Posts Tagged ‘Rick Adelman’

Morning Shootaround — April 14


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Changes ahead in Minnesota | Dumars leaves conflicting legacy in Detroit | Gasol’s last ride in Lakerland | Pacers back in control of No. 1 | Grizzlies’ magic number is down to one

No. 1: Timberwolves head into offseason with many unanswered questions – It’s no secret. The Minnesota Timberwolves have a ton of work to do when this season ends, namely figuring out how to proceed with All-Star big man Kevin Love, head coach Rick Adelman and point guard Ricky Rubio. The futures of all three men will be in the crosshairs in the coming months, as the Star Tribune lays out … and if you thought things were sticky with Love, they might be even stickier with Rubio:

Three pending contract situations loom large for the Wolves heading into the offseason:

Kevin Love

Why don’t the Wolves just rip up his contract and sign him to a maximum long-term contract extension right now? Well, because they can’t.

Here are their options after they convinced him in January 2012 to sign a four-year contract that gives him an opt-out clause after three seasons and makes him an unrestricted free agent in 2015:
• They can sign him to a two-year extension in January 2015. It would keep him put until 2018, but he has no reason to accept that because he can sign for twice as much if he waits six months.

• When he opts out in July 2015 — a slam dunk, if you will — they can sign him to a five-year extension, one year longer than any other team. They also can give him larger annual raises, so he would be refusing an extra $26.5 million if he signs a four-year deal elsewhere.

Rick Adelman

Either he or the Wolves can choose to opt out of the final season of a four-year contract he signed in September 2011. Both parties say the issue will be addressed after the season ends Wednesday. There’s a two-week window at season’s end for either side to opt out.

If one side doesn’t exercise the opt-out for next season, the other side almost certainly will. Adelman is 67 and his wife, Mary Kay, has had health issues the past two seasons.

There’s a provision for Adelman to continue as a consultant if he doesn’t return to coach next season.

Ricky Rubio

The Wolves can negotiate a contract extension starting July 1 and they will make it a priority during a window that lasts through October. But this one could get complicated.

If former Wolves boss David Kahn insisted Love take a four-year deal so he could save his one five-year maximum “designated player” slot for Rubio, well, the third-year point guard hasn’t played nearly well enough to deserve it, even if he is finishing the season with a flourish.

Look for the Wolves to position themselves offering something less than the four-year, $44 million deal Stephen Curry signed or certainly the four-year, $48 million contract Ty Lawson received.

Both sides want a deal done, but the disparity between what each thinks Rubio is worth could create a situation similar to those involving Utah’s Gordon Hayward, Phoenix’s Eric Bledsoe and Detroit’s Greg Monroe. All three didn’t sign extensions last fall and this summer will test the restricted free-agent market. Their current teams will have the right to match any offer.

***

No. 2: Dumars leaves behind a conflicting legacy in Detroit – For the better part of his adult life Joe Dumars has given his life to the Detroit Pistons. He’s spent thirty years as a player and executive in the Motor City, living through and helping orchestrate some of the franchise’s highest highs while also being there for some of the lowest lows. Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press shines a light on the conflicting legacy the Hall of Famer Dumars will leave when he walks away, but insists that Pistons fans need to focus on the good that he helped facilitate more than anything else:

Dumars, now 50, treated players fairly, honestly and professionally. He kept them informed if they were on the trading block. He had them to his home, mentored the younger ones, shared laughs with the older ones. There’s a reason you’ve almost never heard a traded or cut player bad-mouth Dumars. That should bring applause as well.

True, the man who built the 2004 championship team has had his stumbles. Nobody now thinks Darko Milicic was worth the second pick in the 2003 draft (although plenty did then). And the 2008 trade for Allen Iverson (although partly about money) was a terrible turn. Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and other recent moves are questionable, but you are limited when you’re a losing team with an impatient owner (more on that in a moment).

Remember, no GM is infallible. Jerry West is considered possibly the best ever. But he left the Lakers (and their L.A. allure) for Memphis, where his first team lost 54 games and his last, five years later, lost 60. The Grizzlies never won a playoff round in his tenure.

Milwaukee’s John Hammond was the NBA’s executive of the year in 2010; this year his Bucks are the worst team in the league. Danny Ainge, hailed as a Boston genius, traded his biggest stars last year; now the Celtics are behind the Pistons.

The job is a roller coaster. The salary cap is insanely frustrating. Dumars has won and lost. But if you think he suddenly lost his keen ability to evaluate talent, you don’t know him or basketball.

***


VIDEO: Joe Dumars is out in Detroit

No. 3: Gasol’s last ride in Lakerland is a somber one – Pau Gasol knows it wasn’t supposed to end like this. His ride with the Los Angeles Lakers included it’s fair share of drama, but it also included two championship parades alongside Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson. It was a glorious time, interrupted lately by drama, injury and losing in ways the Lakers hadn’t seen in … forever. And now comes, Gasol’s walk into free agency this summer, and in the view ESPN‘s J.A. Adande, Gasol’s emotional divorce from a franchise that helped make his career:

He’ll be a free agent this summer, which means this might have been his last home game at Staples Center. It certainly meant he felt the emotional impact. As the game drew to a close he reached toward the seat to his right and tapped teammate Jordan Farmar’s leg to signal that it was time for them to leave. Except Gasol wasn’t really ready to leave. He congratulated his brother, Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, then playfully shoved Marc away so he wouldn’t sweat on Pau’s nice, movie-ticket-taker- burgundy red jacket. He moved on to other players and coaches, stopped to talk to a couple of fans, then chatted with courtside regulars Jimmy Goldstein and Dyan Cannon.

He stopped and signed autographs for fans on the other side of the courtside seats. He leaned in behind a woman who took a selfie with her phone. He entered the tunnel and accommodated more fans who reached through the rails to have him sign programs, hats, tickets and — just when he was ready to cut things off — a fan who dangled a No. 16 Gasol golden Lakers jersey.

Finally he said no mas. 

“I gotta go in,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

He blew the fans a kiss with both hands, bowed and moved on to the Lakers’ locker room.

“I always appreciate the fans,” Gasol said. “You never know. The last couple years when I walked out of this building it’s been emotional. This year it’s been a little bit different because we haven’t been successful as a team, we had a lot of injuries, I haven’t been able to finish the season playing. So I kind of had it more in my mind.

“The last couple of years I didn’t know if I was going to be back. This year with even more reason, because now I’m a free agent. It’s just a way of me appreciating everyone and our fans.”

The fans showed their appreciation, giving him a warm cheer when he was showed on the scoreboard video screen late in the game. Will the Lakers do anything similar — something along the lines of the golden parachute they granted Kobe Bryant? The Kobe contract might actually preclude a Gasol gift by eating up too much salary cap room. Gasol can’t expect to match the $19 million he made this season; he might get about half of that, from what some general managers say. It’s also possible that the Lakers could sign him to a short deal that would give them the possibility of using him as a trade asset next season.

But a multi-year contract would alter any Lakers plans to make a big splash in the 2015 free agent market — or even to bring in the additional pieces the Lakers would need around Bryant and Gasol.

That’s why Sunday was the night for sentiment. Come July 1 it will be all business.

.***

No. 4: Pacers back in charge of No. 1 in the East – For all of the bellyaching that’s gone on in recent weeks and months about the Indiana Pacers and what they haven’t done, here they stand with one game remaining in charge of their own destiny and in prime position to secure that No. 1 seed they’ve been talking about all season. Did we all make too much of their struggles? Or is this just a product of a depressed Eastern Conference? Mike Wells, formerly of the Indianapolis Star and now working for ESPN.com, weighs in:

Patience. Execution. Discipline.

The Pacers didn’t always do those things Sunday afternoon against the Thunder, but they did just enough to move their magic number to clinching home-court advantage throughout the East playoffs to one game with a 102-97 victory. A Heat loss in either of their final two games or a Pacers victory at Orlando on Wednesday will give Indiana the No. 1 seed.

Hard to imagine that after the way the Pacers have played over the past month, huh? “We’re just trying to put together good basketball at this point and hopefully carry momentum into the playoffs, being positive and upbeat about where we are,” David West said.

The talk of being the No. 1 seed has died down from the Pacers after they spent the majority of the season discussing it with anybody who would listen.

Coach Frank Vogel brought it to his team’s attention days before their March 31 game against the San Antonio Spurs.

