Posts Tagged ‘Flip Saunders’

Rubio will make his pitch for Love to stay


VIDEO: Ricky Rubio talks about the changes on the Timberwolves and Kevin Love’s future

TREVISO, Italy – First, the jokes.

Ricky Rubio said he saw the reaction to Timberwolves teammate-until-further notice Kevin Love visiting Boston, noted that he, Rubio, is flying to Los Angeles on Monday for typical offseason training sessions and quickly added, smiling, “I’m not going to L.A. to visit the Lakers.”

Oh, and “I’m here in Treviso. That doesn’t mean I’m going to sign for Benetton,” an Italian team.

Through the smirks, though, through the belief that a lot of the speculation surrounding Love’s escape route out of Minneapolis is overblown media reports, there is a genuine concern from Rubio about the crater a Love exit would leave and what it would mean for his own career path.

Rubio is planning those L.A. workouts to visit with a new shooting coach, similar to his offseason practice routine so far in his native Spain. But Rubio said one of the first things he will do upon returning to the United States is call Love and try to convince the All-Star power forward to keep an open mind about the Timberwolves.

“He’s my teammate and I want to know how he feels and if he wants to stay or whatever,” Rubio told NBA.com on Sunday at La Ghirada Sports Complex in an appearance as part of the adidas Eurocamp, the real reason he was in Treviso. “But it’s something that I think we had a good relationship and we can talk as friends.

“Of course I want him to stay.”

Are you going to tell him?

“Yeah,” Rubio said. “I don’t want to convince him if he doesn’t want to stay. But I want him to stay and I’m going to tell him what I think, which is we’ve been improving every year and he’s a great player, he helps us a lot. I think we need to make the next step. … The media says it’s pretty settled, but I don’t know what he thinks. What I’ve been hearing is from the media, not from him, so I don’t trust that. It can be an opinion from you guys. I just really want to talk to him as a teammate.”

Rubio obviously won’t get Love to commit to staying when he becomes a free agent in July 2015. But Rubio is hopeful of either finding out Love is not desperately tunneling out of Minnesota, as is the perception, or that he can convince Love to keep an open mind about the future under new coach Flip Saunders and, thus, not force the Timberwolves into dealing their best player before the February trade deadline (rather than lose him for nothing after the season).

If Love does continue to signal he has no intention of staying and Saunders, also head of basketball operations, does do a deal, there will be new implications. Rubio, while saying he wants to stay, made it clear his own future in Minnesota would be in play. He, too, could take a similar tact and try to force a trade if a Love deal meant gathering picks and prospects.

“No,” Rubio told NBA.com when asked if Love’s departure would prompt him to want to leave. “I like Minnesota. But I want to win too. Of course when a big guy like him leaves you’re thinking about what’s going to be happening with the team. Are we going to lose a lot? Before I came to Minnesota, the season before they won like 17 games. I was a little scared when I went there. I’m coming from Europe, where I was playing in Barcelona. I think we lost six games or seven games in two seasons and every loss was a disaster. I don’t want to go through a process like every win is something special.

“If he leaves, it’s going to be painful because he’s a main guy. But it depends what we get back for him. We’ll see what we can do. I don’t think going through a rebuild year is going to help us because we’ve been improving every year and now we’re so close to making the playoffs that it doesn’t make sense to rebuild it again. It’s not continuing what we were doing.”


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses what move might be best for Kevin Love

Morning Shootaround — June 7


VIDEO: Popovich discusses Finals opener, looks toward Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs look to get sharper for Game 2 | LeBron knows he’s an easy target | AT&T Center air is working | Utah Jazz hire Quin Snyder | Kings to give Rudy Gay full-court press

No. 1: Spurs look to get sharper for Game 2 — Even though the Spurs ended up winning Game 1 of The Finals by a whopping 15 points, 110-95, there were several facets of their game that could be tightened up in Game 2. And don’t you just know that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is going to be all over the little things?

Right at the top of the list were 23 turnovers, an amount that almost always spells doom against the Heat. Indeed, Thursday’s game marked just the fifth time in 52 games they’ve lost when forcing at least that many since signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh before the start of the 2011-12 season.

“For us, that’s always a bad sign,” said Popovich, even though his team is 12-6 this season when committing 18 or more miscues. “We escaped last night by shooting the ball the way we did, I guess. So if that continues, we’re going to have a big problem.”

Every bit as galling were the wide-open 3-pointers conceded by a defense that allowed the fewest makes from long range in the NBA this season. The Heat still made 12-for-29 beyond the arc, but it could have been far worse had they capitalized on more looks.

In particular, Ray Allen missed three open 3s in the span of two possessions. They were among nearly 30 Miami jumpers classified as open by NBA.com’s player tracking data, the type of breakdowns that gave Popovich the sweats even beyond the sweltering temperature at the AT&T Center.

“I thought they missed some wide, wide open shots that they had, that scare you to death once you watch the film,” Popovich said. “That’s not just blowing smoke or an exaggeration.  There were about seven or eight wide-open threes they had that just didn’t go down.”

The Heat helped mitigate those mistakes by suffering similar breakdowns. In addition to committing 18 turnovers of their own — leading to 27 points for the Spurs, one more than Miami scored on their miscues — they pitched almost no resistance at the 3-point line as the Spurs made 13 of 25 from long range.

***

No. 2: LeBron knows he’s an easy target — LeBron James was carried off the court with cramps toward the end of Game 1, and despite suffering from an injury where he couldn’t really move, LeBron was still on the business end of a lot of jokes. In an interview with ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, LeBron said he understands that the criticism goes with the territory.

