Denver In the hours before the All-Star game, Kevin Garnett wondered how the Minnesota Timberwolves might regain the lofty status they recently lost.
If it takes a trade of Wally Szczerbiak, Sam Cassell or Latrell Sprewell before Thursday's 2 p.m. CST deadline, it would come as a surprise to the league's reigning MVP.
Or so he says.
"As of lately, I haven't been in the loop on anything, so I don't know what we're doing, what kind of transactions we're making," Garnett said Sunday. "As far as the loop, I don't know where it's at."
The All-Star break ended Monday, and the league's 24 best players headed this way and that from a city that pulled off the league's showcase weekend without a hitch and now will focus its attention on the troubles of the struggling Nuggets.
Denver made the playoffs last season after an eight-year absence, but the Nuggets' current record (24-29) has left them with the 10th-best record. Only eight teams qualify for the postseason.
By comparison, though, the Timberwolves' situation is worse.
After reaching the Western Conference finals last season with the NBA's second-best record (58-24), Minnesota enters the unofficial second half of the season as a .500 team with serious chemistry issues that many believe only can be resolved with a roster shakeup.
"Chemistry is something that's hard. I love all the guys on my team; they're all good guys, guys that really care about one another, guys that have real, real, real, real work ethics," Garnett said. "And, as a unit, we know we can come together and turn this thing around, so whether they're going to make moves or not ... it's not going to be dependent on what Kevin Garnett thinks."
Along with the Timberwolves, the Sacramento Kings, Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers are the favorites to make something happen before the league's trading deadline passes Thursday afternoon.
Sacramento's Chris Webber, New York's Kurt Thomas, Toronto's Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall, Indiana's suspended Ron Artest, Memphis' Bonzi Wells, Portland's Damon Stoudamire, Nick Van Exel and Ruben Patterson, Miami's Eddie Jones and the Lakers' Lamar Odom were among the names being bandied about in trade rumors during the weekend.
"I think every year there's so much speculation, but we always say nobody wants to pull that trigger," Seattle's Ray Allen said. "It might be that some 10th to 12th players are moved around, some draft picks. But nothing really significant ever happens."
Allen seemed to be forgetting a big piece of his own recent past, the deadline-day deal between the SuperSonics and Milwaukee two years ago. He was caught off-guard when the Bucks shipped him to Seattle for Gary Payton and Desmond Mason, and chances are someone will be in a similar situation this week.
Many believe this is a different season than the NBA has experienced for the past decade, the race for the championship more wide-open than 99 percent of the league's player population ever has seen.
"Everybody says San Antonio is the team to beat, and definitely they've earned that and have the right to say that," Phoenix's Shawn Marion said. "We have to prove we can beat them and play with them."
Phoenix (41-13) comes out of the break just a half-game behind San Antonio (41-12) for the league's best record.
Miami (40-14), Seattle (35-15), Dallas (35-16), the defending champion Pistons (32-19) and Sacramento (33-20) are right on their heels, and Cleveland (30-21), Washington (30-22) and Houston (32-21) are the league's upstarts.
One sportswriter who had a five-hour layover in Las Vegas on his way to Denver noticed that the Rockets were listed as 30-1 to win the title.
That fact was relayed Sunday to Tracy McGrady, who was immediately taken aback given his team's eight-game winning streak.
"I think we've shown over the past month that we're a team not to be taken lightly," McGrady said. "Maybe they think our time is not now since it's our first year together, myself and Yao (Ming), but I don't feel that way. We did get off to a bad start and dug ourselves a big hole, but if they watched over the past month they'd realize we're one of the elite teams in this league now."
The problem, as Garnett can attest, is that elite-team status is fleeting in today's NBA.
Teams have four days to do something about it before the trading deadline passes.