Posts Tagged ‘Flip Saunders’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 21


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers await word on Aldridge | Thibs gives Bulls a break | Wroten to see knee specialist | Saunders not a big fan of shootarounds, too

No. 1: Blazers await word on Aldridge’s thumb — Portland has designs on making a serious run for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. It’ll be hard for them to do that without All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. The big man is due to have an MRI today on his left thumb and will miss tonight’s game against Phoenix. How the team will cope if he is out for an extended period of time is another story. The Oregonian‘s Mike Richman has more:

If the Trail Blazers know anything more about LaMarcus Aldridge’s left hand injury, they weren’t saying much at practice on Tuesday.

“He’s at an appointment right now,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said at Blazers practice on Tuesday afternoon. “He won’t be traveling to Phoenix and hopefully there will be some determination this afternoon as what course of action.”

Aldridge was evaluated today by a hand specialist and has a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test scheduled for “later this week” according to the team. The Blazers announced that the they have not established a timetable for Aldridge’s return.

X-Rays revealed no breaks or fractures, but would not likely show if Aldridge suffered ligament damage.

“We’ll see what happens,” Stotts said. “I don’t want to rush to judgment on anything right now.”

The Blazers are 3-1 this season without Aldridge in the lineup and were 8-5 last season when he was forced to miss 13 games with a groin injury.

Chris Kaman, Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard and Dorell Wright are the Blazers remaining healthy big men. But the injury to Aldridge could force Stotts to get creative with his lineups as he did Monday against the Kings, when starting small forward Nicolas Batum played power forward next to Robinson for the entire fourth quarter.


VIDEO: Blazers coach Terry Stotts discusses LaMarcus Aldridge’s injury

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Jan. 18



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kobe has thought of retirement | Warriors bounce back | Wiggins keeps rolling | Embiid worrying Sixers | Marshall tears ACL

 

No. 1: Retirement has crossed Kobe’s mind — It’s the word that the rest of the world jumped to as soon as he went to the floor back in April 2013 with the torn Achilles’ tendon. It’s the word that he’s been pushing back against over the long, difficult months of recovery. But now with a 32-minute per game restriction and still the pain that comes with trying to be his old self, Kobe Bryant admitted to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times that early retirement is a long-shot, but still a possibility:

“I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t crossed my mind,” he tells The Times. “Right now I doubt it … but anything’s possible.”
He emphasizes the right now (because, right now, the reality is so muddled and difficult that even the Black Mamba is having trouble wrapping his mind around it.

“My body is hurting like crazy, around the clock, and if I don’t want to do this anymore, I won’t do it,” he says.

Like an aging pitcher, he has been placed on a count, 32 minutes per game, which basically leaves him on the bench for one crucial stretch per night. Like a fragile relic, he also has been forbidden to play the second night of back-to-back games, which means he will miss at least seven more full games this season even though he’s not injured. There has even been talking of completely shutting him down in March if the Lakers fall completely out of playoff contention, which has essentially already occurred.

The most stunning part of these developments is that a man who has spent his entire 19-year Lakers career fighting to play every minute of every game — he even made two free throws after tearing his Achilles’ tendon, remember — has agreed to every current and potential restriction.
“I know everyone is surprised I’m not fighting all this,” Bryant says quietly. “But I’ve changed.”

***

No. 2: Warriors reclaim their identity in Houston — One night after they barely showed up to put up a fight in Oklahoma City, the Warriors exploded for a 38-point guard third quarter in Houston and put James Harden under lock and key in what was supposed to be a showdown between Western Conference powers. As Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle noted, there was only one power on hand Saturday night and it was the league leaders:

Just 24 hours after the Warriors allowed season highs in points, field goals and field-goal percentage at Oklahoma City, they didn’t allow Houston to sniff those numbers.

Friday “night, we weren’t ourselves,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “We weren’t focused. We weren’t locked in. It showed in the stats, and it showed in the score.”

With Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala back in the rotation, the Warriors returned to the tenacious switching and gritty rim-protecting unit that has topped the league in defensive rating for most of the season. Houston shot just 42 percent from the floor, and the league’s most prolific three-point-shooting team was limited to 7-of-23 from behind the arc.

The Warriors returned to moving with a purpose and unselfishly passing on offense, getting double-digit scoring from five players, collecting 32 assists and shooting 54.9 percent from the floor. Most importantly, they returned to looking like the best team in the league — moving their record to 32-6 while snapping the four-game winning streak of the Rockets.

“We just wanted to get back to our identity,” Klay Thompson said. “It felt good to get back to what we do best.”

Thompson continued his hot streak, scoring 27 points and becoming the first Warriors guard with five blocked shots in a game since Baron Davis in 2007. Curry overcame six straight generally poor quarters to light it up in the second half and finished with 27 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

David Lee and Marreese Speights combined for 33 points and 13 rebounds off the bench. The Rockets were led by Howard, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds on a night when Thompson caused fits for James Harden, who managed just 12 points (4-for-15).