“For me, all I can control is what I control,” James told Wilbon. “For me, as one of the leaders of our team, one of the biggest competitors of our team, and knowing what it takes to win, for me, I’ll maintain my focus and get ready for Game 2. (There’s) anger in the sense that I wasn’t able to be out there for my teammates to possibly help them win Game 1 of the Finals. But what I can control is what I do to prepare myself mentally going to the next game.”

Heading into the 2011-12 season, James made it a point to start attempting to enjoy his life more, and to do that he stopped consuming as much media. After seeking the advice of Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas and Jerry West, James said that he started to focus on enjoying the process and the journey instead of focusing solely on the end result.

In the three seasons since, James said he has gotten more comfortable and become more immune to attacks.

“I can’t play the game of basketball and live my life on what other people expect me to do or what they think I should do, that doesn’t make me happy,” James said. “What makes me happy is being able to make plays for my teammates, to be able to represent the name on the back of my jersey. That’s what makes me happy. What everybody else thinks? That doesn’t really matter to me.”

***

No. 3: AT&T Center air is working — Big news for everyone playing in Game 2, not to mention all the fans and media who will be in attendance: The Spurs say the air conditioning inside the AT&T Center has been fixed and is working! Probably a good idea to go ahead and hydrate, though, just in case.

The Spurs issued a statement during Thursday’s humid, cramp-inducing game that pinned the blame on an electrical problem. Friday morning the Spurs announced the problem — whatever it was — had been fixed.

“The electrical failure that caused the AC system outage during Game 1 of the NBA Finals has been repaired,” Spurs spokesman Carlos Manzanillo said in a written statement released Friday morning

“The AC system has been tested, is fully operational and will continue to be monitored,” Manzanillo continued.

“The upcoming events at the AT&T Center, including the Romeo Santos concert tonight, the Stars game on Saturday night and Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday, will go on as scheduled. We apologize for the conditions in the arena during last night’s game.”

***

No. 4: Utah Jazz hire Quin Snyder — As the Jazz continue their rebuilding campaign, they’ve hired a coach working to rebuild his own reputation. Quin Snyder was once the fast track to a career as a college coach, but when that didn’t work out he ended up bouncing around professional basketball and working his way up. Now he will be the eighth head coach in Jazz franchise history.

One ‘n’ in his first name. Two majors and advanced degrees from Duke University. Three Final Four appearances as a point guard with the Blue Devils. Four previous jobs in the NBA, including with the Clippers, Sixers, Lakers and Hawks.

Five on the list of Jazz coaches since the franchise moved to Utah in 1979, following in the footsteps of Tyrone Corbin, Jerry Sloan, Frank Layden and Tom Nissalke.

Six gigs in the past five years, including this new one and stops in Atlanta, Moscow, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Austin, Texas.

And the list of accolades, accomplishments, trivial tidbits, flowing hair references and, yes, questions about his past go on for this former Missouri coach, who will be formally introduced to Utah in a Saturday morning press conference.

“The opportunity to join the Utah Jazz and to be part of such a highly respected franchise with an incredibly bright future is a great honor,” Snyder said via a statement released by Jazz PR. “I approach this opportunity with gratitude and humility and am committed to doing everything I can to help the Jazz become a championship-caliber team.”

If that last phrase sounds familiar, it might be because Snyder had a working relationship with Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey from 2007-10 when they both worked for the San Antonio organization. “Championship-caliber team” is a phrase Lindsey has repeated often since he was hired as the Jazz general manager since leaving his assistant GM position with the Spurs two years ago.

After deciding to not renew Corbin’s contract following the 25-57 rebuilding season of 2013-14, Lindsey and Jazz ownership believe Snyder is the guy who can best help get this franchise back to that level. Not only is he well known for being a bright basketball mind, but he’s also been credited for developing talent and being a motivating leader.

***

No. 5: Kings to give Gay full-court press — Sacramento forward Rudy Gay has a few weeks to decide whether he’ll use an opt-out clause that could make him an unrestricted free agent. On the one hand, if he hits free agency he could sign a long-term deal. On the other hand, if he doesn’t opt-out, he will make a reported $19 million next season. Seems like an easy choice, but the Kings intend to make sure Gay stays a King by putting together a high-tech presentation that will include virtual reality glasses.

Hall of Famers Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond, a former Kings star, are expected to join Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, general manager Pete D’Alessandro and head coach Michael Malone when they meet with Gay.

Gay was originally expected to have the meeting in his offseason home of Memphis, but preferred to have it in Sacramento.

When asked recently about his decision process, Gay told Yahoo Sports: “I’m just taking my time. That’s all.”

If Gay opts into his contract for next season, it could pave the way for future extension talks. During the meetings, the Kings also will have Gay wear a headset with eyewear that will give him a complete virtual digital tour of the inside of the new Kings arena, including the locker room and arena floor. The new Kings arena is expected to open in September 2016.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Donald Sterling still hasn’t signed the papers to complete the sale of the Clippers … Scott Brooks will be back next season in OKC … Before hiring himself as head coach, Flip Sanders tried to hire Jeff Van Gundy in Minnesota … This guy tracks every tattoo in the NBA … 76ers are looking into building a waterfront practice facility in New Jersey … Jabari Parker might be a nice fit in MilwaukeeAlvin Gentry is still in the mix for the Cavs’ coaching gig … But Derek Fisher is not in the mix in Los Angeles

Morning Shootaround — June 6


VIDEO: The Daily Zap from Game 1 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A new referendum on LeBron | Spurs Way rises in the heat | Green burns the Heat … again | Jackson-Fisher set to talk

No. 1: A new referendum on LeBron The Alamo won’t go down as one of the favorite places LeBron James has been during his worldly travels. The Miami Heat star wilted under the intense heat at the AT&T Center in Game 1 of The Finals Thursday night, sparking a new round of criticism from folks who question his mental (and now physical) toughness. And as Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports points out, the LeBron debate once again snatches the spotlight from The Finals itself and a Spurs team that put together a monster and record-setting fourth quarter shooting barrage to win the game:

Fair or not, this NBA Finals is now very much about LeBron James because no matter the reality of how a propensity to cramp is the sole known downside to having a 6-foot-8, 265-pound body capable of playing all five positions on the court, no one was spending any time postgame defending him.

