Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Timberwolves’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 196)

HANG TIME BIG CITY — Even though there are just a few games left in the NBA regular season, it’s time to make some decisions.

So while Sekou Smith lounges at the beach and our super producer Gregg Waigand is out stomping around The Shire, the Hang Time Podcast rolls on. This week, Rick Fox and I persevered and podcasted about the end of season awards. My vote is due soon, so we got into it and tried to figure some things out.

Who should be the MVP? Should it go to the best player on the best team? Or perhaps the best all-around offensive player? Does Steph Curry or James Harden have the inside track?

Does Andrew Wiggins have the Rookie of the Year award locked up?

How in the world do you sort out the All-NBA teams, especially the second and third teams?

Can we select someone to be the Sixth Man of the Year?

We got into all of this on this week’s Hang Time Podcast, and I haven’t even mentioned how we somehow got sucked into a Rick Fox Career Scoring Average vortex, which made me dig through the numbers and confront Rick with some hard truths.

And I didn’t even have to break this out…

Rick Fox, Skechers.

A photo posted by Old SLAM Magazine Ads (@oldslamads) on

All this and more in today’s Hang Time Podcast!

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Morning shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay | Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick | Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple | Bulls flirting with disappointment?

No. 1: Magic’s Vucevic planning to stay — So what if Minnesota, even at full strength, is far from an NBA powerhouse and on Friday happened to be playing without its three best big men. Nikola Vucevic didn’t have to apologize to anyone for his career-high 37 points and his 17 rebounds. More important, the Orlando center doesn’t want to have to apologize to Magic fans after saying goodbye in a few years, abandoning the franchise’s long-term plans the way Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard did. The big man spoke recently with Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel about loyalty and the vision he has for his career and his team’s future:

“Yeah, I’m here for the long haul. I hope to stay here my whole career,” he told me. “I love it here. I really love the city. I’ve improved here a lot as a player. I’d love to stay for a long, long time and make something special happen.

“If it takes years, it takes years … I ain’t going anywhere.”

Vucevic is inspired by the loyalty displayed by Italian soccer superstar Francesco Totti. Totti, 38, has played his entire career for Roma.

“Totti could have gone to bigger teams, made more money, do whatever he wanted. He didn’t,” he said. “He stayed with that team. He’s pretty much a god to that team.”

Rather humbly, Vucevic doesn’t consider himself in the class of Shaq and Dwight – repeat All-Stars and No. 1 overall picks.

The list of great big men here is short, but Vooch is already the third-best center the Magic have ever had. Eight long years passed between Shaq’s departure and Dwight’s arrival. Vooch has cut the wait time considerably after Howard departed.

He gets it done differently. Although he’s nearly 7-feet and weighs 260 pounds, Vucevic isn’t as dominating and demonstrative as his powerhouse predecessors. But he is a rare double-double machine, running quietly and efficiently.

More steady than spectacular, he relies on finesse instead of force, having learned the game overseas in Montenegro. Vooch does have a shooting stroke that Shaq and Dwight would envy (and he can make free throws).

“Both Shaq and Dwight had great legacies while they were here. I want to achieve what they achieved,” he said. “When I’m done, I’d love to have people talk about me the way they talk about them. I hope to get to the same level.

“I want to get there.”

***

No. 2: Curry stung by ex-coach’s MVP pick — Unlike his team’s runaway atop the Western Conference, Golden State’s Stephen Curry likely is going to find himself locked in a tight race for the NBA’s Kia Most Valuable Player award. Some voters probably won’t submit their ballots until the deadline on Thursday, April 16, the day after the regular season ends. But that won’t stop others – those with votes and those without – from floating their opinions sooner, and one who did was ABC/ESPN analyst Mark Jackson, Curry’s former Warriors coach. Jackson’s choice of Houston’s James Harden caught Curry off-guard, as evidence by his reaction. But Golden State teammate Andrew Bogut rushed to his point guard’s defense vs. Jackson, as reported by ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

ESPN analyst and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson said Wednesday on the “Dan Patrick Show” that while Curry, Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, are all worthy candidates, he’d give his MVP vote to James Harden of the Houston Rockets.

“If you twisted my arm today, I would probably vote for James Harden,” Jackson said. “The reason why is because he single-handedly has put that Houston Rockets team in the position that they’re in today.”

The comments come as a stark contrast to the way Jackson had previously championed his former charge as a superstar in the league, while he was coach of the Warriors.

“It’s his opinion obviously,” Curry said. “He’s probably been watching the league. People are going to ask what he thinks, especially his ties to the Warriors organization and myself specifically. Surprised me he said that. But, it is what it is.”

Curry had been vocally supportive of Jackson prior to the coach’s dismissal last offseason, something the Warriors point guard made mention of Friday.

“Obviously I wasn’t shy about trying to defend him last year when things were rumbling outside of our locker room,” Curry said. “But for him to … it’s kind of a different situation, but it is surprising that he didn’t.”

On Thursday, center Andrew Bogut, who had a less friendly relationship with Jackson, made light of his former coach’s opinion.

“Well what’s his name said no,” Bogut joked. “What’s that guy’s name? Mark? Mark? I don’t remember his name.”

