Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Wiggins’

Blogtable: The summer of ’14

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Sophomore strength | Best new fit | A memorable summer



VIDEO: After a terrible summer, Paul George already is working toward his return.

> Outside of LeBron going home, what will you remember most about the NBA’s Summer of ’14?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Even though I only watched one replay, it’s going to be hard to forget Paul George’s shattered right leg, both because of how gruesome the injury was and what it instantly meant to the Indiana Pacers’ season and the Eastern Conference standings. It also re-opened a legitimate debate about the risks NBA players and their teams assume to prop up someone else’s money-making tournament. My runner-up? Waking up to Klay Thompson‘s remarkable importance to the Golden State Warriors — they refused to part with him for Kevin Love, after all! — or seeing that a lot of solid basketball people have overvalued him.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The big swing and miss by the Rockets, who believed they were going to land free agent Chris Bosh only to be left at the altar when he chose to re-sign with Miami.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Honestly, the image that sticks with me most is the giant-sized poster of Carmelo Anthony wearing Jeremy Lin’s No. 7 plastered all over the Toyota Center. Lin, mind you, was still a member of the Rockets, and a pretty productive member, too. He had to go to make the money right if the Rockets were to sign ‘Melo, which obviously didn’t happen, and Lin ended up leaving anyway for the Lakers. It wasn’t the classiest of moves by the Rockets organization, but Lin’s subsequent outrage, real or not, also provided me with a good chuckle.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The rookie infusion. Maybe I’m too close because I cover the Draft, but the newcomers felt like a real burst of energy. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Doug McDermott, Marcus Smart, carryovers Nerlens Noel and Nikola Mirotic, and others. There was a buzz that didn’t exist the year before. Summer-league games in Vegas were crowded. Fans seemed interested.

Kevin Love (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

Kevin Love (David Liam Kyle/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Unfortunately, it will be Paul George’s injury, and not just because I was 30 feet away. It was gruesome and it was on national TV. It took away a season from one of the league’s best young stars and it probably knocked the Pacers out of the playoffs. It was random and George got immediate medical attention, but even if the rules regarding National Team participation stay the same, it will be be on players’ minds whenever they’re asked to make that summer commitment.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I wasn’t sure the Kevin Love deal was going to happen over the summer, despite the constant discussion about it happening sooner rather than later. If the Cavaliers cash in and win a title anytime in the next five years the LeBron and Love moves combined will have been the touchstones for the summer of 2014,

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Perhaps this is a bit self-serving, but the new TV deals signed by the NBA with ABC and our parent company Turner have the potential to be significant. With the television contract revenue almost tripling, the luxury tax number should skyrocket. While this could also mean labor issues down the road, it definitely means the upper limit of the luxury tax should skyrocket. Yes, this means teams will have more room to spend more money, but it doesn’t guarantee instant success for capped out teams — teams struggling financially got into that position for a reason, after all.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: The Andrew Wiggins saga. When the summer started, he wasn’t even assured the first pick, as his performance in the NCAA tourney had some people doubting him. He ended up back to the top of the Draft, but then, after LeBron announced his return, immediately got thrown into a wild discussion about whether or not the Cavs should trade him for Kevin Love. Then he gets signed, then the rumours about the deal being done started spreading, then he finally gets traded. Five years from now, we might look at that trade a number of different ways — it could be the start of a dynasty for the Cavs, it could be the play that brought Minnesota back to life, it could be both, it could be neither. Also, there will forever be “what ifs” about what could have been if they never had traded Wiggins, if the Wolves had accepted Golden State’s offer, or Phoenix’s offer. Just a fascinating trade.

Takuma Oikawa, NBA Japan: Yuki Togashi. The Japanese young point guard played four games in Las Vegas Summer League for the Dallas Mavericks. It’s the best topic in the summer of ’14 for NBA fan in Japan.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: David Blatt going to the Cavs (before LeBron), Gasol heading to the Bulls, Giannis Antetokounmpo playing as a point guard for the Bucks summer league team and of course, Kostas Papanikolaou signing with the Rockets! It was a full summer after all.

Rubio wants Wolves’ leadership reins


VIDEO: Rubio breaks down the upcoming season in Minnesota

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Yes, his jumper needs work and that’s why the Minnesota Timberwolves hired noted shot doc Mike Penberthy to help Ricky Rubio. Shots can be fixed, but when it comes to enhancing a player’s leadership, outside of hiring a team psychologist — which the Dallas Mavericks do, the Wolves do not and more teams should — there’s really not a coach, a sage or swami to bring in for a quick “fix.”

Leadership mostly has to evolve naturally to develop the maturity, self-assuredness and self-confidence that emboldens one to direct others. In Minnesota, that job is on Rubio. The Wolves, sans Kevin Love, are his team.

Nineteen-year-old No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins might one day become the face of the franchise, but in this transition season, it is up to the young Spaniard, still a couple weeks shy of his 24th birthday, to manage the emotions of an intriguingly athletic squad of relative pups who are likely to go through this season riding alternating waves of fun and frustration.