Wearing their slate-colored, sleeved jerseys — a Saturday tradition — the Warriors won their fourth straight against Houston — the first time they’ve done that since 2006-07 — and secured a season series road sweep of the Rockets for the first time since 1975-76.

***

No. 3: Red-hot Wiggins lights Timberwolves’ fire in Denver — He was feeling a bit under the weather, but that didn’t prevent rookie of the year favorite Andrew Wiggins from continuing on his recent surge. The No. 1 pick in the draft bounced back from a poor shooting night on Friday to lead his Timberwolves to their second win three games in Denver and Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had the details:

This time, they needed veteran guard Mo Williams not for the career-high, franchise-record 52 points he scored in Tuesday’s streak-busting victory at Indiana but for two strategic shots late in a game influenced in many ways by youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Robbie Hummel.

Still ill, but feeling better than he did Friday in a loss at Phoenix, Wiggins scored a career-high 31 points and delivered nine rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots and a steal in a 40-minute that might have left Cleveland Cavaliers fans muttering.

“It’s almost astonishing his confidence level,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. “He just keeps continuing to get better and amaze and do everything, whether it’s offense, blocking shots, rebounds.”

Still just 19, Wiggins did that Saturday despite feeling what he called “just sick.”

“I still am a little, but I feel great,” he said. “We got the win, played hard, executed down the stretch. Nothing feels better than that. … We’ve had games on the line this year where we messed up and we didn’t finish it. Those were growing pains. Now we’re learning. I think we’re getting better every day now, every game. We’ve won two of the last three. That’s great for us.”

***

No. 4: Embiid’s conditioning, attitude have Sixers worried — Even though he has yet to step onto the court this season as he continues to rehabilitate from foot surgery, Sixers rookie Joel Embiid has made quite a reputation for himself as a fun-loving guy on social media. But the team that made him the No. 3 pick in the 2014 Is now concerned that Embiid is not taking his conditioning and his pro career seriously enough, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Embiid has a weight issue. Although the Sixers wouldn’t disclose his weight, a source said he’s close to 300 pounds after being 250 pounds at Kansas last season.

His work ethic is being questioned by some inside the organization.

And a blowup with assistant strength and conditioning coach James Davis is one of the reasons he was sent home during the team’s recent West Coast road trip.

So, who is Embiid?

“He’s a young, 20-year-old kid who is trying to figure his way into being a professional basketball player and learning life,” Sixers forward Luc Mbah a Moute said.

Mbah a Moute knows more about his fellow Cameroonian than anyone here in the United States. He spotted Embiid at a basketball camp in their homeland several years ago. The 28-year-old has mentored Embiid ever since.

“Obviously, you can see some of his immaturity [in] his tweets sometimes,” Mbah a Moute said. “But you can also understand how mature he is in certain situations the way he handled himself. . . . He’s a good kid, man.

“At the end of the day, it’s tough for him being in a situation where people can’t really see who he is as a person.”

***

No. 5: Bucks lose Marshall for season with torn ACL — The overachieving Bucks, who have already lost rookie Jabari Parker for the season, suffered another setback when it was determined that guard Kendall Marshall has a torn ACL and will be done until 2015-16. Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has the report:

For the second time in just over a month, the Milwaukee Bucks have lost a player to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Backup point guard Kendall Marshall is the latest, having suffered the season-ending injury to his right knee in the second quarter of the Bucks’ victory over the New York Knicks in London on Thursday. Rookie forward Jabari Parker tore the ACL in his left knee Dec. 15 in Phoenix.

The diagnosis was confirmed Saturday morning after Marshall underwent an MRI, and he said he expects to undergo surgery in two to three weeks after the swelling subsides.

“I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was something serious,” Marshall said Saturday as the Bucks returned to the practice court in preparation for Monday’s game against the Toronto Raptors at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. ” I could feel it buckle, pop and it was a pain that I’d never felt before.

“I hate to see injuries in sports, period. Our bodies are how we make our money; they’re our job, they’re our profession. At the end of the day, though, injuries are a part of our profession as well.

“That’s part of the risk so you have to be understanding of that and understanding of the process and be ready to get back.”

The 6-foot-4 North Carolina product had emerged as the Bucks’ backup point guard, and was averaging 4.2 points and 3.1 assists — second on the team to Brandon Knight’s 5.1 — over 28 games. Marshall also had posted career bests of 45.5% shooting from the floor and 88.9% from the free-throw line while also connecting on 39.1% of his three-pointers.

The timing of Marshall’s injury couldn’t have been worse considering the team waived No. 3 point guard Nate Wolters on Jan. 9 in order to be able to sign forward Kenyon Martin. That leaves Jerryd Bayless as the backup with O.J. Mayo and Giannis Antetokounmpo as other potential ball-handlers.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With Austin Rivers on board, now the Clippers have their eyes on Tayshaun Prince…Now that he’s back in the lineup, it didn’t take long for Lance Stephenson to get right back to being Lance Stephenson... The Wizards big men show they can deliver too… Stephon Marbury says there was a time when he considered suicideKevin Durant made a dream come true for a young heart transplant patient.