“Look,” Heat coach Erik Spolestra said, “both teams had to do it, we’re not making excuses.”

Instead Miami pointed to poor defense (the Spurs shot 58.8 percent from the floor), bad defensive rotations in crunch time sans-LeBron, and its 16 turnovers. The heat, they actually reveled in. LeBron’s faltering, after scoring 25 points and grabbing six rebounds, was shrugged off. Who needs AC? Ray Allen said it reminded him of his non-air conditioned high school gym back in Dalzell, South Carolina.

“I loved it,” Allen said. “… I felt right at home. Keeps my body loose.”

Shane Battier pointed to his college days at Duke, where Cameron Indoor Stadium at the time was left to the elements – and heated by tightly packed Cameron Crazies.

“It didn’t bother me,” Battier said. “It was that hot in Cameron Indoor every single game. It was a huge, huge advantage. Ten thousand people on you, no AC.”

The Spurs’ Tony Parker went with his days back in France and across the European leagues.

“We never have AC in Europe,” Parker said, “so it didn’t bother me at all.”

Even Dwyane Wade just shrugged. Heat and humidity isn’t normally part of the NBA these days, but the game is the game.

“If you play basketball,” Wade said, “you play basketball where it’s hot like this. I think everybody has done it before.”

This sounded like a parade of tough guy talk radio callers wanting to bolster themselves with the illusion of being stronger than LeBron. Only it was James’ teammates and peers, and that’s why this won’t be easy to shake.

Physically, with Game 2 not coming until Sunday, LeBron will recover. Image wise, he’s back to getting bashed like back before he became a champion.

“Everybody was tired,” the Spurs’ Danny Green said. “Everybody was sluggish.”

No sympathy. Just high stakes.


VIDEO: The Game Time crew discusses LeBron and his cramping up late in Game 1

(more…)

Love more likely to go, not less, with Flip’s return to Wolves bench


VIDEO: The Starters discuss possible future destinations for Kevin Love

SAN ANTONIO – Been there, done that.

No, that’s not shorthand for the decision by Minnesota Timberwolves president Flip Saunders to add head coaching duties to his fancy executive position, a move that had been anticipated for months (including here), was reported by multiple outlets Thursday and will be made official at a news conference Friday. Saunders, 59, has been there, done that; he is the winningest coach in Wolves history (411), leading the team to its only eight playoff appearances in a 10-plus season stint on the sidelines.

But the been there, done that in play now is the sentiment among some that Saunders will be dedicating 2014-15 to a season-long smoochfest aimed at convincing All-NBA forward Kevin Love to stay with the Wolves long-term. Love is expected to opt out of his contract next summer, with speculation already rampant as to his future whereabouts: Golden State, Chicago, Houston, Boston, the L.A. Lakers or some destination still to emerge. Notice that Minnesota is not on that list.

That’s the mistake in interpreting Saunders’ grab at the coaching reins. He and the organization already spent most of 2013-14 catering and currying favor with Love. To no apparent avail.

With Love’s favorite Rick Adelman around for his final season, the Wolves featured the 6-foot-10 power forward him prominently on the court and off. Love was his usual double-double self, a possible MVP candidate if only Minnesota had managed to a) finish .500 and b) qualify for the postseason. Saunders talked up Love’s game, value and leadership all season and consulted the player on all sorts of team issues, including suggestions for its new downtown practice facility across from Target Center.

Only it didn’t work. In fact, near the end of the regular season, as the Wolves were eliminated practically first and mathematically second from the playoffs, Love withdrew and unplugged. Saunders and others within the team, several sources have said, were disappointed. Over the past two months, they became convinced that Love intended to leave – the free look Love has next summer was a booby prize from former Wolves president David Kahn and owner Glen Taylor when they declined to give him a fifth year in his contract extension.

So now Saunders is stepping in as coach, Wolves insiders say, to manage the return and impact of whatever package of players and draft picks Saunders the executive can get from an NBA trading partner.

The time for winning over Love, in other words, has passed. It’s time now to cash him in, however reluctantly, and move on.

Some in the team’s increasingly cynical fan base – impatient over a playoff drought that dates back to 2004 – see Saunders’ move as driven by ego and emboldened by Detroit’s hire of Stan Van Gundy in a double role and Clippers coach Doc Rivers adding executive powers to his sideline work. After all, the former University of Minnesota point guard was a career coach for most of four decades, with NBA stints most recently in Detroit and Washington, before being hired back by Taylor last spring in his front-office capacity.

But Saunders did conduct a proper search for Adelman’s replacement since the regular season ended and even settled on Memphis’ Dave Joerger as his choice – until Joerger got reeled back in by Grizzlies owner Robert Pera despite apparent internal strife within that organization.

Saunders was said not to favor veteran NBA possibilities such as George Karl or Lionel Hollins, partly because he was wary of butting heads with a strong coaching personality. College prospects Tom Izzo of Michigan State (a close Saunders friend), Fred Hoiberg of Iowa State and Billy Donovan of Florida had reservations of their own, the coaches uncertain of the Wolves’ direction (Love? No Love?).