“It’s a different team, of course, but we have to move on,” Rubio told NBA.com in a phone interview Thursday. “We have to step up, especially me as a leader, be more vocal. Our young guys, they need someone to guide them. I think we have a lot of vets here that can do that. Mo [Williams] is a great example. Me and Kevin Martin can do the same thing.

“What I’ve been doing, since I am young, is leading by example, practicing hard and doing everything on the court. I have to learn how to be more vocal. I’m not good at that and I have to improve.”

One key for Rubio is to block outside noise. At the team’s media day earlier this week he didn’t want to discuss ongoing contract negotiations because he thinks it affects him on the floor. Last year he grew weary of the media’s inquiries into an increasingly restless Love.

“Of course we had a lot going on last year and the media was talking, they were wondering if Kevin wanted to be here, blah, blah, blah, and that hurt the team and hurt himself,” Rubio said. “Now that he’s not here, the media’s not going to talk about that anymore. I think that’s going to be good for him and for us.”

With the Love chapter closed, Rubio, fully healthy and now more experienced as an NBA player, could be headed for a big year, the year everybody has been waiting to see. For critics who wonder why he’s yet to make an All-Star team, it’s easy to forget the turbulence of his first three seasons.

A terrific start to his lockout-delayed rookie season — 10.2 points, 8.2 assists — ended abruptly in Game 41 with a torn ACL in his left knee. He didn’t return until December of the following season, one which Love played 18 games and Rubio never truly bounced back from the devastating injury.

“It was tough for me, physically, but mentally. That hurt me,” Rubio said. “When you come back, you’re thinking you’re going to be back 100 percent; you’re not. You can be in shape after a tough injury like I had, but you are not in game shape. That comes with games and it took me time to realize that. I was playing and I was going home thinking about what’s going on with me and all this stuff. So it was tough, plus people talking made it even tougher. So my second year was tough.”

There again he references “people talking” about his performance. And maybe such chatter has played mind games with his shot, too. Still, his Year 3, although ending again with no playoffs amid a slew of close losses and Love’s declining interest, finished strongly, with Rubio playing as assertively as he has in the NBA. He’s carrying that confidence into training camp, understanding the new responsibility before him.

He is excited about the new makeup of the team and the up-tempo style it will play. Whether an extension gets done by the end of the month or he goes into next summer as a restricted free agent (Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher predicts the Wolves will trade him), Rubio says he believes he can win in Minnesota. He said he’s not putting that type of pressure on his young team just yet. But, he said, ending Minnesota’s decade-long playoff drought is his focus no matter how improbable it might seem in a rugged Western Conference where Phoenix and New Orleans appear next in line to challenge for a final playoff spot.

“I feel more mature. I’ve been through good things and bad things that helped me grow up,” Rubio said. “Every season you can learn a lot of things even if you don’t make the playoffs like we haven’t done the last three years. Every time you don’t make the playoffs, you have something inside that you want to prove again next year. So it’s growing up. It’s something that we have to be patient, take our time and make it.

“I want to put my team in the playoffs, so all I’m thinking right now is growing up with my team and being the best I can to help my team win.”

International scene in transition


VIDEO: Gold Medal Postgame: Coach Krzyzewski

MADRID – Serbia had looked really good in its previous three games, beating 5-0 Greece by 18, walloping 5-1 Brazil by 28, and putting up 90 points against a France defense that had just shut down Spain at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

But you don’t really know how good you are until you play against the best. And when Serbia faced the U.S. for the first time since the former was part of the larger Yugoslavia, it got crushed, 129-92, in Sunday’s gold medal game.

Serbia has a lot of young talent and a very good coach. It should be one of the best national teams in Europe for years to come. Though it won silver at 2009 Eurobasket and finished fourth at the 2010 World Championship, this run at the World Cup could be the start of something even bigger.

“This is a very, very big success for our country,” Miroslav Raduljica said. “We put a good, healthy foundation for something in the future.”

But the gap between one of the best national teams in Europe and the best national team in the world seems to be pretty wide, especially when you consider that LeBron James and Kevin Durant weren’t representing the U.S. this summer. The Americans have come a long way since the 2002 World Championship, having won four straight gold medals with a stable and sustainable system under USA managing director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

So does any other nation have any hope of knocking off the Americans any time soon?

“I think we can lose our next game,” Krzyzewski said after extending the USA’s winning streak to 63 games (45 FIBA and FIBA Americas games, 18 exhibition games) on Sunday. “That’s the way we prepare, because we know how good everyone is. So I don’t see a gap. I just see good basketball, and then we’ve been able to win.”

For the USA’s opponents, it helps to know what you’re up against. And Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic said Sunday that his team was at a disadvantage having never faced the speed, athleticism and talent of the best players in the world. Now, it has that experience.