***

No. 3: Spurs as NBA’s old, married couple — If you’re an NBA fan of college age or younger, you probably can’t remember a season in which the San Antonio Spurs did not win at least 50 games in a season. Their remarkable streak at that level stretches 16 years now, a testament to the staying power of coach Gregg Popovich and his Hall-of-Fame-bound core of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Our man Fran Blinebury wrote about the uncommon professional and personal relationships that have produced all that success, and here’s a taste to whet your appetite for more:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half the marriages in the United States are over by the eighth year, which makes the union of the Spurs and consistent excellence — at twice that length — an accomplishment of tolerance, dedication and bliss.

By defeating Denver on Friday night, the Spurs have now won 50 games for 16 consecutive seasons, extending their NBA record half a decade beyond the next longest strings. The Los Angeles Lakers (1980-91) are in second place with 12.

“Think about it. There’s not many marriages that last 16 years,” said ESPN analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy. “Think about working that closely together in a relationship, under that pressure and scrutiny and still enjoying each other’s company.

“What they’ve done is sustained greatness. I think that’s much more telling than five championships. First of all, it’s something that nobody’s done before. Winning 50 and having a plus-.500 road record all that time, to me that’s incredible.

“I am totally against the whole mindset that everything is about championships when it comes to evaluating players, evaluating teams. ‘Did they win a championship?’ Really, is that all you’ve got? I’m telling you, sustaining greatness is much harder than a one-, two- or three-year greatness.”

The Spurs’ run has been much like their style of play — more of a steady hum than a loud roar.

***

No. 4: Bulls flirting with disappointment?Pau Gasol showed emotion near the end of the Chicago Bulls’ victory beyond his normal veteran’s range, yelling and mugging as a release after his offensive rebound and putback against Detroit’s formidable Andre Drummond secured a victory Friday at United Center. But it was Gasol’s more measured comments afterward that ought to get a rise out of Chicago fans, because he speaks from experience when talking about championship teams and the edge they need in the postseason. The Bulls, in Gasol’s view, still are searching, according to the report filed by ESPNChicago.com’s Nick Friedell:

The 14-year veteran, who earned two championships as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, knows what it takes to win a title, and that’s why he’s a little concerned by what he has seen from his new team, the Chicago Bulls, over the past couple of games. After a poor performance on Wednesday night in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bulls followed up by sleepwalking through the second half and almost blowing a winnable game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night. Like the rest of his teammates, Gasol is still convinced the Bulls have time to turn around their bad habits, but unlike most of his younger teammates, the All-Star center understands that time is running out.

“There’s not a magic button here,” Gasol said. “What you see in the regular season is what you’re going to get in the playoffs. So we have to try to be more consistent in the last six games that we have and that’s going to determine what we’ll see probably in the playoffs. Now every game, it’s meaningful, and that we have to be aware of that because you can’t expect things to click when it’s crunch time, when everybody is on. So you just got to do whatever you have to on a daily basis to put yourself in the best place regularly so you get to the playoffs and maybe try to turn it up like everybody else.”

The good news for the Bulls is that they found a way to win on Friday night. So often during this up-and-down season they have found ways to lose games like this — to weaker teams that don’t have the same level of talent. But as the Bulls get set for what they hope is a long run in the postseason, veterans such as Gasol and fellow championship club member, Nazr Mohammed, know that the great teams have to play better than the Bulls are playing right now.

“We just got to keep getting better,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “We got to understand what we’re playing for. We’re playing for a lot at stake right now. It was good to see guys like Naz [Mohammed] and some of our veterans speak up tonight and understand how crucial this win was.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Portland guard Wesley Matthews long trek back from a torn Achilles is getting serialized by The Oregonian. … Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic also is facing issues – and surgery – on his aching right foot, and sounds a little concerned about his future both on and off the court. … Hall of Famer John Stockton is helping as an assistant coach with Gonzaga Prep’s girls team, lending his hoops wisdom and getting valuable father-daughter time with Laura Stockton. … Kyle Lowry wants to play again before the playoffs, but the Toronto Raptors point guard also wants to be cautious with the back spasms that have sidelined him. … Boston’s Jared Sullinger came back Friday earlier than expected from a stress fracture, and he has lightened the load on that foot by 20 pounds. … Sounding more like part of the problem than part of the solution in Miami, Heat guard Mario Chalmers says he doesn’t know his role these days.

Blogtable: Your All-Rookie first team …

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


BLOGTABLE: Kerr’s smartest move? | Future for Rondo and Ellis? | Your All-Rookie team



VIDEOWho has the inside track for Rookie of the Year?

