Of all the places Joe Smith has been, there is one stop he conveniently chooses to omit from his memory when reflecting on his long list of travels — the end of his first stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Before former NBA referee Tim Donaghy disgraced himself and the league for betting on games, Smith was at the center of what many had considered the biggest scandal in NBA history.
After the 1999-2000 season, the NBA investigated the Wolves for salary cap circumvention after learning the franchise had brokered an under-the-table deal. Under the agreement, Smith signed three one-year contracts below his market value and was promised a future multimillion-dollar deal.
The agreement enabled the Wolves to save salary cap space for other player moves. Minnesota, had it not been caught, could have then exceeded the salary cap to re-sign Smith once he had played with the team for the agreement’s three consecutive seasons under a provision commonly referred to as "Larry Bird rights.”
The league penalized the Wolves by taking away the team’s first-round draft picks in each of the next five seasons and fining the franchise $3.5 million. All three of Smith’s one-year contracts with the Wolves were voided, preventing the team from the right to extend him a lucrative contract. Owner Glen Taylor and vice president of basketball operations Kevin McHale both took leaves of absences.
The NBA later reinstated two of the Wolves’ draft picks.