Latrell Sprewell: Hungry To Win
Latrell Sprewell is ready to help the Wolves be a playoff winner
by Charles Hallman
In his 11-year NBA career, Latrell Sprewell has played on both the West and East Coasts. Now starting his 12th season, the four-time All-Star has come home — well, sort of.
After spending six seasons at Golden State, then five in New York, Sprewell is now a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves and is just a half-day drive from his hometown of Milwaukee, Wis. "It's five hours from Milwaukee," Sprewell pointed out, "and my family will be able to see me (more). That's a refreshing change for me. I'm a Midwest guy."
This past summer, "Spree" was part of the biggest offseason changes in team history. When he learned about the four-team, multi-player deal that occurred in late July, Sprewell said that it didn't faze him that he would no longer be a Knick. "It could've happened earlier," he explained. "There always have been talks, so when it happened, I wasn't surprised."
The 6-5 Sprewell brings to the Wolves something they have lacked for years: an athletic guard, a guy who can create things off the dribble, not only for himself, but for other players as well. "We need someone like him," Wolves assistant coach Randy Wittman said of Sprewell, who can slash to the basket or pull up and pop a quick jumper with equal ease.
A career 80 percent free throw shooter, the veteran guard makes teams pay when he's fouled en route to the basket. He can also hit from long distance. Sprewell set an NBA mark last season for most three-pointers made (9) in a game without a miss. Always a competitor, Sprewell brings an edge to the Timberwolves.
"We've had a team of just nice guys," Wittman said. "You want good people, but we didn't have that nasty edge on the floor. Sometimes I felt we got pushed around and there wasn't anyone to stand up and react to it."
However, because of one unfortunate moment in his career, this attitude might be misunderstood. Sprewell knows that there are still those who know him for an infamous run-in with then head coach P.J. Carlesimo several years ago at Golden State. "I'm sure that he wished that it had not happened, but it did," said Wittman. "He learned from it."
Sprewell doesn't dodge the subject — he hopes that Timberwolves fans will see it as ancient history. "Totally," he said. "It always will be there, but as far as I am concerned, it's totally in the past."
Such was the case in the Big Apple. "When I got to New York," Sprewell continued, "people didn't understand how I played the game. As more people see me play here, they will learn more about me. They will learn that I'm not the guy they thought I was."
If there's a word that best describes Sprewell, "passionate" might be it. "I love his passion and his love for the game," said Wolves head coach Flip Saunders. Saunders also hopes that Sprewell's defensive acumen will improve Minnesota's overall defense, especially when it comes to creating turnovers — the Wolves finished last in the NBA in team steals per game last season. "He's long and has very good anticipation," said the head coach.
Sprewell will be matched up against the opponents' shooting guard, which in the Western Conference is where many of the league's best can be found. Saunders said that his veteran experience — Sprewell turned 33 in September — will compensate for any quickness he might have lost.
"As you become older, you become smarter," Saunders said. "I think he relies a lot now on the mental things he does as well as the physical things."
"I don't think I'm as quick and athletic as I was seven years ago," admitted Sprewell, "but I definitely learned more about the game."
"He's a competitor," Wittman affirmed. "He will be able to go out and defend. He's athletic enough and tough enough."
When asked, Sprewell said he couldn't recall being on a team with so much talent. Guard Sam Cassell, center Michael Olowokandi and forward Mark Madsen are among the new faces. These players, along with holdovers Wally Szczerbiak, Troy Hudson, and 2003 NBA MVP runner-up Kevin Garnett, give the 2003-04 Wolves a team built for success. Sprewell relishes the opportunity to mesh his talents with so many players that are similar to himself. "I'm playing with guys who bring the same fire and passion to the game like me," he said.
"He's very similar to KG," Saunders said. "He brings a lot of passion and competitiveness, and he plays with a large amount of enthusiasm on the floor."
"Guys like him and Kevin," Olowokandi surmised, "these are guys who are competitors, and that will rub off on the rest of the team."
Sprewell said he also likes the fact that he only has to carry his share of the load, not be a top contributor as often was the case at his previous NBA stops. "I'm happy that I'm on a team that I don't have to do as much," he said, adding that playing with two quality point guards in Cassell and Hudson will be exciting. "It should be fun playing with two point guards who can score."
Because he's one of the oldest players on the team, Sprewell will be counted on for his leadership. But don't look for any fire-and-brimstone locker room oratories — he lets his playing do the talking. "I'm not a vocal leader," he pointed out. "I always come to play."
But according to Garnett, Sprewell isn't afraid to let his thoughts be known. "Spree is not shy about mixing it up," he said.
His passion and love of the game is as strong as ever. Sprewell wants to return to the NBA's grandest stage — the Finals — where he has been once before, with New York in 1999. "To be that close with the Knicks," he recalls, "leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I'm just dying to be in that position again."
He believes being a Timberwolf eventually will afford him a second chance at that elusive ring. "The ultimate goal is to win," Sprewell concluded. "I want to be known as a winner."
This story appeared in the Nov. 1, 2003 edition of Timberwolves Tonight.