Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Garnett’

Garnett is back, ready for season No. 20


VIDEO: Media Day: Kevin Garnett

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The idea of retiring after 19 seasons in the NBA did cross Kevin Garnett‘s mind when the Brooklyn Nets were eliminated by the Miami Heat in the conference semifinals in May. And the departure of Paul Pierce for Washington led many to speculate that Garnett would seriously consider hanging ‘em up.

But Garnett is back for the final year of his contract, which will make him the fourth player in NBA history to play 20 seasons.

“I must admit these last three years I’ve thought about life and where basketball is as far as priority,” Garnett said at the Nets’ media day on Friday. It was the first time he had spoken to the media since before Game 5 in Miami. “So yeah, in the back of your mind you think about it. But the decision is either yes or no. It’s not like 50-50, I’m in the middle of the road or gray area. I’m a person that when you commit to something you commit to it. It’s that simple.”

Garnett’s offensive game fell off last season. He averaged a career-low 6.5 points on a career-low 44 percent, rarely playing with his back to the basket, even when he moved to center after Brook Lopez‘s season-ending foot injury. Though he had $12 million reasons to return for one more season in Brooklyn, it’s hard to imagine him coming back for season No. 21, which only two NBA players – Robert Parish and Kevin Willis – have ever reached.

But Garnett hasn’t reached that decision yet, and there will be no Jeterian farewell tour.

“I like to come in each year and assess it,” Garnett said. “I’ve always said the days when I’m not feeling basketball again, which is absurd, or when I don’t have the motivation to come in here, it’s time to move on. But that’s not the case. I’m very much motivated. I’m looking to have a better year than last year and I’m looking to enjoy this year.”

And this is not about proving that last season was a fluke or that he still has gas left in the tank.

“I don’t need to show people anything,” Garnett said. “That’s first off. Secondly, for myself, last year I think everybody had to [sacrifice] their own game and give a little bit for the betterment of [the team], and I did just that.”

Though he was, at times, a liability offensively last season, Garnett was still a plus defender and actually led the league in defensive rebounding percentage. And he still has plenty to offer in terms of leadership.

“He’s the life of the locker room,” Joe Johnson said, “a great leader, very vocal. We need him, not only in the locker room but on the floor as well. He helps in so many ways and I’m glad he’s back.”

“He’s still smart,” Deron Williams added. “What he brings to this team leadership-wise can’t be forgotten about. So we’re excited to have him back, excited for him to be on our team, and just the knowledge he gives the young guys. I think he’s a big reason why Mason [Plumlee] has developed so fast, because he’s got one of the best players to ever play the game on the bench, one of the best big men to ever play this game, coaching him every day.”

Indeed, Plumlee gives credit to Garnett for helping him go from the No. 22 pick in the 2013 Draft to a gold-medal-winning member of the U.S. National Team just a year later.

“It was big,” Plumlee said of Garnett’s influence. “Even [USA assistant] Coach [Tom] Thibodeau said, ‘I can tell you’ve been with Kevin last year.’ He rubs off on people in a good way. And there’s a lot to learn from him.”

There’s not a player in camp that’s happier than Plumlee to have Garnett around.

“It’s a big benefit,” Plumlee said. “I was very happy he decided to come back. I expressed that to him at the end of the last season that I hoped he would decide to come back. And it’s going to be good for me. It’s going to be good for the whole team. And I think it’s going to be good for the coaches too. They’ll love having a leader like that in the locker room.”

The Nets have a new coach for the second straight season. Lionel Hollins has already named Garnett the starting power forward and indicated that he would play more minutes than he did last season. Garnett is happy to move back to the four, and will play whatever minutes he’s given.

“Whatever the coach tells me to do,” Garnett said, “that’s what I plan on doing.

“Right now, without the bumps and bruises, I feel great. Give me about three days, I’ll tell you I’m feeling much different from right now. But I’ve been working out since June, since we stopped. Obviously, I take care of myself. I take care of my body. So we’ll see. Eighty-two-plus games beats you up a little bit, so we’ll see.”

