HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The countdown clock is ticking … and on the Orlando Sentinel‘s Dwight Howard Watch page, it’s literally ticking … down to next Thursday’s trade deadline with no guarantees as to what’s going to happen to the Magic’s superstar center and the city and franchise that don’t want to lose him.
A week away from what could be doomsday for Magic fans if Howard is dealt and no one is quite sure what’s going to change in Orlando.
There is a strong belief that the Magic will call Howard’s trade request bluff and keep him on the roster with no chance of getting anything for him if he leaves via free agency this summer, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein makes clear here:
I’m sure some of the “Magic resolve” chatter that’s been gaining traction in recent days about how increasingly determined they are to keep him beyond the deadline is at least partly designed as a means of trying to improve the offers that come in before the deadline. Yet it seems evident that the stronger belief in the Magic Kingdom is that it’s better to keep Dwight and face the worst-case-scenario consequences of losing him for nothing if there’s so much as a 10 percent chance of him changing his mind.
The vibe coming from the Magic is that owner Rich DeVos prefers that scenario, frightening as it is, to what Orlando can get for Dwight in a trade today. Fortunately we have only about a week more to wait to find out whether Orlando’s bravery has staying power … or whether the claim that it’ll take its chances with mere salary-cap space should Dwight bolt was just posturing.
It’s strange, with all of the wild and crazy rumors that were flying around a week ago this time you’d expect we’d have more of the same. But instead, rumors are being shot down with increasing frequency.
Take a spin around the league and see all of the guys who were supposed to be on the block who are no longer considered to be in that mix, and that includes the likes of Rajon Rondo, Pau Gasol and a few of our other trade rumor faves:
And with performance after performance, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ All-Star makes his case for being the “best power forward in the game.”
His monster performance against Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers last night should serve as the latest piece of evidence in his case for top honors. Love dropped 38 points and 17 boards on the Clippers — and for the record, Love is 3-0 against Griffin and the Clippers this season. Dating back to last season, he’s averaging 21.0 points and 12.9 rebounds in seven (4-3) head-to-head matchups against Griffin, who promises to be one of his rivals for top power forward honors in the years to come.
Love’s not just piling up fantastic numbers on a bad team anymore either. The Timberwolves are winners of two straight games, are 7-3 in their last 10 games, 20-19 overall and knocking on the door for that last playing spot in the Western Conference, they’re just a game and a half behind the Rockets for the eighth spot this morning.
ORLANDO – Few men love point guards the way Minnesota Timberwolves general manager David Kahn does. He is, after all, the man who selected three in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft (Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Ty Lawson) and has taken the heat from us over the years for his fetish.
Kahn’s acquired (and traded) a few point guards during his tenure as well. And Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman routinely deploys three (Rubio, Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea) at a time late in games.
We’re not ready to proclaim this a playoff team, but with a bevy of options in the backcourt and All-Star Kevin Love, promising rookie Derrick Williams and surprise talent like Nikola Pekovic to flesh out the frontcourt mix, this team is well on its way to becoming a legitimate factor in the playoff race for seasons to come.
*** HANG TIME HQ, ATLANTA — It’s a big man’s game, always has been and always will be, and if you doubt that, just check out the number of zeros on Kwame Brown‘s paycheck.
And yet: The season of the point guard is taking shape quite nicely. With few exceptions, the majority of championship contenders and playoff hopefuls are getting strong play from the point and in some cases, two point guards. This isn’t a surprise, though; we all saw this coming, because of the number of point guards taken recently in the Draft who have developed quickly and efficiently.
Let’s take a quick sampling:
The Wolves are flourishing with Luke Ridnour starting and Ricky Rubio finishing games. Coach Rick Adelman is doing the right thing by bringing Rubio along slowly and keeping all pressure to a minimum. The kid’s going to be special, why rush it?
Ty Lawson has come into his own in Denver, and the quality of play at the point doesn’t suffer when he’s replaced by Andre Miller. The Nuggets are getting 12.5 assists a game from the duo and are off to a credible start.
While they aren’t challenging for a title anytime soon, the Bobcats are giving heavy minutes to both D.J. Augustin and rookie Kemba Walker, who often are on the floor together; arguably, they’re the Bobcats’ best hope for the future. That is, if Charlotte doesn’t trade one of them (Augustin most likely) in the future.
Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul have been the starting backcourt for the Clippers all season. This is an ideal situation because the Clippers are loaded with finishers, primarily Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, so it helps to have a pair of guards who know how to deliver the ball. Lob City, you know.
Oklahoma City has Russell Westbrook in contract drive, and then with Eric Maynor lost for the season with a torn ACL, Reggie Jackson had 11 points and four assists off the bench against the Spurs on Sunday.
In Miami, rookie Norris Cole has been a big discovery, and he has lit a fire under Mario Chalmers, who was big (29 points, eight assists, seven rebounds) without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Atlanta last week.
