Minnesota Timberwolves: Joe Smith, Center (1998-00, 2001-03)
Joe Smith had been a fantastic player during his time at college. In two seasons spent at the University of Maryland, he averaged a stellar 20.2 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in just under 33 minutes per game. Those numbers were enough to make him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors.
In two and a half years in the Bay Area, Smith looked the part of a future star before a mid-season trade to the Philadelphia 76ers led to a nosedive in his production. A free agent that summer, he had the freedom to choose his next destination.
He wound up a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, although on a significantly smaller deal than expected at one-year, $1.7 million.
Smith wound up averaging a modest 11.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in two seasons after taking a subsequent one-year contract. It was prior to that second offseason, though, where a secret would reveal itself that wound up decimating the franchise for years after.
Smith had apparently agreed with Minnesota to take three consecutive one-year deals in order to obtain more financial flexibility before ultimately being handed a lucrative deal. Such a tactic is considered tampering. The league came down hard, forcing the Timberwolves to forfeit five (It was later reduced to four) first-round picks, along with a fine of $3.5 million, among other things.
He would then move on to the Detroit Pistons for a year before signing a six-year, $34 million deal with Minnesota. Smith then averaged 9.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Even with all the drama, Smith is still the best free agent the Timberwolves have ever managed to sign. That says plenty about their inability to recruit. Then again, it’s not that easy when attempting to convince players to live in the frigid Minnesota winters.