As candidates came and went, it became increasingly clear that the Wolves needed a transitory coach for their transitory situation. Reports online Thursday had Saunders assembling a staff that could include his eventual replacement, with Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt, a coaching star on the international scene, and former NBA Coach of the Year Sam Mitchell (another back-to-the-future former Wolf) mentioned prominently. There was also talk, however, of Saunders’ son Ryan, now on Randy Wittman‘s staff in Washington, reuniting with his pop in the Twin Cities.

It’s possible that Saunders the coach might find it too tempting to lose a player of Love’s caliber – there aren’t many like him in the first place – and will shift back into selling the scoring-and-rebounding star on a future in Minnesota. More likely, though, Saunders the executive will focus his salesmanship on the suitors for Love, and get the best package possible sooner rather than later.

Love wisely takes control of own destiny

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters weigh in on the Kevin Love rumors

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Be mad at Kevin Love all you want. Slap the head off of that bobble-head if it makes you feel better.

But understand this: He’s doing the right thing, forcing his way out of a tough situation in Minnesota. Love has already let the Timberwolves know that he will test the market, meaning that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015.

And that means the Timberwolves need to ask themselves if it makes more sense to waste the next few months trying to change Love’s mind or to spend the next few weeks sorting out the best trade option and getting something rather than nothing for the face of their franchise.

Survey the list of superstar and even All-Star talents in recent seasons who have decided they wanted to work elsewhere, and almost to a man each and every one of them found a way out, no matter how ugly the fallout. Carmelo Anthony in Denver. Chris Paul in New Orleans. Dwight Howard in Orlando. Deron Williams in Utah (the Jazz jettisoned him before things got ugly). When a star wants a new destination in this day and age, dating back to LeBron James and his departure from Cleveland, it’s difficult to keep him in the fold.

The Los Angeles Lakers remain one of the only teams to stare down its franchise player, Kobe Bryant, and not buckle to a trade demand (real, admitted to and or imagined)/request for an exit in some shape, form or fashion. Keep in mind they were working with an armored truck worth of cash, a rich championship history and freedom to manipulate the situation in whatever way Bryant wanted as part of their fool-proof recruiting pitch.

Love is in a completely different place in his career. He’s yet to sniff the aroma of the playoffs after six seasons in the NBA. The fact that he’s had enough in Minnesota, where the Timberwolves have been unable to surround him with the supporting pieces necessary to reach the playoffs in the rugged Western Conference, should surprise no one.

But this isn’t about Love’s exit strategy or even what a downtrodden Timberwolves franchise is going to do in the event that they have to part ways with a bonafide superstar (owner Glen Taylor and front office boss Flip Saunders, it’s your move). This is about the fact that Love recognizes that it’s now or never if he wants to graduate from that short list of first-line stars who haven’t dipped their toes in the postseason waters.

Love is wise to take control of his own destiny and write the next chapter or two of his legacy on his own terms. Whichever route the Timberwolves decide to take, he’ll have plenty of suitors willing to wait out the process in an attempt to add him to their mix.

Even more intriguing for some of those interested parties — the Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Lakers headline the long list — is whether Love is slated as the No. 1 or No. 2 option in the future. Whatever their designations, a Love-Steph Curry-Klay Thompson trio with the Warriors and new coach Steve Kerr would be pure fireworks. He could be an absolute game changer alongside Anthony in New York and certainly with former MVP Derrick Rose and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah in Chicago under Tom Thibodeau. The possibilities are endless.

Still, for all of his well-deserved individual hype, there are some, a scant few NBA front office types, who repeatedly point out that Love’s spectacular numbers never did lift the Timberwolves to that next level.

Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio even questioned his leadership abilities in the wake of the news that Love wanted to explore his options elsewhere.

“Each situation is different, but this is a results league,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “And he’s never led a team to the postseason. Chris Bosh takes a beating from people, always has. But the one thing you couldn’t argue when he was in Toronto was that he could lead his team to the playoffs. I think Love is in a similar situation in that he could be the ideal No. 2 in the right place, the guy who serves as the linchpin in a championship situation. He’s that skilled and that talented. And he works his tail off. But he has to get to the playoffs for any of us to know for sure. And in this day and age of analytics, that one metric that still matters is whether or not you get there.”

It’s clear that making the playoffs, being a “winner,” is the one thing that matters to Love.

He wouldn’t have allowed himself to be placed in this current predicament, where his name will be run through the rumor mill relentlessly, if that wasn’t his No. 1 priority.


VIDEO: An all-too familiar sight: Kevin Love goes off but the Timberwolves lose

Wittman goes from ‘worst’ to ‘first’ as Wizards make playoff noise

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Starters take a look at the Wizards’ Game 2 win

The NBA playoffs are only two games old for the Washington Wizards, but that’s enough for their coach, Randy Wittman, to already have gone from worst to first.

Some stipulations on the terms are necessary here: Wittman, whose eight seasons as a head coach have been split among Cleveland, Minnesota and Washington stints, ended the 2013-14 regular season with the worst winning percentage (.367, 191-329) of any NBA coach who has worked at least 400 games. That cutoff covers 90 men and a bunch of Hall of Famers, from Phil Jackson‘s record .704 success rate to Lenny Wilkens‘ .536 over the largest sample size (2,487 games).

Next-worst behind Wittman by a coach who meets the 400-game criterion? Former Washington center and coach Wes Unseld (.367, 202-345). Which means that, if the Wizards go 12-15 in their first 27 games next season, Wittman will climb out of that particular hole.

