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West tired of talking about Timberwolves’ terrible past

April 22, 1997

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Forgive Doug West if he seems a little testy these days. He’s not used to all this attention this time of year.

West’s biggest concern in late April during his first seven NBA seasons was where he would play golf. Now he not only has to worry about how to stop Clyde Drexler, he’s having to answer a bunch of questions about the long, hard road he took to the postseason.

``You guys are asking the same questions every damn day,″ West grumbled after the first of Monday’s two practices. ``What about the last seven years? I do not look back on that anymore.″

Anyone would want to forget those horrendous seasons.

The Wolves, who begin their first playoff series at Houston on Thursday, lost 422 games before this season, more than any team in a seven-year period. They are the only team to lose at least 60 games four consecutive seasons, accomplishing that ignominious feat from 1991-92 through 1994-95.

Minnesota’s seven-year playoff drought is the second-longest in NBA history for an expansion team, surpassed only by the 10 seasons the Jazz needed to reach the postseason for the first time (starting in New Orleans before moving to Utah).

West is the only player who was there through it all.

``I can see it, but I can’t feel it,″ rookie Stephon Marbury said. ``It must have been tough.″

It was.

A second-round pick in 1989, the Wolves’ inaugural draft, West played little in coach Bill Musselman’s deliberate style the first two seasons. He became a starter his third season after Musselman was fired, and averaged double figures four straight years, including 19.3 in 1992-93. The Wolves won 19 games that season, and even that was a four-game improvement over the previous season.

Along the way West started drinking, heavily at times. He headed it off before it got totally out of control, and life is more settled now. Wuela West gave birth to the couple’s first child, son Tyson, on March 18.

``I don’t worry about what happened seven years ago anymore,″ West said. ``This is a totally new team. If this was the same team from seven years ago, then it would be different. But I’m the only one left.″

Kevin McHale, who took over the team’s wayward basketball operations in 1995, has compared his job to getting a bag of grapes and finding out they’re all rotten. The best thing to do is to throw away the whole bag.

But not only did McHale keep West, he rewarded him for his exile in basketball purgatory by giving him a five-year, $15 million contract before the 1995-96 season.

``I’m the last grape, I guess,″ said West, who had 56 teammates during his first seven seasons. ``The rest of those guys turned into raisins.″

West is Minnesota’s career leader in points (6,059), baskets (2,466), shots (5,053), fouls (1,621), steals (417), games (569), starts (359) and minutes (14,879).

He hasn’t been the same player offensively the past two seasons, slipping into the background as players like Marbury, Kevin Garnett and Tom Gugliotta have emerged. West averaged 6.4 points last season and 7.9 this year. Yet he still is the team’s best defensive player, something that was evident in last week’s embarrassing 92-77 home loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

With West resting a sore ankle, Michael Finley burned the Wolves for 16 points in the second half, using his quickness to get open jumpers against the mismatched Garnett. Two nights earlier, West smothered Voshon Lenard in a surprising win at Miami.

``He keys a lot of our defense,″ coach Flip Saunders said. ``Like the Miami game, he totally took Voshon out.″

West’s assignment against the Rockets will be Drexler, who scorched Minnesota for 36 and 37 points in two wins this season. A physical defender, West is looking forward to the rugged postseason style.

``I’ve watched it on TV, I’ve seen it live before, but until you’re out there on the court and get a chance to evaluate yourself in those situations, you really have no idea,″ he said.

After seven trying seasons, West finally is about to find out for himself.

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