ICYMI of The Night: Stephen Curry’s sick no-look pass demonstrates why he’s one of the best point guards in the game …:

VIDEO: Curry’s assist of the night

Morning shootaround — Dec. 28


VIDEO: Check out the highlights from Saturday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Rubio due back, well, one of these weeks | KG goes ‘Lance’ on Pacers’ West | Clippers’ bench earns its pine time | Pierce sees end of Gang Green

No. 1: Rubio due back, well, one of these weeks — Despite the tendency of Web sites everywhere to gaze into their crystal balls and predict the future – about half of all sports reporting and four-fifths of all stock market coverage is all about guessing what will maybe, perhaps, happen – sometimes the future doesn’t cooperate. Which is why injured Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio is tired of talking about it, even in the short term. As Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported from Oakland Saturday, Rubio’s return from a severely sprained ankle has become too much of a guessing game for the team’s absent playmaker:

He is back running and now refuses to prognosticate the date of his return.

“I wish,” Rubio said Saturday when asked if he knows when he will play again. “I’ve been saying it’s two weeks for the last month. I don’t want to say anymore dates. I’ve been saying in two weeks I think I’ll be ready and two weeks go by and I still can’t play and I get mad. I don’t want to get in a bad mood again. I’m not going to ask for a date again. I go as my body will let me do.”

For now, he can run and he did so with teammates for the first time at Friday’s morning shootaround in Denver, where he participated full-court running the team’s offense.

He can run, but stopping is another matter.

“I can’t cut and if I’m running and I have to stop right away, I have to take two, three extra steps,” Rubio said before the Wolves’ 110-97 loss to Golden State. “It’s not going to work in the game. I need more of that [5-on-0 work]. It felt good. I want to feel great before I go to some contact.”

Rubio will have another magnetic resonance imaging exam taken of his ankle after the team returns home from this current three-game road trip. Wolves coach Flip Saunders said Saturday he is hopeful Rubio can advance to contact play — the next step toward a game return — if the image comes back clean.

That didn’t stop some from fuzzying up their estimates and claiming a “mid-January” return for Rubio. And if that doesn’t happen, there’s always the Magic 8 Ball.

***

No. 2: KG goes ‘Lance’ on Pacers’ West — Losing by 25 points ought to be embarrassing enough, but no, the Brooklyn Nets had to find a way to add to their foolishness Saturday. Early in the game, before things turned truly sour for the Nets in front of a sellout Barclays Center crowd, veteran forward Kevin Garnett lifted a move from the Lance Stephenson playbook – though it had nothing to do with offense, defense or the basketball itself. Garnett blew in Indiana forward David West‘s face, much like Stephenson did when the former Pacer blew in LeBron James‘ ear during the Eastern Conference finals last spring. West didn’t appreciate it and picked up a technical foul for shoving Garnett away, but the silly stunt ultimately achieved nothing. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post reported on West’s version, while Garnett left the arena without talking to reporters:

“Yeah, I didn’t like that,” West said. “I didn’t like that. I just know it was too close, and I didn’t like it. I don’t want to play those games. We are out there to play basketball, so let’s play basketball.

“Everyone’s kind of looking at me trying to figure out what made me push him. I told them he blew in my face … an aggressive blow at that.

“I think Lance’s was more sensual. That was an aggressive blow. I felt the, I don’t know what you call it … but it was just too much.”

While the Nets’ $12 million man was “blowing the game” in far too literal a fashion, their $19.8 million and $15.7 millon men – Deron Williams and Brook Lopez – were combining for just seven points off the bench and earning with underwhelming play the criticism that has come their way.

***

No. 3: Clippers’ bench earns its pine time — When a team’s bench can’t do its primary job – playing even or better when subbed in against the other team’s reserves – things can unravel fast. And that’s what happened to the Clippers when coach Doc Rivers went grasping for answers that weren’t there Saturday against the Toronto Raptors. As a result of poor play by L.A.’s second unit, Rivers’ starters wound up gasping for air. According to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, that had everything to do with Toronto’s game-grabbing 13-2 run in the fourth quarter:

Rivers acknowledged afterward that he should have taken his starters out earlier in the game to provide more flexibility in the fourth quarter.

Of course, it was easy to second-guess his decision not to mix and match starters and reserves late in the game the way things played out.

“The problem was, to keep them in the game we had to keep our starters in in the entire third quarter,” Rivers said. “Honestly, I don’t think it would have mattered. Blake [Griffin] had already played 12 straight minutes. Do we play him 15 when he’s already tired?”

The Clippers continue to receive little production from their bench besides the scoring of Jamal Crawford and energy plays provided by Glen Davis. Center-forward Spencer Hawes remains sidelined because of a bone bruise in his left knee and point guard Jordan Farmar, the team’s other key off-season acquisition, has made an impact in only a few games.

