Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Timberwolves’

Morning shootaround — June 23


VIDEO: Draft HQ’s experts discuss the top 3 prospects in the Draft

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Lakers trying to land Cousins | Report: Wolves shopping Bennett | Conflicting reports on potential Wade-Heat meeting

No. 1: Reports: Lakers interested in trading for Kings’ Cousins; Karl and Cousins on outs? — Guys like Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins are hard to find in the NBA. He’s an All-Star big man, a legit low-post threat on offense, a solid shot-blocker and a double-double player in three of his five seasons to date. It’s not surprising, then, that teams are interested in prying him away from Sacramento, and as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski report, the Los Angeles Lakers are at the front of that line.

Stein had the first information on the trade, so here’s his report on what the Lakers are attempting to do (and some other teams interested in Cousins, too):

Sources told ESPN that the Lakers have been actively pursuing trade scenarios in recent weeks in attempt to construct a deal that would convince the Kings to part with Cousins.

The Kings, though, continue to insist that Cousins is not available. The team’s new lead decision-maker, Vlade Divac, told the Sacramento Bee in Sunday’s editions that dealing away his best player “is not happening.”

Sources say that the Lakers, Kings and Orlando Magic have had exploratory dialogue on a three-way Cousins trade that would land the 24-year-old in Los Angeles. All three teams hold top-6 picks in Thursday’s NBA draft, and Orlando has a young top-flight center of its own in Nikola Vucevic, who could theoretically fill the Cousins void.

Yet since assuming control of the Kings’ front office in April, Divac repeatedly has downplayed the idea of parting with Cousins, who has three seasons left on an extension he signed during the summer of 2013.

The Lakers would appear to have limited assets to get into the trade sweepstakes for Cousins — in the event that Sacramento’s stance changes — beyond surrendering prized young big man Julius Randle, young guard Jordan Clarkson and the No. 2 overall pick in Thursday’s draft. The Lakers, furthermore, could not legally trade the No. 2 pick until after making the selection and introducing that player as a Laker, since teams are precluded from trading first-round picks in consecutive drafts and the Lakers’ 2016 first-rounder is already owed to Philadelphia.

Orlando holds the fifth pick in Thursday’s proceedings but would presumably expect a lot to be willing to part with Vucevic, who signed an extension of his own last October and has become the most consistently productive player from the four-team blockbuster trade in August 2012 that sent Dwight Howard from the Magic to the Lakers.

Wojnarowski’s report digs into how the rocky dynamics between Cousins and coach George Karl may be driving a trade:

Despite Sacramento Kings management’s public insistence that DeMarcus Cousins is unavailable in deals, coach George Karl’s intense desire to trade the All-Star center has made it increasingly unlikely this coach-star partnership can peacefully co-exist next season, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Karl has been recruiting Kings vice president of basketball operations Vlade Divac and multiple players on the Kings’ roster to unite with him in making the case to owner Vivek Ranadive that Cousins needs to be traded, league sources said.

Since the end of the 2014-15 season, Cousins has become aware of Karl’s campaign to move him – including teammates telling Cousins, sources said. All around the Kings and Cousins, there is a growing belief the coach-player relationship is irreparable. Trust is a constant theme with Cousins, and he’s been unable to build any with Karl, sources said.

No one in the Sacramento organization – not coaches, nor players, nor support staff – wants to imagine the combustible scenario awaiting Karl and Cousins should the Kings try to reunite them in training camp.

Ranadive has remained the biggest Kings advocate for holding onto Cousins, and several sources indicate he has become irritated with Karl’s insistence that the coach doesn’t believe he can manage the supremely skilled and strong-minded star. Cousins has held a firm loyalty to former Kings coach Michael Malone, whom Ranadive fired shortly into last season. Under Karl, that relationship couldn’t begin to be duplicated in the final weeks of the season.

For now, the Kings are pursuing trade scenarios for everyone on the roster, including talented forward Rudy Gay, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Sacramento officials believe it will be difficult to find a trade partner that can give the Kings the value it wants for Cousins – and has a better chance to find a deal for Gay, sources said.


Sacramento is motivated to find a way to create more salary-cap space with possible deals, something that the Kings will need to pursue Dallas Mavericks free-agent point guard Rajon Rondo, league sources said. The Kings and Rondo have a mutual interest, with Rondo intrigued with the idea of a potential one-year deal in Sacramento that could help to rebuild his league-wide value, sources said.