The Pacers had become too distracted reading their own clips, watching themselves on the highlights and believing stepping on the court would be good enough for them. Success went to their heads, and for a team that got to this point playing with a purpose, that was the worst thing that could happen to them.

Center Roy Hibbert looked around, noticing how teams like the Heat, Thunder and Spurs went about their business. It didn’t take long for him to realize the Pacers didn’t have that same professional approach.

“Most of us have never been in that position before,” West said. “Since I’ve gotten here and most of the guys, with the exception of Evan [Turner], everybody is sort of under-drafted, not drafted or simply passed over. Everybody’s attitude has been with the underdog mind-frame.

“Then you get out front, nobody doubts you because you have a five-game lead and everybody is pumping you up. I don’t think we handled that the best. Only way you can deal with it is to go through it and experience it. That’s what we’ve done.”

Indiana is at its best doing the little things, even if that meant staying silent about its goals: defending the pick-and-roll, talking on defense, moving the ball and having fun playing with each other again.


VIDEO: Indiana’s players talk about their big win over OKC on Sunday

***

No. 5: The Grizzlies’ magic number is down to one for the playoffs – Has it really come down to this, just one more win (in two tries) and the Memphis Grizzlies are in the playoffs for the fourth straight season? Indeed. The Grizzlies miraculous turnaround this season could come full circle with their next win. Ron Tillery of the Commercial Appeal sets the table:

The Griz only need to win one of their two remaining games — either at Phoenix on Monday or against Dallas in FedExForum on Wednesday — and they’ll lock up a fourth straight postseason berth.

“It’s amazing that we’re in this position,” Mike Conley said. “If you would have asked me in November and December, I don’t know. You didn’t know what was going to happen with the year. So we’re happy with where we’re at. We still have a lot of work to do but we’re looking forward to (Monday).”

Memphis moved to a game ahead of Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Phoenix needs to beat Memphis to keep alive its postseason hopes. The Griz, though, own the tiebreaker against the Suns in the season series.

“It’s going to be a playoff atmosphere and that’s what you want,” Griz reserve swingman Mike Miller said. “We are real fortunate. I don’t know if the NBA knew it was going to turn out this way. For us to be able to control our own destiny playing two teams we’re chasing is lucky for us and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Is there a double standard in the Portland locker room for Damian Lillard? … Concerns and excitement abound in Toronto, where the Raptors are chasing the franchise mark for wins in a season on their way to the playoffs for the first time in six years … The season is already over for Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins … Someone in the Nets’ big man rotation will have to sit and wait his turn in the playoffs, and it won’t be Mason Plumlee (if his recent work is any indication)

ICYMI: Steph Curry didn’t get the win but he got everything else he wanted against the Trail Blazers …


VIDEO: Again, the Steph Curry show travels anywhere

Morning shootaround — March 29



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Beverley tears miniscus | LeBron wowed by mega-baseball contract | Not just L.A. on Love’s mind | Curry buries the Grizzlies | Wolves eye Hoiberg

No. 1: Rockets point guard out indefinitely — Houston Rockets starting point guard Patrick Beverley, the man who collided with Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook and tore his meniscus in last year’s first-round playoff series, is out indefinitely after tearing the meniscus in his right knee Thursday against Philadelphia. The Rockets will now have to make do without their top perimeter defender. Our own Fran Blinebury details how Beverley’s absence will affect Houston’s title aspirations:

For a team that has ridden the All-Star exploits of James Harden and Dwight Howard to the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference playoff race, Beverley plays a critical role.

The 25-year-old Chicago native who was drafted and cut by Heat, then toiled overseas in Russia, puts significant bite into the face of the Rockets’ defense.

Jeremy Lin can step back into the starting lineup and give the Rockets offense, but he is not the tenacious, in-your-face type defender that the Rockets will need in the playoffs to go against elite level point guards such as Westbrook, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry and Mike Conley.

While Lin is flashy and creative and can fill up the basket with points when he gets on a roll, it is the just plain down-to-earth toughness of Beverley that often stands out, especially in a backcourt where Harden does not especially like to play defense.
Coach Kevin McHale said it would be 7-10 days before the Rockets would know a timetable for Beverley’s return.

Beverley has played in 53 of the Rockets’ 71 games, missing time with a hand injury. He has averaged 9.9 points in 31.3 minutes while taking over the starting role from Lin this season, but it’s that defensive bite and overall toughness that the Rockets would miss most. Sometimes it’s the littlest pieces of the puzzle that are hardest to replace.

***

No. 2: LeBron would take Cabrera deal — Major League Baseball does not have a salary cap and that means some mighty contracts never even imagined in the NBA become reality. Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera was the latest example Friday when he inked a contract that will pay him $292 million over the next 10 years. It makes LeBron James‘ $19 million this season seem like charitable donation. ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst puts it into context:

“I said ‘wow,’ ” James said before the Miami Heat played the Detroit Pistons on Friday. “I wish we (the NBA) didn’t have a salary cap.”

James will earn $19 million this season with the Heat, tied with teammate Chris Bosh for the ninth-highest in the NBA as part of a six-year, $109 million deal he signed in 2010.

“He’s the best player in baseball, and the best players in each sport should be rewarded,” James said. “It’d be nice to sign a 10-year deal worth $300 million.”

James earns about $40 million per year off the floor in endorsements, most of that coming from his deal with Nike, which reportedly is worth $19 million per year.

***

No. 3: Not only L.A. on Love’s mind? — If Timberwolves double-double machine Kevin Love, set to become a free agent in 2015, makes it clear to management he won’t re-sign, Minnesota president Flip Saunders might be forced to look for a trade. The former UCLA Bruin has long been rumored to be headed for the Lakers, but Los Angeles might not be the only big city suitable to arguably the game’s top stretch power forward. ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

After the league endured the “Dwightmare” and “Melodrama,” get ready for “Lovesick.”

The six-year veteran, only 25 years old, is the apple of just about every team set to have cap space in the summer of 2015’s eye.

Timberwolves president Flip Saunders will do everything he can to keep Love, who is fourth in the league in scoring at 26.3 points per game and third in rebounding at 12.6 per game this season. And Minnesota will have the advantage of being able to offer a five-year extension, versus a four-year deal from any other team.

But if Love makes it clear that he has no intention to re-up with the Wolves, Saunders will be forced to shop Love or risk seeing him walk for nothing in return.

Which is where the Lakers come in.

Love’s ties to L.A. are undeniable. He went to college at UCLA. His father, Stan, played for the Lakers — and coincidentally was on the 1974-75 team, a.k.a. the worst team in Lakers history up until this season, so his son could help make up for that. And Love was born in Santa Monica, to boot.

“You know, my parents live there and they had me there,” Love said of L.A., after his Wolves beat the Lakers for the third time in four tries to win the season series Friday. “It’s not my fault. So, I don’t really care about that right now. I just go out there and play and don’t think about it.”

While Love downplayed his interest, the Lakers clearly could use a player of Love’s caliber to jump-start their rebuilding process. Especially with Kobe Bryant recently putting the screws to management to turn things around as soon as possible so he can contend for another championship in the twilight of his career.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported Friday the Lakers would be willing to trade their upcoming pick in the heralded NBA draft — likely to be in the top half of the lottery — to land Love.

While Minnesota could certainly decide to go that route and hit the restart button, there is no assurance that the Lakers are truly Love’s most desired destination.

A source familiar with Love’s thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com that it’s not just L.A. that is appealing to Love; he’s enamored with the idea of being “big time in a big city,” and that list of potential places he’d seek includes New York and Chicago, as well.

Love himself told GQ in February that his situation in Minnesota might be better than L.A. could offer anyway.

***

No. 4: Curry’s 33 fends off Grizzlies — The Golden State Warriors were minutes away from the No. 6 seed they’ve held for the majority of the season slipping away to the visiting and hard-charging Memphis Grizzlies. Then Stephen Curry came to the rescue yet again. The All-Star swished a 3-pointer and dropped in a scoop shot as the Warriors, playing without forward David Lee and center Andrew Bogut, who left the game in the first quarter, closed out the Grizzlies with a 14-0 run in the 109-103 win. It sent the Grizzlies from the verge of the 6-seed to No. 8. Diamond Leung of the Oakland Tribune was there:

“We’ll never quit and understand we have the weapons to pack a heavy punch at any given time,” Curry said.

Coach Mark Jackson demanded that Curry have the ball in crunch time, and the star guard delivered with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:21 left and a subsequent scoop shot to pad the lead. Memphis could not muster a response, missing its final seven shots.