Of course, there’s also the returning MVP, Derrick Rose; Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash are among the league leaders in assists and Kyle Lowry is having a career season in Houston. And we should mention the No. 1 pick in last summer’s draft, Kyrie Irving, is beginning to blossom with the Cavs.
Interestingly, point guard was a big topic Sunday in D.C., where Rubio had 14 assists and outplayed John Wall, the No. 1 pick a few years ago. This was a curious case because the Wizards gave Minnesota the No. 1 pick that became Rubio. Here’s how it happened: Back in 2009 the Wizards were in the lottery, but when they drew the No. 5 pick, they decided to ship it to new Wolves GM David Kahn for immediate help. Kahn sent Randy Foye and Mike Miller to the Wizards, who figured Foye (the No. 7 pick in 2006) was ready for a breakout and would be better than anyone available at No. 5.
Kahn then took heat for drafting two point guards, Rubio and Jonny Flynn, back-to-back. And Rubio’s people were very hesitant to send him to the Wolves, a perennial loser; Rubio subsequently re-signed with his team in Spain. Meanwhile, the Wizards were expecting a big 2009-10 season, with Gilbert Arenas back from knee surgery and ready to regain the form that made him dangerous at both ends.
Well, we know what happened. Gilbert brought his guns to the arena five months later and the Wizards crumbled. At least they grabbed the No. 1 pick in the next lottery, and Wall had a promising rookie year. But Wall has regressed, especially his shooting. He made only 3-of-10 against the Wolves and two of those were dunks. Plus, the Wizards fell to 0-8. Rick Kamla of NBA TV had an interesting question: If you were starting an NBA team today, would you want Rubio or Wall?
Afterward, Wolves coach Rick Adelman was asked when Rubio — who has started the season by playing every second of every fourth quarter — was going to be promoted to starter.
“I get real tired of answering that,” he said. “He’s doing just fine.”
Fine enough that one Verizon Center press room wag commented on how Rubio, at first glance, makes his teammates better while Wall doesn’t. The Wolves, by the way, have seven players on their roster who were top-six lottery picks. The Wizards’ only other player chosen that high is last summer’s No. 6 pick, Jan Vesely.
“If it had been Rubio, who knows, John Wall might not have been here,” Washington coach Flip Saunders said, referring to that 2009 trade the Wizards hoped would bolster a team that at the time included Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. “There were a lot of things that went into the whole equation.”
Rubio said Sunday he is happy where he is.
“I don’t know, Minnesota was the team that drafted me and I don’t think anything else,” Rubio said. “They were the ones who trusted me and I’m so glad they did.”
Rubio is only a month younger than Wall, but he was just 17 when he started for the silver-medal-winning team from Spain in the 2008 Olympics. He also won a Euroleague title with FC Barcelona in 2010 and won the Spanish League title last season. Rubio didn’t put up great numbers in Europe or in the European championships last summer, but he has found an NBA game that is more compatible to his style of play.
“Here, you can find more space to penetrate and for passes,” Rubio said. “I don’t want to say I played bad last year. My team won almost everything, so I did something well, right? So that’s teamwork and sometimes you don’t need to shine for your team to win.”
Oh, and speaking of teams off to a poor start, the Nets are still optimistic about re-signing Deron Williams next summer, when he becomes a free agent. And if Williams does sign up, would Dwight Howard follow? That’s a good bet, because while this is a big man’s league, Howard wants and needs a point guard to make him look even better.
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY BUREAU – On Wednesday night, with his team down two points with 1.6 seconds left in the game, Hang Time favorite Luke Ridnour was quick-thinking. But he was also quick-footed, and that was his problem.
The Wolves were down three when Rudy Gay fouled Ridnour near the midcourt line. And since they were out of timeouts, Minnesota couldn’t advance the ball to their side of the floor after another set of Memphis free throws. So Gay’s foul, which prevented the Wolves from attempting a game-tying 3-pointer, was a good play, even though he seemed to protest the call afterward.
And at that point, the Wolves’ only chance at sending the game to overtime was for Ridnour to make the first three throw, for the Wolves to rebound the second one, and follow it up with a bucket.
In that situation, a player would normally take his time and try to put the ball off the back or side of the rim. But Ridnour caught the Grizzlies sleeping by throwing it hard off the front of the rim as soon as he got the ball from the baseline official. And it ricocheted right back to him in time for him to get off an open 12-foot shot.
But Ridnour was a little over-anxious, and stepped over the free throw line early. You can watch the whole sequence transpire in the clip above, but pay attention around the 1:13 mark.
While the players lined up alongside of the lane can step into the paint when the shot is released, the shooter is not allowed to step over the line until the ball hits the rim. And the slow-motion replay above shows that Ridnour did just that.
