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Garnett's Big Deal Bigger Than Believed

Pro basketball: Now valued at $128.1 million, it could eventually break the Timberwolves or be seen as a real breakthrough.

October 09, 1997|STEVE WILSTEIN | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Only in the screwball world of sports accounting, where number crunchers perform bookkeeping gymnastics, can a $128.1-million deal for a 21-year-old seem rational.

And only in the paranoid universe of sports agents, where inflation races ahead oblivious to the rest of the economy, would anyone worry that maybe Kevin Garnett's contract is too small.

Here, then, is the anatomy of a mega-deal being studied around the sports landscape.

Two questions raised by Garnett's contract with the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves--"Can a small-market team afford to pay that kind of money?" and "Can the Timberwolves keep other good players without busting the salary cap?"--have the same answer: Yes.

An analysis of the contract and the Timberwolves' finances by the Associated Press, based on discussions with team and league officials, industry analysts and sports economists, shows:

* Garnett's deal is bigger than originally reported and can grow beyond its $128.1 million in salary payments over six years;

* There's room in the deal for the Timberwolves to re-sign point guard Stephon Marbury and all-star forward Tom Gugliotta next summer, despite the salary cap;

* Team losses could reach $56 million over the life of the deal, with $103 million in losses occurring over the last four years;

* The deal is built on the rosiest of scenarios and yet-to-be-negotiated agreements--including a possible doubling of the NBA's $1.1-billion, four-year TV contract with NBC and Turner Broadcasting starting next season.

* If all goes well, the Timberwolves could blossom into a glamour franchise and grow in value to more than $300 million by the end of the contract.

According to league figures provided this week to the AP by an NBA source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Garnett's salary will leap from $2.1 million this season to $14 million next year, $16.8 million the following year, then $19.6 million, $22.4 million, $25.2 million, and, in the last year of the deal, $28 million.

The "very substantial," though undisclosed, bonuses tied to the Timberwolves' success are not included in those figures, said a team executive and Garnett's agent, Eric Fleisher. There are no bonuses for individual achievements.

Every dime is guaranteed, even if Garnett is injured or doesn't develop into a superstar, and Garnett cannot opt out of the contract early.

"One of the concerns I had was that Kevin is making a six-year commitment to them," Fleisher said. "The market has escalated so rapidly over the last couple of years, who's to say that, after a year or two years or three years, Kevin wouldn't be in a position where he's worth far more?"

If the 6-foot-11 Garnett, who jumped to the NBA out of high school two years ago, can lead the Timberwolves to a title in a few years, he may very well be as valuable to them as Michael Jordan, at $36 million this season, is to the Chicago Bulls.

But if Garnett and the Timberwolves flop, so might the whole franchise.

Owner Glen Taylor agreed to the contract, which surpassed Shaquille O'Neal's seven-year, $121-million contract with the Lakers. Taylor expects the deal will make the Timberwolves successful and more profitable.

"I'm betting on that," said Taylor, who bought the team for $88.5 million two years ago and has seen it rise in value, according to Financial World Magazine, to $123 million this year.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Garnett's Contract

According to league figures provided this week to the Associated Press by an NBA source, this is how the contract of Kevin Garnett breaks down and what the Minnesota Timberwolves are paying him (in millions):

SEASON: SALARY

1997-98: $2.1

1998-99: $14

1999-2000: $16.8

2000-2001: $19.6

2001-2002: $22.4

2002-2003: $25.2

2003-2004: $28

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