Cousins took to Twitter late last night to respond to the talks with a simple message some are implying as meaning a snake in the grass:

And one more Kings thing to note: they may be interested in working a trade with the Denver Nuggets …

***

No. 2: Report: Wolves shopping Bennett — The Minnesota Timberwolves have reason to be excited about Thursday night’s NBA Draft. They have the No. 1 overall pick, and whoever they choose will play alongside the reigning Kia Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins. But as they ready to make the top choice in the Draft, is another former No. 1 overall pick on their roster about to be moved? According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, power forward Anthony Bennett — the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 by the Cleveland Cavaliers — is being shopped about:

The Minnesota Timberwolves have made former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett available via trade in advance of Thursday’s NBA draft, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN that the Timberwolves, who are widely expected to make Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns the No. 1 overall selection Thursday night, are trying to find a new home via trade from Bennett, who unexpectedly went No. 1 overall in 2013 and was acquired by Minnesota last summer from Cleveland in the Kevin Love trade.

The Cavaliers sent Andrew Wiggins and Bennett to Minnesota for Love while also surrendering a future first-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers, which landed then-Sixer Thaddeus Young with the Wolves as well.

In February, Minnesota swapped Young for Kevin Garnett to bring home the most famous player in franchise history.

***

No. 3: Conflicting reports that Wade, Heat have meeting set — Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade has a player option on his contract this summer and his decision must be made, per NBA rules, by next week. Of late, there has been talk of he and the Los Angeles Lakers having mutual interest in each other, and more things have cropped up since then.

According to ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst, Wade and the Heat are supposed to meet next week to discuss his contract:

Wade has until next Monday to decide on whether he’s going to opt in for next season and earn $16.1 million or become an unrestricted free agent.

Wade and the Heat sit far apart on their desires; the Heat would prefer for Wade to opt into the deal and Wade would prefer a new, richer and longer-term contract, sources said.

The sides have not formally spoken in some time. They had discussed a new contract for around $10 million per year for up to three years beyond his current deal, sources said.

Wade, who took a pay cut in 2010 when LeBron James and Chris Boshsigned and again last summer to help make cap space to sign Luol Deng, is interested in a pay raise and not a pay cut.

It is Wade’s desire to stay in Miami and finish his career with the Heat, sources said. However, the gulf between the sides has led to acrimony in recent weeks and cast doubt on Wade’s future. Wade has been disappointed at the team’s initial overtures considering the money he has left on the table in his past two free agencies, sources said.

James, who is Wade’s close friend, has expressed an interest in reuniting with him. However, that scenario is unlikely with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs will not have salary-cap space this summer and could offer Wade only a maximum of a $3.4 million from the taxpayer midlevel exception.

Wade also is interested in the Los Angeles Clippers, sources said, but they are as limited by their commitments and the salary-cap rules as the Cavs. Getting to the Clippers would take either a massive pay cut or the Heat’s unlikely cooperation in a sign-and-trade.

As for the Heat, they have several other roster issues they have to deal with before they might be able to make their best offer to Wade. One is Deng, who has his own opt-in option on next season for $10.1 million that he must decide on by the end of the month.

According to multiple league sources, the Heat are attempting to trade guard Mario Chalmers and big man Chris Andersen to help free up some salary that could ultimately be diverted to Wade. Both going into the final years of their contracts, Andersen and Chalmers are contracted to make a combined $9.3 million next season.

Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel reports, however, that there is no scheduled meeting between Wade and Miami’s brass:

Despite reports to the contrary, a source familiar with the situation told the Sun Sentinel on Monday night that there currently is no meeting scheduled between Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat as the clock ticks toward Wade’s Monday opt-in deadline.

In the wake of a previous ESPN report of such a meeting, a source close to the process said no such meeting between Wade and Pat Riley or other members of the Heat front office has been set.

The source said any meeting with Wade would be more likely to come after the July 1 start of free agency, since the Heat are not allowed to discuss contract parameters until then.

For Wade’s part, his representatives said he will bypass his annual media sessions at the adult basketball camp he is hosting this week at the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood.

The Heat have remained mum on their personnel issues to the point of bypassing their annual pre-draft media session, with no one from the team’s scouting department scheduled to be made available in advance of Thursday’s NBA Draft, with the Heat holding the No. 10 selection.

