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Tag:Minnesota Timberwolves
Posted on: July 14, 2012 12:53 pm
 

Wolves Offseason Update

7/14/12

Here’s what we know so far.

David Kahn is intolerably patient.

The Nicolas Batum saga has reached its seemingly 1,000th hour and the matter of his free agency remains unresolved. We’ve seen this superhuman patience from Kahn before. When he took over as GM three years ago he took weeks to fire Kevin McHale, something we all knew was a foregone conclusion. After dispatching Kurt Rambis a year ago he took months to hire a replacement. To Kahn’s credit, his patience resulted in the hiring of one of the all-time great NBA head coaches in Rick Adelman. So it shouldn’t be a total surprise that Kahn has stalked the Blazers in his pursuit of Batum with incredible diligence and resolve.

The Wolves want Batum. Badly. Both Rick Adelman and David Kahn believe he’s the perfect fit. From Adelman’s point of view, Batum is an athletic wing who can defend, run the open court, and knock down jumpers at a high rate. Those qualities are a combination the Wolves weren’t getting from anyone last season. From Kahn’s perspective, Batum is all of the things I just mentioned but also young enough to form an OKC-esque core with Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and to an extent, Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic

The problem is Portland feels the same way. The Blazers, whether they want to admit it or not, are headed in the wrong direction.  They won’t make the playoffs next year and they know it. They’ve got a star in LaMarcus Aldridge. They’ve got someone they hope will be a star in Batum. They’ve got a good shooter in Wesley Mathews. Outside of those three they have a couple of mid-level prospects in Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard, and the crushed dreams of a franchise to be built around Greg Oden and Brandon Roy. Injuries are a bitch.

So Portland knows they can’t lose one of their two legitimate pieces in Batum for nothing. They also know that whatever the Wolves offer him is going to be more than he’s worth. Even if it’s for the bare minimum reported amount of 11 million a year, the Blazers will be over the cap with almost nothing to show for it. If the Wolves raise that, which they probably will, or include a trade kicker, which they definitely will, it will make the contract even more difficult for Portland to swallow. But they basically have to.

Of course, the other option is for Portland to let Batum walk, save the cap space, and embrace the inevitable rebuild. However, the x-factor here is that there’s a fair amount of ego and pride in play with Blazers GM, Neil Olshey, and owner, Paul Allen. This whole Batum thing has escalated into one giant pissing contest and no one wants to look like the loser in all of it.

Thankfully, there is an end in sight. On Friday the Wolves executed a flurry of moves in order to clear the cap space necessary to make an official offer to Batum, which he will accept. The Wolves need to let one of their cuts, Martell Webster, clear waivers before they can officially submit the offer. That will be at 4:00 PM central time on Sunday. From there, the Blazers have 72 hours to match the offer or let Batum walk. So by Wednesday evening at the latest this matter will be resolved…I hope. If I were forced to put odds on it I’d say there’s a 20% chance the Wolves and Blazers work out a sign and trade deal before they submit his offer sheet on Sunday, a 65% chance the Blazers match the offer sheet and keep Batum, and a 15% chance Batum is simply allowed to leave Portland for greener pastures in Minnesota.

With or without Batum, it’s been a pretty successful offseason so far. Although admittedly, losing out on Batum will make it feel like a failure given how aggressive they’ve been in trying to get him. The void of talent at the wing positions last year was the team’s glaring weakness. Kahn has answered that by acquiring Chase Budinger, Brandon Roy and Russian prospect, Alexey Shved. All three are upgrades over last year’s group. The positional depth as is looks like…

 

Guards – Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, Alexey Shved, JJ Barea, Malcolm Lee

* Great PG depth. Barea and Shved can play both guard positions.

 

Wings – Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Wesley Johnson

* Throw Batum into this mix and their main weakness becomes a strength.


Forwards – Derrick Williams

* Williams will play both forward spots depending on the matchups.


Bigs – Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic

* The lack of depth right now beyond these two is somewhat alarming. They need a rim protector. The odds on favorite is Greg Steisma, a shot blocking big who spent last year with Boston.

 

Finally, we need to accept that the Batum plan may very well never come to fruition. After him, there are three big names that are getting tossed around.

OJ Mayo (UFA) – Mayo would be the flashiest acquisition but I think he’s also the most unlikely. He’ll demand a high salary and doesn’t seem to fit the mold of player Adelman likes. The wildcard is if Kahn feels like he needs to do something big to overcome the letdown of missing out on Batum.

Courtney Lee (UFA) – Lee is the most likely get. He’s familiar with Adelman from their Houston days. Plus, he’s the pure shooting defender the Wolves are looking for. Rumors are that he wants to come here, as well, and that he’s intentionally put off signing with Boston until he sees how the Batum thing plays out.

Andre Igoudala (76ers) – Igoudala would be my choice. Philadelphia wants to unload him, evidence by the fact that they’ve picked up three players who all play his position since the draft. I’d take Iggy because it would be a statement about this team's intention of competing at a high level but also adding an elite class defender – another major team need. A starting 5 of Rubio-Roy-Igoudala-Love-Pekovic would be pretty dynamic. The major problem here isn’t so much his $15 mil per year salary (although it is pretty gaudy), but the fact that he has a player option after next season, and I can’t see the Wolves wanting to lock him up to a long term deal when the intention right now is to throw the bulk of their money into Love, Rubio, Williams and Pekovic. That being said, if they could get him in a salary dump it might just be worth it.

 

Ok, that’s all for now. Stay tuned.



Category: NBA
Posted on: June 25, 2012 10:11 am
 

Wolves Big Board, 2012

These rankings aren't actually player rankings. Rather, they are a ranking of the likelyhood of each possible outcome from this week's NBA draft as it pertains to the Minnesota Timberwolves. You'll catch on.

1. Trade the Pick

- The Wolves absolutely want to win now. Check that, need to win. David Kahn’s job likely depends on it. Rick Adelman, who maybe has one or two years left, is probably demanding it. Sustaining the momentum made with the fan base means they have to win now. I think the most likely scenario is that the pick gets dealt, probably in a package with other assets. For the record, I’m all in favor of dealing this pick but only if it goes towards a legit player.