“Each time we play against a team like that,” Djordjevic said, “we are growing up as a team. And we need this more often, because we have to understand how we have to bring up our level of athleticism, our level of defense, our level of passing, to achieve the level these USA players have. So this was a great, great night for us. A great game. We can learn a lot from this game.”

The U.S. is always going to have the talent. But a lot of other national teams, especially those from Europe that play together almost every year, have the edge when it comes to chemistry. And each time they play the Americans, they gain reps against the best. So, the next time we see this matchup, Serbia will be more prepared.

Here are a few more ramifications of what went down over the last 16 days in Spain.

A summer off

Along with the gold medal comes automatic qualification for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. So, for the fourth straight time (2009, 2011, 2013, 2015), the U.S. won’t need to send a team to the FIBA Americas tournament in the year between the Olympics and World Cup.

If they had lost on Sunday, they would have needed to qualify for the Olympics through the Americas. And it would have been interesting to see what kind of team Colangelo and Krzyzewski put together next summer in a tournament that has far less appeal than this one. But they won’t have to worry about that.

Things are going to change after 2016, however. And an Olympic gold in Rio will not earn instant qualification for the 32-team, 2019 World Cup. Instead, in a format change that was announced last year, there will be 16 teams from the Americas competing for seven spots in the World Cup via a qualification similar to that of the soccer World Cup, with some games taking place during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 NBA seasons. That, of course, will bring up even more questions about who will play for the U.S. and other nations with key players in the NBA. (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Team USA starts strong | Brazil beats France | Spurs interested in Ray Allen? | A new hope in Minnesota

No. 1: Team USA Starts Strong — After weeks of practices and exhibition games, Team USA finally started tournament play Saturday in Bilbao, Spain, in the FIBA Basketball World Cup. And they did it with style, blowing out Finland 114-55 in a game that included a 29-2 run for Team USA. NBA.com’s Sekou Smith was on the scene in Spain and writes that despite the long and winding road they traveled, the U.S. players are embracing their roles in Coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s system…

With no Kevin Durant or Kevin Love or Paul George, superstars who were expected to serve as the leaders and anchors for this competition, the U.S. put on an absolute defensive showcase in their opener, smashing Finland 114-55.

It was a show of force that this particular crew was eager to display, if only to remind themselves what they are capable of when they lock down defensively and spread the wealth offensively the way coach Mike Krzyzewski demands.

“We prepared the last couple of weeks for this moment and every single moment that we play in,” James Harden said. “Practices are the same way. We go hard and when it’s time to go out there we take care of business. We don’t go out there to pace ourselves. We go out there with intensity from the beginning of the game.”

It certainly helps to have talent like DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Klay Thompson and even former NBA MVP Derrick Rose backing up the starters.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Harden continued. “That’s why I said we don’t pace ourselves. We go out there with the intensity from the beginning of the game and guys come off the bench with the same thing. It’s the beauty of this team. We’ve got 10-12 guys willing to go out there and contribute in any type of way.”

***

No. 2: Meanwhile, elsewhere in FIBA — Of course, while Team USA may be one of the favorites in Spain, they weren’t the only team tipping off yesterday. The loaded Group A began play in Granada yesterday, where NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was in attendance. According to Schuhmann, one of the big winners on the day was Brazil, who held on to beat France, 65-63…

Brazil was the big winner on Saturday, holding on for a 65-63 victory over France in the second game of the day in Granada. It was an ugly game throughout, with the two teams combining for 19 turnovers in the first half and shooting just 11-for-35 from 3-point range for the game.

But point guard Marcelo Huertas had enough in his bag of tricks to get the job done in the fourth quarter.

France actually led by nine late in the first, but scored just 10 points on its final 20 possessions of the first half, as Brazil took a two-point lead into the break. The Brazilians led by as many as eight early in the fourth, but couldn’t put France away, because they couldn’t put together more than two straight scores.

“The zone was back all the time,” said Tiago Splitter, who scored just six points on 2-for-5 shooting. “Nobody was getting easy shots. And our shooters didn’t have a good game outside. “

Huertas was basically the only guy who could get anything going offensively. He scored 11 of Brazil’s 19 points in the period, hitting a three off a Nene post-up, finding space around the foul line for a couple of runners against the sagging French defense, and sealed the game at the free-throw line in the final minute.

“They were deep into the zone,” he said afterward, “so we could attack, either for a shot or to find the open man.”

France got a big game from Boris Diaw (15 points, six rebounds, five assists), but Nicolas Batum (13 points) didn’t shoot well and the other French bigs didn’t get much done inside after the first quarter. Though they closed to within one in the final seconds, they never got a chance to tie or take the lead.

***

No. 3: Spurs interested in Ray Allen?LeBron James may have left Miami, but while Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen have stayed behind, the future plans of Ray Allen have remained a bit cloudy. Allen has said publicly he’s still unsure of what he’s going to do, but plenty of teams have expressed interest, including Cleveland and the Clippers. And now, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, we can add the defending champion San Antonio Spurs to the mix as well:

ESPN.com has learned that the Spurs are trying to barge their way into the race to sign Allen … which first, of course, requires one of the 39-year-old’s suitors to persuade him to play next season.