Rivers said he needed to simplify the offense to help the second unit become more productive. Crawford scored 20 points Saturday, but the seven other reserves who played combined for only 13 points.

Davis said optimizing the way the team integrates the starters with the reserves could help solve some of the issues.

“Doc’s got to figure out the rotation and see what we can do to help our team, especially giving the big guys rest because they’re playing a lot of minutes,” Davis said. “But being on the second team, you’ve got to be ready, you can’t make a mistake. That’s just what it is. You’re in there for short minutes and you can’t make a mistake and it’s hard to play like that but you’ve got to do it because those are your minutes.”

***

No. 4: Pierce sees end of Gang GreenPaul Pierce and Kevin Garnett left more than a year ago, traded to Brooklyn prior to 2013-14. Ray Allen was gone before that, joining what at the time was the Boston Celtics’ arch rivals to chase a second ring in Miami. Coach Doc Rivers maneuvered his way to the West Coast. Now it’s Rajon Rondo who is gone from the Celtics’ parquet and Pierce couldn’t help but notice – and comment on what essentially was the end of a special era that began for them all in the summer of 2007. Here is some of what Boston Herald writer Steve Bulpett gathered Saturday in Washington, D.C., where Pierce makes his basketball home these days:

The timing of Rondo’s Dec. 18 trade to Dallas caught Pierce off-guard, but he knew this was a strong possibility once the Celts didn’t get in the running on Kevin Love and couldn’t find another impact player to pair with Rondo.

“I was a little bit surprised, especially because trade season starts close to All-Star or after All-Star break,” Pierce said. “Not a lot of trades happen in mid-December. You know, teams are trying to find their stride.

“But we had a chance to talk. We had our weekly mass text, and he understood the situation. The Celtics were either going to go in one direction, build around him, or continue with the youth movement. So I think Rondo understood it.

“I was shocked definitely, because I thought this was a year they were going to maybe this summer find some pieces to put around him. But he had a great run in Boston, and as long as he’s happy, that’s all that matters.”

Pierce spent 15 years with the Celtics, but even he had to move along when the club traded him to Brooklyn in 2013 to begin its rebuilding phase.

“That’s the way it is,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a long time before you see one player stay with one team for 15-plus years. You know, I think those days are pretty much gone, especially with the new collective bargaining agreement, players wanting to be in different places or play with their friends. It’s just a new era I think we’re living in.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ray Allen might be leaning toward retirement, rather than picking a contender to join in mid- or late season. … The list is long, but arguably the Detroit Pistons’ worst move in contributing to that team’s slide was the 2008 trade of veteran guard Chauncey Billups to Denver for an also-past-his-prime Allen Iverson. At least, former Piston Rodney Stuckey thinks so. … New Orleans’ Anthony Davis played his first NBA game in his hometown of Chicago and he dazzled with 29 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots. It was his fourth 25-10-5 game of the season. … Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague looked all the way back from his recent hamstring injury and the Hawks avenged Friday’s 30-point loss to the Bucks by traveling to Milwaukee for payback.

Stars align for Wolves’ rookie LaVine


VIDEO: Rookie LaVine carries Wolves over Lakers

There were times Friday night, Zach LaVine admitted, when he caught himself gawking upon Kobe Bryant the way he had in his, well, younger youth, when the 19-year-old was growing up in Washington state and idolized the Lakers scoring star. Fortunately for LaVine, rookie guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Bryant never fully made him and his team pay for such star gazing.

In fact, the raw newcomer who spent one undeveloped year at UCLA outscored his hero 28-26 in Minnesota’s 120-119 victory at Staples Center.

When it was over, the teenager who scored 18 points in reserve in the second quarter, had joined Bryant in a bit of NBA statistical history:

LaVine’s 28 points were the third-most by any bench player in the league this season. He joined Kevin Garnett, Stephon Marbury and LaVine’s teammate Andrew Wiggins as the only four Wolves to score 25 or more before turning 20.

This one meant a little extra to LaVine because of where he did it and whom he was facing (Wiggins actually was the Wolves defender assigned to Bryant for much of the game). “I always want to come back and put a show on,” he told reporters after doing just that for about 10 family members and friends. “I know a lot of UCLA fans were here and a lot of UCLA fans are mad that I came out. I’m confident person. I like proving people wrong.”

LaVine still routinely proves some critics and even his coaches right with his unpolished game and mental mistakes. He is averaging 8.0 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 21.3 minutes, while shooting 42.9 percent, including an ill-advised 27.8 percent from 3-point range.

For all his athletic ability, vertical leap and YouTube wonderfulness, the rookie has only three dunks in 234 minutes, compared to team leader Shabazz Muhammad‘s 13 in 207. And LaVine’s per game plus/minus of minus-8.1 is Minnesota’s worst.