> After a slow start (plagued by injuries) this year’s rookie class has shown some real promise late in the season. Name your 2014-15 All-Rookie first team.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson

However, Wiggins, Mirotic, Payton, Noel, Clarkson is pretty much the order of how I’d vote for Rookie of the Year at this point. Wiggins hasn’t been playing for high stakes in Minnesota but he has done well all season and come out of his shell while being forced-fed minutes for a shaky Timberwolves squad. If the soft-spoken Mirotic were as cocky as he is quietly confident, he’d be unbearable, but he has let his game do some serious talking for the past month. Payton is fun to watch, an increasing dynamic player and so vital to Orlando’s rise. I put Noel after Payton mostly because the former had the “redshirt” year to acclimate to the league in all the off-court ways. As for Clarkson, he has seized an opportunity with a team that rarely has them available for young guys like him.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel: Worth the wait for Philly.
F Andrew Wiggins: Living up to the hype.
F Nikola Mirotic: Becoming a closer for the Bulls.
G Elfrid Payton: Big hair, bigger game.
G Zach LaVine: Much more than a dunker.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel

F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson over Jusuf Nurkic is a tough call for the final spot and could change if you ask again when the season is over. (It could change either way — maybe Nurkic moves back ahead if he recovers from the slump or maybe Clarkson makes it an easy call if he keeps playing this way.) It just happens to work out that the group is almost an actual lineup when the rules say pick the five best regardless of position. The only semi-conflict is Payton and Clarkson both primarily point guards.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Jordan Clarkson.

I realize Clarkson is mostly a spring sensation but he’s been too impressive to ignore, so I put him ahead of Jusuf Nurkic. Wiggins will win ROY but if the season lasted another month he’d get some serious competition from Noel.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Elfrid Payton
G Bojan Bogdanovic

My top five rookies, in order, though is Mirotic, Noel, Wiggins, Payton and Bogdanovic. The top four guys, in whatever order you want to put them, are pretty simple choices. I picked Bogdanovic (who ranks as one of the league’s most improved shooters since the All-Star break) over Jordan Clarkson because he’s played more minutes for a better team. Mirotic would be my Rookie of the Year, because he’s been an efficient and important player on one of the 10 best teams in the league.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Elfrid Payton
G Zach Lavine

The first five of this year’s rookie class certainly took its time taking shape. But better late than never, and yes, I’m talking to you Nerlens Noel. The Philly big man joins Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine from Minnesota, the neck-bearded wonder Nikola Mirotic from Chicago and Mr. Hairdo himself, Orlando’s Elfrid Payton in my rookie fab five. Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker was an early fave but saw his season cut down by injury, a blow that doused water on the fire of this class from the start, along with the known injury to Philly’s other rookie big man Joel Embiid.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com:
C Nerlens Noel

F Nikola Mirotic
F Andrew Wiggins
G Jordan Clarkson
G Elfrid Payton

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog:
C Nerlens Noel
F Andrew Wiggins
F Nikola Mirotic
G Marcus Smart
G Elfrid Payton

To me, Wiggins is the Kia Rookie of the Year, for the way he’s played all season long and the improvement he’s shown and continues to show. Noel is right there as well, but he hasn’t had as much of an offensive impact as Wiggins. Mirotic and his beard have been terrific, pump-faking their way onto my team. So I guess that’s my front court, and in the backcourt I’ll pair Payton and Smart, who would actually be a pretty dynamic duo.


For more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Saunders flips over ‘tanking’ accusation from Jazz broadcasters


VIDEO: Wolves defeat Jazz with limited roster

“Tanking” has become a buzzword in the NBA, and a regrettable one at that. It’s a too-widely embraced, wink-wink term for teams that sorta-kinda allegedly do as much as they can to lose games – or as little as they can to win them – without stepping over a line of integrity that would drop the league to the level of professional wrestling.

The franchise most commonly associated with the accusation, the Philadelphia 76ers, has had two years to get callous to the charge. And lately “resting,” tanking’s cousin, has taken over as the ethical issue du jour deep into the 2014-15 season, pushing lottery-obsessed shenanigans out of the spotlight for now.

But Flip Saunders is old school and he didn’t like it when what he felt was a gutty, gritty, resourceful performance from his Minnesota Timberwolves was met – even as it happened by Utah Jazz broadcasters Craig Bolerjack and Matt Harpring – with derision. Bolerjack and Harping portrayed the Wolves’ limited roster (seven players!) Monday in Salt Lake City as yet another tanking production by one of the league’s bottom feeders.

The Wolves are in obvious rebuilding mode, force-feeding presumptive Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins heavy minutes while scouting heavily for the Draft in June. At 15-54 when their skeleton crew took the floor at Energy Solutions Arena, they trailed only New York (14-57) in the spiral down to the most lottery chances.

Let’s let Wolves beat writer Jerry Zgoda pick up the umbrage that flared from the Minnesota coach and president of basketball operations when he learned afterward about Bolerjack’s and Harpring’s disparaging asides during the telecast:

[Saunders] had just seen his team with only seven healthy players win in OT, at altitude, on the second night of back-to-back games. Instead of being in a celebratory mood, he was incensed after he returned to a joyous locker room and found what he said were 25 text messages informing him of comments made by Utah’s television broadcast earlier in the game.

… Jazz announcers said, to paraphrase, that teams purposely losing games to improve draft lottery odds by dressing only seven available players is bad for the league, bad for fans who pay good money to see Kevin Garnett and the league needs to do something about it.

Utah fans didn’t see Garnett, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Gary Neal or four other injured Wolves players Monday. They did see newly signed D League guard Sean Kilpatrick make three three-pointers in a fourth-quarter comeback, and they also saw Zach LaVine ignore a mental mistake with the game on the line and make two clutch threes in the final 21 seconds of regulation to force overtime anyway.