Allen announced last month that he’s still deciding if he wants to play what would be his 19th NBA season.

The uncertainty, mind you, has had zero impact on interest. The reigning champs from San Antonio join Doc Rivers‘ Los Angeles Clippers and, of course, LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers on the list of elite teams pursuing Allen. The Dallas Mavericks have also tried to make a play for Allen this summer, and there are surely other suitors yet to be identified since he remains available.

The Spurs have only one open roster spot at the moment but, as ESPN.com reported Friday, have also registered interest in Mexico star center Gustavo Ayon while remaining hopeful of re-signing reserve center Aron Baynes, whom Australia is relying on heavily at the FIBA World Cup in Spain with Andrew Bogut absent.

***

No. 4: A new hope in Minnesota: The Timberwolves may have traded away Kevin Love, one of the NBA’s best players, but in return they received a haul of talented young players, including Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young. Add to that crew first-round pick Zach LaVine and incumbent point guard Ricky Rubio (who is still just 23 years old), and the Wolves have a core of exciting young talent that has fans excited, writes the AP’s John Krawczynski 

After completing the long-rumored trade that sent Love to the Cavaliers and brought Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young to Minnesota, the Timberwolves have sold more than 300 full season-ticket packages in the last week.

That beats the previous record in 2011 that was set when Ricky Rubio announced that he was coming over from Spain to play for the team.

“The organization, from president-level on down has just been re-energized,” Timberwolves senior vice president and chief revenue officer Ryan Tanke said. “Part of it is hope, and you have this great new hope.

“But then there’s also the reality, which is it was a long, tough summer. For it to come to the head that it came to and have it be the outcome that we had, I think it creates this perfect storm environment for us.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Brook Lopez says he’s confident he’ll be healthier than ever this season … DeMarcus Cousins says he expected to make Team USA all along … Golden State has reached an agreement with Leandro Barbosa on a one-year deal … The Sixers are unsure whether Joel Embiid will play at all this seasonManny Pacquiao would like to sign Metta World Peace to play for his team in the Philippines … Congrats to Dwyane Wade, who married longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union Saturday …

Morning shootaround — Aug. 27


VIDEO: Relive the top 5 plays from the USA-Slovenia exhibition game

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Wolves’ owner, Love in war of words after trade | Recapping Team USA’s final tune-up | Agent: Big Z won’t be making comeback

No. 1: Taylor, Love exchange words over trade — Tuesday afternoon, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers either moved on from or moved into their respective eras with Kevin Love. The All-Star big man was officially introduced the the Cleveland media yesterday, while the Wolves introduced the haul they got from the Cavs and Philadelphia 76ers — Thaddeus Young, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett — in the offseason mega-deal. Now that the move is in the past, Wolves owner Glen Taylor opened up to the media about trading his superstar and his regrets in not signing him to a longer contract a few years ago. Derek Wetmore of ESPN1500.com in Minneapolis has more:

Afterward, Taylor spoke freely about the blockbuster Kevin Love trade that landed the Wolves this year’s No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young. He said that his preference would have been to keep Love, but after it became clear that would not happen, the Wolves accommodated the disgruntled star and got a nice haul in return.

Still, if he could do it all over again, Taylor said he would have signed Love to the five-year maximum contract in 2012. That way Love would have three seasons left on his contract and the team’s outlook would be considerably different. With the benefit of hindsight, it appears safe to say the contract was a mistake. Love made it known that he wanted out and would exercise the opt-out clause that would make him a free agent following this season. So the Wolves once again have hit the reset button.

“I spoke the truth when I said if Kevin [Love] would stay here then we would have the best season. Inside I knew Kevin wasn’t giving us that alternative even though it’s what I wanted,” Taylor said Tuesday. “So now you have the thing where Kevin kind of said, ‘trade me or you’re going to pay the fine next year if you don’t trade me.’ I think once we got going on that, we had about four teams that came to us with significant offers. But this one truly had the biggest upside. Flip [Saunders] pushed it and negotiated it the best he could so I’m really happy with it.”

“Kevin and I have always had a good relationship. Kevin always said, ‘I want to win.’ I said, ‘I do, too. Stay here, let’s win together.'”

In the end, that didn’t happen of course, and the Wolves settled on a backup plan that may end up working out for the team. That’s yet to be determind. As for Love, Taylor said he questions if Cleveland is the right landing spot for him, where he’ll play alongside the best player in the world, LeBron James, and point guard Kyrie Irving. Taylor also nitpicked portions of Love’s game.

“I question Kevin if this is going to be the best deal for him because I think he’s going to be the third player on a team. I don’t think he’s going to get a lot of credit if they do really well. I think he’ll get the blame if they don’t do well. He’s going to have to learn to handle that.

“I think he’s around a couple guys are awful good. Now I’m not saying that Kevin’s not good, but I think where maybe he got away with some stuff, not playing defense on our team, I’m not sure how that’s going to work in Cleveland. So I would guess they’re going to ask him to play more defense. And he’s foul-prone,” Taylor said.

