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Thursday, January 26, 2006
Updated: January 27, 5:43 PM ET
Wolves gamble for KG; Celts give Pierce new sidekick

By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

Ricky Davis or Steve Francis?

The Minnesota Timberwolves, determined to make a splashy move after they were rebuffed in their attempts to pry Ron Artest away from Indiana, opted for the safer dice roll, if there is such a thing.

They chose Davis.

Knowing they needed a shakeup after a 12-6 start was followed by a 9-15 nosedive -- and finally prepared to break up the Kevin Garnett-Wally Szczerbiak combo after 6½ solid but contentious seasons together -- the Wolves decided they had to move quickly to pair a more athletic scorer with Garnett.

Minnesota could have packaged Szczerbiak with defensive specialist Trenton Hassell to put Orlando's Francis alongside KG, but Davis comes at a much more reasonable price ... along with a center (Mark Blount) Minnesota was already chasing.

It's not like the dream scenario of trading for Paul Pierce, or the fantasy notion of stealing Chauncey Billups back from Detroit, but I'd call it a worthwhile fallback.

Surely you recall our recent assertion that no player at Garnett's elite level needs a scoring sidekick more than KG does. He's averaging just 16 shots per game, after all. He's essentially the Wolves' point guard, and he can deal with a doubles partner who puts his head down sometimes. What scouts say fits best next to KG is a create-his-own-shot scorer who can capitalize on Garnett's passing vision, willingness to share and ability to dominate the game everywhere else. The one thing KG lacks, remember, is a Kobe mode. He won't rip off a succession of 40-point games to carry a roster of journeymen.

So with the versatile Davis available again after Kevin McHale tried for years to get him, and with some of the Wolves' recent body language suggesting that the Garnett-Szczerbiak union was teetering anew, Minnesota expanded its recent Michael Olowokandi-for-Blount talks into something bolder.

From the Celtics' side, it's some tangible proof that they're still intent on building around Paul Pierce -- as they keep insisting -- as opposed to shopping Pierce. It's also confirmation that the Celtics, who team sources say had Pierce's blessing to chase Artest, were determined to do something splashy if they couldn't win the Ron-Ron derby.

Szczerbiak carries the most onerous contract in the deal, as he's owed nearly $38 million over three seasons after this one, but he's shooting the ball as well as he ever has. Since Dec. 1, Szczerbiak is averaging a healthy 23.0 points per game after averaging just 14.8 points in November.

Put a marksman of Wally's class in a mix with Pierce and Boston's three promising youngsters (Delonte West and power players Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins), and McHale's buddy Danny Ainge might just have the start of something.

Emphasis on start -- but a little something nonetheless.

Minnesota? The Wolves are starting over in their attempts to infuse the lonely Garnett with some hope, and this is just a first step.

But a good one, I'd say. Olowokandi-for-Blount, on its own, didn't offer any hope. A package of Blount and Davis is better, especially if Davis accepts his spot in the pecking order behind Garnett. Davis chafed in a secondary role behind rookie LeBron James in Cleveland but did better meshing with Pierce. KG's presence is one reason I (and others) thought Artest actually made sense in Minny, and you can say the same about Davis and KG.

Yet you can probably expect an adjustment period, because Garnett is famously averse to change. For all his clashes with "World," as he called Wally, chances are he'll need some time to get over the shock of playing without him.

You can likewise expect the Wolves to keep looking for upgrades, hard as they'll be to find after they parted with their Szczerbiak and Olowokandi trade chips, because getting to the playoffs will still be a struggle. Minnesota's guard play and bench remain suspect.

So it's up to Davis, for starters, to play so well that the Wolves don't come to wish that they gambled on the riskier Francis instead.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.