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THE NBA : Timberwolves Held at Bay in Minnesota

June 23, 1994|SHAUN POWELL | NEWSDAY

The whole idea was insane anyway. How could anyone offer $152 million for a basketball team without a history, a present and a near future, and call it sound financial judgment? And how could the National Basketball Association say with a straight face, "We're delighted to welcome Bob Arum into our exclusive world of ownership?"

The Timberwolves are staying in Minnesota. Arum is staying in boxing. And because of that, you can bet the league office is wiping its brow and breathing a sigh of relief.

The Wolves were headed to New Orleans until last week, when the league's relocation committee examined the finances of Arum's group, Top Rank, and abruptly canceled the Louisiana Purchase. The committee found Top Rank's proposal "a speculative and inadequately financed plan" and will recommend to NBA owners to dismiss the sale.

Now, given a choice of cities, the owners would probably opt for New Orleans. Minneapolis is very cosmopolitan and clean, but this tends to be overlooked from November through March, when the wind chill becomes a bitter pill. They'd prefer gumbo over ice-fishing every time.

But, plain and simple, the NBA couldn't afford to approve this move, given the circumstances.

Because of a drop in scoring and an increase in violence, the league's image isn't exactly on an all-time high right now. And the last thing the NBA needs is another punch to its soft underbelly.

After years of watching teams pack and move from Kansas City-Omaha to Sacramento and Buffalo to Los Angeles via San Diego, the NBA has prided itself on stability. Imagine, then, the potential embarrassment of a team leaving Minneapolis after only five years.

The Wolves had tremendous fan support in the Twin Cities and a decent facility in the Target Center. They just don't have owners with deep pockets and financial foresight.

And then there's the Arum issue. NBA Commisssioner David Stern said he didn't have any problem doing business with Top Rank. But more than one league official said it was near unanimous - that hardly anyone wanted anything to do with Arum, the boxing promoter with the slippery-slick image.

Therefore, the relocation committee did a thorough check of the New Orleans group, hoping to find a measure of doubt, which it says it did.

Arum wasn't New Orleans' only problem. The city doesn't have a suitable arena and wouldn't have one in place in time for next season, although there were plans for a $100 million, state-of-the-art facility. There's also the uncertainty of the New Orleans market and whether the city would support the NBA. Plus, backed against the summer deadline for the 1994-95 schedule, the league had to act quickly.

That's not to suggest that the Wolves' situation is secure, however. There's still the matter of settling the $74 million debt on the Target Center. Stern believes the local government can resolve the financial crisis and find suitable owners who will keep the team in Minnesota.

Remember this: The current Wolves' owners, Harvey Ratner and Marv Wolfenson, can apply for relocation again next March 1.

By then, the league hopes the Wolves will be in the hands of the kind of ownership it can live with . . . either in Minneapolis or New Orleans.

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The first selection in the June 29 draft is a no-brainer. Glenn Robinson's going to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Then it gets interesting.

The Dallas Mavericks are expected to take point guard Jason Kidd. However, they're also high on Grant Hill and have listened to offers for Jim Jackson, who could be exchanged for a young, established point guard. The feeling is Hill is capable of playing some point guard, and he'd eventually become a better player than Jackson in a few years.

The Detroit Pistons will settle for either Kidd or Hill at 3, while the Wolves, who need inside help, may lean toward power forward Juwan Howard over small forward Donyell Marshall at 4. That would leave Marshall for the Washington Bullets, who are already overloaded at forward and may trade up or down.

One player who appears to be slipping in the lottery is center Yinka Dare. Some scouts are nervous about the raw Nigerian. He played only two years of college ball and measured a few inches shorter than his listed 7-foot-1 at the Chicago combine.

One who's on the rise is 6-9 forward Brian Grant of Xavier, who played well in the Phoenix combine and has impressed several teams in pre-draft interviews. Grant may sneak into the top 10.

*

The Bucks, Mavericks and Philadelphia 76ers, all young teams looking to rebuild, have the best chances to re-tool through the draft. They hold six of the draft's top 20 choices as a result of trades.

The Bucks, selecting first and 18th, will receive the Orlando Magic's first-rounder. It was a gift from the Magic, because the Bucks surrendered forward Anthony Avent, who was on the Orlando bench by season's end.

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