After these comments surfaced, Love had his say about them and basically told Taylor to worry about his own team, not him:

Love, appearing on ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike” on Wednesday morning, responded to Taylor’s comments about how he may get exposed for his play on the defensive end and that Love may wind up being the scapegoat if the new-look Cavs struggle.

“I think emotions are definitely running high right now,” Love told “Mike and Mike” on Wednesday. “For Glen to say that, I just think that he should be focusing on the players that he just received. I mean, he has two of the No. 1 picks in the last two drafts: Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. He has another guy who can really play in Thaddeus Young.

“I think he got a lot for me. So I’d be focusing even more on that. More than anything, I’m just excited to start my time in Cleveland, get to work with my new teammates, and start with this new family here.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew talks about the Minnesota Timberwolves’ new faces (more…)

Wolves opt for litter of Timberpups


VIDEO: Flip Saunders talks about the Minnesota Timberwolves’ new additions

Building a serious contender around one superstar power forward named Kevin wasn’t working for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It didn’t work with Kevin Garnett ultimately, despite a string of eight consecutive playoff appearances from 1997-2004. And it surely didn’t work with Kevin Love, whose six-season stay in the Twin Cities merely extended the Wolves’ postseason drought from four years to a full decade.

So now Minnesota is trying another way. It’s going to raise a litter of Timberpups and hope there is success in numbers.

By acquiring Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett on Saturday in the long-awaited, two franchise-shifting trade of Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and adding him to their own 2014 lottery pick Zach LaVine, a still-young Ricky Rubio (24 in October) and last year’s first-rounders Gorgui Dieng and, er, Shabazz Muhammad (for the moment, tick tock), the Wolves have youth and hope and dreams. But mostly youth.

They have it in numbers, too, as if seeding their organization for a bountiful harvest in a few years. Oh, Flip Saunders, the team’s president of basketball operations and its coach, will talk about excitement and development in the meantime – he is, after all, a masterful amateur magician talented in the sleight of hand.

But the real payoff, if it comes at all, will come between the games as his group of raw, talented players coalesce around each other.

Synchronizing things has always been a problem for Minnesota.

It snagged Garnett in a dice-roll Draft decision 19 years ago and had a dozen years to assemble a championship-caliber team around him, but never managed to fully do so. The initial vision of Garnett and Stephon Marbury as a new-millennial Karl Malone-John Stockton (or at least Shawn Kemp-Gary Payton), with first Tom Gugliotta (and then Joe Smith) as third stars, never achieved full focus. Gugliotta left, Smith was no more than a role player and Marbury torpedoed his own career in one of sports’ many examples of $100 million airport, $10 control tower.

Kevin McHale, the Wolves’ basketball boss, kept patching around Garnett and got them as far as the 2004 Western Conference finals by hiring mercenaries Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell. That approach had no better legs than Sprewell and Cassell themselves, though, and after the usual death spiral – coaching changes, contract squabbles, missing the playoffs in Garnett’s last three Minnesota seasons – the big guy participated in the trade to Boston that got him his ring. And left the Wolves as, well, the Wolves.

The Love years were even worse. McHale got the UCLA forward in a Draft night switcheroo with Memphis for O.J. Mayo and seemed to be the perfect mentor for Love.

But McHale’s own tenure in Minnesota was out of sync with his new young big, and when Wolves owner Glen Taylor dumped McHale in favor of David Kahn, bad downshifted to worse. Erratic Draft picks and personnel moves followed, along with an uneasy atmosphere – or creepy culture, if you go by some Wolves insiders – during Kahn’s four lost seasons in charge.

It’s quicker to note what went right in that time than what went wrong – the Wolves didn’t pass on Rubio, Love developed himself into an All-Star and Rick Adelman stabilized the coaching position for a time – but it wasn’t enough. By the time Saunders was brought back 15 months ago to do some serious sweet-talking, Love already had one foot and half of his other out the door.

So now they’ll try it this way: Round up as many young players as possible, fold in a key veteran or three (new acquisition Thad Young, plus current Wolves Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin until they can shed the contract), and bake.

“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to build not an individual, we’re trying to build a team,” Saunders said Saturday. “That’s the thing that we’ve sold to the players or anyone that we bring in here.”

For an outpost franchise like Minnesota, a big part of the plan is that the players – in growing up together – see ways in which their whole can end up greater than the sum of their parts. The risk is that someone feels slighted by being a spot or two down in his own ideal pecking order – if Bennett or LaVine feels stunted because of Wiggins, or if Rubio locks in on max-contract dreams when he hasn’t earned one yet – and blows up the blueprint.

That’s akin to what happened in Oklahoma City, which took a similar approach until James Harden chafed at being neither Batman nor Robin. He wound up with his own team in Houston, but at least the Thunder reached The Finals once and have managed to stabilize the roster since his departure.