“That’s totally irresponsible, we’re not tanking games,” Saunders said. “If that’s so, then [Utah] got beat by a team who was tanking. … We’re playing to win. Our guys are out there: We won two games ago at New York, we lost in the fourth quarter against Charlotte last night. We’re not tanking games. It is irresponsible for them to go on TV saying that. If you work at ESPN, you get fired for saying stuff like that.”

The Wolves won for the second time in three games after they had lost 10 of 11 before that. They did so Monday by beating a Jazz team that had won 14 of its previous 19 games and had led by as many as eight points before the Wolves pulled a most improbable comeback.

It’s tempting to conclude, as The Bard might, that Saunders doth protested too much. His comments about people getting fired made it seem as if the Jazz announcers might have struck a nerve. Minnesota, after all, spent all but eight of its first 25 seasons prior to this one out of the playoffs, yet never, ever has gotten lucky enough in the lottery to move up even one spot in the draft order. Diving down for the worst possible record might be seen as their only way to land a franchise prospect – now that they have no more Kevin Loves to trade.

But the circumstances were all wrong Monday night. No team tanks, or does anything else, by using only seven players. And, ahem, the Wolves wound up winning in overtime.

Even Harpring seem reassured enough by that to tweet out an apology overnight:

Morning shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: Highlights for games play March 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers lose Matthews for season | Parker taking “baby steps” | What about JaVale? | Hawks meet Cavs tonight in battle of East’s best

No. 1: Blazers lose Matthews for season — The Portland Trail Blazers got a big win at home last night on TNT, beating another Western Conference playoff team, the Dallas Mavericks, 94-75. But the bigger story for the Blazers was the loss of starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who went down in the third quarter with a non-contact injury to his left leg. The Blazers eventually announced that Matthews had suffered a torn achilles and he would miss the rest of the season. Matthews had started every game this season for the Blazers, and was averaging 16.2 ppg. For a team with championship aspirations, the loss of Matthews will be tough to overcome, writes Jason Quick in the Oregonian

The injury is officially a ruptured Achilles, but to the Portland Trail Blazers, it was a breaking of their heart. To the people of Oregon a punch to the gut.

How important is Wesley Matthews to the Trail Blazers?

Owner Paul Allen, moments after Matthews was carried off the court, went back to the locker room to check on him. I’ve watched Greg Oden‘s knee explode. Watched Brandon Roy hobble off the court. And seen Rudy Fernandez carted out, immobilized on a stretcher.

And never have I seen Allen move from his courtside seat.

Matthews is that type of player.

He doesn’t just make three-pointers with the best of them. He makes this team.

He has an unbelievably positive attitude. Sometimes, I believe, he wills the Blazers out of slumps with his sheer belief that the Blazers are the best team in the West.

He holds teammates accountable, willing to call them out if he sees an effort, or an attitude, not meet his standards.

And he sets an admirable example with his tireless and determined work ethic. I’ve seen some great, hard-working professionals put on a Blazers uniform – Scottie Pippen, Joel Przybilla and Roy among them – and none of them outwork Matthews.

Few throughout the years have been as banged up as Matthews. He once played the last half of the season on an ankle the size of a grapefruit, waiting until after the season to have surgery. His elbow has been battered. His side has been bruised. And this season, he famously hyperextended his knee – elicting gasps from the Moda Center crowd – only to return later in the game, bringing a chuckle to coach Terry Stotts on the sideline.

Wesley Matthews is, quite frankly, the heart and soul of the Blazers.

And now, it no longer beats. Out for the rest of the season.

***

No. 2: Parker taking “baby steps” — One season ago, San Antonio’s Tony Parker finished sixth in MVP voting. This season, he’s struggled with injuries and, even after returning, hasn’t been able to consistently play the way he did last season. Now back and healthy, with the playoffs looming, Parker hopes the worst is behind him, writes Dan McCarney in the San Antonio Express-News

It was the type of move that has been seen only rarely from Tony Parker in his star-crossed 14th NBA season, a lightning quick crossover that left his defender grasping at air followed by an aggressive drive to the basket resulting in two free throws.

Coming against Sacramento’s Andre Miller, who will turn 39 in two weeks, Parker wasn’t about to gloat. After looking more than a little aged himself during his recent slump, how could he? No, he was pleased simply for a glimpse of his old self with 19 points in Wednesday’s victory over the Kings.

“I’m not going to take credit (for crossing Miller up),” he joked at practice on Thursday. “I’m just happy I shot 50 percent (8 for 14). Baby steps. Baby steps.”

And perspective. Two solid games, sandwiched around one dreadful performance, does not constitute a turnaround for Parker, just as the Spurs cannot be declared as having recaptured their championship mojo with a three-game win streak that includes two victories over the lowly Kings.

But unlike his 19-point outing at Sacramento last Friday, in which he scored 11 points in the fourth to inflate his production, Parker was steady pretty much throughout Wednesday’s rematch before the game got out of hand in the second half. Less important than the numbers was the manner in which they were produced, with Parker using the blend of mid-range shooting and around-the-rim accuracy that made him a six-time All-Star.

“(Coach Gregg Popovich) was joking, saying ‘I don’t remember the last time you shot a tear drop’ and I said, ‘You’re right,’” said Parker, who hit two of his trademark floaters in the third quarter alone.