If Williams, Johnson and Brook Lopez are healthy and playing their best, the Nets don’t need Garnett to be more than what he was last season, a leader, a defender and someone who can knock down a mid-range jumper when it’s presented.

“I really don’t see myself as primary [option], and that’s just reality,” Garnett said. “But I still can give. I still have something to give to the game, to this team. And my mind set has always been to be better than I was last year or to be better than I was yesterday.”

A dozen stories to open training camps

Little has changed with the ageless Spurs since the confetti rained down on the champs, but much is now different with the rest of the NBA. So as the first handful of training camps open this week, here are a dozen storylines that will require immediate attention:

LeBron rocks, Cleveland rolls

LeBron James, 2007 (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Is it really as simple as putting the giant sign of LeBron James back up in downtown Cleveland and turning the clock back to the days of the Cavs as contenders for them to win it all? With Kyrie Irving‘s continued growth, his performance at the FIBA World Cup fresh in our minds, with the arrival of Kevin Love to be the third leg of the stool, it only seems a matter of time before the Cavs are on the main stage in June. Let’s remember that Irving and Love have never even been to the playoffs, let alone made a deep run. But let’s also remember that this is the Eastern Conference and that means the door is open.

Kobe vs. The World

Let’s face it. Nobody — not LeBron, not Carmelo Anthony, not Kevin Durant, not anybody — will have every step he takes on the court scrutinized and analyzed more than Kobe Bryant as he battles the calendar and what would seem to be common sense as he tries to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a knee fracture at age 36. He’ll be determined, defiant, maybe even destructive to his own well-being. More than anything, you have to hope he can stay healthy all the way through the long grind of the season, if for no other reason than to see how he drives and browbeats a ragtag collection of post-Pau Gasol era Lakers in a quixotic quest.

Big Man in the Big Easy

They’ve changed owners, changed their team name and solidified the face of the franchise for the first time since New Orleans was last in the playoffs. Now it’s time to see if Anthony Davis can build on his big dog experience with Team USA in the World Cup and put some bite into the Pelicans. Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and made his first All-Star Game appearance last season. But based on the way he played in Spain, that might have only been scratching the surface. There are some ready to jump Davis over reigning MVP Durant as the next “best player in the game.” He’ll get up front support this season from Omer Asik, and if Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans can stay healthy, this could be the beginning of a whole new era.

Stuck on the launch pad

Until LeBron went back home to Cleveland, it was hard to top the last two offseason jackpots hit by the Rockets — landing James Harden and Dwight Howard. But that streak hit a wall when the Rockets went all-in to bring Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh to Houston. It was a bold and grand gamble that required trading away Omer Asik (to the Pelicans) and Jeremy Lin (to the Lakers) to create salary cap space. It also led to allowing Chandler Parsons to become a free agent and sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Now with neither prize free agent, the Rockets are a team that won 54 games a year ago, lost in the first round of the playoffs and have the depth of a one-night pickup at a singles bar. How much can they get from Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan? What does Jason Terry have left? How much of the weight can Harden and Howard realistically carry?

(more…)

Getting out of NBA’s ‘Ringless of Honor’

Steve Nash's teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he's never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Steve Nash’s teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he’s never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rings still are the things, even if it didn’t necessarily seem that way in June.

Because The Finals of 2014 were a rematch of the 2013 Finals, there wasn’t any chatter about stars who needed to win a championship. Both the Miami and San Antonio rosters were full of decorated performers, their “ring” box checked and re-checked through multiple title runs.

That wasn’t the case in many previous postseasons, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2011), Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (2010), Pau Gasol (2009) and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (2008) chased the validation that seems to matter most in the NBA. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant had won nine rings in 12 years, so unless someone was a teammate of one of them — or broke through like the ’08 Celtics, the ’06 Heat (Dwyane Wade on the rise) or the ensemble ’04 Pistons – he had his nose pressed against the window at title time.

The Duncan-Bryant era was a legacy blocker as surely as the Jordan era, back when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were winning six titles in eight years with two different supporting casts in Chicago. By dint of competing during one or both of those consecutive eras – the Bulls last won in 1998, the Spurs first won in 1999 – an entire generation of All-Stars and Hall of Famers exited this league without jewelry, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller.

