A Season to Forget
For better or for worse, Mark Madsen won't be dancing when the NBA crowns a champion this year. The current NBA season has been a forgettable one for Madsen and the Minnesota Timberwolves. After averaging 50 wins for the past five seasons and becoming one of the favorites to make it to the NBA finals this year, the T'wolves struggled throughout the season and missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
Mad Dog had his own struggles, particularly on the injury front. After starting 13 straight games at center in November and December, he fractured his right thumb, then rushed back into the lineup sporting a hard plastic brace to shore up a roster that was significantly depleted by late February. Though he attempted to come back too early, Madsen managed to work his way back into a starting role and was just hitting his stride when he ruptured a tendon in his right wrist on March 15, forcing him to watch from the bench over the last three weeks of the season as Minnesota limped home out of the playoffs.
As was the case during his three years with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he was a complement to all-everything Shaquille O'Neal, Madsen plays in Minnesota alongside Kevin Garnett, the type of talent which makes it easy to work role players into the regular rotation. For a good part of the season, the 6-9, 245 lb. Madsen started as an undersized center, with Garnett at power forward and three perimeter players from a pool consisting largely of Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, Troy Hudson, Trent Hassell and Wally Szczerbiak. In this lineup, Mad Dog's role was a familiar one: hustle, play strong defense, crash the offensive boards, and don't take any shots from more than five feet out.
"Dog's like our power plant," Kevin Garnett explained. "He brings energy every night. He keeps a lot of balls alive, goes after the boards a lot. He's active."
Better Times Ahead?
Madsen's two year contract is up this July and the Timberwolves are expected to resign the big man, even though his numbers dropped a little to an average of 2.2 points and 3.1 rebounds in 14.7 minutes per game. In addition to his role as a power plant, the Cardinal alum continues to be a fan favorite. He has generated a great deal of goodwill in the community, with his easygoing, approachable attitude and frequent local appearances. It is no surprise that the same player who gave interviews in Spanish in to the local Spanish-speaking media Los Angeles, has been quickly adopted as one of their own by the Twin Cities faithful.
Looking at the future of the Minnesota frontcourt, John Thomas and Eddie Griffin are also free agents; the Timberwolves have indicated that they would like to retain both of them for next year, if possible. Griffin has all the talent in the world and is only 22, but since leaving Seton Hall early for the NBA, has had trouble keeping his head in the game, a habit he developed during his brief college stay. Thomas is in his second NBA stint and had spurts of productivity, but whatever NBA career he has left will likely be coming off of the bench. Mercifully, the 37-year-old Ervin Johnson will not be coming back for yet another season of trying to recapture lost magic. The other true center on the roster, Michael Olowokandi, has already seen the clock run out on his ‘great potential' label. The Kandi Man did play well as the starting center when Mad Dog went down and will be back to give the T'wolves and option to go with a big lineup next year.
All things considered, the T'wolves are an excellent match for Madsen's talents. Barring a draft day miracle or free agent who plays above his price tag, Mark should be delighted by the prospect of returning to the T'wolves just as Garnett hits his peak production years. The big question will be whether Kevin McHale can do what San Antonio has done and surround his superstar with enough team-oriented talent to get them to the NBA finals. As for Mad Dog, if he can ever learn to hit that 12-15 foot jumper with consistency, he could enjoy a long NBA career.
For an up close and personal look at Madsen, check out his personal web site. On that site, you can see for yourself that with the Timberwolves, he can still muster a variation on the face that he made famous following his historic dunk against Rhode Island.
If you want to get even more up close and personal, Madsen will be returning to Stanford for the Youth Sports Festival and Seminars on June 25.
Wacky stat: Mark Madsen is one of the very few players to have more offensive rebounds than defensive rebounds over the course of his pro career.
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