Then again, maybe OKC proves that it all eventually comes full circle. And building around a superstar forward named Kevin really is the way to go.

The fall guy in Cleveland?


VIDEO: Kevin Love is Cleveland bound — how will his arrival help the Cavs?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Seventeen games into his tenure with the Miami Heat, LeBron James was taking abuse from every direction. In those early stages of the 2010-11 season, the Heat were 9-8 and the Big 3 era was off to a shaky start, given the outrageous expectations that accompanied the joining of forces between LeBron, fellow free agent Chris Bosh and incumbent face of the franchise Dwyane Wade.

The Heat rebounded from those early stumbles and made it to The Finals before being taken apart by Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and the Dallas Mavericks.

In the aftermath of that ugly finish to their first season, LeBron was quickly cast as the scapegoat (with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stuck in the mud with him). He flatlined at crunch time in The 2011 Finals. Unlike Wade, he had no championship ring or Finals MVP to fall back on. And Bosh was seen as the third wheel, so there was no way he could be the fall guy in that scenario. So LeBron was left to shoulder that burden, one that ultimately led to back-to-back titles and Finals MVPs.

The roles have been shuffled in LeBron’s latest super-team situation in Cleveland, where he’s the championship veteran with rings and Finals MVPs, playing alongside young All-Stars in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Unlike Bosh and James back in 2010, though, the next playoff points Love and Irving score will be their first.

Far be it from me to rain on the attention parade going on in Cleveland, the epicenter of the sports universe with the Cavaliers’ new look and the seemingly never-ending Johnny Manziel news cycle. But what happens if (it’s blasphemy, Cavaliers fans, I know) LeBron and friends don’t win the title in their first season together?

Who is the fall guy this time?

Forget the common sense that should come with a new team with new leadership (coach David Blatt playing the Cleveland edition of Spoelstra’s role). The 2010-11 Heat and the 2014-15 Cavaliers face this similar circumstance: anything short of a title will be viewed as a disappointment by most.

And that means someone has to shoulder the burden of that disappointment the way LeBron (and Spoelstra) did when he went dark for weeks after The 2011 Finals trying to reflect on what had been a whirlwind 11 months.

LeBron should be immune this time around. We know what to expect from him. He has extensive experience playing with other elite superstars. He won’t have to make as many adjustments to his game to be effective. Even with the San Antonio Spurs shredding the Heat in The Finals this year, LeBron (cramps aside) was basically unstoppable. It was his supporting cast, both Wade and Bosh in particular, who didn’t play up to their own lofty standards.

And the Spurs were so good, it might not have made a difference if Wade and Bosh played well or not.

Love and Irving are clearly in the crosshairs this time around, given their lack of playoff experience and the fact that the only time they have shared a locker room with players as good or better than them is during All-Star Weekend and their time with USA Basketball. No one knows how either of them will hold up in the crucible that is the postseason. All of those regular-season highlights are useless if either of them melts down in the playoffs or runs into a matchup they simply cannot win.

Love will have to assume the Stretch 4 role that Bosh played in Miami, where his numbers dipped considerably compared to what he put up as a stand-alone All-Star in Toronto. Irving will have to relinquish some of the facilitating duties and scoring load that he’s had to carry early in his career to make sure his game meshes perfectly with two new elite teammates with higher profiles than his own.

Both Love and Irving will have the luxury of playing with the best player on the planet. But not even LeBron will be able to save them from expectations that are not fulfilled. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, general manager David Griffin and LeBron have all done their part. The pieces for success at the highest level have been assembled.

The rest is up to Love, Irving and the supporting cast. And if things go awry come playoff time, the scapegoat list will be easy to make!

Morning Shootaround — August 24


VIDEO: Kevin Love’s top plays with the Timberwolves

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Cavaliers trade for Kevin Love | Wolves get Young | Team USA’s new look

No. 1: Cavaliers trade for Kevin Love — After months of talk and rumors, the suggestions have become reality as the Minnesota Timberwolves have traded Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a package including this year’s No. 1 draft pick, Andrew Wiggins, and last year’s No. 1 pick, Anthony Bennett. While LeBron James may have chosen to return to Cleveland in part because of their combination of young players and draft picks, giving the team a bright future, this trade allows James to team with Love and Kyrie Irving, giving Cleveland its own dynamic version of a big three. More important, as our Fran Blinebury writes, adding Love almost certainly accelerates the timeline for contending in Cleveland.

But the simple truth is that arrival of Love to Cleveland gives the Cavs with James and Kyrie Irving the best young All-Star threesome in the NBA.

James himself had cautioned everyone not rush to judgment and expect too much too soon. He said it would be a long road for the Cavaliers to reach a champion’s level and that was speaking from the experience in Miami.

That was also speaking from as the lone playoff-tested veteran on a team where the rookie Wiggins would have had to learn about the league and about himself. But all of a sudden, James and the Cavs have a shortcut.

