Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Timberwolves’

Ego doesn’t block Mitchell’s return as Timberwolves assistant coach


VIDEO: Sam Mitchell talks about his days with the Wolves

Mark Jackson never would deign to do it. You look around the NBA and you don’t see George Karl, Jerry Sloan, Avery Johnson, Scott Skiles, Vinny Del Negro or either of the Van Gundys doing it.

But Sam Mitchell is about to move 18 inches over – 18 inches down, in terms of career trajectory – and he’s fine with it.

“It looked like that was the only way I was going to get back in. You do what you’ve got to do,” Mitchell said this week, after the official announcement that he was joining the Minnesota Timberwolves as an assistant coach on Flip Saunders‘ staff. “I said to myself, if I’m ever going to coach again and I’ve got to come back in as an assistant coach, it doesn’t get much better than this.”

It doesn’t get much more rare, either.

It’s uncommon enough to find former NBA head coaches working as assistants, for several reasons. The move can be perceived as going backwards in their coaching careers – a CEO settling for a VP’s job – and knocking them the lead horses on the league’s long-established coaching carousel. Some head coaches don’t like having right-hand men who are too qualified. And the guy himself can struggle in a role where he only suggests after time spent being the one who decides.

It’s even more rare that a former NBA Coach of the Year would make such a move.

Of the 309 men who have been NBA head coaches (per basketball-reference.com), 42 of them have won the league’s 52 COY awards. Yet over the past 20 years, only Del Harris (COY 1995, Lakers) worked again as an assistant, filling slots in Dallas, Chicago and New Jersey after his head coaching jobs in Houston, Milwaukee and L.A.

Karl? Johnson? Mike D’Antoni? Mike Brown? Byron Scott? Rick Carlisle? Larry Brown? Mike Dunleavy? Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope and nope. Never mind Phil Jackson or Pat Riley.

Mitchell won his COY in 2007, after his third season with the Toronto Raptors. Hired in 2004 by former GM Rob Babcock – their connection dated to Babcock’s personnel days in Minnesota while Mitchell still was a player there – he had been on the job for only a few months when Toronto traded its star, Vince Carter, in a reluctant rebuild. Six months later, the Raptors drafted Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham. A year after that, Andrea Bargnani.

But Mitchell helped that 2006-07 team improve from a 27-55 finish the season before to 47-35, good for first place in the Atlanta Division and a playoff berth. Toronto went from a 112.7 defensive rating to 106.0, a climb of 17 spots in the rankings. It ranked 29th in offensive rebounding and 23rd in free throw attempts, but 11th or higher in points, assists, turnovers, 3-pointers and field-goal percentage.

“A lot of people said we didn’t run,” Mitchell said, “but we were so efficient, we didn’t have to run up and down the court 100 miles an hour. That’s how we played.” (more…)

Morning Shootaround — June 19


VIDEO: The San Antonio Spurs celebrate their championship at the Alamodome

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Celts may be on outs for Love | Anthony discusses meeting with Jackson | Young willing to give Lakers hometown discount | West calls Popovich ‘best coach’ he’s ever seen

No. 1: Report: Celtics may be on outs in any Love deals — From the moment Kevin Love visited Boston on vacation a few weeks ago (and shared a brief hello with Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo at a Boston Red Sox game), the popular sentiment around Boston was that it had the inside track on landing Love. But according to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, the team’s chances of landing the somewhat-disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves power forward isn’t looking too hot:

The reality, however, is that this may be not be a blockbuster summer for the Celts. They may very well be left with a slower and steadier option as they seek to rebuild from their most recent run as a contender. And it may be their best choice.

The latest sparkler to be dimmed came when it was learned the Timberwolves are looking at other allegedly more palatable offers than that of the Celtics when considering a trade for Kevin Love. League sources from multiple sides told the Herald that Minnesota is seeking a player of substance as well as draft picks, if they are to part with their best player.

Those same sources cited Golden State and Denver, with others in the running, as well. The Celtics have expressed strong interest in Love, and they will continue working on a package that may entice the Timberwolves. But word is even a selection of picks, led by Nos. 6 and 17 overall this season, and either Jared Sullinger or Kelly Olynyk isn’t going to be enough.

Is there a chance that Minnesota changes its opinion on the type of rebuild it wants to do and begins to look more favorably on the Celtics’ assets? Possibly. But a week out from the draft, the Wolves were hoping for something different.

At this point, the Celts are looking to find out more precisely what it will take to get Love, so they can see if they can cobble together the proper pieces.

“Minnesota looks at it that the team who gets the best player wins the trade,” one source said. “If they do make this deal, they know they’re going to be giving up the best guy in Love. So the picks they get will be nice, but they also want to get back a guy they know can play, a guy with some kind of track record.”