Marreese Speights added 15 points and eight rebounds in his first start with the Warriors while replacing an injured David Lee (right hamstring strain). The Warriors were still able to grab a 43-33 rebounding edge without their top two rebounders for most of the game, pleasing Jackson with the way his team competed in difficult circumstances.

Bogut was injured after getting kneed and ran the court with an obvious limp before checking out of the game for good with 7:59 left in the first quarter. He did not return and was scheduled to undergo an MRI exam Saturday, according to Jackson.

Jermaine O’Neal had 10 points and six rebounds in 34 hard-fought minutes. Also off the bench, Draymond Green had 12 points and nine rebounds, hitting two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and providing strong defense on Memphis leading scorer Zach Randolph.

“There’s a guy that came into this league, and people probably said, ‘Why is he shooting threes? He should stop shooting threes,’ ” Jackson said. “And he’s winning ballgames with us, knocking down shots and making huge plays on the defensive end. The guy is a tremendous warrior.”

The Warriors would have taken a tumble down the standings with a loss but instead kept pace with the rest of the Western Conference and remained 1½ games ahead of No. 7 seed Phoenix. The win also evened up the season series 2-2 with Memphis, which dropped to No. 8 with the loss.

***

No. 5: A return to the Timberwolves? — Speculation is growing that Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman will invoke his right to opt out of his contract this summer. If he does, the franchise is expected to go after one of its former executives and current Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein provides the background:

If Adelman indeed walks away this time, at 67, there are two natural courses for the Wolves to pursue.

The obvious response is [Flip] Saunders, part-owner as well as team prez, heading downstairs to reclaim his old floor seat to see if he can be the guy who finally brings a halt to the league’s longest postseason drought, which dates to the Wolves’ 2004 Western Conference finals team coached by Saunders.

But that might be too obvious.

There have been no clear-cut signals that Saunders is prepared to leave the executive suite to return to coaching.

There is also another textbook candidate out there for Minnesota to chase with long-standing Wolves ties: Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.

Widely regarded as the most NBA-ready college coach in the game, Hoiberg was a Wolves executive for four years before leaving the pros to coach the Cyclones. It should be noted that Saunders is close with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, as well, but the rumbles out of Sota are getting louder that the Wolves are going to court Hoiberg hard if they, as expected, have an opening.

An opening, rather, that Saunders declines to fill himself.

And all of that makes Friday one of the more pertinent days left on the 2013-14 calendar for long-suffering Wolves fans.

That’s because Hoiberg will be coaching Iowa State against UConn in a Sweet 16 game at Madison Square Garden … and because Saunders will be there watching.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Lakers make (the wrong kind of) history again in epic loss … Anthony Davis leaves game in first quarter with a left ankle injuryVince Carter thinks he’s earned the right to re-sign with DallasKevin Durant scores 29 and streak creeps closer to overtaking Michael Jordan … TNT analyst Steve Kerr is the frontrunner to coach the Knicks under Phil JacksonShane Battier reiterates that he will retire after this seasonDirk Nowitzki‘s mentor and personal coach believes he has three or four high-level seasons left.

Six coaches who did not step up

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mike Woodson explains why the Knicks are playing better lately

From the end of last season through the start of training camp there were a record 13 changes in front of NBA benches. While that large turnover practically preludes a similar number of axes falling this season, the world is becoming an increasingly impatient place and there are more than a handful of head coaches that could — or maybe should — be in their last month on the job and heading toward the door. Here are a half-dozen veterans who did not take charge this season:

Rick Adelman, Timberwolves — Nobody should question the ‘X-and-O’ credentials of the the veteran coach with 1,027 wins and an offensive mind who’s been able to make wine out of water with virtually every team he’s coached. But not in Minnesota. There have been legitimate extenuating circumstances with Adelman’s wife, Mary Kay, battling an illness, causing his focus and attention to be split. For whatever reason, the Timberwolves have not sunk their teeth into his teaching and become the playoff team that the league has expected for the past several years. With All-Star power forward Kevin Love heading toward free agency in 2015 — and the needy, glamor puss likes of the Lakers and Knicks salivating over him — the Timberwolves can’t afford another season of misfiring. There’s a need for a new voice, new direction and new promise if there’s any hope of keeping Love around for the long term.

Tyrone Corbin, Jazz — It made sense at the time when veteran Jerry Sloan abruptly stepped down after more than two decades of running the show in Utah that ownership would want to try to keep the position in the family. Loyal soldier Corbin was the most logical choice for the job. There was a period of transition when the franchise was supposedly shifting from bottom rung playoff contender to laying the foundation of a youth movement. This was the season when that young lineup of Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Trey Burke was supposed to begin sprouting. That hasn’t happened and it doesn’t seem that Corbin has a solid plan of what he wants to or a firm hand on the tiller. The Jazz rank in the bottom third of the league in offensive rating and 29th of 30 teams on defense. That could have the likes of Hayward looking to bolt as a free agent this summer, putting a dent in the building process. While general manager Dennis Lindsey can continue collecting Draft picks and adding talent, it’s now equally important to have a new leader to guide them.

Mike D’Antoni, Lakers — It is not realistic to think that Phil Jackson or the reincarnation of Red Auerbach could have made anything out of a Lakers roster that has been, for all intents and purposes, without Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash from start to finish. Yet even when Bryant was healthy a year ago, D’Antoni couldn’t find a way to make the Lakers offense a comfortable place where Dwight Howard might have wanted to stay and this season he’s been a nettle in the side of veteran All-Star and tireless professional Pau Gasol. Will a new coach be able to guarantee that a 35-year-old Bryant can recapture the magic next season or that Nash can squeeze even one more ounce out of his 40-year-old body? Hardly. But if only to send the message that to perhaps the most spoiled fan base in NBA history, it’s time for the Lakers to write off the D’Antoni era as a mistake and turn the page.

Larry Drew, Bucks – The real question should be what were the Bucks thinking by hiring Drew in the first place? It’s not like a track record of crash and burns in the first and second round of the playoffs in Atlanta made him a shooting star in the coaching fraternity. It’s not as if he’d carved out a reputation as a guy who had a distinctive, proven system for success or made a mark as a turnaround artist. Many of the Bucks’ problems run up through a front office that can’t seem to make up its mind about where it’s going and perhaps to club owner Herb Kohl‘s desire to sell the franchise that furthers a sense of instability. Larry Sanders seems to have gone off the rails and the raw talent of Giannis Antetokounmpo could be at risk if somebody doesn’t take control soon. And on top of all that, the Bucks are the worst defensive team in the NBA.

Monty Williams, Pelicans – Everybody from the New Orleans front office to his former mentor in San Antonio Gregg Popovich will swear that Williams has impeccable credentials and all the know-how to be as fine a young coach as there is in the NBA. Trouble is, he’s now finished up three seasons in the Big Easy and over the last two, there hasn’t been consistent or significant signs of progress. A team that was supposed to be at least a rising contender for one of the final playoff berths in the West has never been competitive. Sure, Anthony Davis is a fledgling superstar, but that’s based overwhelmingly on his own talent, confidence and experience. Yes, there have been a litany of injuries this season, but Williams has not been able to get the Pelicans to embrace or play with the defensive passion that he says is the foundation of his philosophy. They again rank near the bottom (27th) in the league. While GM Dell Demps has not exactly dealt him a full house, there’s a growing sense that Williams isn’t playing his cards right.

Mike Woodson, Knicks — Let’s face it. Phil Jackson didn’t take his new job as Knicks savior to come in and just make a couple of cosmetic changes. As soon as the horn ends on this dismal, underachieving season, the Zen Master pulls the lever, the trapdoor swings open and Woodson and any trace of 2013-14 vanishes. The truth is Woodson lost any real hold on his team and the locker room a long time ago and is only finishing out the season while owner James Dolan was negotiating to bring Jackson in as “The Fixer.” Are the rumors true about Steve Kerr? Could Jackson roll the dice and give wannabes Patrick Ewing or Scottie Pippen a chance? Jeff Van Gundy? Stan Van Gundy? Who knows? But if Jackson is going to have any chance of convincing Carmelo Anthony to stick around in New York because a new day is coming, he can’t try to sell him on the past.

Change your face? Rubio, Timberwolves need to change their fate


VIDEO: Minnesota coach Rick Adelman discusses his team, 3/10/14

Change your face. Be happy. Enjoy.