With 15 of 20 titles hogged by three franchises – and Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston teams grabbing two more – vying for the leftovers was a game of musical chairs. Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler managed to grab rings on their way out the door. The old-warhorse-to-the-Spurs-or-Lakers-seeking-his-ring became an annual tale of spring.

Guys like Pierce, Garnett and Nowitzki would be on the brink of joining that club to which no NBA star wants to belong – the Ringless of Honor – if not for the Celtics’ and Mavericks’ one-and-done peaks in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, the waiting list gets refreshed, not erased. Here are the stars who – by virtue of their status and their career trajectories – are most on the clock as the 2014-15 season approaches (with each’s level of urgency noted):

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013
(Michael Bernstein/NBAE )

Steve Nash, Lakers (****) – Nash is about out of time, and might have been before he got to L.A. two years ago. At this point, his best shot at a ring will require a trade by the February deadline because the Lakers will have trouble even qualifying for the tournament next spring. The once-dazzling playmaker left Dallas too soon and got to Bryant too late.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (***) – If Anthony’s Hall of Fame career gets discounted for the lack of an NBA championship to bookend his NCAA title splash with Syrcause, he’ll have the man in the mirror to blame. He pushed out of Denver before the Nuggets’ plan had a chance to come to fruition, and he couldn’t capitalize in New York despite the Knicks’ monstrous payroll. Now, rather than choosing as a free agent to contend with Chicago or Houston, Anthony has re-upped for what clearly is a New York rebuild. He’s a strong candidate to find himself facing the Tracy McGrady fate in a few years, the scoring star latching on in twilight for a final shot or two.

Kevin Durant (**) – He’s young, so the ticking of the clock still is muted. But Durant has accomplished almost everything else he can – scoring titles, an MVP – which makes the open space on his trophy shelf more conspicuous. He doesn’t want to become Garnett, the constant around whom insufficient parts get haphazardly placed. Russell Westbrook fits in here, too, by association, though he still has individual awards to conquer.

Dwight Howard, Rockets (***) – The big fella seems destined to head into the sunset and five years later to Springfield with a big smile and no Larry O’Brien trophy. He plays at the mercy of his coaches and his point guards, yes, but Howard has yet to show the leadership skills or the passion – as in downright, focused orneriness – to carry his team when it matters most. James Harden is younger but he’s facing the same onus, especially with Houston’s relative whiff in free agency this summer.

Chris Paul, Clippers (***) – The Clippers’ playmaker might be in the most urgent now-or-never situation of all on this list. He has the coach, the teammates, the reset ownership and his best opportunity yet to be on a podium shaking Adam Silver‘s hand in mid-June. Injuries are always a concern with Paul, however, and at 29, so is the clock.

Joakim Noah, Bulls (**) – Noah is here because he’s older than his oft-injured and more esteemed teammate Derrick Rose. Rose’s overarching storyline is all about health, with championships way down the list. Noah had a breakthrough individual season in 2013-14, though, and has been the guy enduring all the comings and goings in Chicago (coaches, Rose’s layoffs, Luol Deng‘s ouster). A dervish of emotions on the court, Noah doesn’t hide how important winning is to him. But he hasn’t been able to achieve it yet, largely because of James in Miami and now, again, in Cleveland.

Zach Randolph, Al Jefferson, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge (*) – These are all top-tier NBA power forwards for the Grizzlies, Hornets, Pacers and Trail Blazers, respectively, still seeking their first rings. With the exception of Aldridge, who still has time, they’re not quite at the marquee level of the other names on this list. They’ll need help chasing down hardware.