Agent Henry Thomas told the Sun Sentinel three weeks ago that he expected upcoming contract discussions with the Heat in advance of Wade’s option deadline.

“We’ll just have to see how things continue to develop with the Heat,” he said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Detroit Pistons coach/team president Stan Van Gundy shot down rumors the team is trying to trade for New York Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. … According to a report, the Oklahoma City Thunder have shopped Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb in hopes of moving up in the Draft … Top prospect D’Angelo Russell recently made his pitch to the Los Angeles Lakers for them to take him No. 2 overall … Brooklyn Nets small forward Thaddeus Young is opting out of his deal to test free agency this summer … Dallas Mavericks guard Raymond Felton opted in with the team for 2015-16

Morning shootaround — May 31



VIDEO: Steve Kerr talks about Klay Thompson’s concussion

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Gentry to unleash Unibrow | Klay expected to be cleared | Drafting Curry not just Nellie’s revenge | Bulls like Hoiberg’s Kerr appeal

No. 1: Gentry to unleash Unibrow — There apparently was a good reason the New Orleans Pelicans never reached out to Tom Thibodeau as a candidate to fill their head coaching vacancy, even though chronologically the fired Chicago Bulls’ bench boss was available. And even if the disinterest had anything to do with Thibodeau’s good friendship with the man who most recently held the job, Monty Williams, that probably wasn’t the biggest reason. Thibodeau is known for coaching transformative defense. New Orleans is more eager to goose its offense. That’s why Alvin Gentry, Steve Kerr‘s right-hand man in Golden State and a contributor to Phoenix’s blistering attacks a few years back, has the job today. With one big mandate to match the Pelicans’ one big budding star, per SI.com:

…[One] of the league’s slowest teams in recent years plans to significantly pick up the tempo. That’s a frightening proposition for opponents, who now must contemplate Anthony Davis like they’ve never seen him before, in a fast and loose system that should utilize his obscene athleticism and above-the-rim finishing ability.

That wasn’t necessarily the guiding principle in New Orleans under Williams. Despite the presence of Davis and the attack-minded Tyreke Evans, the Pelicans ranked No. 27 in pace this season. During Williams’s tenure, the Pelicans were the league’s slowest team twice, and they never ranked higher than 22nd in pace. This wasn’t a fluke: before being hired by New Orleans, Williams was an assistant in Portland under former coach Nate McMillan, who oversaw the league’s slowest team in 2009-10 and 2010-11

[Gentry’s] arrival promises a new era in which New Orleans’ guards are encouraged to push the pace and Davis is called on to open and close transition opportunities by running the court. Look for the Pelicans to regularly use him as a center, structuring spread lineups around him to create space for pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll. When New Orleans does play big, Davis will likely be given free reign to create from the elbow, and it wouldn’t be that shocking if he started to work the corner three into his offensive repertoire either.

The statistical ramifications for Davis here are mouth-watering. Last season, at age 21, he averaged 24.4 points and 10.2 rebounds while posting a 30.8 PER despite playing at a snail’s pace. By comparison, a 22-year-old Amar’e Stoudemire averaged 26 points and 8.9 rebounds while posting a 26.6 PER in 2004-05 under Mike D’Antoni, with Gentry as an assistant. “Young Amar’e” was a phenom in his own right, but he was no Davis. If things fall into place and Davis continues to blossom, it’s not outlandish to envision the two-time All-Star making a run at averaging 28/12, a threshold achieved by only Shaquille O’Neal over the last 30 years.

***

No. 2: Klay expected to be cleared — As antsy as NBA fans are for the 2015 Finals to begin – we must be entertained! – there is yet another silver lining to the eight-day gap between the end of the conference championship round and Game 1 Thursday in Oakland. Concussion protocols often take time, as do concussion recoveries. So this layoff is helpful to Golden State’s Klay Thompson, who took that nasty knee-to-the-head from Houston’s Trevor Ariza, and to the Warriors, but also to the integrity of the Finals. Golden State coach Steve Kerr, as noted by the Bay Area News Group, said he expects his shooting guard to be ready when the series against Cleveland begins at Oracle Arena.

Thompson has been “progressing well,” according to Kerr, since being kneed in the head as the Warriors won in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals Wednesday.

Kerr said he hasn’t thought about how Thompson might be replaced if he isn’t ready for the NBA Finals. Kerr did note that Leandro Barbosa has played a major role in the playoffs and that Justin Holiday could see some minutes as well.