Aw, shaddup already.

If ever there was a time for the Minnesota Timberwolves to take Ricky Rubio‘s advice, and for Rubio himself to self-medicate, it would be now. But tousling teammate Alexey Shved‘s hair in a quickie pep talk, as Rubio so famously did last year in a game against the Lakers, is one thing. Salvaging an entire season is quite another.

Ricky Rubio (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Ricky Rubio (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Despite protests from fans in Cleveland, Brooklyn, New York and maybe Los Angeles, a persuasive case can be made that the Timberwolves rank as this season’s biggest disappointment. And within the team’s failure to gain traction toward a long-elusive playoff spot, the most disappointing individual has to be Rubio.

Minnesota’s inability to turn Rubio’s ballhandling creativity, All-Star Kevin Love‘s 26-13 relentlessness, Nikola Pekovic‘s strength in the paint and Kevin Martin‘s marksmanship into something much more than a .500 record has been head-scratching.

On stats alone, the Wolves ought to be headed for their first postseason appearance since 2004, back when 27-year-old league MVP Kevin Garnett led them to the Western Conference finals. Based on basketball-reference.com’s “Simple Rating System,” built off a team’s point differential and strength of schedule, Minnesota ranks seventh in the West, comfortably ahead of Dallas, Memphis and Phoenix – the three teams it trails in a desperate stretch run to salvage the season.

The Wolves play at the NBA’s fourth-fastest pace (97.4), rank ninth in offensive rating (108.8) and 13th in defensive rating (104.9), all per NBA.com/Stats. Per basketball-reference.com, their “expected” W-L record is 39-23.

Instead, coach Rick Adelman and his team are facing a steep climb to make the playoffs. If eighth-place Memphis splits its final 20 games to finish 46-36, Minnesota has to go 15-5 just to tie. Phoenix is wedged in there at No. 9, 4.5 games up on the Wolves, which further complicates things.

No wonder some fans in the Twin Cities are wondering if Seattle impresario Chris Hansen can swoop in, cut a deal for the Bucks, move them from Milwaukee and switch conferences with Minnesota all in the next five weeks. (The Wolves would be seventh, a game behind Brooklyn, in the East right now.)

The reality for Rubio, meanwhile, is that this has been a lost season, and for reasons beyond the vicious circle of passing up and failing to make shots.

Granted, that still is a problem – his 36.8 field-goal percentage and 37.3 rate from within the 3-point line has been horrible. The pass-first-and-last Rubio is averaging a career-low 8.8 ppg. The fact that he can’t and won’t score on his own – aside from his underused ability to hit 3-pointers (.347) from certain favorite areas around the arc – is considered a stubborn brake on what otherwise has been a potent Wolves attack. (He is averaging a league-high 2.4 steals, but that’s a stat some coaches dismiss for rewarding gamblers over stay-at-home defenders.)

Lately there has been concern that Rubio and the Wolves aren’t flourishing together because of a disconnect in the way he and Adelman prefer to play. A recent post in the Timberwolves-dedicated blog, Punch-Drunk Wolves, elaborated:

Adelman’s team had just beaten the Pistons in convincing fashion. His starters dominated almost every second they touched the floor. Rubio in particular played well, nearly compiling a triple double (11 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds) in just under 36 minutes of action. Ricky’s 3 turnovers were offset by the same number of steals.

Rather than focus on the positives (which he explicitly said that he was going to do, a moment earlier in response to a question about his bench’s struggles) Adelman went on this vague, critical rant about “this group” that seemed — in context — a lot more like a thinly veiled, direct shot at Ricky Rubio.

If you have been following this Timberwolves season with any interest, you’ve noticed a simmering tension between Ricky Rubio’s playing style and Rick Adelman’s offensive vision.

And:

This year, the offense is much different. Before the season, Adelman publicly challenged Kevin Love to become a facilitator of offense for his teammates. They installed the high-post “corner” (Princeton?) offense that Adelman used in Sacramento and Houston. A typical Timberwolves possession begins with Rubio passing to the wing, who then passes to Love at the high post. Love then surveys the floor for cutters or other scoring opportunities. …

But by running the early offense through Love, Rubio’s best skill is neutralized. He does less dribbling and creating, and more entry-passing and standing. His biggest weakness, scoring, is magnified when defenders shade off of him to help against better scorers like Love and Kevin Martin.

Ricky Rubio is not suited for the offense that Rick Adelman prefers.

And:

If you attend Wolves games, maybe you’ve glanced over at the coach after a Ricky drive to the basket ends in a blocked shot. Or, for a better example, you’ve looked at the bench after a flashy Rubio pass ends up in an opponent’s hands.

Adelman goes ballistic. It’s the one thing other than officiating that gets him visibly upset. Sometimes he puts his hands on his head and shakes around in his seat. Other times he gets up and stomps around. But there is always a visible reaction.

He HATES Rubio’s creative decision making. All he wants is the ball delivered to Love, so the offense can do what it’s supposed to. There are not to be audibles called at the line of scrimmage. And Ricky is all about audibles.

I’m not criticizing here; just observing.

This is a problem that goes beyond any temporary slippage in Rubio’s play. (He’s still 23 and, thanks to injury and lockout, his three NBA seasons translate to about two years’ worth of games so far.) This gets to the essence of what Minnesota is and where it is headed.

Adelman might be gone after this season; that’s the speculation, fueled by his wife’s ongoing health issues even more than the team’s underperformance. If he is, that removes a coach whom Love likes, admires and has a history with. If he isn’t, then Rubio – the other half of the Wolves’ intended inside-outside star tandem – may face continued stunting.

Sixteen months from now, Love will either be gone through free agency or he’ll have re-upped with Minnesota based on a positive sense of the franchise’s future. The missing fifth-year in Love’s current contract that made his 2015 free agency possible might have been, at one time, intended for Rubio. But he’s looked nothing like a franchise guy.

So, with just a few games remaining before things really get serious, Minnesota’s biggest pieces all are in play.

Change your face? Change your fate.

Might Saunders See Timberwolves’ Answer In Mirror?


VIDEO: Wolves coach Rick Adelman talks about disappointing loss to Kings

Sometimes it’s the malaise that gets you, not the disaster.

When things go haywire for an NBA team – when the losses come four or five in a row, the locker room sours and both parties in the coaching/playing relationship hit the mute button – grabbing at a fix is relatively easy. You change up everything, or as close to that as possible, turning whatever dials and pulling whatever levers are available. Downside is minimal because desperation equals justification, and the alternative to trying anything is doing nothing, at which point a wink-wink about tanking becomes the last refuge of scoundrels.

Malaise is trickier. Malaise is less the presence of awful than the absence of OK. It’s that pervasive uneasiness, that general sense of something lacking in the strategy, on the roster or in their hearts. It is sputtering along two games below .500 almost halfway through the schedule, and burrowing back down each time they break the surface. It is the lack of legit winning streaks, and awkward losses to losers.

Malaise is offense without defense, talent without leadership, instructions without inspiration, velvet glove without iron fist. It is the Minnesota Timberwolves right about now.

Losing at home to Sacramento and slipping to 18-20 Wednesday night was merely the latest symptom of a season gone sideways. And as the Wolves face another challenge Friday in Toronto against the resurgent Raptors (7 p.m. ET, League Pass) and former coach Dwane Casey, the bright spot is that at least they’re not at home, where Minnesota has dropped four of its last six and, according to Andy Greder of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, things have turned – worse than hostile – apathetic.

Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic dribbled the ball a couple of times between free throws Wednesday night; the bouncing ball seemed to echo throughout Target Center.

“Wake up!” one fan yelled from behind the Wolves’ bench between those free throws in the fourth quarter.

The Wolves started the night by hitting the snooze button and trailed the rebuilding Sacramento Kings by 10 points entering the fourth quarter.

“It was dead,” Wolves guard J.J. Barea said. “Couldn’t hear anything out there.”

Flatlined is as flatlined does, and the Wolves are kidding themselves if they think a raucous home crowd is going to save them. If it’s cause-and-effect they’re seeking, it’s going to have to start with them rather than the fans. In the mirror rather than in the stands.

What was billed as a breakthrough season has been anything but. The purging of David Kahn as chief basketball executive was followed almost immediately by a bungled draft night that played almost as homage (the No. 9 pick parlayed down for Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng). The guy the Wolves took and traded to Utah, point guard Trey Burke, has been better than both of them, and the equal of zestless Ricky Rubio, who has been playing as if his dog is lost, shrinking in lockstep with his shooting percentage.