To meet Minnesota’s apparent need, the Celts may have to get more creative and involve at least one other team. If the Wolves are not enamored of what the C’s have to offer for a player, Danny Ainge could try to find such a player on another club and tailor the transaction to get him to Minnesota.

There is all evidence from league sources that the Celtics are already looking at these possibilities.

But all signs point to next week’s draft being the most likely time the Wolves make a move with Love. If they realize they are eventually going to have to build without him, it makes sense to start the process now and take advantage of this draft.

That may also be the Celtics’ position a week from tonight. And it may be the best course of action if they hope to build a team that gets into the championship equation and has the kind of depth to stay there a while.

And, Bulpett also tweeted out these interesting nuggets (if you mind the pun) about Denver getting in the thick of the Love chase …

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Morning Shootaround — June 12


VIDEO: Go inside the huddles and on the court in Game 3 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: ‘Melo opt-out date set; Heat have eyes for Knicks’ star | Love hoping ‘everything works out’ | Rondo impressing Celtics’ coaches | Hall of Famer Ramsay gets Finals tribute

No. 1: Report: ‘Melo opt-out deadline set; Heat might make push for Anthony The Miami Heat are in the midst of The Finals against the San Antonio Spurs and find themselves in a 2-1 series hole. As such, don’t expect Miami’s players — namely its Big Three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade — to start speculating or discussing what moves they’ll make this summer when they can all become free agents. Their lack of comments, though, hasn’t stopped a report from surfacing that the Heat may make a serious push to land free agent Carmelo Anthony this summer and team him up with the Big Three (who would have to take serious pay cuts to make this all happen).

ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst and Marc Stein have more on the notion of a “Big Four” in Miami. Of course, before there can be any Big Four, Anthony has to officially let the Knicks know he’s opting out of his deal. Marc Stein of ESPN.com has more on that move, too.

First, here’s Stein on Carmelo’s opt-out deadline date:

Carmelo Anthony has until June 23, essentially one week before the start of free agency, to notify the New York Knicks if he plans to opt in or out of the final year of his current contract, according to sources familiar with the terms of his deal.

Sources told ESPN.com that Knicks president Phil Jackson is continuing to urge Anthony to exercise next season’s $23.3 million player option and put off unrestricted free agency for one more year.

The Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are all teams Anthony would consider starting July 1, sources say, if the 30-year-old decides to become a free agent this summer.

Jackson’s pitch to Anthony — which sources say he has delivered more than once over the past month — is founded upon the notion that the Knicks will have increased financial flexibility in the summer of 2015 to bring in a marquee free agent to pair with a re-signed Anthony.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said on his ESPN New York radio show Tuesday and in subsequent interviews that Anthony and James, members of the NBA’s ballyhooed 2003 draft class and longtime USA Basketball teammates, have expressed the mutual desire to play together before their careers end and will look into teaming up if both wind up on the open market in July 2015.

James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all have until the end of June, sources say, to notify the Heat whether they intend to opt into the final years of their respective current contracts or become free agents July 1.

And here’s Windhorst and Stein on the potential of an Anthony-Wade-James-Bosh lineup in Miami next season:

The Miami Heat’s immediate focus remains overcoming a 2-1 NBA Finals deficit to the San Antonio Spurs, but discussions have begun within the organization about trying to grow their so-called Big Three into a Big Four, according to sources close to the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com that Heat officials and the team’s leading players have already started to explore their options for creating sufficient financial flexibility to make an ambitious run at adding New York Knicks scoring machine Carmelo Anthony this summer in free agency.

The mere concept would require the star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to all opt out of their current contracts by the end of the month and likely take further salary reductions in new deals that start next season to give Miami the ability to offer Anthony a representative first-year salary. The Heat also are prevented from making any formal contact with Anthony until July 1 and can do so then only if he opts out of the final year of his current contract. Anthony has until June 23 to notify the Knicks of his intentions, according to sources.

Sources say internal conversations within the Heat organization about pursuing this course have run concurrently with Miami’s bid to win a third consecutive championship, with sources adding that James in particular is likely to try to recoup potential salary sacrificed through fresh off-court business opportunities if the Heat’s new dream scenario does come to fruition.

James’ off-court business is booming, thanks to a string of investments paying off massively and the prospect of new opportunities in endorsements and entertainment projects promising to expand his wealth significantly in coming years.

The Heat are in essence trying to emulate some of the longstanding policies employed by their current Finals opponent, as the Spurs have been able to keep Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili together for more than a decade — while routinely strengthening the supporting cast around them — because their three best players have been repeatedly willing to take pay cuts.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said on his ESPN New York radio show Tuesday and in subsequent interviews that Anthony and James have expressed the mutual desire to play together before their careers end and will look into teaming up if both wind up on the open market in July 2015.


