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Kevin Garnett Agrees To Terms With Minnesota Timberwolves on Richest Long-Term Contract in

October 2, 1997

Kevin Garnett Agrees To Terms With Minnesota Timberwolves on Richest Long-Term Contract in Pro Sports History, a Six-Year, $121 Million DealBy RON LESKO

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Kevin Garnett agreed to terms Wednesday night with the Minnesota Timberwolves on the richest long-term contract in professional sports history, a six-year deal worth more than $121 million.

Garnett, the charismatic, sky’s-the-limit forward who jumped from high school to the NBA two years ago and helped one of the league’s worst franchises achieve respectability, agreed to the contract extension just four hours before a midnight EDT deadline.

``I’m just going to play like K.G., all wild and crazy with a smile,″ Garnett said. ``That’s how I would play regardless of whether I would play for a dollar or three quadrillion dollars.″

While neither side would discuss the exact dollar amount, some reports said the package could be worth as much as $123.5 million.

Eric Fleisher, Garnett’s agent, said it was ``a precedent-setting contract″ worth more than the seven-year, $120 million contract that Shaquille O’Neal signed with the Los Angeles Lakers last summer.

Fleisher was unable to convince to Wolves to include an opt-out clause that would have given the 21-year-old Garnett the option to become a free agent before the seven years _ the last year of his current contract and the six years of the extension _ are up.

``We couldn’t be more happy or excited,″ team vice president Kevin McHale said. ``This is a big, big commitment by the Minnesota Timberwolves toward our ultimate goal of winning a championship. We’ve jumped out of the boat and we’re in the deep water now, so we’re going to keep on swimming, trying to get to that championship.″

Shaquille O’Neal’s $120 million, seven-year deal with the Lakers (a $17 million yearly average) was the most lucrative long-term contract ever. Garnett’s surpasses that in terms of yearly average and total worth.

``We all had sticker shock on the thing, that’s easy to say,″ McHale said.

The deal, worth at least $32 million more than Glen Taylor paid for the franchise in 1995, came after a day’s worth of haggling using telephones and fax machines.

Taylor called the negotiations frustrating because of the time factor. ``For various reasons, we started negotiations early and looking back now, if I could change one thing, we wouldn’t have done that.″

After meeting face-to-face with Garnett and Fleisher at Target Center on Tuesday, Taylor spent all of Wednesday at home in Mankato, about 90 miles southwest of Minneapolis.

The Wolves, ruffled by unsubstantiated broadcast reports during the day that the deal was done, reported at 6:30 p.m. that talks had broken down. But about 30 minutes later they said Taylor was on his way, which they called a hopeful sign.

They announced the agreement shortly after.

The possible amount of the extension was shocking, but not compared to the thought of the Wolves losing Garnett on the free-agent market after this season. That would have been a real possibility if Garnett failed to sign before Wednesday night’s deadline.

His three-year rookie contract, which will pay him $2.1 million this season, will expire after the season. It was widely believed he would look to leave if the Wolves didn’t meet his demands before the deadline.

``I never thought the negotiations would be this steep, for this much money,″ said teammate Doug West, who is heading into the second season of a five-year, $15 million deal. ``But I’m glad something will be done and he’ll be around.″

Tuesday’s negotiations were the first to involve Garnett directly after he flew in earlier in the day from his home in Mauldin, S.C. Tuesday’s talks also were the first in which Fleisher had visited Target Center since he rejected a $103.5 million offer in August.

That deal’s $17.3 million annual average would have made it the richest long-term sports contract, surpassing O’Neal’s contract.

Fleisher’s rejection of that deal sent shock waves through the NBA, and the Wolves willingness to add as much as another $20 million to the package was nearly as astounding.

``It lets you know the power KG has,″ West said.

The Wolves have made it clear since early in Garnett’s rookie season _ they drafted him fifth overall out of Chicago’s Farragut Academy _ that he was the player around whom they would build their future.

An agile 7-footer, Garnett became a starter midway through the 1995-96 season and developed enough last season to make the All-Star game as an injury fill-in. He helped the young Wolves to a franchise-best 40-42 record and their first playoff spot.

Even though Houston swept the Wolves in three games, they had established themselves as one of the NBA’s most promising teams. Most of that promise fell on Garnett’s shoulders, although Minnesota’s lineup also includes All-Star forward Tom Gugliotta and outstanding point guard Stephon Marbury, both of whom will be seeking new contracts next summer.

But for Garnett, signing perhaps the richest deal in sports history only would add to the expectations.

``The expectations are going to be big,″ West said. ``I want to go further than just the playoffs now. I want to go to the next step. And I think (Garnett) realizes the expectations that will be on him, and I guess he’s willing to live up to them.″

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