A season in which Kevin Love‘s commitment to the franchise and to the market was supposedly reaffirmed, to hear new Wolves president Flip Saunders tell it, mostly has ground on, leaving Love in an emergency-exit row, window seat, for 2015. The roster is full of nice guys without much bark, never mind bite – despite Pekovic’s oft-noted “Bond villain” appearance – and the saltiest guy on board, the smallish Barea, wouldn’t scare a chessmaster.

As a result, the Wolves have been wandering through the hinterlands in January, jumper cables in hand, the battery in their jalopy pretty much dead. If head coach Rick Adelman has said it once – “I don’t know who we think we are” – he has said it a dozen times, a reasonable guess given his team’s 0-11 record in close games (four points or less).

The malaise, mind you, is starting to stick to Adelman, too. His methods haven’t noticeably changed any more than his postgame material, making him appear more detached from the situation than he might be. Benchings? A revised rotation? Less adherence to corner-3 tactics? A heightened commitment to defense – not just from Corey Brewer or Luc Mbah a Moute but by all five on the floor at any time, including two Kevins (Love and Martin)?

Adelman has more NBA know-how in his proverbial little finger than the Wolves franchise had for several years prior to his arrival in 2011. But his ongoing frustration – “It almost takes an act of Congress for us to go out and foul somebody. You have to get after people in this league,” he said after the Kings loss – is reminding folks that he re-committed late to this team last fall (after his wife’s illness last season). Adelman will turn 68 in June and the longer the Wolves bump along, the more out of sync they’ll look with their head coach’s timeline.

Which gets us to the elephant that recently squeezed through the door.

Adelman is one of the most accomplished coaches in NBA history. He has 1,020 victories and has taken his teams to the playoffs 16 times in 25 seasons. But he happens to have a boss in Saunders who won 638 games and took 11 of his 16 teams to the postseason. When Saunders was hired last spring, he said he no longer craved the sideline and he can argue persuasively that he not only has a better, safer job now but a less consuming one as well.

From the start, Saunders has said the right things: “I will be the general manager that most coaches want. Because I understand what it is like to sit in that seat.” But he also has a distinctly different, more enthusiastic personality than Adelman. Saunders isn’t big on confrontations or conflicts but he’s a closer when it comes to confidence. His willingness to sell, sell, sell came through in a recent Q&A with MinnPost.com’s Britt Robson:

Part of coaching is managing frustration. Unfortunately that’s we have to do. We have to continually get ourselves up the next day and present a front to the players, a very confident front, a front that we are not in a panic situation.

Until they are, anyway.

So Minnesota finds itself in a predicament that is more than vaguely familiar. Nine years ago, a Wolves team desperate to improve on its prior year’s performance meandered through the season’s first half. A skid of seven losses in eight games left them one game under .500 (25-26), at which point the team’s general manager (Kevin McHale), with owner Glen Taylor‘s blessing, reluctantly fired the head coach and took over on the bench himself. Minnesota went 19-12 under McHale the rest of the way but it wasn’t enough; the Wolves finished ninth in the West and still haven’t been back to the playoffs.

Back then, Saunders was the coach. This time he’s the “GM that most coaches want,” but with a tiny sliver of minority ownership and an impatience with what’s playing out right now.

It might not happen and, given the pitfalls inherent in breaking down that today vs. tomorrow wall between administrating and coaching, it probably shouldn’t. But it has to be tempting in the midst of a malaise.

Timberwolves Still Finding It Tough To Close The Close Ones


VIDEO: Kevin Love talks to the media after the Timberwolves’ loss to the Suns

Burdened by a failure rate in close games that soon might wrap itself constrictor-style around the team’s entire season — 0-10 in games decided by four points or less, 1-18 going back a full calendar year — the Minnesota Timberwolves might want to try something daring the next time they have a comfortable late lead:

If they find themselves up six or seven points and the game clock under, say, five seconds, they use a timeout to lay a red carpet around the 3-point line. Invite the other guys to hoist one final bomb, uncontested from long range, in the hope that they’ll hit it. Ideally, there won’t be enough time for the opposition to turn that last gasp into a serious comeback and the Wolves will let some air out of what’s becoming a burdensome dark cloud over their season.

It’s bad enough that Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and the rest of coach Rick Adelman‘s squad have been spinning their wheels like a Camaro in a Minnesota snownami – they’re 0-8 in their attempts to push over .500 since slipping below on Nov. 27. Now these repeated failures at winning the sort of tight games wannabe playoff teams need come April is threatening to fray more than just some postseason ambitions.

After Kevin Martin‘s veering layup dropped off the front rim Wednesday night at Target Center in the 104-103 loss to Phoenix, a cranky Love called out some teammates for their demeanor:

“We can’t have two guys sitting at the end of the bench that play good minutes just sitting there and not getting up during timeouts,” Love said, referring to the poor body language exhibited by veterans J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham in the fourth quarter. “We all need to be in this together. That kind of [ticks] me off. We’re supposed to be a team.”

The Timberwolves (17-18) are anything but a team right now. They are a collection of individual agendas tripping each other up as the franchise pursues its first playoff bid since 2004.

And:

“It’s two guys that we expect more from them,” Love said. “I think they expect more from themselves. I’m not trying to single anybody out and I don’t want to make it bigger than it is, but it’s just a team that we needed to beat tonight and we needed everybody in there, even guys that didn’t play any minutes. We need to have a team and a bench that’s really in it together.”

The tension is mounting. After the two-point home loss to Dallas on Dec. 30 – the game in which Shawn Marion‘s foul on Love’s game-tying shot wasn’t whistled until the following morning – the All-Star power forward criticized the bench for its five-point, 2-of-12, nine-turnover performance in 58 combined minutes. Five days later, it was Love bricking four free throws at the end of their 115-111 loss to the Thunder (with the bench again chipping in five points).

On Wednesday, the Wolves’ second unit won its matchup 29-27 but Love had a poor game (15 points, 4-of-20, 12 rebounds but just one assist). Minnesota got outscored 7-0 over the final 1:51 to yank that one out of its 17-8 “split” in games decided by five points or more.

So what is behind all the late-game gaggery? It’s dicey to allege that the Wolves are choking because “choke,” like its flip side “clutch,” are oft-challenged concepts these days in the sports world.

Another reason to tread lightly on what might be a mostly random occurrence is the belief that, if this were diagnosable, it would be correctable. An operation (like Minnesota or any NBA squad) deep in basketball wisdom and financial resources would find a fix before racking up this 0-10 mark.

What’s left, then, are largely theories, several of which the Wolves probably will poke and prod in search of answers. Such as:

  • Inexperience in such circumstances. Uh, 1-18 over a 12-month period seems like ample opportunity to learn something.
  • No proven go-to guy. Seriously? With Love and Martin on the floor?
  • Predictable play-calling in such situations. This is Adelman we’re talking about, folks, a Hall of Fame-bound coach with 1,019 victories and fat stack of kudos for his offensive wiles.
  • Nervous ballhandling. Minnesota did have four of its 12 turnovers vs. Phoenix in the fourth quarter, two in the final 46 seconds. Rubio threw the ball recklessly while in the air headed out of bounds with 24.9 seconds left. But as the Wolves’ primary ball handler, Rubio is not worse late in games (15.6 of his turnovers and 16.9 percent of his minutes come after the third quarter) or in close ones (51 percent of his turnovers, 50.1 percent of his minutes with margins of five points or less).
  • Lack of referee respect. Well, yeah, that one night. And the Wolves don’t have a glamour rep or, depending on what you think of Love, a marquee name like James, Durant or Anthony. But Martin merely dealt with the usual end-of-game traffic in the lane Wednesday.
  • Leadership. That’s it, the Wolves just need another traffic cop pointing and growling directions when everyone else’s heart is in his throat. Come to think of it, Love might need to seize that role more.

More likely, at this stage, they need something cool, the way Joe Montana lifted pressure off hjis 49ers teammates late in Super Bowl XXIII when they trailed Cincinnati 16-13 with 3:20 left in the game.

Longtime Minnesota sports fans might recall what the MLB Twins went through in the mid-1980s, when alleged closer Ron Davis got into an ugly run of pouring gasoline on ninth-inning leads. A collective mental block seemed to develop, certainly a bad case of group pessimism, and after blowing a 10-run lead to Cleveland in late September 1984 to crater out of a division race, third baseman Gary Gaetti famously said: “It’s hard to throw with both hands around your neck.”