But he’s already out of the hole in his first taste of the postseason as a head coach. At 2-0, Wittman is in sole possession of the best winning percentage (1.000) in NBA playoff history.

That’s better than the No. 2 man, Jackson (.688), and way better than fellows such as Pat Riley (.606), Gregg Popovich (.618) and Red Auerbach (.589). Of course, those four guys coached a fat, round total of 1,001 playoff games, including Popovich’s work in Game 2 Wednesday against Dallas.

Obviously this all is a hoot, mere fun with numbers. If the Wizards lose the next two in their Eastern Conference first-round series against Chicago, Wittman will tumble all the way to .500. And so on.

But this little bump – not on his resume as much as in how Washington looks to have peaked for this opportunity, beating the Bulls twice at United Center – speaks to the situations Wittman has been in and his ability to survive. Or at least, re-surface.

In and around assistant jobs with Dallas, Minnesota, Orlando and Washington, Wittman got some some typical head coaching opportunities, i.e., bad teams. He went 62-102 with the pre-LeBron James Cavaliers and got fired. He took over when the Timberwolves dumped Dwane Casey (another comeback kid) in January 2006 and went 38-105 before getting the ax himself.

Then Wittman moved one seat over again two seasons ago, after Flip Saunders got fired at 2-15 but encouraged his top assistant to stick around. Wittman steered a motley Wizards group to an 18-31 finish, then went 29-53 last season when point guard John Wall‘s injuries provided at least a reasonable explanation for the struggles.

A former first-round pick as a guard/forward under Bobby Knight at Indiana University, Wittman played nine seasons in the NBA mostly for Atlanta and Indiana. In his assistant stints next to Saunders in Minnesota and Washington, he often was deployed as the “bad cop,” correcting players while Saunders stayed above the fray as the “good cop.”

Over time, borrowing from here and there, Wittman developed his coaching style. And it’s still developing.

“You learn by being thrown into the fire,” he said recently. “And yeah, you learn a ton of things that you like and things that, ‘Boy, you know, I can’t do that. I’ve got to change that part of my coaching.’

“You mellow out a little bit more, you learn to delegate. Back then, you just tried to have your hands on everything, and you can’t do that – it burns you out.”

This season, Wittman and the Wizards were said to have had a fire lit under them: Make the playoffs or (gulp). The franchise’s five-year drought of postseason appearances already was too long for owner Ted Leonsis, and there was talent in place capable of doing better. After a raggedy start – 25-27 through the All-Star break – and an extended absence by big man Nene, Washington started to gel.

Now the Wizards are playing as well as they have all season. Wittman, who worked with a target on his back for a couple of years, is getting credit from the outside and, more important, the inside. He welcomes references to his college coach, Knight, as far as a defensive influence. But Wittman seems to have backed off the scenery-chewing.

“What stands out to me the most, man, is how he stuck with us,” 20-year-old shooting guard Bradley Beal said Tuesday in Chicago. “He came into a pretty bad situation and he basically turned the team around. He’s had faith and confidence in us from Day 1 – ever since I got here, at least – of what we’re capable of doing. And what kind of team we can be.

“For him having played in the NBA helps me out a lot, because he played my position. I learn something from him every day. He pushes us, challenges us every day to be the best we can be. He knew we could be a playoff team at the beginning of the year. Now we’re here. But we’re setting new goals and standards, saying, ‘Let’s get higher than that.’ “

Adelman retires, Wolves focus on successor (and keeping Love)

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Rick Adelman won more than 1,000 games in a 23-year NBA coaching career. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rick Adelman won more than 1,000 games in a 23-year NBA coaching career. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

The residue of another season of expectations not met continued to build in Minnesota, where Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman announced his retirement Monday morning.

Adelman, 67, exits via an option on the fourth year of his contract. The Wolves had targeted a .500 finish and a postseason berth as their goals this season and fell short of both; they posted a 40-42 record and missed the playoffs for the 10th consecutive spring.

“It’s time. It’s time for me to step aside,” Adelman said at a news conference, accompanied by Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders. “I think when we came here, we really tried to see if we couldn’t turn things around. I think we made some strides … not as much as we would like.

“It’s time for someone else to come in.”

Adelman’s departure as coach — he will take on a consultant’s role with the organization  — had been the subject of speculation for weeks, after it became apparent the Wolves would miss what would have been their first playoff berth since 2004. His wife Mary Kay‘s health issues — she began fighting a series of seizures last season, causing him to miss 11 games in 2012-13  — are ongoing, though the veteran coach said they did not lead to this decision.

“If anything, my wife is the one who pushed me. She said, ‘You need to continue doing this,’ ” Adelman said. “Certainly it had an impact but the whole organization has been so great.”

In his three seasons with the Wolves, they went 97-133 and failed to reach .500 all three years. It was the least successful stretch of his 23-year NBA coaching career, during which his teams in Portland, Golden State, Sacramento, Houston and Minnesota compiled a record of 1,042-749 (.582) with 16 postseason appearances. He ranks eighth all-time in NBA coaching victories, and with two trips to The Finals with the Blazers in 1990 and 1992, likely will be enshrined soon in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

While Adelman heads off to his home in Portland without a championship ring, no one should think he didn’t put the work and the urgency into chasing one in Minnesota. Saunders spoke of the coach’s competitiveness.

“He comes across as very even-natured and you might not think he gets excited. But he’s got a burning passion to win,” Saunders said. “Being with him on a daily basis, you could see when we didn’t perform well that it really ate at him.”

Said Adelman: “It’s not that far away [in Minnesota]. Sometimes you want it to happen in a year, sometimes in two years. Sometimes it takes longer than that.

“I wish I could have done more, but I really enjoyed my time. … There’s some sadness but I also think, some relief.”