 

2. Terrence Ross, SG WASHINGTON

- Ross remains the most ideal mix of talent and team need. He’s got size, athleticism and a legit 3 point range. He’s also a true SG, and mercifully removes the novelty from the SFs and PGs that the Wolves have attempted to start at the position over the past few seasons. I think there is a good chance that Ross will be available at #18, although apparently he’s been gaining buzz in recent days. If Ross goes before #18 I can almost guarantee that someone will be available here that wasn’t supposed to be.

 

3. Will Barton, SG Memphis

- An underrated prospect at this point. Great height at 6’6” and an explosive all around scorer, but the main knock is that he’s rail thin. Like, Corey Brewer thin. That sort of comparison will take him out of the running right off the bat with a lot of Wolves fans. #18 would be a bit of a reach but there’s no denying the talent.  He averaged 18 ppg last season to go with an impressive 8 rebs a game, which might somewhat calm fears that he can’t be physical. Another big thing about Barton is that he’s an emotional (in a good way) type player. Highly vocal, plays with incredible passion. I like players like that. One final bit here, if you’re into reading the clues and whatnot, the Wolves only worked out two legitimate 1<sup>st</sup> round players, Barton and Royce White. Could mean something, could mean nothing. We’ll see.

 

4. Royce White, F IOWA STATE

-  If Derrick Williams wasn’t in the mix I would say White had a much better chance of being the pick here. If Williams gets dealt during the draft, as many are predicting, White has a great chance of being the pick. He’s an intriguing talent. A lot of players get the ‘point forward’ title but White is the real deal. He’s an amazing passer for his size and counters with great power in the post. There is upside in this pick, which is why I’d prefer White over some random SG who just happens by title to fill a need.

 

5. Fab Melo, C SYRACUSE

- This pick makes sense but will make a lot of Wolves fans cringe for two reasons. One, he’s not a wing player, their most dire position of need, and two, he’s from Syracuse, a seriously negative stigma in Wolvesland thanks to Jonny Flynn and Wes Johnson. But like I said, the pick makes sense. Almost as much as a SG, the Wolves were painfully inadequate in the shot blocking department last season. Melo averaged 3 blocks a game. His offensive game is raw at best but with Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic on board that isn’t a huge deal. Finally, Melo represents upside. There’s definite risk but at this point in the draft why not go for a homerun?

 

6. Moe Harkless, SF ST. JOHNS

- I think there’s virtually no chance Harkless goes before #18. He’s got supreme athleticism and a lot of room still to grow. The problem, and it’s a big one, is that he’s not a good shooter. I just don’t see a scenario in which the Wolves take a wing who can’t shoot. Plus, I could only see them taking a SF who they think can be better than Derrick Williams. I doubt that person is Harkless.

 

7. Tyler Zellers, C UNC

- Same logic as Melo. Zellers is more polished and has less of a bust potential. That being said, his ceiling isn’t nearly as high and if you take Zellers I think you’re basically admitting you’re okay with getting an 8<sup>th</sup> and 9<sup>th</sup> man in a winning rotation. That’s too boring for me. Roll the dice.

 

8. Quincy Miller, SF Baylor

- Terrific size at 6’10” for a SF. Good shooter, worldly athleticism, tons of potential. The deal breakers: he’s rail thin and doesn’t really know how to play basketball. He also didn’t demonstrate a ton of success in coming back from an ACL tear. The Wolves want to win now so taking a total project like Miller doesn’t seem likely. On the flip, if you’re looking for a total and complete payoff/gamble type pick, this could be it.

 

9. Austin Rivers, SG DUKE

- This would be the ideal pick, in my opinion. I love Rivers’ game. A lot of people are down on him because they say he’s a diva. I don’t see it. To me, the knocks on Rivers remind me of the knocks that prevented Steph Curry from being a top 5 pick a few years back – they’re just white noise. Rivers will be long gone by #18 but if by some miracle he’s still on the board he’s a no-brainer pick.

 

10. Bradley Beal, SG FLORIDA

- A long shot, but also some reason to it. The Wolves could deal Williams to move up to #2 and take Beal. It’s one of the few Williams trade scenarios that actually makes sense from a Wolves perspective. Replace potential with potential, except for the new potential fills your #1 need. If they could somehow do that while keeping #18 and then with the pick snag Royce White I’d safely label this draft a massive win.

 

Others….Dion Waiters, SG SYRACUSE;  Jeremy Lamb, SG UCONN;  John Henson, PF UNC; Jared Sullinger, PF OHIO STATE

- These guys all make sense for their own reasons but none of them, barring a fluke, are going to fall to #18. Waiters and Lamb would be worthy of SG consideration but they’ll both be gone in lottery. If Henson or Sullinger do manage to fall, this pick is probably getting traded.




What do you think? What are you hoping for?

Category: NBA
Posted on: April 24, 2012 11:59 am
 

2011-12 Wolves Season Summary & Offseason Primer

So, clearly you all are unsatisfied with the drop off in my Timberwolves blogging this season. You want a 2011-12 season recap? Okay, fine. I’ll throw some stuff together but I just don’t have the spirit to put a lot of energy into breaking down the campaign. That’s my way of telling you to limit your expectations. Emotionally, I’m drained. This is all I can muster.

Things in Wolvesland were magical from the beginning. Ricky Rubio was even better than advertised. Kevin Love was psychotic, making a lot of fans wish they would have given him the supermax contract after all. Nikola Pekovic was emerging before our eyes. Luke Ridnour was enjoying his best season as a pro. Rick Adelman’s coaching prowess was tangible from the start of training camp and on. Best of all, the walking detriments like Anthony Randolph, Darko Milicic and Martell Webster were confined to limited reserve roles. The Wolves were rolling along at 22-20. Admittedly, not the stuff dynasties are made of but for a team that hadn’t surpassed the 17 win mark since 2008-09 it was a major step in the right direction. There was buzz all around the franchise. Games (plural) were selling out. Nationally televised games were popping up. The words “Wolves” and “playoffs” were being mentioned in the same sentence, and not with the words “will never make” in between. The long suffering of Wolves fans was seemingly coming to an end.