Deron Williams, Joe Johnson (**) – It’s not so much that fans notice the holes in these Brooklyn stars’ resumes; they haven’t achieved that level of reverence yet. In fact, it’s more what a ring would do for each of them, perhaps elevating opinions and removing criticism.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Report: Thompson seeks early extension | Hollins expects KG to suit up for Nets | Pelicans’ stars finally get healthy | State of FIBA after the World Cup

No. 1: Report: Thompson wants max extension early — The NBA offseason didn’t get off to the greatest start for Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson. He often found his name bandied about in trade talks as Golden State made a charge to land Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love. But Love eventually settled in Cleveland via a trade with Minnesota and Thompson had an enjoyable (and productive) couple of weeks as a standout performer for Team USA as it rolled to the gold medal in the FIBA World Cup. Thompson is still on his rookie deal and the Warriors have until Oct. 31 to sign him to a contract extension. Sam Amick of USA Today reports that Thompson’s agent is seeking that payday and Thompson, for his part, wants no part of leaving Golden State:

Thompson and the Warriors have until Oct. 31 to agree on an extension that would ensure the “Splash Brothers,” as he and All-Star point guard Stephen Curry have been dubbed, are in the same pool for years to come. Failing to reach a deal would mean he’ll become a restricted free agent next summer, a scenario that Thompson and his agent, Bill Duffy, would prefer to avoid.

Yet Duffy is widely known to be demanding a maximum contract that the Warriors would prefer not to pay. His reasoning? He sees Thompson as the best shooting guard in the game.

“I don’t want (Los Angeles Lakers star) Kobe Bryant to go crazy, but there’s some uncertainty as to who he is right now (because of injuries that limited him to six games last season),” Duffy told USA TODAY Sports. “But I think Klay Thompson right now is the top two-way, two-guard in basketball. I think when you look at his body of work, when you look at what he accomplished guarding point guards on a regular basis (last season), I think it’s pretty clear.”

Truth be told, he may be right.

“I’ve been telling him (he’s the best two-way shooting guard) for a couple of years now,” said Mychal Thompson, who has the unique distinction of being on both sides of the argument as Klay’s father and an ex-Laker and longtime commentator for Bryant’s team. “Everybody knows that he can score, but I always told him I’m so proud of how he takes so much pride in defense as he does with scoring.”

Warriors owner Joe Lacob preferred not to discuss the extension situation but made it clear that Thompson is seen as a major priority for their program. As he pointed out, the organization has been making moves with Thompson in mind for quite some time now. In March 2012, they traded Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks not only to land center Andrew Bogut, but also to make room for Thompson during his rookie season.

“We love Klay,” Lacob said in an e-mail to USA TODAY Sports. “He is clearly an integral part of our team and our future. I remember sitting courtside at Stanford Pac-12 games watching Klay at (Washington State) for three years. I thought he could be a prototype big shooting guard in the NBA and we targeted him in the draft and were ecstatic to be able to draft him at (No.) 11 in the first round.

“We traded an excellent guard freeing up a starting spot for him and, as is known, despite many requests from other teams over the last few years, we have continued to bet on his continued development. We are very proud that he is a Warrior and also of his major contribution on this year’s USA Basketball team. We are looking forward to a great year for Klay, the Splash Brothers and the Warriors.”

Being a part of trade rumors is part of the unofficial job description in the NBA, but this was different. Not only did the Warriors-T’wolves situation drag on for more than a month, but the early indications that Golden State had been willing to trade Thompson were followed, in the end, with a hard stance that they simply wouldn’t give him up. One national report indicated that Thompson was angry about it all, though he said that’s not the case.

“I wasn’t really pissed,” Thompson said. “I was more just worried about being traded, just because I’m so comfortable in the Bay. I think that’s natural for anybody (to not want to) just get up and move. I mean it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but it’s a business, and I’m still playing ball for a living.

“I was more happy when they showed faith in me that they didn’t want to budge and trade me for a guy (in Love) who’s a multiple all-NBA guy and a proven All-Star. I thought that was really cool that the Warriors believed in my potential.”


VIDEO: Warriors.com takes a look at Klay Thompson and Steph Curry’s play on the FIBA stage (more…)

Mr. Big Shot one cool customer


VIDEO: Veteran Billups calls it a career

There are players such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Blake Griffin, whose careers throw off smoke and sparks and noise like drag racers, right from the starting line.

Then there’s Chauncey Billups, who simply hummed as quiet and cool as an air conditioner.