Saunders said he and owner Glen Taylor have “no timeline” for naming Adelman’s successor. Because this departure isn’t a complete surprise, names of possible replacements have been floated; Iowa State (and former Wolves guard) Fred Hoiberg; Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, a Saunders friend; current Washington assistant coach Sam Cassell, another former Minnesota player; oft-coveted Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, based on alleged friction with the Bulls front office; and Saunders himself.

Prior to his return this season to Minnesota, Saunders had been the winningest coach in Wolves history — 411-326 from 1995-2005 — and later coached in Detroit and Washington, bumping his career mark to 638-526 (.548), with 11 playoff appearances.

The next Wolves coach, whoever it is, will face a top priority of featuring — and courting — All-Star forward Kevin Love, the team’s best player. Love, an MVP-caliber performer (25.9 points, 12.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists per game in 2013-14), can opt out of his contract after next season to become a free agent.

Morning shootaround — March 29



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Beverley tears miniscus | LeBron wowed by mega-baseball contract | Not just L.A. on Love’s mind | Curry buries the Grizzlies | Wolves eye Hoiberg

No. 1: Rockets point guard out indefinitely — Houston Rockets starting point guard Patrick Beverley, the man who collided with Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook and tore his meniscus in last year’s first-round playoff series, is out indefinitely after tearing the meniscus in his right knee Thursday against Philadelphia. The Rockets will now have to make do without their top perimeter defender. Our own Fran Blinebury details how Beverley’s absence will affect Houston’s title aspirations:

For a team that has ridden the All-Star exploits of James Harden and Dwight Howard to the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference playoff race, Beverley plays a critical role.

The 25-year-old Chicago native who was drafted and cut by Heat, then toiled overseas in Russia, puts significant bite into the face of the Rockets’ defense.

Jeremy Lin can step back into the starting lineup and give the Rockets offense, but he is not the tenacious, in-your-face type defender that the Rockets will need in the playoffs to go against elite level point guards such as Westbrook, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and Mike Conley.

While Lin is flashy and creative and can fill up the basket with points when he gets on a roll, it is the just plain down-to-earth toughness of Beverley that often stands out, especially in a backcourt where Harden does not especially like to play defense.
Coach Kevin McHale said it would be 7-10 days before the Rockets would know a timetable for Beverley’s return.

Beverley has played in 53 of the Rockets’ 71 games, missing time with a hand injury. He has averaged 9.9 points in 31.3 minutes while taking over the starting role from Lin this season, but it’s that defensive bite and overall toughness that the Rockets would miss most. Sometimes it’s the littlest pieces of the puzzle that are hardest to replace.

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No. 2: LeBron would take Cabrera deal — Major League Baseball does not have a salary cap and that means some mighty contracts never even imagined in the NBA become reality. Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera was the latest example Friday when he inked a contract that will pay him $292 million over the next 10 years. It makes LeBron James‘ $19 million this season seem like charitable donation. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst puts it into context:

“I said ‘wow,’ ” James said before the Miami Heat played the Detroit Pistons on Friday. “I wish we (the NBA) didn’t have a salary cap.”

James will earn $19 million this season with the Heat, tied with teammate Chris Bosh for the ninth-highest in the NBA as part of a six-year, $109 million deal he signed in 2010.

“He’s the best player in baseball, and the best players in each sport should be rewarded,” James said. “It’d be nice to sign a 10-year deal worth $300 million.”

James earns about $40 million per year off the floor in endorsements, most of that coming from his deal with Nike, which reportedly is worth $19 million per year.

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No. 3: Not only L.A. on Love’s mind? — If Timberwolves double-double machine Kevin Love, set to become a free agent in 2015, makes it clear to management he won’t re-sign, Minnesota president Flip Saunders might be forced to look for a trade. The former UCLA Bruin has long been rumored to be headed for the Lakers, but Los Angeles might not be the only big city suitable to arguably the game’s top stretch power forward. ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

After the league endured the “Dwightmare” and “Melodrama,” get ready for “Lovesick.”

The six-year veteran, only 25 years old, is the apple of just about every team set to have cap space in the summer of 2015’s eye.

Timberwolves president Flip Saunders will do everything he can to keep Love, who is fourth in the league in scoring at 26.3 points per game and third in rebounding at 12.6 per game this season. And Minnesota will have the advantage of being able to offer a five-year extension, versus a four-year deal from any other team.

But if Love makes it clear that he has no intention to re-up with the Wolves, Saunders will be forced to shop Love or risk seeing him walk for nothing in return.

Which is where the Lakers come in.

Love’s ties to L.A. are undeniable. He went to college at UCLA. His father, Stan, played for the Lakers — and coincidentally was on the 1974-75 team, a.k.a. the worst team in Lakers history up until this season, so his son could help make up for that. And Love was born in Santa Monica, to boot.

“You know, my parents live there and they had me there,” Love said of L.A., after his Wolves beat the Lakers for the third time in four tries to win the season series Friday. “It’s not my fault. So, I don’t really care about that right now. I just go out there and play and don’t think about it.”

While Love downplayed his interest, the Lakers clearly could use a player of Love’s caliber to jump-start their rebuilding process. Especially with Kobe Bryant recently putting the screws to management to turn things around as soon as possible so he can contend for another championship in the twilight of his career.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported Friday the Lakers would be willing to trade their upcoming pick in the heralded NBA draft — likely to be in the top half of the lottery — to land Love.

While Minnesota could certainly decide to go that route and hit the restart button, there is no assurance that the Lakers are truly Love’s most desired destination.