The Warriors won’t have to play for another five days, which gives them time to possibly have Thompson practice before returning to action.

“It’s good that we have this break because he has the time to go through what he’s going through,” Kerr said.

***

No. 3: Drafting Curry not just Nellie’s revenge — If the conspiracy nuts are to be believed, there never were any lunar landings and—wait, wrong conspiracy. The one we care about here at Hang Time HQ is the one about Golden State drafting NBA MVP Steph Curry at No. 7 in 2009 simply because the Warriors’ powerful coach, Don Nelson, wanted to screw the New York Knicks for firing him 13 years earlier. But Nelson denied that Saturday in an interview with the New York Post and it seems reasonable; if the Knicks’ brain trust of Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D’Antoni could love Curry’s game and potential, so could the similarly offensive-minded Nelson. Besides, none of them would have been in position to pick Curry if David Kahn, Minnesota’s overmatched basketball boss at the time, hadn’t botched his consecutive picks at Nos. 5 and 6. Here’s part of the report by the Post’s Marc Berman:

Knicks brass always has believed their much-publicized interest in Curry, the 2014-15 MVP, in the lead-up to the draft swayed Nelson away from Arizona power forward Jordan Hill and onto the scent of Dell Curry’s son out of tiny Davidson College. Nelson had final say on the Warriors’ personnel decisions.

One conspiracy theory charges Nelson with taking Curry over Hill to spite the Knicks, who unceremoniously fired him midseason at disgruntled Patrick Ewing’s request.

Nelson, who retired four years ago, will watch proudly from his Hawaii homestead as Curry’s Warriors battle Cleveland in the NBA Finals starting Thursday.

The Hall of Fame coach roundly denied Donnie Walsh’s and Mike D’Antoni’s love affair with Curry influenced his opinion. Nelson told The Post on Saturday from Maui he would have taken Curry second in the draft that year, after Blake Griffin. James Harden was third.

“The guy’s a 10 as a human being, 10 as a player,’’ Nelson said. “We would’ve taken him No. 2. I saw him in the NCAA Tournament vs. St. Mary’s and fell in love with him. People were saying he didn’t have a handle to be a point guard. I saw a point guard the whole way. He had a handle, could shoot and be creative. In Davidson he wasn’t asked to make plays for others. I thought he was going to be terrific. I saw him as an All-Star. Not an MVP this soon but certainly All-Star caliber.’’

Whether revisionist history or not, the Knicks lost hope in the final two days entering the draft as it became clear Nelson, from Bay Area reports, was serious about Curry. Nelson said he worried Minnesota would use one of its two top-six picks for Curry, and he tried to trade up. Instead, the Timberwolves selected point guards Ricky Rubio (No. 5) and Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn (6), who no longer is in the league.

“I didn’t think he’d be there,’’ Nelson said. “Minnesota bailed us out. I didn’t care for the Syracuse kid and Rubio couldn’t shoot it.”

Some within the Knicks believe had Curry, and not Hill, fallen to them, as it once seemed, their franchise fortunes would have been drastically different. Hill was traded during his rookie year to open more cap space for 2010. Nevertheless, Walsh had a chance at All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Jeff Teague, Brandon Jennings, Ty Lawson or Jrue Holiday at No. 8.

“Whoever would’ve drafted [Curry] would’ve turned their franchise around,’’ Nelson said. “We were lucky to get him. You build a franchise around those guys. Point guard nowadays is more important than centers.’’

***

No. 3: Bulls like Hoiberg’s Kerr appealFred Hoiberg played for the Chicago Bulls, one small, natural connection when it came time for Bulls management to cast about for someone to replace Tom Thibodeau as head coach. Hoiberg also has a pre-existing relationship with Chicago GM Gar Forman – Forman was an assistant coach at Iowa State when Hoiberg played there, the school he has been coaching to solid NCAA success. And then there’s the Steve Kerr thing – Hoiberg became something of a 3-point specialist in his 10 NBA seasons with the Bulls, the Pacers and the Timberwolves and shares that slender, blond-haired look. And next season he’ll be a rookie NBA head coach seeking something approximating the first-year success Kerr has enjoyed at Golden State. The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson provided some details on the man who will take over for Mr. Thibs:

All that’s left is the official announcement that Hoiberg, 42, will replace Tom Thibodeau as the 19th coach in franchise history, which two sources said is expected no later than Wednesday. The day for Hoiberg’s official introduction is unknown as the two youngest of his four children are finishing school on Monday and he’s recovering from open heart surgery on April 17.

