August 25th, 2005. It’s a day that produces no real memory when mentioned. In fact, it’s so completely forgettable that I had to look it up to confirm it was the actual date. But on this rather pedestrian day in the offseason some five years ago, the fate of two franchises became seemingly permanently intertwined with one another.
August 25th, 2005: That was the day the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Sam Cassell and a lottery protected first round pick to the Clippers for Marko Jaric.
It didn’t take long for the trade to make its impact. Every Clippers fan keeps the memory of the 2005-2006 playoff run on standby, using those images as a makeshift “happy place” in times of need. While those memories won’t go away, it’s easy to forget what happened to poor Minnesota. Maybe that’s because the Wolves immediately slipped into obscurity by posting a 33-49 record while trotting out Marko Jaric and Troy Hudson in what may have been one of the most defensively challenged point guard rotations of all time.
While it initially appeared that the trade would send the franchises in opposite directions after the 2005-2006 season, they remained uncomfortably close. The Timberwolves were rewarded with Brandon Roy in the draft for their troubles, but perhaps still reeling from the Jaric/Hudson expiriment, they moved Roy for Randy Foye in a draft day swap. In the second round of the same draft, Minnesota took Craig Smith to pair with the Villanova guard to lead their youth infusion.
Meanwhile, the Clippers came into the 2006-2007 season with reasonably high expectations after defeating Denver in the playoffs and giving Phoenix all they had in a seven game series. The Clips would never live up to the standard they set for themselves in the previous season however, as new addition Tim Thomas treated defense as an optional exercise while revered hero Sam Cassell had injuries and old age finally take their toll. No one knew it at the time, but Sam had exhausted himself carrying the Clippers in the playoff run. It was Sam’s last hoorah, and while it may not mean much in the big scheme of things to people outside of the Nación, Cassell’s brief stint landed him a first class seat in Clippers’ lore.
While the Clippers came crashing down to earth, the Timberwolves started to find their path to redemption. Halfway into the 2006-2007 season the Wolves were in playoff contention with a .500 record, despite a talent deficient roster that saw Ricky Davis play 38 minutes a game, Mark Blount 31 minutes, Trenton Hassell 30 minutes, and Mike James 25 minutes. Just how bad were they? Other than Kevin Garnett, Foye, and Smith, no player from that roster remains in the league today. Despite all of that, they were on the up and up behind Garnett’s always inspirational and borderline insane play and head coach Dwane Casey’s brilliant game-planning…until the front office dismissed Casey (a primary candidate this year for the Clippers job) after playing even ball for forty games. The ensuing results were about as predictable as they were ugly– the Wolves went just 12-30 after they let Casey go, and they returned to the lottery again with a hold on their protected pick.
The ensuing years can best be described as “forgettable” for both Minnesota and Los Angeles. The Clippers would give former Wolves players Ricky Davis a try, keeping the connection alive, but as a team the Clippers continued to struggle through injury plagued seasons. Back in Minnesota, the Wolves failed to adjust to losing Kevin Garnett, and remained in the slums of the lottery. The draft pick, coveted by the Clippers for years, continued to roll over after every rough Wolves campaign.
The front offices reconnected in 2009 when the Clippers sent out Quentin Richardson for Sebastian Telfair and Craig Smith. Telfair did what Telfair always does –he showed flashes, but not enough to warrant significant playing time. The less heralded Smith mostly shined in his time on the floor, rounding up one of the best PER ratings a Clipper had put up in years.
Randy Foye would get dealt the same offseason as Smith in a package with Mike Miller to Washington for pick No. 5 in the 2009 draft. That pick would eventually turn out to be Ricky Rubio, a selection that has hamstrung Minnesota’s future even further. That point guard exclusive draft by David Kahn has been criticized plenty, but the influence it has had on the Clippers hasn’t been properly explored. Ricky Rubio is definitely not coming over this season, and the chances he does next year seem rather unlikely as well. With Rubio out of the picture for the immediate future and Kahn continuing to make baffling roster decisions, the Clippers owed first round pick will likely continue to roll.
But the delayed satisfaction will eventually come to an end, as this season is the last time Minnesota will have the luxury of that lottery protection. In 2012 the pick becomes completely unprotected, meaning that it’s not unreasonable that the Clippers could own the first overall pick in the draft all because the Timberwolves wanted Marko Jaric.
After all these years, the Clippers future still remains tied to the Timberwolves, both directly and indirectly. Yes, the Clippers stand to benefit from Minnesota’s poor play, but they’re banking on a couple of former Wolves for their immediate future as well. Ryan Gomes will likely get the starting nod at small forward, Randy Foye will serve as the first guard off the bench, and Craig Smith will be an integral part of the big man rotation.
Roster turnover and the acclimation process for free agents takes some time, and the Clippers, who sport seven new additions, will be no exception. But for what it’s worth, Foye, Gomes and Smith have played two full seasons together already. With a few more years under their belts and a few more frequent flyer miles racked up, the band will get back together in Los Angeles. Even though five years have passed and both teams have changed dramatically, the ties between Minnesota and Los Angeles remain very much so intact.