“Sometimes you go through those times and you don’t know why you don’t know how to play basketball any more. It happens and so our job is to get back in rhythm, get back the way I was before I got hurt.”

***

No. 3: What about JaVale? — One of the better players to become available in the last few weeks was former Nuggets big man JaVale McGee, who was traded at the deadline to the Sixers and then waived on Sunday. Yesterday it appeared for a few hours as though McGee was heading to the Celtics, until that deal fell through. As Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes, McGee is apparently looking to land somewhere he can can control his contract next season, while teams that have been interested in McGee have wanted the same option…

McGee visited the Celtics this week and had been inclined to sign there, only to have his agent, B.J. Armstrong, and Celtics general manager Danny Ainge become unable to move past that deal point on Thursday afternoon.

For McGee, the plan is to sign a deal that provides him with a player option on the 2015-16 season – something teams, including Boston, would prefer to be a team option. That way, if McGee plays well, teams won’t be so vulnerable to lose him this summer.

McGee had courted interest from multiple playoff contenders, including the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri signed McGee to a $48 million extension in Denver, and remains interested in offering him an opportunity to join the Raptors for a playoff run, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Nevertheless, McGee’s insistence on holding onto his freedom for the 2015-16 season could cause some teams to resist committing to him for the rest of this year and the playoffs.

***

No. 4: Hawks meet Cavs tonight in battle of East’s best — The Atlanta Hawks have spent this week celebrating franchise hero Dominique Wilkins, unveiling a statue and reminding everyone of how much he means to the franchise. But now the conversation turns back to the court, as tonight the Hawks host the red-hot Cleveland Cavaliers in what could be an Eastern Conference playoffs finals. And in Atlanta, they don’t mind pointing out that as good as Cleveland has been in the new year, the Hawks still have a healthy lead in the Eastern Conference, as Mark Bradley writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Hawks lead Cleveland, LeBron’s latest team, by 10 1/2 games with 22 to play. But the Cavaliers, to give them their due, have won 20 of 24 and beat Golden State last week and Toronto on Tuesday. Naturally, this has inspired many in the media to proclaim the Cavs the East’s best team — even if the standings don’t reflect anything of the sort.

Any sign of a Cleveland uptick was bound to become an uproar, given that the Cavs have LeBron and the hoops world revolves around him. And I’d also submit that the Hawks, who’ve won five straight after that post-All-Star flop-apalooza against the Raptors, aren’t playing quite as well as when they were winning 35 of 37. But it’s not like they’ve turned tail at the sound of LeBron’s approaching footsteps. This isn’t a team easily cowed.

If the Cavs win Friday, we’ll be treated to six weeks of the The-King-Has-Reclaimed-His-Throne stories. If the Hawks win, we’ll be buffeted with It’s-Only-A-Matter-Of-Time-Before-The-King-Reclaims-His-Throne. Because he’s LeBron, he and his team will always be granted the benefit of every doubt. But I have fewer doubts about these Hawks than I do LeBron’s Cavs. At last check, 48-12 trumps 39-24.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After missing 8 free throws against the Rockets on Sunday, LeBron James has adjusted his free throw shooting formGoran Dragic loves the relationship he has with Dwyane Wade in Miami … The Timberwolves made some moves, picking up Justin Hamilton and waiving Glenn Robinson III … The Hawks have signed Jarrell Eddie from the D-League to a 10-day contract …

Morning shootaround — March 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dragic gets revenge against Phoenix | Griffin prepares for return | Harden suspended for kick | Teletovic says Bosh should be fine

No. 1: Dragic gets revenge against Phoenix — After the Phoenix Suns moved Goran Dragic at the trade deadline, both sides publicly took the other side to task in the media. Dragic, for his part, says it was hard to take the accusations of being selfish. Last night, with the Suns’ postseason hopes setting, the Suns went to Miami to take on Dragic and the Heat. Things didn’t go Phoenix’s way, as the Heat not only won 115-98, but the game devolved into a wrestling match. As Paul Coro writes in the Arizona Republic

It was hard enough to see Goran Dragic polish them off in the fourth quarter and fly off the court in glee, pumping his arm in relief after a foul-plagued first half. It was bad enough losing starting big men Markieff Morris and Alex Len to second-half ejections for a Flagrant Foul 2 and a fighting technical, respectively. It was even worse than committing 13 first-half turnovers to make the rest of the night difficult.

The Suns (31-30) just were not tough enough and know it after a 3-10 stretch.

“We have to find out who on this team is going to be tough,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “In terms of going after balls, we are soft going after everything. Teams just take the ball out of our hands. Maybe they grab your arm but you have to be tougher than that. I don’t know what it is but, when teams get physical, we look like a high school team. We have to get tougher and we have to find tougher guys who are going to battle. I get tired of watching us not go after balls. There is nothing worse to me than being soft and not going after a ball.

“In the second half, we showed some fight. We waited three quarters of getting pushed in the back before we decided to do anything about it.”

Some of that fight wound up hurting themselves. In chasing down Dragic on a breakaway, Markieff Morris was called for a questionable Flagrant Foul 2 in a game in which he already had been assessed his 13th technical foul of the season, which ties him for the NBA lead with Russell Westbrook and puts him three away from an automatic one-game suspension.