But then, Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders knew LaVine would serve a healthy apprenticeship learning his craft at this level when he drafted him 13th overall last June – and handed him over to head coach Flip Saunders to begin the heavy repetitions of development. Saunders saw point-guard potential in LaVine during the Las Vegas Summer League and told anyone who would listen about the slender, 6-foot-5 player’s skills and charisma. When Ricky Rubio badly sprained his left ankle earlier this month, the coach gave LaVine some trial by fire as a starter before flipping him back to the bench behind Mo Williams.

For a night, in 26 minutes – Russell Westbrook wasn’t the only guy scoring at greater than a point-per-minute pace Friday – it came together for LaVine. Right place, right time, right audience.

Said Saunders: “I think he showed a little bit of what he’s going to be able to do in this league.”

Report: Garnett would like to buy Timberwolves one day

Can’t you see it now?

A dapper Kevin Garnett, wearing a designer suit and tie, leaping out of his courtside seat at the Target Center, slapping two hands on the floor and snarling expletive-laden invective at visiting teams.

Call it executive level trash talk, giving a whole new level to the idea of “owning” an opponent.

First though, Garnett wants to actually own his own team, namely the Timberwolves, for whom he toiled his first 12 NBA seasons. That’s what he told Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports!:

“I want to buy the Timberwolves. Put a group together and perhaps some day try to buy the team. That’s what I want,” Garnett said after a 107-99 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night.

The Timberwolves drafted Garnett with the fifth overall pick in the 1995 NBA draft. The 15-time All-Star played for the Timberwolves for 12 seasons before being traded to Boston, where he led the Celtics to a championship in 2008. Garnett pushed Minnesota to eight consecutive playoff appearances, and the franchise has not been to the postseason since his departure.

The Timberwolves were valued at $430 million in January, according to Forbes Magazine. The next NBA television contract will be extremely lucrative and is expected to raise the price of the franchise. Garnett, the 2004 MVP who averaged 20.5 points and 11.4 rebounds during his tenure with Minnesota, has made $315 million in his NBA career and will make an additional $12 million this season. He also has made millions in endorsements.

Nets general manager Billy King said he wouldn’t be surprised if Garnett were to buy the Timberwolves.

“He would be one of the best owners in the NBA because he understands what the players need and he understands what it takes to be successful in the NBA,” King told Yahoo Sports.

On May 12, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told the Associated Press he was looking to add a minority partner who would hold an option to buy him out. Taylor also made it clear he is committed to keeping the team in Minnesota.

Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders is Garnett’s former coach with the franchise, which is rebuilding and expected to miss the playoffs once again. But the team does have several young talented players: 2014 No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Peckovic, Anthony Bennett, Shabazz Muhammad and rookie Zach LaVine.
For Garnett, it’s all about his history with the franchise.

“That is the one that has my interest. I have ties there. Flip’s there,” said Garnett, 38.

The NBA has had its share of colorful owners. The late Larry Miller used to stand on the court with his Jazz players shagging basketballs during pre-game warmups. The late Dr. Jerry Buss exuded all that was cool and Hollywood about the Lakers with his casual fashion and his lifestyle. Just last year Grizzlies owner Robert Pera publicly challenged Michael Jordan to a high-profile game of 1-on-1 to benefit charity.

But you’ve got to admit that the volatile, emotional K.G. could take the role of team owner to a new and most colorful direction.

Would it be in-your-executive-suite, in-your-face? The first owner ever voted to the All-Defense first team?

If Garnett’s dream comes true, we’ll admit to having our fingers crossed for a Western Conference finals matchup one day soon against the Clippers and their loud, screamingly excitable boss man Steve Ballmer.


VIDEO: Relive Kevin Garnett’s top 10 plays from his Timberwolves days

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.”

NBA coaching in the time of social media

One by one they arrive, each man pulling up in his elegant sedan, sports coupe or luxury SUV and, for all intents and purposes, bringing his family, his friends, his fans — his peeps — and his digital world along with him.

Denver coach Brian Shaw says keeping players off social media and engaged with the task at hand is one of his biggest challenges. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Denver coach Brian Shaw says keeping players off social media and engaged with the task at hand is one of his biggest challenges. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

In the locker room, where they dress and tease and bond and strategize, it’s all about chemistry. Except when it’s about technology.

“Say we have a shootaround or a team meeting that starts at 9:30. Guys start trickling in at 9:15,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said the other day, talking about these modern times. “We used to come in and sit around and talk to one another face to face. Now these guys have their devices and they’ll all be sitting at a table and nobody’s saying anything to anybody. They’re just punching buttons and looking down, and there’s no interaction.”

That novel about Love in the Time of Cholera? The men who oversee NBA teams are coaching in the time of social media, which might just be trickier.

Red Auerbach never had to worry about some tabloid photographer popping out of a darkened doorway to snap a photo with his date. Lenny Wilkens and Don Nelson barely stuck around long enough for cell phones. Coaches today face the full arsenal of gadgetry, as far as where their guys might turn to lose themselves or what a civilian might use to catch players unawares. TMZ, remember, pays real folding money and, after all, 15 minutes of fame is better than none.