VIDEO: Phil Jackson talks with NBA TV about Carmelo Anthony’s future in N.Y. and more (more…)

Morning Shootaround — June 8


VIDEO: The Heat and Spurs are all geared up for Game 2 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron should be fine for Game 2 | Spurs defend, don’t whack | Eyes on Heat, Spurs bench guys | A Love-Rondo package?

No. 1: LeBron should be fine for G2 — No matter is more pressing in The Association than LeBron James‘ fitness for Game 2 of the 2014 Finals. The extreme heat in San Antonio’s AT&T Center caused the Miami Heat superstar to lock up from painful cramping in the left side of his body, and he missed the decisive minutes at the end of the championship series’ opener, when the Spurs closed in a 16-3 rush. Monitoring James’ recovery has been top priority for the vast media mob covering these Finals, so know this: As much as the 72-hour layoff between games might have been a bummer for entertainment’s sake, it could end up being vital to James’ capabilities Sunday night. As our man Fran Blinebury chronicled off Friday’s availability:

There was no latest update on the bags of IV fluid taken in by LeBron James, no count on the bags of liquids he’s ingested and, thankfully, no longer a step-by-step total of the trips he’s made to the bathroom.
James appeared less tired, more confident, more chipper and even channeled the ghost of Allen Iverson when teammate Dwyane Wade chided him for spending too much time chatting with media.

The four-time MVP has been resting and working with the Miami medical staff since he was forced to sit out the last 3:59 of Game 1 on Thursday with severe cramps.

“I’m going to get some work done today,” James said before the Heat’s practice on Saturday afternoon. “But there is no way to test my body for what I went through. The conditions are nowhere near extreme as they was, unless I decide to run from here to the hotel, that’s the only way I would be able to test my body out.

“But I’m doing well, doing a lot better. The soreness is starting to get out. I’m feeling better than I did yesterday and with another day, I should feel much better (Sunday).”

James said he will not go into Game 2 with any mental burdens from the incident, won’t wonder if and when his body might give out again.

“Well, for me and the situation that happened in Game 1 is like you don’t know it’s going to happen,” he said. “Obviously I felt the extreme measures, but I wasn’t the only one out there on the floor. So you just play and you worry about the results later. You can’t think about what may happen in the third or fourth quarter, live in the moment. And for me, whatever I can give my teammates if it happens again, hopefully I can make an impact while I’m on the floor and that’s all that matters to me.

“I can live with the results. If I’m giving my all and playing as hard as I can, I’m putting my body and my mind on the line for us to win, you know, for that guy back there in the back, it’s all that matters.”

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Rubio will make his pitch for Love to stay


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

TREVISO, Italy – First, the jokes.

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course I want him to stay.”

Are you going to tell him?

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

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

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

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

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


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

Morning Shootaround — June 7


VIDEO: Popovich discusses Finals opener, looks toward Game 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


VIDEO: The Starters discuss possible future destinations for Kevin Love

SAN ANTONIO – Been there, done that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning Shootaround — June 3


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses how the Heat and Spurs are preparing for The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Knicks plan to talk to Fisher soon | Rondo:  No Celtics ‘pitch’ to Love | Report: Pistons nearing deal to make Bower GM | Report: Jazz to interview Griffin, Snyder again

No. 1: Report: Knicks to talk with Fisher soon; Lakers cooling on him as coach — After Oklahoma City lost in Game 6 of the West finals, Thunder backup point guard Derek Fisher didn’t sound like he was as ready to make the jump into NBA coaching as most thought he’d be. As such, the teams most associated with being interested in him — the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers — backed off a bit to allow him time to decompress after OKC’s loss. The Knicks, according to Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com, remain interested in Fisher and plan to talk with him this week about their opening. Out in L.A., though, interest in the ex-Lakers fan favorite may be cooling, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

Here’s Stein & Shelburne on the Knicks’ pursuit of Fisher:

Phil Jackson‘s first substantive chat with Derek Fisher about the New York Knicks’ coaching job is scheduled to take place this week, according to sources close to the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com Monday that Jackson is planning to connect with Fisher by week’s end, giving the Oklahoma City Thunder guard some time to decompress after his team was eliminated by San Antonio Saturday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.

One source cautioned that the discussion shouldn’t be classified as a formal interview, given the long and close working relationship between Jackson and Fisher during their two stints together as coach and player with the Los Angeles Lakers. But another source close to the process told ESPN.com that he thinks Fisher will ultimately find the allure of coaching in New York under Jackson too difficult to pass up.

As ESPN.com reported May 19, Jackson essentially put his coaching search on hold to wait to speak to Fisher first after missing out on initial top target Steve Kerr, who spurned the Knicks to coach the Golden State Warriors.

Fisher said Sunday he remains undecided about retirement, but sources say Jackson continues to hold out hope he can persuade the 39-year-old to make the immediate jump to coaching — as Jason Kidd did last season with Brooklyn — after Fisher’s 18 seasons as a player.