Then, in the closing seconds of a heartbreaking three point loss to the Lakers back in early March, the season, for all intents and purposes, came to an end. Rubio tore his ACL and that was that.

The Wolves managed to stay scrappy for a couple of weeks but then everyone else got hurt and what started as a season of promise and redemption quickly changed course and ended like all the others in recent history: shit.

In this shortened 66 game season, Rubio missed 25 games, Love missed 11, Pekovic missed 20, Ridnour missed 13, Beasley missed 19, and Barea missed 26. That’s just way too much injured time from your six best players for an already depth starved team like the Wolves to overcome.

I could go on blasting half the roster for not stepping up when other players went down, but really, what’s the point? You don’t need me to tell you that Martell Webster is the worst 3 point specialist in NBA history, or that Wesley Johnson is good at nothing, or that Anthony Randolph is like the Lion, Tinman and Scarecrow all in one. You already know this, don’t you?

Looking ahead, the Wolves are entering a critical offseason. David Kahn will begin his 4th season as GM. His personnel moves throughout his first three seasons have been hit or miss, but the true misses (Jonny Flynn, Wes, Martell, Darko) plus the ultimately ineffectual moves (Randolph, Michael Beasley) are starting to outweigh the big hits (Rubio, Rick Adelman). To his credit, Kahn was initially very successful in unloading many of the bloated contracts McHale had brought on board, but that (manipulating the cap) was supposed to be his specialty. The thing no one knew about him was if he’d be able to actually put a winner together. We still don’t know the answer to that.

The roster breakdown for next year follows. These are players who are locked in and their salary due.

Kevin Love – 13.6
Derrick Williams – 4.9
Nikola Pekovic – 4.6
JJ Barea – 4.4
Wes Johnson – 4.2
Luke Ridnour – 4.1
Ricky Rubio – 3.7
Wayne Ellington – 2.0
Malcolm Lee – 0.7

 

If I were in charge, the following players would be dispensed.

Michael Beasley – 8.1 (RFA, don’t make the qualifying offer)
Martell Webster – 5.7 (decline team option)
Darko Milicic – 5.2 (amnesty or buy out)
Brad Miller – 5.1 (decline team option)
Anthony Randolph – 4.0 (RFA, don’t make the qualifying offer)
Anthony Tolliver – 2.0 (UFA)

Let’s just assume the salary cap stays the same. That leaves the Wolves with guaranteed contracts worth a combined 42.2 mil, which translates to being approximately 14 mil under the cap. 14 million is enough to make a splash in free agency. If the right free agents aren’t there, it’s enough to eat a big contract in a cap clearing move by another team. Of course, the big contract has to also be attached to a good player.  

The way I see it, this season showed us that Wolves have five legitimate NBA basketball players. Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea. In that order. Their wing play is atrocious. Simply terrible. They have no one at either SG or SF who can create a shot or break down a defense. That’s the biggest area of need. Then they also need an athletic and defensive shot blocker type to play some center when the matchup calls for it. The rotation for next season right now looks something like this.  


PG: Ricky Rubio – Luke Ridnour – JJ Barea
SG: ???????? - ??????????
SF:  ???????? – Wesley Johnson
PF: Kevin Love – Derrick Williams
C: Nikola Pekovic - ?????????

Those question marks, especially at the wing spots, need to be replaced with competent players. At least one of them needs to be a high level player, no lower than an Andre Igoudala/Monta Ellis/Rudy Gay type in terms of talent and production.

Do the Wolves have the assets to pull it off? I don’t know. But I would be open to trading anyone not named Love and Rubio in order to land a true star. Derrick Williams, in particular, could have some high value to a team nearing a rebuilding phase.

Do the Wolves have the right personnel to execute such an offseason? Again, that’s up for debate. Kahn has been talking about adding a star via a “signature move” since day 1. He is yet to deliver. Some claim that RJ Adelman (Rick’s son) was brought into the front office as a way to ensure that Rick has his say in personnel decisions. Let’s hope so, because at his age I can’t see Coach Adelman wanting to be especially patient with the high number scrubs Kahn has assembled for him so far.

For Wolves fans, we got a taste of what could be, which creates some optimism for the future. There’s also plenty of reason to feel snake bitten – like this franchise is doomed to fail. Ultimately, we’re headed towards another summer of hope and an eagerness to move on from the season that was.



Posted on: January 31, 2012 3:32 pm
Edited on: January 31, 2012 3:51 pm
 

Wounded Wolf

Wesley Johnson has a PER of 10.14. To put that into perspective, there are only two players in the league averaging more than 20 minutes a game with a worse PER. Out of 400+ players in the NBA, there are two. One is Toney Douglas of the Knicks, and he really is that bad. The other is Shane Battier. He gets a pass, not only because he’s 46 years old, but because his contributions cannot be measured in statistical increments, and by default, not measurable with PER. 

Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is an imperfect stat. It heavily favors players who tend to score more and puts weight into defensive stats, namely blocks and steals, that can be, but are not necessarily, reflective of good defensive play. Shane Battier is the perfect example of a guy who plays great D but doesn't register a lot of steals or blocks. That being said, I think it’s fair to look at PER when assessing the abysmal play of Wes Johnson. PER favors scorers, and so it should favor a guy like Wes, who was drafted with the intent of being the great shooter and athletic running mate that would benefit so greatly from an open court passer like Ricky Rubio. In ideal terms, Wes would be to Rubio what Shawn Marion was to Steve Nash.

The ideal is not real.

There’s no other way around it: Wes has been terrible. Not even he, I imagine, would deny it. He’s shooting 24% from 3 point range and 37% overall. That’s his apparent specialty. His 6.8 points per game is hardly what you’d like out of a starting shooting guard. At 6’7” you’d assume he’d have a sizable advantage on the boards against smaller competition. His 3.0 rebounds do not support the assumption. In fact, there are 51 combined PGs and SGs who are averaging more than that. His 0.85 assists per game average rank him at 250th in the league. When, as a wing player, there are 22 centers averaging more assists than you there’s a problem.

