), Francisco Garcia (21 points, 10 boards) and Kenny Thomas (22 points). But the Suns were abysmal given how well they've played lately, falling behind by 22 at the half in their first blowout loss all season.
Quote of the Day
"We didn't want to play tonight. You can't really say why. You never know. It just sometimes happens when you play as many games as we do. We didn't play any defense, which got their confidence going, and it turned out to be one of those nights when we couldn't make anything."
-- Suns G Steve Nash, after his team fell to Sacramento, 119-90.
As covered in the Weekend Dime , Orlando has been unraveling for a decade since Shaq departed . . . and might not be rescued until something magical happens. Shaq as the Magic's answer to Jerry Buss would probably qualify.
Brad (Kansas City): Oklahoma City seems to be embracing the NBA. Will the Hornets stay there, will OKC get another team or none of the above in your opinion?Marc Stein: The official announcement from the league is scheduled to come at month's end, but the early whispers lead me to believe that the Hornets will be back in OKC for one more season. After that, assuming the Hornets do go back to New Orleans in 2007-08 as promised, OKC would remain a primary option for future relocation candidates. The market has definitely proven itself to be NBA-worthy. However . . . if the Hornets do return to New Orleans someday, OKC won't be No. 1 in line for the next franchise on the move. (Nor will Kansas City.) There's a little town called Las Vegas on everyone's radar. I believe Sin City got next and I'm hardly the only one.
Highest Rise: No. 24 Portland Trail Blazers
You can't ignore the fact that two of the teams Portland defeated in its 3-0 week were shorthanded: Orlando didn't have the suspended Steve Francis or the ailing Grant Hill; Cleveland was without Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden. Nothing wrong, though, with that Wednesday victory over Kobe Bryant's Lakers to start the surge. It was L.A.'s only loss in seven games and thus a worthy spark for the Blazers' five-spot climb.