A source familiar with Love’s thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com that it’s not just L.A. that is appealing to Love; he’s enamored with the idea of being “big time in a big city,” and that list of potential places he’d seek includes New York and Chicago, as well.

Love himself told GQ in February that his situation in Minnesota might be better than L.A. could offer anyway.

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No. 4: Curry’s 33 fends off Grizzlies — The Golden State Warriors were minutes away from the No. 6 seed they’ve held for the majority of the season slipping away to the visiting and hard-charging Memphis Grizzlies. Then Stephen Curry came to the rescue yet again. The All-Star swished a 3-pointer and dropped in a scoop shot as the Warriors, playing without forward David Lee and center Andrew Bogut, who left the game in the first quarter, closed out the Grizzlies with a 14-0 run in the 109-103 win. It sent the Grizzlies from the verge of the 6-seed to No. 8. Diamond Leung of the Oakland Tribune was there:

“We’ll never quit and understand we have the weapons to pack a heavy punch at any given time,” Curry said.

Coach Mark Jackson demanded that Curry have the ball in crunch time, and the star guard delivered with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:21 left and a subsequent scoop shot to pad the lead. Memphis could not muster a response, missing its final seven shots.

Marreese Speights added 15 points and eight rebounds in his first start with the Warriors while replacing an injured David Lee (right hamstring strain). The Warriors were still able to grab a 43-33 rebounding edge without their top two rebounders for most of the game, pleasing Jackson with the way his team competed in difficult circumstances.

Bogut was injured after getting kneed and ran the court with an obvious limp before checking out of the game for good with 7:59 left in the first quarter. He did not return and was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Saturday, according to Jackson.

Jermaine O’Neal had 10 points and six rebounds in 34 hard-fought minutes. Also off the bench, Draymond Green had 12 points and nine rebounds, hitting two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and providing strong defense on Memphis leading scorer Zach Randolph.

“There’s a guy that came into this league, and people probably said, ‘Why is he shooting threes? He should stop shooting threes,’ ” Jackson said. “And he’s winning ballgames with us, knocking down shots and making huge plays on the defensive end. The guy is a tremendous warrior.”

The Warriors would have taken a tumble down the standings with a loss but instead kept pace with the rest of the Western Conference and remained 1½ games ahead of No. 7 seed Phoenix. The win also evened up the season series 2-2 with Memphis, which dropped to No. 8 with the loss.

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No. 5: A return to the Timberwolves? — Speculation is growing that Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman will invoke his right to opt out of his contract this summer. If he does, the franchise is expected to go after one of its former executives and current Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein provides the background:

If Adelman indeed walks away this time, at 67, there are two natural courses for the Wolves to pursue.

The obvious response is [Flip] Saunders, part-owner as well as team prez, heading downstairs to reclaim his old floor seat to see if he can be the guy who finally brings a halt to the league’s longest postseason drought, which dates to the Wolves’ 2004 Western Conference finals team coached by Saunders.

But that might be too obvious.

There have been no clear-cut signals that Saunders is prepared to leave the executive suite to return to coaching.

There is also another textbook candidate out there for Minnesota to chase with long-standing Wolves ties: Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.

Widely regarded as the most NBA-ready college coach in the game, Hoiberg was a Wolves executive for four years before leaving the pros to coach the Cyclones. It should be noted that Saunders is close with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, as well, but the rumbles out of Sota are getting louder that the Wolves are going to court Hoiberg hard if they, as expected, have an opening.

An opening, rather, that Saunders declines to fill himself.

And all of that makes Friday one of the more pertinent days left on the 2013-14 calendar for long-suffering Wolves fans.

That’s because Hoiberg will be coaching Iowa State against UConn in a Sweet 16 game at Madison Square Garden … and because Saunders will be there watching.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers make (the wrong kind of) history again in epic loss … Anthony Davis leaves game in first quarter with a left ankle injuryVince Carter thinks he’s earned the right to re-sign with DallasKevin Durant scores 29 and streak creeps closer to overtaking Michael Jordan … TNT analyst Steve Kerr is the frontrunner to coach the Knicks under Phil JacksonShane Battier reiterates that he will retire after this seasonDirk Nowitzki‘s mentor and personal coach believes he has three or four high-level seasons left.

Love Wasn’t Going Anywhere … Today

Kevin Love has another year left before his current contract with the Wolves end.

Kevin Love has another year left before he can opt out of his current contract with the Wolves.

Now that the trade deadline has passed, it’s safe to relate a random tidbit that otherwise might have blown up the Internet, at least in the Upper Midwest:

At one point during All-Star Weekend, in the lobby of the NBA players’ hotel in New Orleans, Stan Love – father of Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love – was spied in conversation with agent David Falk.

Cue the ominous dun-duh-DUH! music.

Keep in mind that this was Stan Love, who played four seasons in the NBA (Bullets, Lakers) and ABA (Spurs), not Kevin, and that the Wolves’ All-Star is a client of agent Jeff Schwartz, not Falk. Doesn’t matter, close enough: Falk is the guy who tore a hole in the Wolves’ first great blueprint for success, hired by Stephon Marbury to get him out of the Twin Cities in 1999 in the me vs. we move that basically thwarted Kevin Garnett‘s dream of a Minnesota championship.

If nothing else – and there’s no evidence there is anything else – a little Love pere-“Prince of Darkness” intrigue might have prepped Wolves fans for what they dealt with leading up to the deadline Thursday, and given a glimpse of what they’ll endure for the next year or so as the countdown to Love’s 2015 contract opt-out ticks louder.

The “he said/he didn’t say,” back-and-forth Twitter fight Wednesday between longtime NBA writer Peter Vecsey and Wolves president Flip Saunders, eventually joined by Love, was just the start. And let’s face it, largely academic.

