MINNEAPOLIS -- This won't exactly be the return of the prodigal son.
Stephon Marbury returns to Target Center on Sunday for the first time since he forced a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves to New Jersey Nets last year.
Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said that while he's gotten over the breakup, he's not sure the Minnesota fans have forgiven and forgotten.
"I don't know if there's any more loyal people than in the state of Minnesota," Saunders said. "And when things don't work out, they take that personally."
Wolves forward Tom Hammonds said it could get ugly Sunday.
"The reception is not going to be too good," Hammonds said. "One thing I've noticed in the fans around here is that they are loyal. I'm sure they'll let Stephon know how they feel."
But wait, it is, after all, Marbury's 23rd birthday.
In that case, Kevin Garnett said, he'll have a gift waiting for his former teammate.
"I got him a nice little L," Garnett said, grinning. "He might not take it, though."
When Marbury forced his way out of the Wolves' plans last season, Saunders said the point guard had told him he couldn't stand being secondary to Garnett, financially or otherwise. Garnett's $126 million contract was the impetus for last season's lockout.
Saunders also said Tom Gugliotta might not have left before last year's truncated season had he known Marbury was going to be leaving so soon.
Marbury insists his desire to leave had nothing to do with jealousy and everything to do with returning to the East Coast, where he ruled the courts in Brooklyn, N.Y., as a teen-ager.
Marbury entered the NBA at 19 after only one season at Georgia Tech.
"That is one of the problems (young players) have is that when they leave (college) they are dealing with 33-year olds," Saunders said. "When they go out, they can't go out with them.
"At the time, Stephon said it had nothing to do with Minnesota. Well, when you're 19 and you can't get into clubs, there isn't a lot to do with the people you're hanging with. Point blank, Minnesota is not New York City."
Either way, when Marbury bolted, he left many miffed Minnesotans and troubled Timberwolves in his wake.
"I think a lot of guys were a little annoyed because we had a good thing going," Hammonds said. "He thought he had a good deal there and everyone in this room feels that we don't want anyone here that doesn't want to be here."
Garnett said he's been looking forward to Marbury's return.
"I think it could be fun," Garnett said. "This will be our first time facing each other in different uniforms. It's not a negative thing. I'm more excited about competing than anything.
"It might feel like a playoff game Sunday."
But Malik Sealy said the reunion probably is a bigger deal to Marbury.
"I don't think anyone on this team is concentrating on Stephon," Sealy said. "He made a decision that was good for Stephon and we wish him well. We still hope we beat him when he comes here. We don't wish him THAT well."
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