That ball club was a frazzled mess by the end, unable to exhale. This Wolves team is headed that way, with six of its next nine on the road and 29 rivals convinced that, when facing Minnesota, merely staying close is the surest path to victory.


VIDEO: The Suns rally to overtake the Timberwolves in Minnesota

Love Gets Call This Time, But Same Result


VIDEO: Durant takes over in the fourth to lead Oklahoma City

There is no truth whatsoever to the rumor that the NBA’s league office issued the following statement following the late foul call near the end of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 115-111 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday night at the Target Center:

NEW YORK, Jan. 5, 2014 — Through postgame video review, we have determined that Minnesota’s Kevin Love was, in fact, not fouled on his 3-point attempt with 2.2 seconds left and his team trailing 113-111. After all, when Love missed the first two free throws and even intentionally missed the third, the result was no different than if his 3-pointer had bounced off and been grabbed by Oklahoma City.

Oh, and that review-and-reversal from Monday night? We take that back too.

If Timberwolves fans want to find a sliver of silver lining in the Thunder loss Saturday, they might reconsider how badly – or not – their favorite team got jobbed when Shawn Marion‘s swipe at Love’s 2-pointer in the closing seconds Dec. 30 against Dallas. Yes, the NBA admitted, Marion did foul Love on his right arm and Love should have shot two free throws with one second left, giving him a chance to tie at 100-98.

But who’s to say the Wolves’ power forward would have made both, or even one? The surreal moment Saturday when Love shot and missed three times with a chance to tie or win against OKC suggests he might have come up short – or flat, as his attempts Saturday looked – against the Mavericks as well. There’s at least a little more doubt now that Love and Minnesota automatically would have forced overtime.

Then again, even if Love had bricked one or both against Dallas Monday, the officiating crew getting the call right would have provided him with recent familiarity for what he wound up facing Saturday. And to a man, the Minnesota club seemed quite comfortable with him getting yet another chance. “I’ll take K-Love in that situation no matter what,” Corey Brewer said. “he missed them tonight. Next time he’ll make them.”

Love’s confidence hasn’t been rattled, that’s for sure, as noted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“Just missed them,” said Love, who missed four consecutive free throws in the final 27 seconds. “I’ll put me on the free-throw line every single time. First time in my career in a situation like that where I’ve missed four straight. I’m an 80-85 percent free-throw shooter. Tonight it didn’t fall.

“I’m sure people will say what they have to say. That’s fine. In this league, you come back. You try to fight the next day.”

Said Wolves coach Rick Adelman: “It’s just one of those things. It happens to the best of players.”

The finish obscured the overall quality of the contest, particularly Kevin Durant‘s monster scoring performance: 48 points on 16-of-32 shooting with 23 points in the final quarter of a game in which he logged 42:51 minutes. Love scored 30 with 14 rebounds and Nikola Pekovic had 31 and 11, and OKC rookie Steven Adams had 10 and 9 off the bench in 15:32.

Oh, and lest anyone objects by saying Love’s final miss Saturday was intentional, know this: Yeah, it was intentional. But missing the rim entirely was not intentional. If the idea is to put the ball on the rim so that it rolls or bounces off to set up a tip-in or buzzer-beater, then banging the ball off the glass without touching the rim qualifies as a miss in our books here at HTB headquarters.

Frankly, if the analytics smart set wants to track something new, I’d love to see the numbers when NBA players are actually trying to miss their free throws intentionally. This is purely anecdotal, but a high percentage sure seem to miss the rim entirely via airball or glass-only – or inadvertently put them in. It’s such a contrary act compared to all their training and practice.

A final irony of Love’s late misses was how they contributed to a telling deficit at the foul line. Minnesota had been outscoring opponents by 8.7 points per game on free throws, the biggest gap since at least 1970-71. The Wolves were running a bigger surplus than the 1981-82 Denver Nuggets (7.8) or the 1985-86 Philadelphia 76ers (7.1).

So what does OKC do? Outscores Minnesota 27-18 from the line Saturday, including 10-3 in the fourth quarter. When a foe takes away one of your greatest strengths – Durant shot 12-of-13 and the rest of the Thunder who toed the line were perfect – you’re in for a long night.

Love’s free-throw adventure at the end just made it feel a little longer.

Rubio 2014 Resolution? Shoot More, Shoot Better

VIDEO: Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio reaches an assist milestone

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Hitting the new year a game below .500, the Minnesota Timberwolves (15-16) know the work facing them in 2014 dwarfs whatever they accomplished in 2013. Father Time hasn’t been kind in recent seasons to that franchise, and that New Year’s Baby will get whiny awfully quick unless the Wolves get busy and get better, fast.

The same goes for their point guard, Ricky Rubio.

Like his team, Rubio still gets talked of more for his potential than his production or overall play. In fact, the plateau onto which Minnesota appears to have settled owes much to the Spanish plain on which Rubio’s game rests these days. Were he playing better – specifically, posing more of a scoring threat to the opponents that are loading up on Kevin Love and Kevin Martin – the Wolves would be, too.

It’s disappointing enough that Rubio’s offensive game hasn’t grown. What’s worse is that it seems to be regressing. After making a mere 35.9 percent of his field goal attempts in his first two (partial) seasons, Rubio is shooting 34.5 percent in 2013-14. His 3-point accuracy (33.9) is about where it was as a rookie (34.0), after last season’s 29.3. But that means his 2-point prowess (34.7) is in decline.

And here’s the worst part: Rubio appears to be shying away from the very thing he needs to improve. As a rookie, he put up 9.5 shots per game. That dipped to 9.0 after he returned to the court in December 2012 following his ACL/LCL knee rehab. Now? The 6-foot-4 playmaker is averaging 8.1 FGAs, including just 17 in his last four games prior to Wednesday’s contest vs. New Orleans. (Per 36 minutes, the drop is greater: from 10.9 last season to 9.1.)

Look, most of us tend to avoid things we’re not good at or confident about. But this cries out for some sort of resolution for Rubio and the Wolves, maybe an intervention. It’s an impediment to his game individually and it’s a missing link in their attack.

Historically so, actually. Get a load of the NBA’s worst shooters of the past 37 years. Is it merely a coincidence that five of the 10 biggest rim-denters, per basketball-reference.com, played for the Wolves (Rubio, Keith McLeod, Eddie Griffin, A.J. Price, Darrick Martin)? Probably, sure. Then again, Martin was Minnesota’s player-development coach for a couple recent seasons.

The Wolves still cite Rubio’s knee injury in March 2012 for the hiccup in his improvement. He has played only 129 games in parts of three seasons.

“I think physically he’s OK. It’s just trying to get a feel for the game,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said last weekend. “He’s a young player who’s figuring out how to be effective in this league. People talk about how he’s not scoring and he’s ‘not doing this.’ But he’s in the top five in assists and in the top five in steals. Y’know, you’ve got to give him some time to get into the other things. It’s just going to take him a little bit longer, I think, because of the layoff at the end of the first year and the start of the second year.”

Adelman knows there is much work to be done. In the summer for Rubio, before and after practices, even in games. Assuming the coach is OK with some on-the-job shooting work.

“Definitely, any guard in this league, you’ve got to be able to knock down shots,” Adelman said. “If he can start knocking down shots from 15 or 17 feet… He’s actually shooting the ‘three’ better than he did last year but he’s got to be able to make that mid-range shot.”

Rubio’s ability to see teammates and make highlight passes ranks near the top in the NBA. But he admits he hasn’t been as aggressive as he needs to be in seeking his scoring chances.

“It’s something that I’ve been working on my whole career,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not. But it’s something that I have to keep my confidence up. Maybe it’s bad because I’m thinking more, as a point guard, to pass first and then my shot is the last thing I think of. It’s something that I have to do better and I’m trying to do that.”

In the chicken-or-egg dilemma between shooting better-and-shooting more vs. shooting more-and-shooting better, teammate Corey Brewer is a believer in the latter. Brewer’s no Kevin Durant but in his first three NBA seasons, he took 8.2 shots per game and made 40.8 percent. Since then, he’s attempting 9.7 and hitting 42.9 percent.

“You start learning how you can score and how you can’t score,” Brewer said. “Especially him, with the ball in his hands, it’s going to make him that much better.”