For 17 seasons and seven different NBA teams, Billups was the proverbial duck who might have been paddling furious beneath the surface, but never gave the appearance of doing anything but gliding across the water.

He moved fast by taking it slow and he always seemed to be taking it slow, even when pushing the ball down the court in the middle of a fast break. He was the strong man who never felt a need to flex his muscles until the game got late and there was heavy lifting to do. He played with a warm smile on his face that could chill a defender. He was often the shortest one on the floor, yet the player who stood tallest when it was needed most.

Mr. Big Shot.

The standard line about the 2004 Pistons is that they were the last team to win an NBA championship without a superstar.

But that’s if you measure a star only by its brightness, as one that grabs headlines along the way to the more critical task, which is grabbing games by the throat.

Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace did work in concert, a symphony orchestra in high tops and shorts. But it was Billups who stood on the rostrum with the baton in his hand, making sure everyone hit the right notes.

“He’s at the head of the table and he determines how people eat,” none other than Kevin Garnett once said when they were teammates in Minnesota.

That’s the way Billups had always been since his days as a teenager at Denver’s Skyland Rec Center, when he was often the youngest player on the court. He not only found a way to fit in, but developed a way to earn the respect and the trust of the older kids.

Funny thing is, it took a while to gain that same respect in the NBA. After a standout college career at Colorado, he was the No. 3 pick in the 1997 draft by the Celtics. But the franchise that prides itself on recognizing smarts didn’t keep around. Neither did the Raptors, Nuggets, Magic or Timberwolves.

So Billups finally wound up in Detroit in 2002 with a resume list of ex-teams that was longer than his arm, but not even a trace of doubt.

“My demeanor, how I am, it never swayed,” he said back then. “A lot of guys in this league when they’re not playing a lot of minutes, they get a chip on their shoulder, they’re mad at everybody. I’ve never been that way.”

Billups came to the Pistons at a time when then-president Joe Dumars was constructing a team in the “three-peat” era of the Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant off-court bickering, where he wanted talent to work together like five fingers inside a glove doubled up into a fist, where effort took a backseat to ego.

The point guard with the butler’s name and the sniper’s nerveless confidence was the perfect choice to pull it all together and be the driving force. Billups was the steady hand on the reins of disparate personalities that knew how and when to take clutch situations in the biggest of games into his own grasp. Thus, the nickname, Mr. Big Shot. The player who could miss his first 10 shots of the night and then coolly put No. 11 into the bottom of the net with a game or a playoff series on the line.

You could picture him in a tuxedo ordering a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.

Billups, Chauncey Billups, was always the player who could lock and bar the door, the one that took the guessing and drama out of that final minute. Send him to the line and he’d drill those six straight free throws to seal a win. Leave him an opening and he’d stop up and drain that long 3-pointer without thinking twice.

“Who else would you want with the ball in his hands at that point than Chauncey?” Dumars asked.

He was a five-time All-Star from 2006-2010, was MVP of The Finals when the Pistons took down the mighty Lakers in 2004, a two-time All-Defensive second team member and, notably, in 2013 was named NBA Teammate of the Year by a vote of his peers. The only question left is whether Hall of Famer voters five years from now were really paying attention.

Let the others throw off loud sparks. For 17 seasons Billups just hummed. Perspiring, but never letting you see him sweat.

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.

Shed no tears for Andrew Wiggins

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wolves head coach Flip Saunders talks about Andrew Wiggins’ potential

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Don’t cry for Andrew Wiggins.

That’s the message delivered by the last two men who coached the No. 1 Draft pick. When the Cleveland Cavaliers finally shipped Wiggins — shunned by LeBron James since the day the King announced his return to Cleveland six weeks ago — to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love on Saturday, he joined Chris Webber (1993) as the only No. 1 picks since the NBA-ABA merger to be traded before ever playing a game for the team that drafted them.

A sad end to a long, strange summer for Wiggins? More like an eagerly anticipated beginning, says Rob Fulford, Wiggins’ high school coach at Huntington Prep in West Virginia.