Morris tried to check on Dragic after the foul but the officials would not let him. After a review, Morris received a Flagrant Foul 2, which is supposed to be for “excessive and unnecessary” contact but it appeared Morris mostly connected bodies on his challenge.

“It was a hard foul,” Morris said. “It was a basketball play, I thought. The refs thought otherwise and kicked me out. Just overexaggerating. I thought he did fall hard. He was in the air and jumped back. My momentum hit him hard. It was a hard foul. It didn’t look intentional like I tried to push him under there or none of that.”

At that point, Miami took a 68-53 lead off the free throws less than four minutes into the third quarter. About four minutes later, Miami center Hassan Whiteside dunked on Suns center Alex Len, as he often did Monday, and came down on Len, who shoved him off. Whiteside tackled Len to the ground and a scrum ensued, leading to fighting technical fouls and ejections for Whiteside and Len.

Len was unavailable for comment after the game but Whiteside said Len was mad “because I just kept dunking on him.” Whiteside, a midseason sensation, had 17 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes.

“You’re not going to come into Miami and just bully us,” Whiteside said.

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Feb. 26


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Feb. 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Garnett talks the talk upon return | Timeline for Rose | Sullinger vows to trim down | Carter-Williams caught off-guard | Kobe: NBA was out to get Lakers

No. 1: Garnett talks the talk upon returnKevin Garnett’s return to Minnesota was a success, in regard to the atmosphere in the Target Center and the result on the scoreboard. And Garnett’s impact on the Wolves went well beyond the five points, eight rebounds and two blocks he tallied in less than 19 minutes. NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner made his own return to the Twin Cities and wrote about the conversations Garnett had (and will continue to have) with his new teammates

“Today it was just so over-the-top. I did not know the city missed me like this. I don’t think you could ever wish or ever think that a city loves you like this, but to see it is reality and I am very appreciative.”

That was the storybook of Garnett’s return.

The playbook? That was all the basketball stuff Garnett participated in and, even more so, didn’t participate in. He logged 18:38 in his first game back, about what coach Flip Saunders has in mind for most nights. Which meant that Garnett sat, and often will sit, on the bench for 29:22, watching this team he’s getting to know on the fly.

It went like that all evening. Whoever sat down next to Garnett got an earful of … you name it. Defensive positioning. Ball-skill fundamentals. Fun with phonics.

“That’s what I do,” Garnett said. “I was just trying to give the guys some insight, if not perception. Show ’em what I was seeing. Just slow ’em down a little. Nothing extra or different from what I usually do.”

***

No. 2: Friday could bring surgery and timeline for Rose — The Bulls received brutal news on Tuesday when they learned that Derrick Rose had a torn meniscus in his right knee for the second time in 15 months. But they might not lose Rose for nearly as long this time, and there’s a chance he could return in the postseason. We’ll all know what the timeline is after Rose has surgery, which could come Friday, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune

Thibodeau said surgery hasn’t been scheduled, but sources said while it’s mostly Rose’s decision, it will happen sooner rather than later, likely Friday because of minimal swelling. Team physician Brian Cole, who also repaired Rose’s first torn meniscus in November 2013, will perform the procedure. Rose underwent surgery two days after that injury.

An official timeline for Rose’s return won’t be known until Cole performs the surgery, but multiple sources expressed strong belief that this tear isn’t as significant as the one Rose had in November 2013. Sources added the expectation is that this procedure will remove a small cartilage tear, suggesting a shorter rehabilitation period.

Two other sources said Rose was told after the initial surgery that a future tear was possible, if not likely, and that a second procedure typically involves “cutting” or “snipping” the damage. That generally involves a rehabilitation process of three to eight weeks.

***

No. 3: Sullinger vows to trim downJared Sullinger is out for the season with a stress fracture in his left foot and has averaged just 57 games in his first three years in the league. The foot injury isn’t related to the back issue he dealt with as a rookie, unless you choose to blame his weight for both. Sullinger doesn’t think his weight was a factor, but says he plans on using his time off to get in better shape, as Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston writes

“Freak accidents happen. I just have to come back better,” Sullinger said.

Pressed on what he hoped to get out of recovery, Sullinger added: “A little bit of everything — change the physique, change the way I look. That’s the biggest thing, I think. I’m tired of looking on camera and just seeing how I look, seeing how I play during extended minutes. Conditioning is going to be a big factor. Conditioning is going to be hard because all I can do is ride the bike. We’re going to find ways, we’re going to find ways to get me in the best shape possible.”

Sullinger had pledged to get in better shape this summer and did report for camp looking trimmer, but appears to have added weight during the season.

“I got in better shape, but there’s another level to it,” Sullinger said. “There’s always another level to everything. I just have to take it to another level. This year I came back in a little bit better shape. Obviously, it wasn’t good enough. Now I just have to get back to the grit and grind, kind of break my body down just to build it back up. I think that’s what I’m going to do this summer.”

***

No. 4: Carter-Williams thought he was part of Sixers’ long-term plan — In his first game with his new team, Michael Carter-Williams got a win against his old team, scoring seven points and dishing out eight assists in the Bucks’ 104-88 victory over the Sixers. Before the game, Carter-Williams said that he thought he was part of the long-term plan in Philly, and that coach Brett Brown might have disagreed with Sam Hinkie‘s decision to trade the Rookie of the Year for the Lakers’ top-five protected pick. Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News has the story

He was reflective on his time in Philly, and seemed to be still somewhat baffled at what went down with him getting moved to Milwaukee in a three-team trade in which the Sixers ended up with a first-round pick from the Lakers, which is top-five-protected this season, top-three-protected for the next two seasons.