“It’s a big challenge coaching now,” said Shaw, who  — when he was an NBA rookie in 1988 — needed a quarter and a glass booth if he wanted to fiddle with a phone at the Boston Garden. “There are so many more options for them, so many more things to take their attention away from what you’re trying to do as coach. You have to constantly bring them back in and keep them engaged.”

Twenty years have passed since Magic Johnson, in his unsatisfying 16-game stint as Lakers coach, threw Vlade Divac’s cell phone against the wall after it rang during a team meeting.

Sounds quaint now.

“I feel his pain,” Shaw said, chuckling. “A coach like Phil Jackson, the majority of the years that he coached, these are challenges that he didn’t have to deal with. To me, the X’s and O’s kind of cancel each other out, between me and the coaches I’m opposing at the other end. Keeping everybody dialed in and not being distracted by outside forces — that’s what the real challenge is.

“I’m contemplating making the players, an hour before practices and an hour before games, check their cell phones in. So they can’t even have ’em in the locker room. It’s, ‘You’re here. We need your undivided attention right now.’ ”

Been there. Doing that.

“We have rules against cell phones in the locker room after a certain point before a game,” said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, whose owner, Mark Cuban, is the king of NBA social media, at least among the Board of Governors. “If someone’s cell phone goes off, the guy gets hit with a pretty hefty fine. And we all have a good laugh about it. If it happens again, we may have to have a serious discussion about it. And the fine’s going to be heavier.”

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Sept. 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Chandler gets defensive about rep | Free Eric Bledsoe! Please? | Wilt is ‘Forever’

No. 1: Chandler gets defensive about rep — The big man doth protest too much. It sure seemed that way, anyway, when Dallas center Tyson Chandler “fired back” Friday at Phil Jackson and the Knicks for what he perceived to be criticism of his character and effect on chemistry in the New York locker room. Jackson made his comments after the June trade that sent Chandler and guard Raymond Felton to the Mavericks, alluding to “looks” exchanged by players and accountability issues. The thing is, Felton’s reputation was a lot shakier in N.Y. than Chandler’s, and some insiders believe Jackson mostly was talking about the gun-toting point guard. With Chandler’s retorts through Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com, he raised questions whether he was covering for his teammate or perhaps working from a guilty conscience:

“I did nothing but try to help the culture there the three years I was there,” Chandler said Friday. “You can say I didn’t live up to whatever or you didn’t like the way I played or anything. But to ever question who I am and the type of leader I am in the locker room, I don’t even know where that came from.

“I honestly don’t know where that came from. I don’t know if Phil put that out there or who put that out there, but to me, that was the ultimate shock. And you don’t have to say that to get rid of me or to trade me. The trade is over.

“So to judge my character and what I’ve done, you can go look at all my teammates and ask all of my teammates in the past, and the coaches I’ve played for, and I’ve never been a problem and never had a problem. So that was a shock to me that I didn’t appreciate.”

Mavs owner Mark Cuban, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson and coach Rick Carlisle all cited Chandler’s outstanding leadership ability as one of the motivating factors in bringing him back to Dallas. Chandler was widely recognized as the spiritual leader during Dallas’ 2010-11 championship season. He has always prided himself in being an unselfish player who demands the best of his teammates.

“It makes no sense,” Chandler said. “If you call holding people accountable daily being a bad influence, then hey, I’m a bad influence. But I’m going to be that as long as I’m going to strap up my shoes and step on the basketball court. And that was the big problem there.

“That’s the biggest thing. I guess if that’s why I was a bad influence, because I wanted to do things the right way, then I guess I’m a bad influence. But I’ve never heard of that. I thought that was being a professional.”

***

No. 2: Free Eric Bledsoe! Please?Eric Bledsoe had no leverage when he entered restricted free agency in July and nothing has shifted the Phoenix guard’s way in the 12 weeks since then. Reports surfaced Friday that Minnesota wants to offer Bledsoe a four-year maximum-salary deal worth $63 million, even though the Timberwolves are capped out and can only add that sort of contract via a sign-and-trade. So far the Suns have turned up their nose at the Wolves’ proposals. Meanwhile, Bob Young of the Arizona Republic strongly favored spending Phoenix’s limited funds on Bledsoe’s backcourt mate, Goran Dragic, in a max deal of his own. That suggests more strongly than ever that Bledsoe might play in 2014-15 on a one-year qualifying deal of $3.73 million with the Suns, in anticipation of being unrestricted in free agency next summer. Here is part of Young’s case for Dragic, which can’t have thrilled the Bledsoe camp:

Unlike Bledsoe, Dragic has a proven track record on the court, a great reputation off of it and has shown a commitment to the Suns that Bledsoe has avoided since the Suns obtained him in a deal with the Clippers.

Heck, Dragic came back to the Suns as a free agent after they traded him to Houston for a lesser player — and at a time when there was very little reason to believe that a turnaround was coming anytime soon.

It is well documented that Bledsoe and his representative, LeBron’s “guy” Rich Paul, have demanded a maximum deal of five years and more than $80 million.