“Andrew is such a good kid; he’s just a classy kid, very humble, very respectful,” Fulford, now an assistant at Missouri, told NBA.com this week. “I think this whole process with the trade rumors, he could care less. That kid just wants to play basketball. The fact that LeBron never reached out to him, Andrew could care less what LeBron James thinks of him.”

Throughout this saga in which the Cavs selected the Toronto-born Wiggins No. 1 and watched him flash his promising skills during the Las Vegas Summer League all the while trade rumors swirled and LeBron sweet-talked Love, Wiggins, 19, handled the enormity of the situation with graceful maturity always accompanied by a warm, playful smile.

It didn’t surprise Fulford, who saw such characteristics from the time Wiggins arrived at Huntington Prep to enormous fanfare to the day he left for Kansas as a McDonald’s All-American. His departure included a heartfelt thank-you note to the people of the Huntington community published in the local newspaper.

“You have to understand, this kid, the media circus was around from the beginning when he got here in August of his junior year in high school until he left Huntington in May of his senior year after graduation,” Fulford said. “It was just a circus. I think it prepared him for what was going to happen at Kansas and even now he’s used to it, and I think he’s handled it really well. With the parents that he has, both have been professional athletes, I think it helped that he’s been kind of groomed in that manner.”

All Wiggins wanted, he reiterated during several interviews over the last month, was a place to call home, a place where he feels wanted. And so Wiggins will not flank the game’s greatest player on an instant contender in Cleveland, but instead will embrace replacing the fed-up Love as the next great hope for the long-languishing Wolves.

Fulford keeps in relatively close contact with the long-limbed, 6-foot-8 phenom, typically through text messages. The message he’s received loud and clear is that Wiggins is excited to make his own name for a franchise in need of a leader.

“Andrew’s going to be a superstar,” Fulford said. “This gives him a platform from Day 1 to kind of be the guy, and he’s ready for that.”

Earlier this month, Wiggins’ former coach at Kansas, Bill Self, said nearly the same after telling reporters that Wiggins had told him he hoped Cleveland would trade him.

“Even though, in a weird way, everybody would love the opportunity to play with LeBron because you’re guaranteed winning, for the longevity of his career, he needs to develop that mindset to be the guy for him to be great,” Self told reporters. “And I think being in Minnesota will help him do that.”

For glum Wolves fans, the Love fiasco has the potential to yield a happy ending after all. The greatest fear for an organization is it will never come close to recouping equal talent when forced to trade a disgruntled All-Star. Wolves president and coach Flip Saunders has reaped a haul as strong as anyone could expect.

In the three-team trade, Wiggins heads to Minnesota with the Cavs’ 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett and Philadelphia’s consummate pro, Thaddeus Young, 26, a solid immediate replacement for Love at power forward.

They’ll join a cast that includes 23-year-old, potential All-Star point guard Ricky Rubio, veteran guards Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea, emerging center Nikola Pekovic, small forwards Corey Brewer and Chase Budinger, Wiggins’ fellow Huntington Prep alum and quick-learning 2013 first-round pick Gorgui Dieng, and high-flying ’14 first-round pick Zach LaVine.

The fit in Saunders’ up-tempo plans should suit the slashing Wiggins well. Fulford said Kansas’ high-low attack that included big man and No. 3 pick Joel Embiid didn’t always afford Wiggins the driving lanes he craves, turning him into a jump-shooter.

“He’s going to have more space to work with,” Fulford said. “And he’s extremely … I won’t say he’s impossible to guard in space, but he’s close to it.”

Love’s Wolves never made the playoffs, a six-year span that included exceptionally disappointing endings to the last two seasons. Nobody should expect a rapid ascension this season in the competitive West as the Wolves again transition, but young and athletic, Wiggins’ new team is stocked with upside and should be an exciting squad to watch grow.

“I don’t think there’s any question he’ll have a great rookie season. He’s groomed for this,” Fulford said. “In college he got better the year he was there, but he’ll be a better NBA player than he was a college player, and he was an All-American at Kansas, so sky’s the limit for him.