“I think the ultimate thing that it comes down to is coach Brown coaches and Sam [Hinkie] does the moves,” said MCW. “I think that’s what it comes down to and I think that’s the agreement and that’s all I really know. I think that if it was up to coach Brown, I don’t think I would have been moved, to be honest.

“I was pretty up to speed and pretty involved (disbelieving laughs). As far as I heard I was involved in the long-term plan, especially with me, Joel (Embiid) and Nerlens (Noel). It was really us three that was the core group and were told that we we’re going to be (there) for a pretty long time and we really want to build around. I understand that things change and plans change. I guess that Sam and the rest of those guys thought that to move me was the best move. That’s on them and it is what it is.”

***

No. 5: Kobe: NBA was out to get the LakersKobe Bryant certainly isn’t afraid to express his opinion. And you might say that he’s a little bitter about the events of 2011. In an interview/profile in this month’s GQ (Warning: some naughty language within), Bryant tells Chuck Klosterman that the ’11 lockout and subsequent veto of the Chris Paul trade were meant to “restrict the Lakers,” and only the Lakers …

The Lakers are not going to make the playoffs this year, and it seems unlikely that they will challenge for a title next year. So if titles are your only goal, why even play these last two seasons?

I know what Mitch [Kupchak, the Lakers GM] tells me. I know what Jim and Jeanie [Buss, the team owners] tell me. I know that they are hell-bent about having a championship caliber team next season, as am I.

But how could that possibly be done? Doesn’t the league’s financial system dictate certain limitations?

Well, okay: Look at the [2011] lockout. That lockout was made to restrict the Lakers. It was. I don’t care what any other owner says. It was designed to restrict the Lakers and our marketability.

The Lakers specifically, or teams like the Lakers?

There is only one team like the Lakers. Everything that was done with that lockout was to restrict the Lakers’ ability to get players and to create a sense of parity, for the San Antonios of the world and the Sacramentos of the world. But a funny thing happened, coming out of that lockout: Even with those restrictions, the Lakers pulled off a trade [for Chris Paul] that immediately set us up for a championship, a run of championships later, and which saved money. Now, the NBA vetoed that trade. But the Lakers pulled that **** off, and no one would have thought it was even possible. The trade got vetoed, because they’d just staged the whole lockout to restrict the Lakers. Mitch got penalized for being smart. But if we could do that…

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wesley Matthews came up big in a big game for the Blazers … after which the Spurs’ Tony Parker admitted that he’s strugglingEvan Turner messed around and got a triple-doubleGeorge Karl needs a little patienceRajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle had a second angry exchange after the Mavs’ win on Tuesday … Mitch McGary is a hustler, homey … and the Suns will have new uniforms for Thursday’s game against the Thunder.

ICYMI: Rookie Markel Brown showed us that they may have picked the wrong Net for the dunk contest:


VIDEO: Play of the Day – Markel Brown

Blogtable: Kevin Garnett’s Return To Minnesota

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


BLOGTABLE: Cavs And The Trade Deadline | Kevin Garnett’s ReturnBulls Without Derrick Rose



VIDEO: Kevin Garnett goes back to Timberwolves

> Kevin Garnett is back in Minnesota. Is this a feel-good move to brighten a dismal season, or is this a significant step toward making the Timberwolves a legitimate contender in the West for years to come?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Can I pick “C. Neither A nor B?” Actually, it might be a little of both A and B – it has been a miserable NBA season in Minny and Garnett, as a tone-setter and occasional blowtorch, can help to mold some of the Wolves’ young talent. But to me, this is about Garnett transitioning to his post-playing days, likely to buy a chunk of the Wolves’ franchise. And it’s about Flip Saunders solidifying his base, too, with his growing equity in the team. KG is one of Saunders’ “guys” and all signs point to them both presiding over what has been a country-club of an organization. Remains to be seen if they get the ultimate results on the floor, though.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comUnless a secret part of that deal to accompany K.G. back to Minnesota was Mr. Peabody and his Wayback Machine, this is nothing but pure nostalgia.  The significant step was trading for Andrew Wiggins.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Feel-good. A lot of this will depend on whether Garnett retires or not, and whether he stays in Minnesota if he continues, but there is little chance to make any real impact in what remains of 2014-15. Maybe he reaches the young Wolves a little about a snarling attitude. That can be helpful. He’s obviously not in the picture for when they plan to become a playoff regular, though. At the same time, I don’t think the deal is about brightening a dismal season. While it would be a nice full-circle conclusion to his career, if this is it for KG, grinding out 20-something games isn’t an antidote for fans. Besides, Minny has some bright moments to brighten the season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: It’s totally a feel-good moment, nothing more. Garnett is too old to be a factor on the floor, and in terms of leadership, that tends to be over-rated, especially if the designated leader does a lot of barking but is unable to lead by example. I think the real impact of his arrival will be felt if he and Flip Saunders manage to buy controlling interest from Glen Taylor. And even then, the KG/Saunders group will need a deep-pockets guy, and that guy may want to call the shots, turning KG into nothing more than a frontman.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s a feel-good move for the most part, but that doesn’t mean that KG can’t help. His offense has fallen off quite a bit over the years, but he can still make an impact on defense, where the Wolves currently rank last, both with his presence and his leadership. Gorgui Dieng, in particular, could really blossom with a mentor like KG.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comEasy. Even when young KG was in his prime in a Timberwolves uniform they were not a legitimate contender in the West, save for the 2003-04 season. So let’s not overstate the significance of KG’s return at this stage of his career. It’s a symbolic move that could lead to good vibrations in Minnesota if Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and some of those other youngsters take to the leadership and mentorship that is clearly on the way. KG learned from one of the best in Sam Mitchell when he was going through the same stage of his career. If he does half the job for the young boys that Mitchell did on him, this is a win-win for all involved.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This is about turning Andrew Wiggins into a meaningful star who may benefit from a winning example in spite of his team’s losing record. If Garnett weren’t there, then who in Minneapolis would be showing Wiggins how to become a leader? The perception changes from pessimism to optimism that the Timberwolves are now headed in a constructive direction.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI tweeted the other day that I wish KG returning to Minnesota had some practical value, but instead it feels more like just a fun concept. Maybe he will provide a stern voice in the locker room, teach the bigs how to get away with things in the post, show the young guys how to take care of their bodies, and force the young players to make everyone wait 90 minutes after each game before coming out to talk to the media. But I don’t know if KG’s presence will ever pay dividends for this collection of players, as odds are by the time the young guys are old enough to make an impact, they’ll be somewhere other than Minnesota. But I bet they sell a lot of jerseys the next few years.