The free throw shooter may not step over the plane of the free throw line until the
ball touches the basket ring, backboard or the free throw ends.
With the play happening so quickly, it was a good call by outside official Gary Zielinski. Ridnour had committed a violation, the Grizzlies were awarded the ball, and the Wolves lost their opportunity to catch their opponent by surprise.
It will be interesting to see if the Wolves go with the same quick-throw strategy should they face the same situation later in the season, and if their opponent (as well as the officiating crew) is ready for it.
HANG TIME MIDWEST BUREAU — Sombreros are wrong on a couple of levels. First, it’s a little shaky to reduce anyone’s ethnic heritage to an article of clothing and a clichéd one at that. (There, HTB’s political correctness obligation is officially met.)
Second, and more pertinent, the big, floppy brimmed hats that dotted Target Center Friday night are a product of Mexico. Ricky Rubio is an import from Spain.
But a little misdirected enthusiasm – along with the “Ole! Ole!” calls – was understandable given the excitement and the circumstances Friday night in Minneapolis. Rubio, the much ballyhooed No. 5 pick from the 2009 NBA draft for whom Timberwolves fans had waited two years, had the locals en fuego and the mighty Miami Heat in trouble. For a while, anyway, in the Heat’s 103-101 victory.
In only his third NBA game, Rubio scored 12 points with 12 assists and six rebounds – the first Minnesota player with a stats line like that since Sam Cassell in 2004. He ran the Wolves’ attack in nearly 31 minutes off the bench. Hit a pair of 3-point shots among his 4-of-7 shooting. Dazzled the joint several times with uncanny, casual reckless (for most guys, at least) passes that generally found their marks – except for that costly fling past Wayne Ellington, out of bounds, in the final minutes. It was one of Rubio’s five turnovers.
CHICAGO – Timberwolves president David Kahn made a pit stop at United Center Tuesday night, stopping on his way back from Minnesota’s game in Boston Monday night and a meeting in New York Tuesday morning. Kahn said he hadn’t yet seen the Toronto Raptors in person this season, and the Wolves have Toronto at Target Center later this month.
When it was casually mentioned to Kahn that his team still needs a “closer” — the Wolves lost to the Celtics 96-93 after leading 85-77 with 6:55 left — he challenged that conventional wisdom. “Michael was our closer last night,” Kahn said, referring to forward Michael Beasley, who scored six points in the final 1:48. Kahn was more bothered by the Wolves’ 17 turnovers, which led directly to 19 Boston points. Among them: a 5-second inbounds turnover, a shot clock violation in the fourth quarter and Martell Webster stepping out of bounds.
Actually, the Wolves haven’t been very good in close games this season: 4-15 when the margin is less than 10 points, 2-12 when it is six points or less. But losing close games has to be considered progress for a team that went 4-39 in games decided by 10 points or more. They were 11-28 in 2009-10 when the margin was single digits.
Kahn also said that the Wolves were sending to the NBA office for review tape of Luke Ridnour’s traveling call with 9.5 seconds left. Ridnour broke to the basket and received a pass with a chance to put Minnesota up 95-94. But he took what sure looked like three steps (no dribble) and it was called that way. The Wolves had to foul and when they finally caught up with Nate Robinson in the backcourt with 4.6 seconds left, the backup Celtics guard sank both foul shots. Then Beasley missed an off-balance 3-pointer.
Kahn said that, when he saw Ridnour’s cut to the rim in replay, he wasn’t convinced it was a travel. Even though Boston’s Ray Allen blocked Ridnour’s layup attempt, the Wolves would have had the ball with 9.5 seconds, still down 94-93. Again, though, the Wolves are just seeking clarification — they’re not protesting the outcome. Because, y’know, no one ever successfully protests anyway.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Who in the name of Naismith would be crazy enough to try to watch all 13 games on Wednesday night’s NBA schedule, completely ignoring Game 1 of the World Series, Modern Family and whatever else was going on last night?
You know we did.
The crew here at the hideout managed to view significant portions of all 13 games and we must admit, we came away impressed more often than not, even by some teams that ended up on the losing end at the end of the night.
The most anticipated season in league history? However preposterous it might have sounded to hear that in recent weeks, we’re warming up the idea now.
Back to Wednesday night’s games, though. It was an absolute embarrassment of basketball riches on display from coast to coast all night. Did you see what we saw?
Looking good: Now you know why the Cavaliers refused to part with J.J. Hickson last year in a proposed Amar’e Stoudemire deal. He was a force (21 points on 8-for-11 shooting) and is poised for a breakout season. Boobie Gibson rebounded from an ugly start (0-for-8) to finish with 16 points and a team-high eight assists.