The New York Daily News first reported Hoiberg’s deal is “believed to be for five years and $25 million.” The Tribune couldn’t confirm that independently, but one source said Hoiberg would receive more than the $20 million extension he signed with Iowa State in March 2013, which contains a $500,000 buyout for an NBA job. …

That’s the going rate for recent hires. Both the Knicks’ Derek Fisher and the Warriors’ Steve Kerr have similar deals, while the Thunder gave Billy Donovan $30 million over five years.

Speaking of Kerr, [former Bulls GM Jerry] Krause, who also signed [Kerr] as a free agent in 1993, sees similarities in both their personalities and offensive philosophies. Kerr took over for a popular and successful coach in Mark Jackson and used levity and an upbeat temperament while guiding a team that had won 51 games the previous season to 67 victories and a trip to the NBA Finals.

The Bulls are hoping for a similar injection.

“Iowa State’s offensive is aggressive,” Krause said. “They go after you. Personality-wise, Hoiberg is very straight with you. I don’t think Freddie knows what the word “con” means.”

“He’d earn respect of players right away,” Krause said. “If you don’t respect Fred Hoiberg, you don’t respect people. He’s an outstanding individual and student of the game. He has been in the league. He knows what the league is. He has been an executive. He has been around a bunch of good coaches.

“He improved the team’s character wherever he went because he’s so much a character guy.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The day LeBron James paid an unscheduled visit to watch NCAA Steph Curry. … Allen Iverson is turning 40 years old? Man, where did that time go? A look back. … Go on, you know you want to ask it: Would Golden State be in the Finals if Mark Jackson still were coaching there? … Much-traveled former NBA big man Chris Gatling is in trouble in a credit card scam, and it’s not his first brush with the law. … Basketball shifts to business swiftly as Patrick Beverley and the Houston Rockets head into offseason.

Finally lucky, next challenge for Timberwolves is to be smart


VIDEO: Wolves owner Glen Taylor on winning top pick

It’s better to be lucky than good, the saying goes. But once lucky, it helps to be smart if one hopes to get or stay good.

That’s nobody’s saying, actually, but it is the challenge now facing the Minnesota Timberwolves and specifically Flip Saunders. Saunders, the team’s president of basketball operations, a part-owner and the Wolves head coach, got lucky at the NBA Draft lottery Tuesday night largely by being the opposite of good. The Wolves were b-b-b-b-bad to the bone this season, diving to the bottom of the league’s standings (16-66) with the single-mindedness of a bomb squad. They got rewarded when their 4-to-1 bet came in.

Now Minnesota not only has the No. 1 pick in the 2015 Draft for the first time in its 26-year franchise history, it likely will become the first team in NBA annals to have on its roster the three most recent No. 1 picks overall: Anthony Bennett (2013), Andrew Wiggins (’14) and either Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns, the two big men projected as this year’s top prospects.

All of which guarantees nothing. Since 1995, only two of the 20 players taken No. 1 overall have won NBA championships: Tim Duncan (1997, five) and LeBron James (2003, two). Eight never made it to an All-Star Game (six if you don’t count youngsters Bennett and Wiggins).

Stockpiling top picks is less important, it seems, than seeing talent and fit where others do not with later picks. It’s a formula executed masterfully by San Antonio and, as Britt Robson of MinnPost.com points out in a piece citing past misguided Wolves decisions, it looks to be working well for current title favorite Golden State:

It is by now an infamous part of Wolves lore that the team passed on Golden State guard and reigning MVP Stephen Curry (twice!) in the 2009 draft, taking Ricky Rubio with the fifth pick and Jonny Flynn with the sixth before the Warriors gleefully snapped up Curry.

But it is more instructive to look beyond Curry on the Golden State roster to appreciate how shrewd drafting fostered the 67-win team that now leads Houston in the conference finals and is the favorite to become NBA champions this season. You can go back to 2005, when the Warriors plucked Monte Ellis in the second round with the 40th overall pick. Seven years later, Ellis had become such a dynamic scorer that Golden State offered him as the main bauble in a five-player deal that enabled them to acquire Andrew Bogut, the top pick in 2005 and a current anchor of their low post defense.