Some Wes apologists will quickly point out that he has largely been used out of position as a guard, when everyone knows his true position is small forward. In recent games, Wes has in fact been starting at SF with Luke Ridnour starting at SG. That’s another byproduct of the Wes problem - the Wolves start a PG at SG because their other 2-guard option (Wes) is really no option at all. But as to the ‘Wes is a SF’ debate, the positional move hasn’t meant a thing. His points, rebounds, assists, shooting percentages and overall contributions to winning basketball have remained the same, regardless of what position he technically is occupying. His struggles are bigger than that.

Wes, quite simply, is playing with shattered confidence. That’s the overwhelming appearance, anyways. He allegedly worked all offseason on his ball handling and shooting. By the end of the first game of the current season up until the present day it appears that all the practice and rededication didn’t do a thing. It must be incredibly demoralizing for him. You can see it in the way he plays. He doesn’t want to shoot. When he does force himself to pull the trigger it’s like he’s simply trying to hit the rim and not embarrass himself with another air ball. In the January 30th game against Houston he passed up two dunks when he was literally already airborne, uncontested and at the rim for passes to teammates that weren’t there. It was totally inexplicable. He was milliseconds away from dunking the ball and it’s like the demons in his head stepped in and convinced him he would somehow blow the most high percentage of shots. The fact that he did it twice is almost beyond words. 

So now the only question that remains is why is he still playing? Michael Beasley and Martell Webster returned from injury recently. JJ Barea should be back soon. Derrick Williams needs development minutes. Why even bother with a guy playing so poorly? Why give him as much as 20 minutes a game?

Some have ripped Rick Adelman and David Kahn for sticking with Wes. I don’t see it as that. To me, this is the on court basketball equivalent of an intervention. I think Adelman and Kahn know that Wes is in a critically fragile state. To bench him and relegate him to mop up minutes would take his shell of an ego and obliterate it completely. To send him to the D-League would be equally as damning. Plus, I think there is a good chance that Wes would continue to struggle even in the D-League, which certainly wouldn’t help restore confidence.  Wes has minimal trade value right now so the only option is to stick with him and hope he improves.

The Wolves have managed to win despite Wes Johnson’s negative impact. The team is young and really isn’t expected to compete this year so there isn’t a ton of pressure to replace him. There is also the matter of having invested the 4th overall pick in the draft on him less than two years ago. Impatience isn’t the answer to helping Wes finding his niche. At this point, I’m not sure what that niche is or will someday be. He has the size and athleticism to be a plus defender. But even a great man defender like Bruce Bowen had to be competent enough to keep defenses honest by knocking down open jump shots.

A year ago, Wes Johnson experienced his share of rookie struggles, but he also flashed the ability to make big plays often enough that showed something was there. As someone who followed the team closely, at no point did I think he was someone who didn’t have a future in the NBA. Right now, that’s how it looks. Games like his 29 point explosion against the Lakers, and specifically Kobe, from last season seem like they never really happened or could ever happen again. That’s how far he has fallen. Hopefully, for the Wolves, but more so for Wes, he finds himself in all of this.

Posted on: January 2, 2012 12:16 am
 

Wolves 10 Pointer: Mavericks (1/1)

Wolves win, 99-82

1. I was in attendance for this beautiful game and let me just say this, wow. Wow. World of Warcraft...wow. Electric energy. Maybe not a must win, but after losing three very close games dropping a 4th to begin the season would have been difficult to stomach. So what do they do? The Minnesota Timberwolves came out and throttled the defending NBA Champs. You shoulda been there. It was one of those games where you couldn't help but get out of your seat and yell shit at the court from the upper deck. I'm enjoying this way more than a grown man probably should, but shit, fuck it. I, and many like me, have endured so many bleak years with this team that this brief, very brief, glimmer of legitimate hope for the future is more enjoyable than it would be to the casual observer. Fuck it, we deserve to enjoy the shit out of this.

2. Ok, so maybe it wasn't a total throttling. The teams were tied after 1. Wolves up 9 at the half. Mavs cut it to 5 in the 3rd. Then the Wolves asserted their will in the 4th and ended up winning by 17. The most impressive thing about the overall game is how this Wolves team stood up to every Mavs run and answered with a run of their own. All Wolves teams between the years 2005-2010 would have collapsed under the psychotic scoring ability of Dirk and company. But not this team, and that's largely a credit to Rick Adelman. They went punch for punch with OKC and Miami but came up inches short. Not tonight. All the little things they did to shoot themselves in the foot throughout the first three games they cleaned up and put one on the Champs.

3. Kevin Love. 25 pts, 17 rebs, 5-6 on 3pt shots. It's a shame that stat lines like those can begin to seem ordinary when a guy does it enough. Again, here's what really matters about those numbers - he did it in a win. Not just any win, but a win against a team that is supposedly way better than his own AND he did it in the clutch. Midway through the 4th Dallas had cut the Wolves lead to 2 and the all too familiar appearance of another collapse crept back into our minds. You could feel it in the air. The very next possession Love drills a step back three right in some clueless mother fucker's face, and the Mavs would never get that close again. Doing it when the game is on the line. I've always said, that's what separates the good from the great.

4. Once again, Ricky Rubio plays the entire 4th quarter. He finished with 14 points, 7 assists and 3 rebs in 26 minutes of play. I'm a rube, no doubt about it. But I feel like I'm a pretty critical rube, which if you know that about me you know I've never said this about another Wolves player, at least not since the glory days of KG. Ricky Rubio was masterful in this game. Him and Love were instrumental in the convincing nature of the win. Play after play Rubio commanded the offense. He was moving around the perimeter with complete confidence, setting his teammates up with wide open looks and when the defense dared him to beat them with his supposed subpar offensive capabilities, he did just that. I went to the game with former Court Electric owners, the Brothers Zerr, and all three of us and virtually every other person in the arena were stunned with how efficiently he took the game over. Maybe we're just starved for that sort of ability around these parts, but I tend to think it was more than that.