“I’m still struggling with the results of [the series],” Fisher told local reporters Sunday. “I haven’t [had] a chance to talk to my wife and kind of step back emotionally from the end of the season. That’s important to do, so that whatever is next, there has to be a separation from the end of the season and what just happened and then I can go from there.”

And here’s Wojnarowski on the Lakers cooling a bit in their pursuit of Fisher:

As the Los Angeles Lakers remain cool on the pursuit of Derek Fisher as a coaching candidate, the New York Knicks continue to cement themselves as the strong frontrunner to hire him, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

So far, the Lakers have expressed an exclusive desire to explore experienced head coaches in their search, and there isn’t yet an indication that team officials plan to seriously consider Fisher for the job, league sources said.

Los Angeles has so far interviewed four coaches about replacing Mike D’AntoniMike Dunleavy, Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott and Lionel Hollins.

Knicks president Phil Jackson has been eager to sell Fisher, 39, on the possibility of Jackson mentoring him as part of a direct move from Fisher’s playing career into the Knicks head coaching job. Fisher is taking a few days to finalize his thoughts on the likely end of his 18-year playing career before fully engaging in talks to become a head coach.


VIDEO: Derek Fisher discusses his playing and coaching future during his OKC exit interview (more…)

Morning Shootaround — June 2


VIDEO: Relive the Spurs’ West finals series with the Thunder

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Parker hopeful for Game 1 | Westbrook, Durant back Brooks | Celts’ history appealing to Love?| Parsons opens up on Houston future | Jackson, Perkins likely to stay in OKC

No. 1: Report: Parker should be OK for Game 1 of Finals — The San Antonio Spurs are three days away from their first ever back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals and their hopes of winning the series may rest heavily on Tony Parker‘s gimpy left ankle. Parker missed the second half of the Spurs’ win against the Thunder in Game 6 of the West finals with the injury and his status for The Finals was unclear. But Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that Parker should be OK for Game 1:

Despite a sprained ankle, San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker is hopeful to play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Parker “should be ready” to play in Game 1, two sources with direct knowledge told Yahoo Sports.

Parker will work to rehabilitate the sprain over the next several days of preparation for the Finals rematch with the Miami Heat.

Parker had been bothered by the ankle since Game 4 of the Western Conference finals and tried to play on it in Game 6 before missing the second half of the clinching victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — May 28


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Sense of deja vu for Spurs? | Bosh reaffirms he wants to stay with Heat| What’s going on in Minnesota? | Report: Lakers interview ex-coach Rambis

No. 1: It’s like 2012 all over again for Thunder — Just a week ago, San Antonio was on the easy path (it seemed) to a second straight Western Conference championship and trip to The NBA Finals. The Oklahoma City have had other ideas since then, though, as the emotional boost of Serge Ibaka‘s return from injury and the performances of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have knotted the series 2-2. Our Fran Blinebury was on hand last night in OKC and saw a lot of the 2012 Thunder-Spurs West finals series in that game (for those of you who forgot, OKC climbed from an 0-2 hole that year to reach its first Finals):

This is no longer a matter of simply asking Tony Parker to play better. It’s about finding a way for the Spurs to regain their poise and effectiveness against an OKC team that in the last two games has come at them like a rolling bundle of butcher knives.

There have been four games played now and four blowouts. But no matter what the series score sheet says, it doesn’t feel like the Western Conference finals are tied at 2-2.

You could say the Spurs have been put back on their heels, if it didn’t look like they were flat on their backs. It’s looking just like two years ago, when the Thunder spotted San Antonio a 2-0 lead and then roared back for a reverse sweep.

Remember Games 1 and 2 in San Antonio when the Thunder front line of Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha put up just nine combined points? It pushed Thunder coach Scott Brooks to make a lineup change to get Reggie Jackson on the floor with the starters and Jeremy Lamb into the rotation.

Here was Duncan (nine points) Tiago Splitter (3) and Danny Green (3) managing to squeeze out just a few more drops and the solution is hardly to sound the trumpet for more of Cory Joseph, Matt Bonner and the Desperation Cavalry.

With the young arms and legs of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Lamb and Jackson cutting off angles and jumping into passing lanes, the Thunder have smothered San Antonio’s offense.

With their driving, relentless aggressiveness, OKC has also overwhelmed the Spurs’ defense. Of Westbrook’s 40 points and Durant’s 31, a lion’s share came with them going to hoop and making the Spurs look helpless to do anything about it.

Since the 2012 conference finals, the Spurs have an NBA-best road record of 62-33 against 28 other teams. But they’re also 0-9 in OKC since then, too.

“I think we should not think like that,” Parker said. “Each game is different, each series, each year.”

So how come it feels like 2012 and we already know how the election and everything else turned out?

(more…)