Or go to the 2011 draft, when the Warriors, choosing eleventh, grabbed the shooting guard, Klay Thompson, who made Ellis expendable. The Timberwolves picked second in that draft and chose forward Derrick Williams, who was traded away for peanuts (specifically, Luc Mbah a Moute, who lasted 55 games in Minnesota) two years later.

Then slide up a year to the 2012 draft. The Warriors took their current starting small forward, Harrison Barnes, with the seventh pick. They acquired their current backup center, Festus Ezeli, with the 30th pick. And they grabbed their current power forward, Draymond Green — who just finished second in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting — with the 35th pick in the second round.

After recounting Minnesota’s sorry history of botched personnel calls, Robson snaps back to the present. On the heels of two fortunate outcomes – getting Wiggins last summer for one final season of Kevin Love and landing the No. 1 pick next month – he says it’s now on Saunders to maximize return from draft positions where hard work and keen eyes get rewarded against long odds. Specifically, the Wolves need to upgrade from dead last in 3-point attempts and 25th in accuracy.

In his season-ending meeting, Saunders himself brought up the need to become better from long range, and, in answer to my question, said that one of the later draft picks could be a good way to remedy that need. The Wolves currently own the first pick in the second round (31st overall), as well as the 36th overall pick, acquired in the Corey Brewer trade.

[Curry] is the reigning MVP, and had a wonderful game in Tuesday night’s win over Houston. But the most important player on the floor was …Green, the 35th pick in 2012, who keyed the surge with his defense and quickness after Golden State went to a smaller lineup.

Saunders and the Wolves have been uncommonly bold and uncommonly lucky in the past twelve months. At this propitious moment, it is time for this franchise to be uncommonly smart with all of the resources at its disposal.

Blogtable: Lottery team that must get it right at the 2015 Draft?

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: Who wins it all (and why)? | Advice for Doc Rivers? | Lottery team that must get it right?



VIDEORelive the 2015 Draft lottery

> Which lottery team is under the most pressure to nail it on Draft night?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com No reason to scan the list or break a sweat on this one. It’s Minnesota. Whoever they pick – Jahlil Okafor or Karl-Anthony Towns – has to be a hit, a star, eventually an All-Star. This franchise can’t afford a Michael Olowokandi, Kwame Brown, Greg Oden or Anthony Bennett at No. 1, not after waiting the entire 27-season history of the franchise for the right to select first in the Draft, not after a playoff drought dating back to 2004. And whichever of the two the Timberwolves select, he needs to be as good or better than the guy they don’t, because second-guesses have piled up higher than snow drifts at Target Center through the years. After having only two No. 1 picks even play for the franchise (Joe Smith and Olowokandi) Minnesota will have the top guys from the past three drafts — Bennett (2013), Andrew Wiggins (2014) and this year’s choice — on its roster come October. Time to howl for the right reasons, Wolves.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Lakers. Nobody really wants to see Kobe Bryant‘s head literally explode from another losing season.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com Like it’s possible to pick one. I could barely narrow it down to half the lottery. The Timberwolves have to nail it because picking No. 1 comes with a scrutiny that will never go away. The Lakers have to nail it because they have so little to build on heading to the future. The Knicks have to nail it because they have even less than the Lakers. The Kings have to nail it because it’s the first big decision for Vlade Divac as head of basketball operations. The Pistons have to nail it because it’s time to make a move up the East standings. The Hornets have to nail it because this season was a step backward and must be fixed. Against that backdrop, the 76ers already have a future even without knowing how the 2015 pick develops. Talk about strange.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comUh, is this a trick question? After getting squeezed out of the top three, and out of the Big Man Sweepstakes, the Knicks need to make this one count if only to justify such a stinky season. At No. 4 there’s really not much of a decision to make. Just take whomever’s left over between D’Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay, because the Sixers at No. 3 will take one of them. Phil Jackson doesn’t need to overthink it unless he gets a sweet trade offer. Then it gets dicey.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Lakers have Julius Randle and, at the No. 2 pick, the easiest choice in the Draft. The Knicks don’t have any serious talent under the age of 30 on their roster, and, at No. 4, might have a difficult decision. It seems like Emmanuel Mudiay could be the best player available when they draft, but it’s not clear that he’d be a good fit for the triangle offense. This is the first top-five pick the Knicks have had in 29 years and Phil Jackson‘s record as team president doesn’t look so hot right now. That’s some pressure.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Los Angeles Lakers are off the hook with that No. 2 pick. You simply sit there and let the stud big man the Minnesota Timberwolves pass up fall into your lap. So that leaves the New York Knicks at No. 4 with all of the pressure on Draft night. They’ll have their pick of talented players but not necessarily any transcendent talent. The Knicks don’t have the luxury of just selecting the best available basketball talent at No. 4. They need to identify the one player who projects as both a true difference-maker and one who can come in and pay immediate dividends alongside whatever free-agent haul Phil Jackson is able to round up. But finding a role player at No. 4 won’t do it. The Knicks need to find a future star, an All-Star even, with this lottery pick.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It’s the Lakers, because they’re used to winning, they expect to win again, and they absolutely need a transformational player to emerge from this pick. The other teams at the top of the lottery are not faced with such high expectations.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I can’t believe we’re here again, but right now, the answer to this question is the Knicks. They’re rebuilding, sure, but they’ve traded away some good assets — Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith — and haven’t really gotten much in return. They needed a home run in this Draft, with two potential franchise centers available, and now it looks as though they won’t get either one. Who can they get at the four spot? There are potentially terrific selections available, but the stakes are much higher. Considering this is their only first-round pick in the next two years, they need to get this right.