Rubio won’t turn 24 until October. He has time. But his PER of 15.0 means he’s merely average these days, not the franchise guy for whom Minnesota might have been reserving that special fifth year in a contract extension.

And just as the Wolves aren’t content with being League Pass darlings anymore – entertaining across 82 but done when the networks take over in the postseason – Rubio can’t be satisfied by the highlights he logs on NBA arenas’ videoboards. The points he puts next to them, on the scoreboard, matter too.

Scoring Title Long Shot For Love


VIDEO: GameTime examines the controversial ending against Dallas

When it was over, after Shawn Marion had raked Kevin Love‘s right arm to thwart what might have been the game-tying jumper while somehow avoiding the whistle that could have delivered those points from the line, all Love and the rest inside Target Center could do was stare. And smile, in the bewildered Love’s case, or bark the way Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman and so many fans did at the referees exiting the court as swiftly as the Dallas Mavericks. (Even the NBA, early on Tuesday, had to admit that their guys had messed that one up.)

It was a painful end to an inferior performance by Minnesota (a 21-point deficit prior to the scramble back, just five points from Wolves reserves, vaporish defense enabling Marion’s 32 points).

It also was Exhibit A in the case against Love ever leading the NBA in scoring.

Kevin Love

Kevin Love (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

That possibility came up over the weekend as Love kept plugging against Washington and Milwaukee on a streak of scoring at least 25 points in 11 consecutive games, the NBA’s longest this season (and longest in Wolves franchise history). With 33 against the Bucks Saturday and 36 against the Mavericks Monday (never mind the phantom two and however many more in an overtime that never happened), Love (26.5 ppg) has pushed to No. 2 behind Kevin Durant (28.5). New York’s Carmelo Anthony (26.3) is third, followed by LeBron James (25.5) and Paul George (23.9).

Love wrapped up December with monthly numbers of 30.0 ppg, 13.7 rpg, 4.2 apg while shooting 50 percent overall and 44.2 from 3-point range. That might earn him some Player of the Month love, but it doesn’t change the debate over his shot at scoring title.

Because of, well, Exhibit A.

“I wonder what that would have been if [Dirk] Nowitzki, LeBron James, all the top players in the league – a guy reaches on a last-second shot like that, instead of challenging it. Maybe they don’t understand that Kevin is one of the top five players in the league,” Adelman said.

Maybe ref Ed Malloy didn’t appear to on that final play Monday (Malloy was close but on the far side from Love’s right arm and Marion). Still, Love shot eight free throws in the game, most by anyone on either side. (Nowitzki shot three in 33 minutes and Minnesota never bothered to put Marion on the line at all.) He ranks sixth in the NBA with 230 free throws attempted (and third with 191 makes).

For Love, that’s an average of 7.66 attempts per game. Among the scoring leaders, that’s fewer than Durant (9.26) but more than Anthony (7.25), James (7.13) or – this will get Frank Vogel going – George (5.75). But when a fellow earns those whistles matters, too, and if Love – big strong guy who, in those late-game situations, often is hoisting from at or near the arc – doesn’t get the same benefit of the doubt among elite scorers, he’ll have a tough time capturing a scoring crown.

That leads to Exhibit B: The way Love plays. He is a double-double machine in points and rebounds and, of the league’s 11 performances of 25/15/5 this season, Love has eight. Adelman and boss Flip Saunders challenged Love to boost that last number — and Love challenged himself — from what had been a career 2.7 assists. He is doing it, up to 4.2 apg in 2013-14.

Along with leading the NBA in rebounding (13.7), that’s a lot of varied responsibility, beyond what Durant, Anthony or maybe even James has on a given night. The Heat star can play any of the five positions, certainly, but doesn’t have to attend to the glass the way Love does.

Adelman didn’t sound optimistic about a scoring title in his guy’s future.

“I don’t know,” the Minnesota coach said before Saturday’s game. “I don’t think it’s that important. He’s got disadvantages. He plays a lot inside, too – they’ll take things away from you. I don’t even worry about that. If he keeps getting 25 points, I’ll be happy.”

Some of Love’s rebounds are put-backs but, by playing down low, he’s in heavy traffic more than the game’s wing scorers.

Love might have ambitions to add a scoring title to his growing stats-and-achievements collection – he was tickled to win the 3-point in 2012 when he also finished second in rebounding (13.3) – but he doesn’t harbor any illusions.

“It’s tough to say,” Love said after the Bucks game. “As long as Kevin Durant’s in the league, I doubt I’ll ever lead the league in scoring. He’s a monster out there. For me, I just try to be the most efficient player I can be. If I’m in the top five to 10 in scoring, that’s pretty darned good.”

And that seems fine, considering Exhibit C, the history of it all. Shooting guards and small forwards have won the past 13 scoring titles (Durant 4, Allen Iverson 3, Kobe Bryant 2, Tracy McGrady 2, Dwyane Wade 1, James 1). Prior to that, players in those positions had won 13 of 16 (Michael Jordan 10, Iverson 1, Dominique Wilkins 1, Bernard King 1), interrupted only by centers Shaquille O’Neal (1995, 2000) and David Robinson (1994).

In other words, we’ve got to go back to Utah’s Adrian Dantley in 1981 and 1984 for any scoring champ who played power forward and work so heavily in the paint. Before that? Now we’re talking Bob Pettit with a pair of points titles in 1956 and 1959. Otherwise, it’s been smaller, swifter guys, behemoths like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or occasional hybrids (Bob McAdoo, Elvin Hayes).

Love does have one advantage historically over great power forwards past or present: His 3-point proficiency. This season, he ranks sixth in attempts with 196 – more than any of the other Top 5 scorers – and he’s averaging 6.53 3-point shots per game. Among power forwards, according to basketball-reference.com, only Ryan Anderson (four times) and Antoine Walker (three) have done that, depending how you classify Rashard Lewis (twice in Orlando).

At this point, though, on the day after, Love, Adelman and Minnesota probably would settle for cleaning up Exhibit A.


VIDEO: A closer look at the final play of Mavs-Wolves

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 31


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Lakers, Cavs talk Gasol-for-Bynum swap | Rondo to D-League for rehab? | Adelman rails over Wolves’ loss to Mavs | Jazz show more improvement

No. 1: Report: Lakers, Cavs talk Gasol-for-Bynum swap — Disgraced Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum had his best years in the NBA as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. Pau Gasol, the Lakers power forward who has fallen out of favor with coach Mike D’Antoni, could use a change of scenery himself, too. Those factors, plus a looming luxury tax hit facing the Lakers has L.A. pondering a move that would briefly bring Bynum back to Lakerland, if only to help the Lakers’ cap situation in the immediate future. Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelbourne of ESPN.com have more on the deal talks between Cleveland and Los Angeles:

The Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers have had discussions on a trade that would involve Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, league sources told ESPN.com.

No deal is believed to be imminent, but both sides are mulling it over ahead of a Jan. 7 deadline when the second half of Bynum’s $12.25 million salary would be guaranteed. The Cavs suspended Bynum for one game this weekend for conduct detrimental to the team and have excused him indefinitely from all activities, including games.

By trading Gasol in a package for Bynum and then waiving him, the injury-ravaged Lakers could save more than $20 million in salaries and luxury taxes, which could help them maintain financial flexibility heading into the next few summers. A Gasol-Bynum trade would have to include at least one other player and perhaps other assets from Cleveland.

The Lakers have been luxury-tax payers for six straight seasons. While the luxury-tax savings this season — and ability to avoid the repeater tax penalty that kicks in when a team is a taxpayer in four out of five years starting with the 2011-12 season — would undoubtedly help the Lakers’ long-term flexibility, the franchise’s history and organizational culture make that a difficult prospect to consider.

The Cavs have been after Gasol since this past summer, when they had extensive discussions with the Lakers, sources said. Those talks ended when Dwight Howard signed with the Houston Rockets. The Cavs, who have been struggling, are looking to upgrade their roster as they attempt to end a three-year playoff drought.

The Cavs also have had separate discussions with the Chicago Bulls on a Bynum trade for Luol Deng, according to sources. The Bulls are in a similar position as the Lakers, about $8 million into the luxury tax and dealing with an injury-marred season.

Deng, like Gasol, is a free agent-to-be, and such a trade-and-waive deal with Bynum also could save the Bulls in excess of $20 million in salary and taxes this season. However, the Bulls have maintained they do not want to trade Deng and believe they will be able to re-sign him after the season.