Morning shootaround — Feb. 24


VIDEO: Highlights of Monday’s action from around the NBA

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Some Kevin-on-Kevin love | Commish misses Bosh, too | Rondo consults Dirk’s shot doc | Kirilenko heads back home

No. 1: Some Kevin-on-Kevin love — No, not that Kevin Love. We’re talking Kevin love, as in Kevin McHale‘s admiration for Kevin Garnett, the straight-outta-high school gamble who paid off big for McHale when he was starting out as VP of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Garnett was the face of Minnesota’s franchise for most of his 12 seasons there and, on the eve of his return to the Wolves in practice and a welcoming press conference Tuesday, one Hall of Famer – before coaching in Houston against his former employer – talked about the Hall of Famer-to-be, as chronicled in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“I’m happy for the Timberwolves organization,” McHale said Monday. “For a lot of years, he was, of course, the face of the franchise. It sounds like they’re happy. He’ll do a good job with those guys.”

McHale was asked Monday if it seems right that Garnett return to his NBA beginnings.

“That’s up to Kevin,” McHale said. “So many people do different things. I’m happy for him if he’s happy. He’s a good kid. I spent a lot of time with him. I think it’s great when that can work out if it really works out for both parties. It’s great for the Timberwolves, and Kevin must have felt good about it, otherwise he wouldn’t have signed off on it.”

Garnett waived a no-trade clause minutes before Thursday afternoon’s NBA trade deadline. He arrives Tuesday not the player he once was, but rather a man who has seen it all, done it all and can help team a young Wolves team mature.

“Kevin loves basketball,” McHale said. “He’s competitive. He always has been. He has a wealth of knowledge. He has played a lot of big games, won a championship and he’s not afraid to talk. He’ll say a lot of things.”

Rockets veteran forward Corey Brewer thought he’d hear many of those things when McHale drafted him to play for the Wolves in 2007. But Garnett was traded just weeks later.

“It’s great for the franchise,” said Brewer, who like Garnett was brought back to the Wolves but traded for a second time in a December deal that sent him to Houston. “KG, he’s the face of the franchise, still to this day even though he left for a while. I’m happy for the franchise. I’m happy for him to go back. I think he’ll have a great impact. Those guys need a guy like KG. They’re young. They’re all getting better. They need that voice, that leadership.”

(more…)

Garnett and Saunders could team to buy Wolves


VIDEO: The top 10 plays from Kevin Garnett’s career with Minnesota

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Kevin Garnett‘s return to Minnesota (and the two-year contract extension he’s expected to sign) might be about more than just mentoring the Timberwolves’ young core.

Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that Garnett and Wolves president Flip Saunders could eventually form a team to buy the franchise

The contract extension Kevin Garnett, 38, will sign with the Timberwolves this summer will be for two years. During that period, Garnett and Wolves president-coach Flip Saunders are expected to try to form a group to buy the team from Glen Taylor.

Garnett has amassed more than $325 million in salaries during 20 seasons in the NBA. Saunders, who turns 60 on Monday, has made an estimated $40 million during 17 seasons as a NBA coach.

The Wolves, for whom Taylor paid $88 million in 1994, were valued at $625 million last January by Forbes. Taylor, who turns 74 in April, is amenable to taking in more limited partners. But he’s not interested in selling his team until he finds out what the Atlanta Hawks, who are for sale and currently are taking bids, end up going for.

No player in NBA history has earned more money than Garnett, and most of it has come from Taylor. If Garnett eventually buys the team, Taylor would be getting some of that money back.