“It’s one of those things, him being on a team where it’s kind of really going to be his, I think, is a good thing for him.”

So shed no tears for Andrew Wiggins. Or the Wolves.

T’Wolves need a king’s ransom for Love


VIDEO: Relive the Timberwolves’ top 5 alley-oops from 2013-14

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — At this point in the process, if Kevin Love doesn’t end up trotting out for the starting lineup with LeBron James on opening night this season, it’ll be a true shocker.

We’ve crossed that threshold in this summer’s ongoing Love-to-Cleveland saga. The news that the Minnesota Timberwolves are dealing exclusively with the Cleveland Cavaliers shouldn’t come as a surprise.

We’re all agreed that the potential addition of Love pushes the Cavs over the top in the Eastern Conference, at least on paper, when you have a three-man All-Star core of James, Love and point guard Kyrie Irving.

But what does Love’s departure mean for the Timberwolves? Losing Love doesn’t put them in any more of a precarious position than they are in right now. They didn’t make the playoffs with him and won’t be considered a playoff factor without him in the rugged Western Conference. Not with Ricky Rubio leading a young cast that better include Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, along with their own youngsters (including HT faves Gorgui DiengZach LaVine and Glenn Robinson III) in yet another rebuilding effort.

It took a while, but I’m on board with this deal getting done, and sooner rather than later. LeBron gets what LeBron wants. And if he wants Love on his side, it shall be. (My golden rule on players remains, though. So Love comes with a clarification sticker: If you cannot take your team to the playoffs as the No. 1 option, you’re either a No. 2 or a No. 3 option.)

All that said, Timberwolves boss Flip Saunders would be wise to hold out for a king’s ransom for Love, given what the franchise has gone through since the last time they traded away the face of the franchise. Oh yeah, today is the anniversary of the 2007 trade that saw Kevin Garnett relocate to Boston where he joined Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to win a championship and help revive the Celtics.

It’s been that long, and more, since the Timberwolves were involved in the playoff discussion in the Western Conference (they haven’t made the postseason since 2004). They traded Garnett to the Celtics for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff and two first-round draft picks (one of which was acquired in a trade with Minnesota a year prior). The deal marked the largest NBA trade ever for one player, and in hindsight it still wasn’t enough.

Jefferson, an All-Star caliber big man and franchise building block now in Charlotte, wasn’t ready to step into Garnett’s shoes back then. For all of his spectacular skills, Love hasn’t been up to that task either. Timberwolves fans have had to suffer through numerous restarts and regime changes since Garnett’s departure and none of them have worked.

Anyone who tells you they are convinced Wiggins, Bennett and that future first-round pick Saunders will get from the Cavs for Love will spark the revival the Twin Cities have been waiting on is delusional. It won’t happen anytime soon, and certainly not in time to take the sting off of seeing Love compete for a championship as soon as his first season away from Minnesota.

And if Love is the transcendent talent so many believe him to be, his presence alongside LeBron and Kyrie should result in the Cavs being the cream of the Eastern Conference crop immediately (above or at least alongside Indiana and Chicago).

The Timberwolves, on the other hand, will have to endure yet another round (or two … or three) of blueprints for what has turned out to be a seemingly never-ending franchise rebuild.

This isn’t news to Saunders, whose roots in the organization (and Minnesota overall) run deep. He knows better than anyone the pressure the Wolves will be under until Love is dealt … and then again after Love is gone. One dreadful, non-playoff season blends into another and before you know it, a decade (or more) has passed without the postseason.

And that’s why Saunders should squeeze every ounce of whatever he can from the Cavs in this deal. Make them pay for the right to add Love. A king’s ransom isn’t too much to ask for now.


VIDEO: Check out the Timberwolves’ top 10 plays from last season

Morning shootaround — July 14


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: KG open to Nets return? | Report: Spurs, Bonner reach deal | Bulls round out roster | Ariza-to-Houston deal grows

No. 1: Report: KG still ‘excited’ to play for Nets — Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Garnett will be entering his 20th NBA season if he chooses to play in 2014-15. The likelihood of him playing next season was always up in the air … but is it even more so now? Garnett’s longtime teammate, Paul Pierce, agreed to a deal with the Washington Wizards over the weekend and led some to think perhaps KG will hang it up for sure this summer. ESPN.com’s Mike Mazzeo writes that Garnett may still be back in Brooklyn next season anyway:

Despite the loss of Paul Pierce via free agency, Kevin Garnett likes the direction of the Brooklyn Nets and is “excited” about joining them for the upcoming season, sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard.