Wolves get another No. 1 to team with Wiggins, learn from KG


VIDEO: 2015 Draft Lottery Drawing

NEW YORK — There will likely be three straight No. 1 picks on the same roster next season.

The Minnesota Timberwolves won the No. 1 pick of the 2015 Draft at Tuesday’s Lottery, less than nine months after acquiring the No. 1 picks from 2013 (Anthony Bennett) and 2014 (Andrew Wiggins) in a trade with Cleveland for Kevin Love.

Minnesota is the first team to finish with the league’s worst record and win the Lottery since the Orlando Magic did it in 2004. They had a 25 percent chance to win it.

“I didn’t anticipate that it would go this way,” Wolves owner Glen Taylor said afterward, noting that it was far more likely that his team didn’t win the No. 1 pick. “I just feel really honored that we have a chance to be in this position.”

While Bennett is possibly a bust, Wiggins looks like a two-way star. And the Wolves have three more former Lottery picks under the age of 25 – Zach LaVine (No. 13 in 2014), Shabazz Muhammad (No. 14 in 2013) and Ricky Rubio (No. 5 in 2009) – on the roster as well.

They’ll likely add a big man – Duke’s Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns – to that young core. And that young big could have Kevin Garnett as a mentor. Taylor said he expects Garnett, a free agent this summer, to be back, saying that Garnett has already been working out.

“I see that he’s out working really hard to get his knees into shape,” Taylor said. “So I anticipate that he’s interested in coming back. I can’t say that for sure, but I don’t know why he would be out there doing what he’s doing if he didn’t want to come back.”

Taylor also believes that Flip Saunders, currently the Wolves’ president and head coach, will remain on the bench for another year.

“It’s not definite,” Taylor said, “but I think with the effort that he put in this year to bring this team along that it’s probably 90 percent, unless he sees somebody and he changes his mind and he can convince me.

“I think eventually I want a different coach. I want him to be the GM. My guess is that he’ll go another year.”

The New York Knicks, who were the worst team in the league (the spot that won the Lottery) with just five days left in the season, were the only team to move down from their spot on Tuesday. They fell from second to fourth, swapping spots with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Obviously, we would have liked to have a higher pick,” Knicks general manager Steve Mills said, “but we went into this knowing that, anywhere from 1-5, we were going to get a good player. And as we look at this, this is a player that’s complementary to a player that we have in place in Carmelo and what we’re going to do in free agency.”

At No. 2, the Lakers could add the big man that the Wolves don’t pick, teaming him with last year’s No. 7 pick Julius Randle for the post-Kobe-Bryant era, which will begin after next season.

At No. 3, the Philadelphia 76ers should get a guard to feed Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel. But GM Sam Hinkie certainly isn’t going to say that he wouldn’t draft one of the bigs if he was available.

“History’s not so kind to drafting for need,” Hinkie said. “I think, wherever we are, we’ll pay a lot of attention to who we think is the best player and how that looks. Sometimes, it’s close, and that moves some things. And sometimes, it’s not close.

“A year ago, people would have reasonably said we don’t need Joel Embiid. I think we need Joel Embiid and I think what he’ll provide for us will be useful.”

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 …