The basis for that demand is a mystery to all except Rich Paul.

Bledsoe hasn’t been an All-Star. He hasn’t been on an All-NBA team. He hasn’t led a team into the playoffs. He wasn’t a lottery pick (18th in 2010). His jersey isn’t among the top sellers in the league. He hasn’t been named to a USA Basketball national or select team.

And here is some background from the Minnesota end, from Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Keep in mind, Mark Termini, one of Bledsoe’s agents, had Wolves president/coach Flip Saunders as a longtime client. So it’s possible Minnesota is being used to nudge along the Suns-Bledsoe talks, which broke down after Phoenix’s four-year, $48 million offer. The plot thickens when you factor in guard Ricky Rubio and his desire for a max extension with Minnesota.

The Suns are not believed to be interested in either center Nikola Pekovic and his $12 million salary or Rubio. The Suns already have point guards Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, and they’d be back in the same situation they are with Bledsoe, negotiating with a player who believes he’s worth a maximum salary. (There’s no indication the Wolves are willing to trade Pekovic or Rubio, anyway.)

The Wolves likely will be unwilling to trade any of their top young players — Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng — the Suns might want, and can’t trade Anthony Bennett or Thaddeus Young, who were acquired in the Love deal, for at least another month.

The expiring contract of guard J.J. Barea and veterans such as Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer or Kevin Martin won’t get the deal done, either.

The Wolves could play Rubio and Bledsoe in the same backcourt, much as the Suns did with Bledsoe and Dragic last season. But with Rubio also seeking a max contract, doing so would involve paying big money to players who naturally play the same position.

***

No. 3: Wilt is ‘Forever’ – Actually, Wilt Chamberlain already is an NBA immortal. But he apparently will become one of the United States Postal Service’s “forever” stamps this winter. The Babe Ruth of basketball was pitched years ago to the USPS to be honored with his own postage stamp, perhaps as part of its Black Heritage series and pegged to Chamberlain’s legendary 100-point game. That project is in line for what looks to be a happy conclusion, based on sleuthing by a user of Reddit.com, or at least a stumbling-across of some USPS product rollouts. And that has to be good news for Donald Hunt, founder of the campaign and a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Tribune in Chamberlain’s hometown. Hunt and some of Wilt’s other family and friends talked with NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner about their ambitions back in 2011 to honor Chamberlain and refresh his memory for new generations of sports fans:

Like Jimmy Sadler, who played three seasons with Chamberlain at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, where they posted a 58-3 record. “It’s overdue, really. If any athletes should be on a stamp, it’s him,” Sadler said. “Wilt was it. When you say ‘it,’ Wilt was it. He could do it all.”

Sports, coaches and athletes have been among more than 5,000 subjects featured on general-release U.S. postage stamps dating to 1847. Last June, two stamps dedicated to baseball’s Negro Leagues were issued with one depicting founder Rube Foster and the other showing a play at home plate.

“They introduced those stamps at the Negro League museum in Kansas City,” Hunt said this week, “and I saw how they gave out so much information and history. They could get that in schools and kids could learn about Wilt. It would be great for the NBA, too.” Hunt has gathered signatures on petitions and recommendations from NBA commissioner David Stern, Jerry West, Pat Riley, Billy Cunningham and various Philadelphia and Pennsylvania officials, while hoping for President Obama‘s support as well.

“I don’t think people really know what Wilt was all about, as far as his charitable work and giving back,” Barbara Chamberlain Lewis, one of his sisters, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “When he got into the NBA, he really had to play the way they wanted him to play, to appeal to the crowds. But how he was away from games, I don’t think people really know.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas tries again to quell the violence in his native Chicago with the third annual “Peace Tournament” on the city’s South Side. … Retired NBA player and front-office exec Rex Chapman earned a reported $22 million in his career, but was arrested Friday on a $14,000 shoplifting beef in Scottsdale, Ariz. … As the NFL’s miserable week spiked by domestic violence was ending, Toronto’s Patrick Patterson tweeted out a reminder of another pro athlete’s brush with the law for the same category of offense. … Chicago’s Taj Gibson, meanwhile, took to Twitter to defuse a situation before it gained momentum, sharing his views of starting vs. subbing for the Bulls.

Budenholzer deals with double-duty

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer will be taking on some front-office duties this season. (Bart Young/NBAE)

Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer will be taking on some front-office duties this season. (Bart Young/NBAE)

CHICAGO – Long characterized as a “copycat” league for trends ranging from basketball strategies to hiring practices, the NBA has a new move that everybody’s getting in on: Coaches doing double-duty as general managers, presidents of basketball operations or other titles vested with personnel control.

The latest to take all that on is Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, who had decision-making responsibility dropped in his lap last week in the fallout from the Hawks’ front-office mess. GM Danny Ferry, beleaguered after making racially charged comments about free agent Luol Deng, took an indefinite leave of absence, and Hawks CEO Steve Koonin appointed Budenholzer to be the team’s head of basketball operations for now.