5. Easily the third most valuable player in this game was Anthony Tolliver. He played excellent defense on Dirk. Clearly Tolliver got in his head - Dirk's frustration was obvious by his persistent tantrum throwing. AT got his typical hustle boards and hit three massive three pointers, including the one that Rubio delivered on a stunning between the legs of Dirk pass, which for all intents and purposes ended the game and sent the fan energy level through the roof of Target Center.

6. Giving credit where credit is due, Luke Ridnour had his best game of the year. He limited his turnovers and took (and made) some timely jumpers. I've been brutal on the guy but he had a good game.

7. Lamar Odom has vaulted into my 5 least favorite NBA players list. I noticed him acting like a little bitch a lot last year with the Lakers and now with the Mavs it seems like he's made the full-time  transition to punk ass bitch. He's lazy and I suspect gutless. No heart. Deserving of the Kardashian he got.

8. Unfortunately, it's not all sunny in Wolvesland. There are certain individuals who continue to struggle. Interestingly enough, I attribute it somewhat to the fact that the team as a whole is beginning to play well, which is now exposing those who play against the grain more so than they would have been on last year's totally dysfunctional team. Giving Ridnour a free pass for the moment, Wes Johnson, Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph can't quite get their shit together. Wes strikes me as an intelligent player who is out of position and really headfucked right now. I think his confidence is at an all-time low and he's thinking way too hard about every little thing he is doing on the court. The dude needs to step back and get his mind right before it gets really out of hand. Beas and Randolph I think are a little more complicated. They are extremely talented but hamstrung by low basketball IQs. They just don't seem to get it. For every good thing they do they seem to quickly counter it with one mind numbingly stupid thing. Players like that can't be trusted when the game is on the line. That's more damning for Beasley than Randolph, but ultimately good for neither.

9. Before any Debbie Downers out there feel the need to check me on my enthusiasm, let me beat you to the punch. Yes, I know they are still a long ways from being taken seriously as a good, legit team. Yes, I know they are, in spite of the positive signs of growth, still just 1-3 on the season. Yes, I realize Rubio will likely hit the rookie wall at some point and struggle to play at this level throughout the season. I know all the reasons to be muted in my optimism for this year. But I can also recognize true improvement when I see it. This team IS headed in the right direction. There'll be some growing pains, but God damnit, we're starting to claw our way out of the cellar. Let's be happy about that.

10. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you exhibits A, B and C as to why the Wolves passed on DeMarcus Cousins....
http://www.usatoday.com/sports/bask
etball/nba/kings/story/2012-01-01/d
emarcus-cousins-benched-trade/52324
488/1

Posted on: June 4, 2011 2:44 pm
 

Finally, Ricky Rubio

     Ricky Rubio signing a contract to play with the Timberwolves next season is phenomenally good news for the fans. No other way around it. I first got word that he might have signed around 10:00 PM on Tuesday night and like the rube I am, I stayed up until almost 1:00 AM reading a number of news articles, blogs and Twitter accounts on the development. I did the same thing this morning.

     What I found, not surprisingly, is that there is a lot of negativity out there. In what should be a really positive moment for the organization and its fan base there are those who feel the need to quickly bring us all back to Earth. Most of the criticism is based around his subpar stats in Euro leagues. The individuals who speak this sort of criticism are quick to forget the ancient history that was a 17 year old Rubio going head-to-head against Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd in the 2008 Beijing Olympic and in many ways, outplaying them.

     If we’ve learned anything at all about the transition from Euro to NBA ball, and vice versa, it’s that the two styles of play are very different and what works in one does not necessarily work in the other. As a result, the statistics do not necessarily translate.

     First and foremost, the games are 8 minutes shorter in Europe. That alone deflates the numbers. Euro leagues also tend to play a more all-inclusive style of basketball. There is much less focus on individual stat stuffing and more of a commitment to team play. For example, everyone talks about how Rubio only averaged 3.5 assists this season. That was good enough for 11th best in the league. The leader averaged 6.2 assists. Only 3 players averaged above 5 assists. The league leader in points averaged 17.2 a game (fun fact: it was former Timberwolf, Igor Rakocevic). Him and one other guy in the whole league were the only players to average over 15 points. Compare those two tidbits to the NBA this season in which 31 players averaged 5 or more assists and 62 players averaged 15 or more points. The games are very, very different and if you simply read a box score and think that x points here equals x points there, you are sorely mistaken.

     So if in spite of all that if you can manage to overlook the previous paragraph and instead focus on some less than eye popping statistics then I suppose I can admit some skepticism is deserved. Personally, I just choose to enjoy the moment for a while before getting back to basking in the negative. Are we embattled Timberwolves fans not allowed to be excited about something for even a few minutes? Is good news a phenomena that must evade us completely? Is the thought of a star caliber player voluntarily agreeing to play in the state of Minnesota such an abomination that we must immediately degrade the potential (and sanity) of the player? If being a Wolves fan is to live in a state of gloom and disappointment, can signing Ricky Rubio not serve as a little dose of Prozac?

     I really am okay to let the haters hate and watch the money pile up, but where I will interject and argue is on the basis of expectations. A lot of the detractors are essentially saying that Rubio won’t be able to score a lot or single handedly take over games the way a LeBron or Kobe do and so he basically amounts to much ado about nothing. These individuals, I am afraid, are the victims of a poor imagination. They are looking at Rubio all wrong.  He is not LeBron or Kobe or Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook. If we’re insistent on putting a current player comparison on him I’d say he probably most resembles Jason Kidd. A plus defender, good size, floor general, elite passer, questionable jump shot, etc… Rubio also shows glimpses of being a truly transformational player in his ability to conduct an offense in an uptempo-fast break offense. In that regard, an eventual progression to a Steve Nash type is probably his best case ceiling.

     That stuff covers his skill set. If you just look at his physical projections I can see why he wouldn’t look all that different from other top prospects.  Where Rubio sets himself apart, however, is in his intangibles. If you saw the Olympics in 08, if you’ve watched any of the plethora of Rubio highlight videos on Youtube, if you’ve followed the guys career closely  and what some of the top players and coaches in the world say about him, then you know that there are things about Rubio’s game that do not translate to paper. The guy simply has a feel for the game that appears unnaturally natural, made all the more impressive when you consider he is still only 20 years olds.