Sound the Alarm: The Celtics can’t afford many off nights in the revamped Eastern Conference, where the Magic, Heat and even the Hawks plan to push the pace. There was bound to be an emotional letdown, of sorts, after Tuesday’s season-opening home win over Miami. There just can’t be many more like it.
HT’s Take: They say the best way to get over a breakup is to dive right back into the game. And the scrappy, LeBron James-free Cavaliers proved they’ll do just that by out working the Celtics down the stretch. But I wouldn’t go making travel plans for the NBA Finals yet.
Looking good: All those new additions, rookies and otherwise, showed well in the Nets’ debut in their new arena. Even Jay-Z and Beyonce showed up, a rare occurrence compared to last season when, our Twitter family informed us, Jay never showed up. You expect an Avery Johnson-coached team to play a certain way and the Nets did that down the stretch. He’s already got the Nets 18 games ahead of last season’s win pace.
Sound the Alarm: The Pistons’ inability to finish this thing off, they were up seven with 1:40 to play, doesn’t bode well for a team that enters this season without a whole lot of confidence in each other.
HT’s Take: We tuned in hoping to see something from Nets rookie Derrick Favors and he didn’t disappoint. The eight points and 10 rebounds are fine, but he was much more physical around the basket than even we expected. Our initial fears about the Pistons were confirmed. They just don’t look like a team on a mission of any sorts.
Looking good: Welcome to the season, Dwyane Wade. We knew he needed more than those four minutes he played in the preseason to get warmed up. His 30-point outburst against the Sixers is much more like normal. When James Jones sinks six of his nine 3-pointers against anyone, the Heat become nearly impossible to deal with for anyone other than the league’s elite.
Sound the Alarm: As NBA.com’s Andy Jasner pointed out, the Sixers’ starting five did not attempt a single free throw all night. That’s either some sever disrespect for their games or a serious lack of force being used by Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Jason Kapono, Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes.
HT’s Take: The Heat will do the same things they did to the Sixers to most of the teams in the league. The fact is, few teams will be able to match their firepower and depth. And any team that can’t protect the rim will see Wade, James and Chris Bosh have their way attacking the basket. We did see another solid rookie debut, this one out of the Sixers’ Evan Turner (team-high 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists).
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We checked the numbers for any legitimate correlation between preseason achievement and regular-season results for a team no one expects to do much, and didn’t think there was much to go on.
We looked at Minnesota’s 5-1 preseason record and had an itchy feeling that the might be on to something but we weren’t sure.
In the past six seasons, 11 teams have gone through the preseason either undefeated or with one loss and all 11 have made the playoffs. During that same span eight teams have won just one game or have gone winless, and only one of those eight teams (the 2007-08 Cavaliers) made the playoffs.
We knew there was a reason the Timberwolves caught our attention every time they hit the floor.
Watching Michael Beasley and Kevin Love do work now (with our guy, Luke Ridnour, directing traffic), though, makes us wonder … is Kahn on to something?
And it may not come this (regular) season. This group might be a year or two away. But you have to start somewhere. And as one wise coach told us years ago, “young teams and teams in transition have to learn how to win before they can do it on the regular. It’s probably the hardest thing to do in the league, learning how to win without a superstar player to help accelerate the process.”
He said that during training camp years ago, when his team was still in the midst of a transition between a championship run and the inevitable rebuilding process that followed.
He was right. That same team eventually turned into an Eastern Conference contender (only to have other drama derail their run) that just missed out on a chance to play in the NBA Finals.
Again, we ARE NOT predicting anything like that for these Timberwolves, the playoffs would be groundbreaking on its own. Just being relevant in a postseason discussion would be a victory for the folks in Minneapolis. They’ve been an afterthought since Kevin Garnett was dealt to Boston in the summer of 2007.
But if they do have those sort of aspirations, which they surely do, they have to start somewhere.
“Everybody keeps asking me that,” Rambis said. “I don’t think you solidify things with this young team in a short amount of time. There’s so much growth, so much experience to be gained, and a lot of guys are playing well.
“I don’t feel under pressure to come up with something and say, ‘This is what we’re going to stay with for the rest of the year.’”
And so, he experiments with different combinations and shuffles players on and off the floor.
“This will be a team that if you’re playing well, you’ll get minutes,” Rambis said. “If for some reason you didn’t bring it that night, there’s enough depth on the bench that someone else will get your time.”
He said this competition for positions and playing time is exactly the situation he and President of Basketball Operations David Kahn intended to create when they remade the roster last summer and added nine new players.
“One of the things we wanted to have is a deep roster and the ability to change things around,” Rambis said. “I think we have enough flexibility with this team. With as many young players as we have, I don’t feel like I’ve got to lock myself into something, particularly at this stage of who we are as a ballclub.”
There’s no reason to believe the preseason hype being created by this team. None. Rambis and Kahn realize that and know better than anyone how quickly that preseason shine can fade once the “real” games begin.