His circumstances are unusual, but Budenholzer joins the likes of the Los Angeles Clippers’ Doc Rivers, Minnesota’s Flip Saunders, Detroit’s Stan Van Gundy and of course San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich in holding added clout beyond their work on the court.

Until Rivers beefed up his role last year when he moved from Boston to L.A., Popovich was more of an exception. Most teams in recent years preferred to separate the powers, believing that a coach focuses on tonight (win the game) while a front-office exec thinks about tomorrow, next season and several years after that.

So is this the start of a new trend? A pendulum swing?

“I don’t know, those pendulums seem like they’re always swinging,” Budenholzer said Thursday in Chicago, in town for the annual NBA coaches meetings. “There are a couple of people who have done that, and obviously Pop’s been doing that for a long time, with R.C. [Buford, Spurs GM to Popovich’s president title] doing a ton. Those two together have been just an amazing combination. So I don’t know.”

Flip Saunders (David Sherman/NBAE)

Flip Saunders (David Sherman/NBAE)

The long-established view that the jobs should be kept separate has led to some coaches, hungry for more input on their teams’ architecture, finding themselves on the sidewalk. The most recent example: Jason Kidd, whose power play in Brooklyn wound up with Kidd coaching in Milwaukee and coach Lionel Hollins slipping in beneath GM Billy King in the Nets’ flowchart.

“A lot of people question it,” Saunders said. “Agents especially — they don’t necessarily like someone having that much control over their clients. Because as a coach, you can basically dictate how much you’re going to pay a guy.” By growing or limiting a player’s role, that is.

Saunders added duties in the opposite direction from Budenholzer and Rivers — he was the Timberwolves’ basketball boss when he appointed himself as head coach for 2014-15, taking over for the retired Rick Adelman. But Saunders made his NBA bones on the sideline, coaching Minnesota, Detroit and Washington for 15-plus seasons.

“I believe, if you look at many of the successful football teams, they were built that way,” Saunders said Thursday. “Look at [Bill] Parcells. [Bill] Belichick, he’s got total control. Then in our sport, look at the success that Nellie [Don Nelson] had — he pretty much ran the whole thing [in Milwaukee, Dallas and Golden State]. Then Pat Riley‘s situation, when he pretty much ran a lot of those things.”

Just as Popovich has “nurtured” Buford to work in concert on personnel matter, Saunders, Rivers and Van Gundy also have titular GMs or other execs to tackle salary caps, administer scouting and handle other chores that would pull them away from player development and game preparation.

“The best thing about it is,” Saunders said, “I believe in most organizations when you have a falling out, the tendency is there’s a relationship that is lost between the coach and the owner. Because maybe they don’t all have the same agenda from management to the coaching staff. Well, when somebody is your coach and your president or GM, he’s going to talk to the owner. So there’s never going to be a disconnect on what the message is.”

Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks coach and president of the National Basketball Coaches Association, said the added power and work aren’t for everyone.

“In my case, I’m not looking to do that. I love my owner [Mark Cuban] and I love my GM [Donnie Nelson] — my GM and I go back 30 years as friends,” Carlisle said. “I want to concentrate on my craft. But I applaud these other guys for taking on the other responsibility.

“If you get a great coach like Gregg Popovich or Doc Rivers or Stan Van Gundy and you have the opportunity to meld those two positions into one guy who is high-quality in so many areas, if you’re an owner, you should go for that. More than anything, it’s pointing to the vortex of the connection between the coach and GM. The fact that some owners are looking at this and saying, ‘These two jobs should be one and the same’ highlights the importance of coaching.”

No one, however, is saying it’s easy. The consensus is that a GM has less-grueling days and better job security than his head coach. Saunders adapted comfortably to that last season, his first in the role with Minnesota, though coaching competitiveness still coursed through his veins.

In Budenholzer’s case, it comes just one year into his head coaching tenure with the Hawks, with the true impact of the front-office mess (analyzed well here by our Sekou Smith) still to be felt. The longtime Spurs assistant has a lot coming at him, on the brink of training camp.

“There are extra things you have to do to prepare for camp and the season,” Budenholzer acknowledged. “But we’ve got a great group. So there’s more work but I think we can manage it. The team, for the most part, is in place. That’s the most important thing.”

Growing up in the NBA in the Spurs organization — Ferry logged valuable time there, too, under Popovich and Buford — helped prepare Budenholzer for this beefed-up role. “It’s something where I spent 19 years in that kind of a set-up,” he said. “To whatever degree I can be comfortable, I wouldn’t feel that now if I hadn’t spent all those years around that in San Antonio with Pop and R.C.”

Asked where he would turn with questions, he said: “Oh, Pop and R.C. have always been open to me. I’ve obviously learned a ton from them and I’ll continue to.”

And if rivalries of the NBA prevent his Spurs pals from helping too much?

“I’m sure if I cross the line unintentionally,” Budenholzer said, “they’d say, ‘You’re a big boy, you’re going to have to figure certain things out for yourself.’ “

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.