Published 12:00 am Friday, June 23, 2006

John Focke, Behind the Mike

As the NBA season came to a close on Tuesday night amid a flurry of fines to Mark Cuban, and Dwayne Wade picking apart the Dallas Mavericks, that meant two things for Timberwolves fans.

The NBA Draft is just around the corner and more of the comedic stylings of Kevin McHale.

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June 19 was the sad anniversary of the death of Len Bias, the former Maryland star drafted by the Celtics who died of a cocaine overdose before he ever played a game for Boston.

This sparked the usual round of articles by Boston writers who said this was evidence that the &8220;basketball gods&8221; were punishing the Celtics for their early success and have since exacted revenge in the form of Reggie Lewis’ death, Rick Pitino’s coaching, missing out on the Tim Duncan lottery, and so on.

Well that got me thinking about my favorite team, the Minnesota Timberwolves.

You want to talk about a cursed franchise, and a snake-bitten fan base, look no further than 600 First Ave North in Minneapolis.

The Boston Celtics have 16 championship trophies, the Wolves have been in the league 16 years, and at one point had one first round draft pick in six years.

The Wolves made it to the Western Conference Finals only once, and out of the first round of the playoffs only once.

The Timberwolves own a few records in the NBA, the main one being the largest fine ever levied against a team for the Joe Smith fiasco.

The Wolves boast one of the best players in the league, Kevin Garnett, but Kevin McHale has been unable or unwilling to put the pieces around him to build a championship team.

Earlier this week news broke that the Wolves No. 1 draft pick from last year, Rashad McCants, is most likely out for the season after having micro fracture surgery on his knee.

An injury that has derailed the careers of many athletes, most recently Amare Stoudamire.

This is a huge blow heading into the draft considering that of the Wolves draft picks since 1995 only one, Kevin Garnett, is still on the roster.

The Wolves draft picks over the past few years are, Ndudi Ebi, Rick Rickert, Loren Woods, Marcus Taylor, and Igor Rakocevic.

VH1 could produce a week’s worth of &8220;Where are they now?&8221; episodes with that group.

On Tuesday I spoke with Fred Hoiberg on the radio, former Iowa State star and now a member of the Wolves front office, and he said this about the No. 6 pick Minnesota has in this draft, &8220;We’re looking for the best possible player at that spot.&8221;

I thought to myself, hmm didn’t Dennis Green used to say that?

And didn’t we end up with Demetrius Underwood at one point? (Seriously Google that guy sometime, disturbing stuff.)

Hoiberg did say that the Wolves have been working out guys like Brandon Roy of Washington and Randy Foye of Villanova, but he also said not to expect too much of that pick right away.

When Hoiberg said of Roy, &8220;He has the most NBA ready body in the draft,&8221; and spoke of how a four-year college player would have more of an impact on the team I began to feel better.

You might remember the &8216;03 draft when the Wolves could have moved up to pick a true point guard in Jameer Nelson, or taken a four-year player from Wake Forest in Josh Howard but elected to gamble on Ndudi Ebi, who is a mediocre player in the NBDL right now.

The Wolves have tried to shore up their front office by bringing in Hoiberg, as well as bringing back Rob Babcock, but even with those additions I’ll still be sweating out draft day like Rick Rickert did back in 2003.

And forgive me Celtics’ fans if I don’t feel for you, human error makes me more nervous than the wrath of the &8220;basketball gods.&8221;

(John Focke is the sports director at KATE radio. His column runs each Friday.)