If Bynum is waived by the Cavs or any team that might trade for him by Jan. 7, Bynum likely would have multiple offers to join a team as a free agent.

In addition to talks of a Lakers-Cavs swap, Jason Lloyd of The Akron Beacon-Journal has a very in-depth look at why teams like the Knicks, Nets, Clippers and others could possibly pull a similar cap-room saving deal like the one Los Angeles is after:

There are six teams currently over the NBA’s luxury tax and in line to pay significant penalties at the end of the season. While the Cavs search for a trade to unload Andrew Bynum, those are likely their best — and perhaps only — potential trade partners between now and Jan. 7.

No team that actually wants Bynum is likely to trade for him because his contract for this season becomes guaranteed for $12 million after Jan. 7. But a team trying to get under the luxury tax threshold of $71.7 million could trade a hefty salary to the Cavs for Bynum and release him prior to Jan. 7, while Bynum’s cap figure can be reduced to $6 million.

The problem is the Cavs are no longer interested in taking on bad money for contracts that extend beyond this season, so they would either be searching for an expiring contract or it would have to be a player they genuinely like. It’s a narrow window of teams, which is what makes trading Bynum tricky.

If the Cavs don’t find a deal to their liking, they can either release him prior to next week and clear $6 million in cap space leading up to February’s trade deadline or hold onto Bynum, pay him the full $12 million for this season and try again to trade him around the draft. They would have until June 30 to trade him before his $12 million salary for next season becomes guaranteed.

By retaining him and paying him the full $12 million, it would essentially force Bynum to miss the rest of the season and create a $12 million trade chip around the draft.

One more disclaimer, it’s conceivable (though not likely) a non-contender could do the same thing. Another team with cap space could trade for Bynum, slide his $12 million figure into their cap and only have to physically pay him about half of that for the rest of the season. Then they would have a $12 million trade bullet to fire around the draft and until June 30.


VIDEO: The Beat crew chimes in on the Cavs and Andrew Bynum

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No. 2: D-League stint a possibility as Rondo continues rehab — If things go how Celtics coach Brad Stevens plans, the attendance at Maine Red Claws games could soon see a serious spike. Stevens’ star point guard, Rajon Rondo, is continuing to practice with the team, but his return to the lineup remains a ways off. While Boston readies for a West coast road trip. Stevens told Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe that sending the All-Star guard to Boston’s NBA D-League affiliate for additional rehab work isn’t out of the question:

Rajon Rondo practiced again with the Celtics on Monday and is slowly returning to basketball shape and perhaps his rehabilitation may include a stint with Maine of the NBA Development League, according to coach Brad Stevens.

Stevens said Rondo likely wouldn’t return to the Celtics during their five-game West Coast road trip beginning on Jan. 5 but he could spent time with Maine practicing and playing in D-League games before coming back to the NBA.

Rondo has not played since Jan. 25 because of a torn right anterior cruciate ligament.

“I would make that a decision on him and our staff,” Stevens told the Globe following practice at the Celtics Training Center at Health Point. “That is something that has been discussed, probably some positives and negatives to that, but at the end of the day, it is an option as part of his rehabilitation.”

When asked if Rondo would travel west with the Celtics, Stevens said: “And playing? I have not been given any indication he would be playing that soon. It’s going to be on him. Physically, I think he’s looking better and better. But that’s to be expected, you’re going to gain more confidence but I don’t know when that translates to ready to play.”

Stevens former point guard at Butler, Ronald Nored, is a player development coach in Maine and he and Rondo have discussed the possibility of Rondo spending some time there.

“That would be positive,” Stevens said of Nored’s presence with Maine. “The extra practice time they have between games is a possibility, getting a chance to play multiple games in that area is a positive. So there are a lot of positives, getting your legs underneath you a little bit.”

The Celtics have not used their D-League affiliate for rehabilitation over the past few years. The last Celtics regular to see a stint there was Avery Bradley during his rookie season. Little-used rookies Fab Melo and Kris Joseph spent time with Maine last season.


VIDEO: Celtics coach Brad Stevens talks about Boston’s upcoming game against the Hawks

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No. 3: Adelman, Wolves rail about loss to Mavericks — Minnesota has been struggling to get itself over the .500 mark for the last few weeks, but last night’s game against Dallas would have given the Wolves their fifth chance this month do perform that feat. The Wolves found themselves down 21 at one point, but rallied back and had a shot at a game-tying bucket with 3 seconds left in the game. Minnesota worked the ball over the Kevin Love for a baseline jumper, who appeared to be fouled by Shawn Marion, but no call was made. Marion saved the ball before it went out of bounds and the Mavs left with a victory. Afterward, the Wolves — and coach Rick Adelman in particular — lamented the seeming lack of star treatment that Love received, writes Jerry Zgoda of The Star-Tribune:

When it was all over and they had carefully selected their words in attempts to ease their frustration without lightening their wallets, the Timberwolves lamented Monday’s 100-98 home loss to Dallas both because of their astoundingly uneven ­performance and Kevin Love’s still presumably incomplete superstar status.

Afterward, the Wolves ­discussed both how they lacked urgency in a game they had every reason to win and how they were wronged by no whistle when the game was on the line and the ball was in the hands of their star who had already delivered another 36-point night.

While Marion sat in the Dallas locker room, chuckling and saying he committed no foul, Wolves coach Rick Adelman expressed his exasperation.

“He got fouled,” Adelman said. “I wonder what that would have been if [Dallas star Dirk] Nowitzki, LeBron James, all the top players in the league … A guy reaches on a last-second shot like that instead of challenging it. Maybe they don’t understand Kevin is one of the top five players in this league.”

Long after the final horn, Love was asked if he had been fouled. “You saw the replay,” he said.

Then he was asked about Adelman’s comments.

“Of course I agree,” Love said. “I’m the type of person that if you see a foul — an obvious foul — you call it. I thought that was pretty, pretty obvious. Just look at the replay: Without saying too much, you look at the replay and it was obvious he got arm. I didn’t know how to react. I couldn’t, I wasn’t going to yell at him. That wasn’t going to do anything.

“I just walked off the court, just tried to keep my head up.”


VIDEO: Wolves coach Rick Adelman fumes after no foul was called on Kevin Love’s final shot

***

No. 4: Jazz continue to show improvement — With a 1-14 start to the season, the Utah Jazz looked to be headed for perhaps their worst season ever in Salt Lake City. What was lost on many during that putrid start, though, was that the Jazz were playing without their prized rookie point guard, Trey Burke, and were giving major minutes to journeyman point guards such as John Lucas III and Jamaal Tinsley. While Utah hasn’t pushed for the playoffs or anything since Burke has returned, it has looked like a more formidable squad with a brighter future than was seen just a month ago, writes Trevor Phibbs of The Deseret News:

Tanking for lottery position? Not exactly.

After starting the season 1-14, it appeared Utah was headed for record-setting futility. However, with the emergence of rookie point guard Trey Burke, the Jazz have climbed to respectability. Their ascension continued Monday as they closed the 2013 calendar with an 83-80 win over Charlotte at EnergySolutions Arena.

It was the 10th straight win over the Bobcats for Utah, which improved to 9-7 with Burke, Gordon Hayward, Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams and Derrick Favors together in the starting lineup.

“It gives us a lot of confidence winning close games, especially at home,” explained Burke, who scored a game-high 21 points with five assists. “We feel we’re coming together as a team and we’re learning to play with each other more and more. As long as we continue to strap down on defense I think we’ll be good.”

Leading 78-77, Burke hesitated deep into the shot clock, beat Walker off the dribble and iced the win with a scoop off the glass.

“That’s why I went to the basket,” Burke said. “There was about two seconds left and I figured he thought I was going to shoot the shot, but I felt I could get a better shot and I went after it.”


VIDEO:
Rookie Trey Burke talks about his basket to clinch Utah’s win over Charlotte

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Raptors could be making a color scheme change in the future to a black-and-gold look inspired by musician Drake … The Bucks will be without young big man John Henson (ankle) for two weeksKevin Love is the latest of many NBA stars to copy Dirk Nowitzki‘s patented one-legged fallaway jumper

ICYMI Of The Night: As a guard, the 6-foot-4 John Wall is a pretty decent shot-blocker. But who knows what he was thinking when he decided to go up and contest this coast-to-coast dunk by 6-foot-11 Pistons big man Greg Monroe


VIDEO: Greg Monroe posterizes John Wall with a coast-to-coast jam