Love, 26 in a couple of weeks, is a completely different animal, a top 10 level talent, who can produce double-doubles every night and has 3-point shooting range. Love is someone who changed his body and has changed his game to become one of the most consistent number producers in the league, the kind of front-line anchor right now that the Cavs could only have hoped they’d get from last year’s No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, who was included in the deal with Minnesota.

No. 2: Wolves get Young — While picking up two former No. 1 picks, Minnesota continued its makeover by moving Alexey Shved and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to Philadelphia in exchange for Thaddeus Young. With Young, Wiggins and Bennett in the fold alongside Ricky Rubio and draft pick Zach LaVine, the Timberwolves now have one of the most athletic cores in the NBA. As Wolves GM/coach Flip Saunders notes, the Wolves should be able to get up and down the floor in a hurry this season.

“It became very evident to anyone that contacted us that, in order to do something, we were going to demand something in return that was going to benefit us either now or in the future,” Saunders said.

With the three new players — as well as Zach LaVine, the No. 13 pick in this year’s draft — Saunders said the Wolves have an identity that includes the athletic, two-way players they lacked when he was hired as president last year.

With Wiggins and LaVine making plays at the rim, Saunders called it “a point guard’s delight” for Ricky Rubio, who can become more of an on-court leader with Love gone.

Before they take the court, Wiggins, Bennett and Young will be introduced at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Minnesota State Fair. LaVine, who is close with Wiggins, will join them.

No. 3: Team USA’s new look — As Team USA arrives in Europe to prepare for the FIBA Basketball World Cup, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo explained some of the squad’s recent roster moves to ESPN.com. While many observers assumed DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee were battling for one roster spot, all three ended up making the final roster as Team USA went with size and strength over speed and versatility. According to Colangelo, assembling a bigger roster allows Team USA “an opportunity to throw a new look at people.”

“This gives us an opportunity to do some things we haven’t had a chance to do in the past,” Colangelo said. “It’s true that the preferred style of play [in recent years] has been going small, but you have to ask: Was that by choice or by necessity?

“Early on [this summer], we said it would be hard to carry four bigs, but that was kind of put on the shelf. Certainly there won’t be any discussion going forward about, ‘What are you going to do about bigs, what are you going to do about playing teams with size?’ If Coach wishes to show a big front line, he now has the capacity to do so.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Before the Wolves’ moves were announced, they scooped themselves with an ad in the early edition of a local paper. … The Cavs sent a letter to fans who bought a Wiggins jersey to give them some options. … The Houston Rockets have re-signed Francisco Garcia. … According to a report, NBA veteran Hakim Warrick will work out with the San Antonio Spurs

With Love in the air, Cavs’ time is now


VIDEO: Relive Kevin Love’s top plays with the Timberwolves

Almost from the moment last month when LeBron James said in a Sports Illustrated essay that he was returning to Cleveland, the sports books in Las Vegas made the Cavaliers the favorites to win the 2015 NBA title.

With a roster then full of young, unproven talent in a city that took pride in being wanted again, that was largely about pure emotion.

Now it’s about (Kevin) Love.

With the official completion of the long-awaited deal that sent a package including No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins to the Timberwolves, the Cavaliers have vaulted to the top of the Eastern Conference, if not the entire league.

Oh, there will be plenty to be heard from out of Chicago, where former MVP Derrick Rose tries yet another comeback as he joins up with a formidable group of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic.

But the simple truth is that arrival of Love to Cleveland gives the Cavs with James and Kyrie Irving the best young All-Star threesome in the NBA.

James himself had cautioned everyone not rush to judgment and expect too much too soon. He said it would be a long road for the Cavaliers to reach a champion’s level and that was speaking from the experience in Miami.

That was also speaking from as the lone playoff-tested veteran on a team where the rookie Wiggins would have had to learn about the league and about himself. But all of a sudden, James and the Cavs have a shortcut.

Love, 26 in a couple of weeks, is a completely different animal, a top 10 level talent, who can produce double-doubles every night and has 3-point shooting range. Love is someone who changed his body and has changed his game to become one of the most consistent number producers in the league, the kind of front-line anchor right now that the Cavs could only have hoped they’d get from last year’s No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, who was included in the deal with Minnesota.

The critics will say that Love never got the Timberwolves to the playoffs in six seasons, point to a sometimes detached attitude and something less than a whole-hearted enthusiastic commitment to that franchise.

Yet the perpetual state of turmoil that has been a trademark of the Timberwolves certainly is responsible for much of that. He missed 64 games in the 2012-13 season due to a broken bone in his hand, but otherwise has been the guy who scored the ball and attacked the backboards equally with as much hunger as anyone in years. Love is the only player in the past 30 seasons to have a 30-point, 30-rebound game.

Maybe Love wasn’t a lead horse who could pull the weight of the entire wagon. Not everyone is. Now he doesn’t have to be.

There are sharp edges that will have to be honed in the playoffs, just as there are with the gifted and not-always-clued-in Irving. But those are edges for James to sharpen as he returns to his old neighborhood as the wise head who has been to the mountaintop and held the Larry O’Brien Trophy (twice).