     Does his jump shot need a lot of work? Yes. Will he need to add muscle mass in order to stand up to the grind of a NBA season? Without question. Could he ultimately fail to live up to expectations? Considering the expectations by many fall right around ‘franchise savior’, yes, I would say there is a decent chance he could fail to live up to some expectations.

     At the present, none of that really matters. What matters is that this is a win for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Whether it puts the team back on the right track, energizes the fan base, sells some tickets, earns the team a little more national attention, makes Minnesota more attractive to free agents, plants the seeds of a big T-Wolves following in Spain or all of the above, Rubio’s arrival is a good thing.

And now, let me leave you with some quotes about the newest Timberwolf…

"He's an amazing defender, that's one thing that stood out to me is how well he pressured the ball and disrupted our offense…He's flashy, he's crafty as well and the passes he did...were kind of amazing."Kevin Durant

"It's crazy what he's already done. I am 23 and I think of the things I've done, but he is only 17, it's crazy! He has already been in the Olympics. I've played 3 years in college and 3 years in the NBA before going to the Olympics. He will come to the NBA to steal my job." – Chris Paul

"This is my third time playing against him, and he is definitely ready to play in the NBA. The kid can play. I felt like in the Olympics he played very well and showed a lot of poise and he reads a lot of things that average players don't."Kobe Bryant

“He’s gotten bigger and he plays outstanding defense, and because he’s a pass-first guard—he’s going to be liked by everybody who plays with him.” - Mike Krzyzewski

“It was great just to test him. He’s a young player and he played great. He really runs the offense well … I think he’s ready for the NBA.”Derrick Rose

"We're very high on him. If they (Minnesota) want to give him up, we're very interested. We would do that in a heartbeat…We tried to trade up to get Rubio. But we weren't close. We would have loved to draft him” – Mark Cuban





Posted on: May 14, 2011 8:30 pm
 

Do or Die: The 2011 Timberwolves Offseason

This is it. The upcoming offseason is a do or die offseason for the Minnesota Timberwolves organization.  There is a nuclear scenario taking shape that isn’t so improbable as it first appeared three seasons ago. If these various scenarios all come together and are allowed to play out the Wolves will waste what few gains they have made throughout this rebuilding effort and be once again left at square 1. No one, and I mean no one, has the stomach for another relaunch. This is it.

 

The Clipper Effect

One final parting gift from McHale’s wonder years is yet to be opened. The Christmas morning equivalent of a giant lump of coal that is an unprotected 1st round pick is destined to go to the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2012 draft. Look closer and you’ll see the lump of coal is actual a pile of dog shit when you realize that the pick was dealt for the services of one Marko Jaric. Given that the Wolves have won a combined 32 games over the past two seasons it is very plausible that the pick they eventually give away will be a very high one. Probably the 1st overall pick, if you believe the Wolves are as ironically snake bitten as they appear.

In fairness to Kevin McHale, all the Timberwolves would have had to do to avoid losing an unprotected pick in 2012 was at any point over the past five seasons finish outside of the 10 worst teams in the league. In their prolonged failure, they failed to do so.

It’s really too bad it has to go down this way. Randy Foye, Corey Brewer, and Jonny Flynn were the equivalent of forfeited picks. If only McHale could have foreseen the future. He could have said to Clippers GM Guy, “Hey, instead of that future provisional 1st round pick we’ll give you our 1st rounders in 2006, 2007 and 2009 straight up.” I suppose that would have looked extra bad, even by McHale standards.

To the average Wolves fan, an acceptable pick loss would probably be in the range of #7 and later. Don’t get me wrong, we fans don’t want to lose any pick but ending up around that #7 mark would imply a significant amount of improvement from the absolute worst record they earned in 2010 to a slightly less worse record in 2011.  Still not great, but when you’re at rock bottom even plain old non-rock bottom looks appealing.

 

The Rambis Effect

Two years into a ‘down to the studs’ rebuild and most would agree that the Wolves probably don’t have their head coach of the future under contract. On one hand, you can hardly fault David Kahn for this one. At the time of his hire, Kurt Rambis was the most high profile candidate out there. Going out and landing a big name was very unWolves like. Previous hires, Randy Wittman and Dwayne Casey were straight off the clearance racks. Rambis, on the other hand, was poached from under Phil Jackson and the Lakers. Looked good at the time. Looks like a wasted two years at the present.

Rambis defenders will cite the poor talent on roster for the poor results of the past two seasons. I'll agree that the talent isn’t great, but it’s also not as bad as it has appeared at times. There are many more reasons that suggest he’s not cut out to coach a young and inexperienced team, such as the team’s inability to improve on fundamental flaws over time (ie. Refusal to contest three point shots). But more than any one factor, it’s a lack of player development that dooms him in my eyes.

Young players should get better. To the contrary, the only guy to improve under Rambis is Kevin Love and I kinda get the feeling he was destined to improve no matter who the coach was. In fact, many players appeared to get worse under Rambis. Beasley started great and declined as the season wore on. As did Darko. Wes Johnson regressed throughout his rookie season. Jonny Flynn went from inconsistent to complete train wreck in record time.  There was no steady cohesion or improvement. There were no signature wins against superior competition that signaled this ship is headed in the right direction. Really, there was nothing to get excited about. A very young team like the Wolves, at the very least, should be exciting.

 

 

The Rubio Effect

David Kahn made the absolute correct pick in 2009 when he selected Ricky Rubio with the 5th pick. Rip the Flynn pick one spot later all you want, but Rubio was the right call. And in spite of that, Kahn will likely lose his job over it.

Rubio has been the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the past two seasons. With every Ridnour, Sessions and Flynn unforced turnover we took solace in the fact that the savior would be here soon. The fanbase was told upon his drafting that we might need to wait two years before Rubio would play in the NBA. We were also told it would be worth the wait. Rubio was to be the transformational star that would put the Wolves back on the map. Well, it’s been two years. Where the hell is he?