Even if, as Saunders and Love said, there was no specific ultimatum, the basketball world knows that a) Love still smarts from not getting a fifth year on his Wolves extension, b) longs to reach the postseason, something Minnesota hasn’t done since 2004, c) at 26-28 hasn’t seen enough (or contributed enough to) progress toward that goal to commit emotionally or financially to re-upping, and d) has little reason not to explore his opt-out.

That same hoops world knows that Saunders and the Wolves have about 15 months to settle this by convincing Love to stay. That means nailing down one or ideally two playoff berths, despite some dire math for this spring. It means developing and shaping the talent already in house – Ricky Rubio and the currently injured Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin – and adding pieces to aim higher. It also means weighing the team’s options with Love – trades or otherwise, reluctantly or not – this summer. And again at the deadline next year. And, if it’s not too late, in the offseason of 2015.

Saunders’ first shot at sprucing things up, last June’s draft, didn’t help much; Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng have not been factors. His most recent passed Thursday afternoon without adding Andre Miller, Tayshaun Prince or a few other rumored names who might have provided a boost.

So if there is panic in play in Minnesota, it remains the low-level kind, based on the continuing failure to get traction toward 50 victories and May tip-offs. Panic of the more hysterical sort can wait, though it creeps closer by the day.

Then again, this is a franchise that, whether with Love or Garnett, has spent nearly half its existence nervously wondering, “Do you think Kevin is going to stay?” Its fans unfortunately should be pretty adept at coping by now.

Time To Step It Up For The Stretch Run


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks about the challenges facing the Knicks

Now that the slam dunking, 3-point shooting and other wretched excess of NBA All-Star weekend is in the rearview mirror, even those of us who aren’t 7-footers can stand on our tip-toes and see the playoffs from here.

There’s jockeying the standings to be done: Races for the No. 1 seeding in both the Eastern and Western Conference, the long-shot hopefuls trying to sneak in at the No. 8 spot and the down-to-the-wire elbowing for home-court advantage in the first round.

While Kobe Bryant continues driving himself to make it back onto the court this season because, well, he’s Kobe Bryant, there are a handful of other players and teams who need to step up their games coming down the homestretch:

Deron Williams — After a slow start a year ago, Williams found his stride and finished strong, averaging 22 points and 10 assists per game in the second half of the season. While the Nets have picked themselves out of the bottom of the garbage heap of the East to climb into the No. 7 spot in the standings thanks to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett finally starting to come around, the most expensive roster in the league isn’t going anywhere in the playoffs if Williams can’t bounce back again and lead them. Is it the ankles? Is it the lack of confidence that he has mentioned? Or is he simply at the end of the line as an elite level point guard in his ninth season? Williams has scored 20 points just once since Jan. 4 and has only two games of handing out double-digit assists in 2014. He was even challenged to a 1-on-1 duel by coach Jason Kidd at a recent practice to try to light a spark.

Carmelo Anthony — He doesn’t show an interest in defense and, yes, he can turn Knicks games into a circus where he’s in the center ring and everyone else watches him hog the spotlight and the ball. Yet if it weren’t for Anthony carrying the offensive load, New York would be buried deeper in the standings. His PER of 24.61 is the second best of his career. Even at 20-32, the Knicks are within striking range in the East and Anthony is going to have to find a way to lift up his teammates — and save the job of coach Mike Woodson — rather than just outshine them before going into his summer of free agency. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if J.R. Smith stopped his clown show and got back to playing basketball at least part time.

Timberwolves — The clock is ticking. Not just on another season when the Wolves were supposed become a playoff team that is slipping away. It could — and should — be ticking loudly on the end of Kevin Love in Minnesota. Two more seasons until Mr. Double-Double can fly out of the icy north to a landing some place where they actually do more than just talk about making the playoffs. Healthy again, Love is back to putting up big numbers. Yes, he’s faltered at times down the stretch as the Wolves have lost a ton of close games. But it really is a case of not having a supporting cast around him that has shown much inclination for improvement. That’s you, Ricky Rubio. Reports have said G.M. Flip Saunders is willing to trade anybody on the roster except Love in an attempt to keep him in Minnesota. But as another year comes off the calendar, you have to wonder if it isn’t already too late.

Manu Ginobili — Sidelined since the end of the January with a strained hamstring, the San Antonio firecracker is scheduled to jump back into the lineup this week. He’s not on this list due to underperforming but for how much the Spurs need him back in their lineup to get the fire burning again. Tony Parker got a chance to get a head start on his All-Star break because he has simply looked worn out this season after going all the way to The Finals last June and then playing for the French national team in EuroBasket. Tim Duncan is showing more and more of his age at times and there are rumors that he is thinking of retiring at the end of the season. The Spurs have played miserably against the top contenders in the West — just a single win over a Clippers lineup without Chris Paul. They need Ginobili to come back strong and healthy and durable to be considered real playoff contenders again.

Andre Iguodala — When the Warriors brought him in from Denver, the belief was that he’d upgrade the roster at both ends of the floor. They figured he’d be the slashing, penetrating force of the past, adding another scoring option and helping Stephen Curry distribute the ball and being a solid wing defender. While he’s helped move the ball and been solid on defense, the problem has been a lack of offensive production. He’s scoring just 9.6 points per game, the lowest since his rookie season in Philly. The Warriors don’t need him to challenge Curry or Klay Thompson as a big gun every night, but occasional flashes of firepower will be necessary if the team hopes to climb out of the No. 8 spot in the West and reach the preseason goal of a top four finish. Iguodala has scored 20 points only once since the opening week of the season.