Love had reached a crossroad in his career where he was simply going to pile up mountains of stats or make the transformation to being part of a contender’s foundation. It is no coincidence that in the weeks since the trade was agreed upon and had to wait for a 30-day embargo, the Cavs reeled in James Jones and Mike Miller from Miami, Shawn Marion from Dallas and could still add Ray Allen, if he chooses to play again next season. The role-playing veterans recognize the potency of the juiced up lineup and the immediate potential. With LeBron and his kiddie corps, the Cavs were still facing a long, hard slog to be able to truly compete with the Bulls in the East, not to mention the crop of contenders — Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies — in the A-list Western Conference.

The next task for Cleveland is to get Love to sign a contract extension that keeps him around past the end of the upcoming season. That shouldn’t be difficult. This is the situation he’s been searching for, the kind he’s needed, a place to learn and grow and win all at the same time.

When the oddsmakers tabbed the Cavs as the team to beat in the aftermath of James’ homecoming, that was as much about hope as anything. Now it’s about Love and reality.

Rookie picture continues to evolve


VIDEO: How will Andrew Wiggins’ talents translate to the NBA?

Kevin Love goes to Cleveland, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and Thaddeus Young go to Minnesota, two expiring contracts and a protected first-round pick go to Philadelphia, and the 2014-15 Rookie of the Year race goes back into the blender.

The last part is far down the list of implications now that the blockbuster trade involving an All-Star power forward and the last two No. 1 picks has gone final, somewhere after what the deal means to the Cavaliers as championship contenders and measuring how much of a setback this is to the Timberwolves. (It’s not like they were stringing together playoff appearances with Love, after all.) But the ever-changing look for the first-year class gets more interesting by the week.

The other big-picture development with the three-team deal finally complete is that the June 26 draft wasn’t close to setting the line on Rookie of the Year. It still wasn’t close weeks later after the biggest moment of free agency, LeBron James buying a return ticket to Cleveland. Back then, Wiggins had the benefit of learning work ethic from the greatest player in the world and the added bonus of being able to develop out of the spotlight as a complementary part of the Cavs, Doug McDermott didn’t have nearly the same chance to get open looks with the Bulls and Julius Randle didn’t have to contend with power forwards on his own team before dealing with the rest of the league.

And now:

– Wiggins in Minnesota, or anywhere with more of a featured role than he would have had with the Cavaliers, dramatically increases his chances for Rookie of the Year. Scouts and front offices had cooled on him since the start of what became a one-and-done career at Kansas, when Wiggins was the top player in the nation in his recruiting class and the consensus choice for the top pick in the draft. But that level of athleticism combined with the instant opportunity he should get with the Timberwolves equals the possibility of an immediate impact.

He goes to a team with a point guard, Ricky Rubio, who will deliver the ball. Plus, the Wolves have a chance to not be terrible — Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, the fast-improving Gorgui Dieng heading into his second season, Young coming from the 76ers, Kevin Martin — and a good season for a decent club resonates with voters more than putting up numbers on a 30-win group.

– Nikola Mirotic, the No. 23 pick in 2011 who developed into a lottery talent playing in Spain, is finally coming to the Bulls to play power forward and some small forward. The obvious problem for his Rookie of the Year chances is that both are crowded spots, including the presence of fellow newcomer McDermott. But Mirotic is 23 now (turns 24 at midseason) with physical and basketball skills further along than other rookies, and steps into an organization with a star coach and a foundation of success.

– McDermott, meanwhile, has been a Bull from the start, but everything has changed around him. Mirotic moving to the NBA is a potential minutes hit in addition to the presence of Mike Dunleavy as the incumbent at small forward. But Chicago signing Pau Gasol provides another smart big man, along with Joakim Noah, who can pass and find a shooter on the perimeter. And the return of Derrick Rose will give opponents another Bull to worry about with the ball, something that had been lacking.

– Nerlens Noel, expected back on the court after missing last season in Philadelphia while recovering from a knee injury, had enough very good moments in Summer League in Las Vegas and Orlando to show he will be a prominent part of this rookie class. That makes two players from previous drafts who could have a big impact on the 2014 Rookie of the Year race.

– Gasol, who could have played center with Randle at power forward, left the Lakers, but Carlos Boozer joined the team after being amnestied by … the Bulls. Randle is obviously the future in L.A. But as a prospect who projects as being able to score inside right away, he has a chance to be the present as well. However, with win-now mode in effect as long as the roster is built around Kobe Bryant, Boozer has an advantage as a veteran.

So much has changed. The long-distance look at the Rookie Ladder coming out of Summer League, with the disclaimer that changes were possible before the first actual 2014-15 ranking, was Noel first, followed by McDermott, Jabari Parker, Elfrid Payton, James Ennis, Jordan Adams, Randle, Gary Harris, Dante Exum and Jordan McRae. The new, larger opportunity for Wiggins probably moves him into the top five.