The next month will be pivotal on this front. If he signs with the team, us Wolves faithful take to the streets elation at a renewed sense of hope. If he decides to stay in Spain the morale hit to a perpetually demoralized fanbase will be near apocalyptic. The mood will quickly turn to one of grief, then anger, and then complete apathy. No one will cared that they get screwed in the draft lottery. No one will care that in an effort to save a few more Bucks Glen Taylor declines to fire Rambis. No one will even care when Kevin Love starts dropping the “get me some real help or I’m outtta here” hints.  Only a major countermove, such as winning the lottery or a blockbuster trade or a legit coaching hire, will offset the utter disappointment.

Time following this organization over the years has taught us one thing: don’t hold your breath.

 

The Lock Out Effect

The grand finale to all the Wolves’ woes is the upcoming player lock out. As if the team didn’t have enough to worry about. The lock out will lessen Rubio’s likelihood of coming over this year and increase the likelihood of Rambis staying another year. It already has impacted the quality of prospect to enter the NBA draft. It will defer free agency and trades. Overall, it will deter the Wolves from having the sort of aggressive and monumental offseason they so desperately need in order to avoid total nuclear meltdown. The only real hope is that David Stern and the Player’s Association see the ugliness developing in the NFL situation and do everything they can to end this quickly.

 

Hope

In the interest of ending this on an uplifting note, there is reason for hope.  Here is a list of possibilities, any number of which would be an improvement. Maybe the fact that Rubio isn’t getting many minutes with his Spanish team which is consequently hurting his stock will cause him to want to sign with the Wolves this offseason? Maybe Rubio will want to lock in at the current NBA rookie salary rate before a new CBA can be reached? Maybe Rubio’s Spanish team will force him out because they don’t want to pay the millions they owe him next year for what amounts to a roleplayer? Maybe Rambis wants out and he’ll reach an amicable buyout? Maybe due to a lack of overall openings a quality head coach would be interested in the Wolves job? Maybe David Kahn will realize his neck is on the line and will do everything he can to make some dramatic moves to improve the team? Maybe Glen Taylor will get sick of losing money and open up the check book and add some real payroll? Maybe Michael Beasley will finally realize his star potential? Maybe Kevin Love will sign a long term deal? Maybe the Wolves will win the draft lottery? Maybe a team would be willing to trade us an established talent for a top 2 pick? Maybe they’ll draft Kyrie Irving, which will then enable them to deal Rubio?

 

Maybe, just maybe, this will be the year the Timberwolves finally turn the corner. They better, because if they don’t, the nuclear scenario I detailed above will probably unfold and this organization will slowly die, figuratively speaking. But then again, sort of literal, too.



Category: NBA
Posted on: March 25, 2011 1:15 am
 

Timberwolves 2010-11 Recap

Another underwhelming Timberwolves seasons crawls to a slow, predictable and all too familiar death. This marks the second in a row as a league bottom feeder, a designation surprisingly more disheartening than just plain old loser. To any individual or team accustomed to winning this would be totally unacceptable and the heads of Kurt Rambis and David Kahn, in particular, would roll. But for an organization quickly creeping in on the Clippers monopoly on perennially sucking, firing Kahn and Rambis at this point would merely set the effort back another year or two. I’m not sure the already depleted and demoralized fanbase has the stomach for that.

 

 THE GOOD

  • Kevin Love emerged as a top level talent. Not a Tier 1 guy like LeBron or Kobe, but certainly in that 2nd or 3rd Tier of very good players. At the age of 22, he’s got plenty of time to still climb towards that top group. He’s firmly established himself as the elite rebounder in the game, as evidence by his ridiculous 53 game streak of double-doubles and being on pace to average 15.5 rebounds per game, the most since Dennis Rodman averaged 16.1 in 1996-97. His offensive game has evolved to the point of being able to consistently and efficiently score against bigger and faster opponents, which is impressive given that about 80% of NBA power forwards are technically bigger and faster than Love. Most importantly, he’s developing as a leader. His inner and not-so-inner struggle with the attitude, demeanor and nightly effort it takes to be a true team leader has been evident throughout the last year but it’s a positive struggle in that his growth in this regard has been equally as evident. It’s kind of like in The Matrix when Neo does some crazy shit in the training mod and even though he’s stumbling through a lot of the basics everyone gets that glimpse of his potential, of what could be. They see that Neo could actually be The One. Well, this season we’ve seen surefire signs that Kevin Love could be “the one” to lead us Timberwolves faithful out this dark time.
  • Wesley Johnson has shown signs of his own that he’s capable of being a game changer from the wing position. No question, he’s had his moments that made us all wonder if DeMarcus Cousins would have been the better pick,  but what rookies don’t often make you second guess those decisions. Also, in fairness, Darko’s often lackluster play has elicited more of those moments than anything Wes ever did. If you’re looking for proof that the Wolves might indeed have their small forward of the future (cc to Rambis: Wesley Johnson is not a shooting guard) look to the last two games against the Lakers in which Wes went head-to-head against Kobe for the majority of the game.

Wesley Johnson: 24.5 points, 6 rebs and 2 steals on 50% shooting

Kobe Bryant: 21 points, 4 rebs, and half a steal on 40% shooting

 

  • Anthony Tolliver makes this list because all winning teams have guys like Tolliver. He takes charges, he brings outstanding energy every night, depending on the matchup he can guards 3s through 5s, he doesn’t need a lot of minutes or a ton of shots to make an impact on the game, and so on and so forth. And then there’s this quote from last week. "I know it's been tough on Kurt," said Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver, who claimed after Sunday's loss that "a lot of guys on this team don't bring it every night.” That’s a hell of a statement. A true statement. Not done in a way that passes blame but in a way you’d like a vet leader to step up and hold his teammates accountable. He’s like Mark Madsen, but with game and attitude.