Garnett, who turned 38 in May, is due $12 million in 2014-15, which would be his 20th NBA season.

He has yet to publicly announce that he’s playing this season, but all indications continue to point that way. On Saturday, a league source told ESPNNewYork.com that the Nets still expect Garnett to return.

Pierce elected to sign a two-year contract with the Washington Wizards for $11 million with a second-year player option, sources told ESPN.com.

Pierce and Garnett had been teammates since 2007-08. They won a championship together with the Boston Celtics.


VIDEO: Paul Pierce and the Wizards agree on a two-year deal (more…)

Morning Shootaround — July 10


VIDEO: What might LeBron James do next in free agency?

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: LeBron leaves meeting with no decision made | Uncertainty reigns in Anthony’s decision | Report: Nets to pay $90M in luxury taxes | Report: Bulls pick up pursuit of Gasol

No. 1: Reports: LeBron leaves meeting with no commitment to Heat — Well, the LeBron James-Pat Riley-Miami Heat summit in Las Vegas is done and the team has no more of an idea of where LeBron will choose to play next season and beyond. The choices, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, seem to come down to the incumbent Heat and his old team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Depending on which report you read, the decision may happen soon … or, who knows when. First, here’s Wojnarowski first on the meeting:

Superstar free agent LeBron James met with Miami Heat president Pat Riley on Wednesday in Las Vegas and left without committing to a new contract, a league source told Yahoo Sports.

No decision date has been set, a source close to James told Yahoo Sports’ Marc Spears.

James and his agent Rich Paul met with Riley on the same day the Cleveland Cavaliers agreed to a three-team trade to clear enough salary-cap room to make James a maximum contract offer, opening a path for his possible homecoming, sources said. The Cavaliers are also pursuing a trade for Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, contingent on James returning to Cleveland, sources told Yahoo Sports.

If James leaves Miami, Chris Bosh‘s intention is to also leave the Heat, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Bosh has been speaking with the Houston Rockets, who are prepared to clear enough cap room to offer him a four-year, $88 million contract.

If the Cavs can’t get James, their backup plan remains making a run at signing free-agent forward Trevor Ariza, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Timberwolves will demand Andrew Wiggins, the Cavs’ No. 1 overall pick from last month’s NBA draft, be a part of any proposed deal, sources told Yahoo Sports.

ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard and Brian Windhorst also have a report on the meeting and what might be next for James:

LeBron James met with Miami Heat officials for more than an hour Wednesday afternoon in Las Vegas but emerged without a decision about his future, sources told ESPN.com.

James and his agent Rich Paul are done meeting with teams, according to sources close to the situation. James now will talk with his family and make his choice.

There is no timetable for James’ decision, but with him reportedly planning to attend the World Cup this weekend in Brazil, a decision before then seems likely.

The Rockets’ position, however, got more complicated on Wednesday when their restricted free agent Chandler Parsons signed a three-year offer from the Mavericks for more than $45 million, which the Rockets have three days to match.

If the Rockets match, they will lose the requisite cap space needed to sign Bosh. They can match the offer and still afford Bosh, but only if they sign Bosh first. To make room for Bosh, the Rockets will need to execute at least two trades, likely involving Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, to clear cap space.

The Heat were represented at Wednesday’s meeting with James by president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg. James was joined by Paul. This was the first known face-to-face meeting James has held since officially becoming a free agent on July 1. James’ agent met or spoke with officials from the Mavericks, Rockets, Suns, Cavaliers and Lakers last week, but James was not present.

James spent Wednesday morning and evening working out, playing pickup and speaking to high school and college stars at his LeBron James Skills Academy basketball camp.

(more…)