 

THE BAD

  • The point guard play has been totally unacceptable the last two seasons. Luke Ridnour is a backup. He’d be good in that role. What we saw this year out of Ridnour is the reason why at the age of 29 he has never been a long term starter before. He’s a backup miscast as a starter. He was asked to do more than he is capable of and in my opinion, that means he was set up to fail. Of course, the other half of what I believe to be one of the worst point guard rotations in the league is Jonny Flynn. No excuses here. When you take a guy 6th overall you aren’t drafting a backup, you’re drafting a starter or at the very least, a key contributor. Flynn, on the other hand, is a constant liability and often times his entry into the game was an indication that things were about to unravel quickly. In only his second season I’m ready to declare Jonny Flynn a bust. Keep in mind, this is coming from the guy who argued the merits of Foye over Roy well past the point of reasonability. Flynn was a bad pick. Not because they had previously drafted Ricky Rubio, I actually thought the logic there was sound. Instead, Flynn was a bad pick because he is a bad player. He’s terrible defensively, he’s beyond careless with the ball, and his on court awareness and overall decision making boggles the mind. Whether Rubio comes over or not, Jonny Flynn must go this offseason.
  • The Wolves are a very poor defensive team. Shocker, right? I tend to feel the coaching staff gets too much blame for the inabilities of their players, but this is one area in which the coaches are on the hook. They could have and should have demanded more of the players. If I were the coach I would have said something like this: “Either you guys follow the defensive game plan and guard your assignment or so help me God, I will bench you. And if the guy who replaces you won’t play defense, then I’ll bench him, too. And if the next guy won’t do what I say, then I’ll scour the D-League and the ABA and Europe and all of the Earth until I am literally pulling civilians off of First Avenue to come in here and put a hand up.”
  •  The Al Jefferson trade and, in effect, David Kahn’s job performance gets failing grades (so far). Former Golden Gophers Football Head Coach, Tim Brewster, was a breath of fresh air here in the Twin Cities after being hired a few years back. He talked a big game about restoring honor to the program, going to and winning the Rose Bowl, and all sorts of other ranting that sounded great at the time. The problem is when those dreams didn’t come true he looked like an even bigger asshole than if he had just been a quiet loser. Kahn appears to be following in Brewster’s footsteps. Kahn rolled through the door as an anti-McHale. Open, honest and engaged. He was going to turn this thing around and make the Wolves a championship caliber organization, or so he said. It looked good at first, too. He got rid of all of McHale’s garbage, hired a high profile coaching candidate in Rambis and made an aggressive pre-draft trade to acquire the biggest name in the 2009 draft, Ricky Rubio. Flash forward two years and nothing is really that much better. The team is younger, faster and possessing more potential but in the end, they’re not much closer to being competitive than they were pre-Kahn. He failed to make his one big “signature move” after outlining a series of now expired time periods in which making such a move would be likely given all the Wolves’ tremendous…assets. He followed up a good trade for Michael Beasley with a bad trade of Al Jefferson. The two 1st round picks the Wolves received in the trade are yet to be determined so I’ll resist calling it a complete debacle but the highly touted trade exemption they received for Big Al quietly faded away into oblivion at this season’s trade deadline, leaving the Wolves with a bunch of nothingness in exchange for the guy we trade KG for. The rationale for trading Big Al was that the Jefferson-Love duo was brutal defensively. Here’s a newsflash: the Darko-Love combo is equally as brutal. At least with a Jefferson-Love-Beasley frontcourt they would have had a tremendous amount of scoring ability on the court at any given time. Instead, Kahn made the decision to sell low on Jefferson and we are where we are. Factor in Kahn’s poor draft record and he’s officially one offseason away from me forming some not so positive conclusions about his ability to build a winning team.

 

THE UGLY

  • At times Michael Beasley was one of the few bright spots on this team. At other times it was painfully clear why the Heat were willing to give the former #2 overall pick away for circus peanuts. In fairness to Beas, he was playing injured for most of the season. Unlike a lot of other players in this league, he refused to use it as an excuse. That’s part of it. The other part is that he really struggles to maintain focus throughout the game. The lapses on defense are most obvious. He simply stops paying attention to the flow of the game and the next thing you know his guy is streaking to the basket uncontested or comfortably spotting up on the 3 line waiting to knock down an open shot. It’s frustrating because this is completely correctable. Or is it? What can Kurt Rambis say that hasn’t already been said to him at some point? Can you really improve someone’s attention span? Ignore all the stuff about him not being committed to basketball or lacking the passion to win on a nightly basis. It’s untrue and completely blown out of proportion because of his laid back demeanor.   Beas, as simple as it sounds, needs to get his head in the game and keep it there.
  • Part of me wanted to put Darko Milicic’s performance this season in the bad category, but truthfully, it wasn’t all bad, or even mostly bad. There were some definite positives, such as his 2.2 blocks per game, which puts him at 4th for blocks among centers. In the end, the Darko experiment is/was a disappointment and therein lies my unfair inclination to label his season as bad. It’s not because he didn’t live up to his modest salary (yes, overreactors, his contract is modest by NBA standards), but rather because there was a legitimate hope that Darko’s defense, his efficient scoring and his excellent passing ability for a big would make an ideal starter in the Rambis hybrid triangle offense. He struggled out of the gate but quickly adapted and after the first month of the season it appeared the Wolves had found their starting center of the future. From there, it was all downhill. His offense became more and more selfish, evoking memories of Al Jefferson and his “black hole” presence on offense. He passed less. He hustled less. He visibly sulked up and down the court when his shot wasn’t falling. However annoying, none of this stuff bothered me as much as his decreased commitment to defense. That should have been his bread and butter. The offensive stuff was all secondary. On defense is where he could have and should have been a force, but that too faded as the season went on. It appeared as though he simply stopped caring. And there, my friends, is the summary of Darko’s career in a nutshell. Tons of ability, but not enough desire. Put ‘starting center’ on the list of Timberwolves needs this offseason.
  • Nothing is more ugly than a lack of fundamentals at the professional level. Behold, your 2010-11 Timberwolves…
* 30th (aka worst) in turnovers at 17 per game
* 30th in points allowed at 107 per game
* 29th in fouls at 23 per game
* 24thin assists at 20 per game

This all results…
* 29th in wins at 17
* 25thin fan attendance at just under 15,000 per game

 

Not much more to say than that.



Category: NBA
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com