Posts Tagged ‘Rick Adelman’

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Timberwolves’ History, A Tale of 5 Kevins


VIDEO: Minnesota history, in five guys named Kevin

– San Antonio vs. Minnesota, in Mexico City, Wednesday night (9:30 ET) on NBA TV –

Surnames are for plaques and record books. Nicknames are for broadcasters. But first names are for the fans, in a familiarity bred across years.

You can rough out a pretty rich history of the NBA sticking entirely to some of the greatest players’ first, or given, names: Wilt. Oscar. Elgin. Willis. Julius. Kareem. Moses. Larry. Earvin. Dominique. Charles. Isiah. Michael. Karl. Shaquille. Kobe. LeBron. Carmelo. Amar’e. Dwyane. Dwight.

It helps when the name is exotic, the game is transcendent or, ideally, both. But that’s not always necessary. Consider the Minnesota Timberwolves, where a pretty strong timeline can be drawn entirely through a handful of fellows named, simply, Kevin.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that moniker. A noble line of Kevins has populated the league , from Duckworth, Grevey and Johnson to Porter, Willis and Loughery, not to mention Restani, Kunnert, Edwards and Ollie. There’s a star player in Oklahoma City well on his way to appropriating the name entirely, making Kevin his own the way Kleenex glommed onto facial tissue.

But what are the odds that one franchise could largely trace its heritage across a quarter century through that name? Take Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with a pebble-grained twist, and you have Five Degrees of Kevin, Minnesota style:

KEVIN HARLAN

Harlan (right) with Garnett, 2004

Kevin Harlan (right) with Kevin Garnett, 2004
(David Sherman/NBAE)

The challenge for any expansion team is to make games entertaining even when the team isn’t. Entering the league in 1989 with the Orlando Magic, the Wolves didn’t always manage that (the NBA home-attendance record they set and still hold was based on novelty and the expansive Metrodome seating capacity that first season). But the team’s radio broadcasts were something special, thanks to a 28-year-old “voice of” in his first big-time gig.

Kevin Harlan was one part play-by-play announcer, two parts carnival barker in the Timberwolves’ early, raggedy days. He embraced the role.

“The success of the team in those early years was almost secondary to selling the NBA, selling Michael Jordan, selling the Celtics, selling the return of the league to the Twin Cities,” Harlan said recently by phone, on the road again for a Thursday night TNT doubleheader. “After awhile, it wasn’t the new flashy car anymore. Now the car had some miles on it and it was still getting the same [poor] gas mileage. They had some pretty dark days in there.”

Harlan, son of former Green Bay Packers president Bob Harlan and a one-time airline pilot wannabe, logged his miles for nine seasons as the Wolves’ radio (and occasionally TV) announcer. Strapped with a sputtering basketball operation that lost 60 games or more in five of its first six seasons, Harlan, game host Tom Hanneman, sidekicks such as Quinn Buckner and Trent Tucker opted for irreverence over irrelevance.

They cracked wise on the air, concocted timeout and halftime video bits, conspired to drop “words of the night” into broadcasts for their own amusement, turned the team mascot Crunch into a cult hero and put Twin Cities notables such as music producer Jimmy (Jam) Harris and wrestler-turned-politician Jesse Ventura in guest headsets. When local legend Kevin McHale came aboard after his Boston Celtics career, the antics – and the basketball insight – jumped considerably.

Kevin No. 1, meet Kevin No. 2.

“We knew the team rarely was going to win, and it was on the personality of the broadcasters we had. Certainly McHale,” Harlan said. “He was the kerosene on the fire. He was funny, yet biting and honest – he had everything. He was incredibly insightful and he had the name.

“He really did not care what anybody thought. The league would call our front office and complain about what Kevin was saying, whether he was getting on an official or making fun of a player. It wasn’t like a college frat party, but we knew the address.”

Harlan stuck around long enough to see McHale promoted into the front office and Minnesota make the first two of eight straight playoff appearances. As the team improved, the broadcasts added heft, but Harlan’s personality never waned. He literally would rise out of his courtside chair on some calls. Some of his catchphrases – “No regard for human life!” – linger 15 years after he left for greener network pastures.

“I don’t know if there’s anyone who has the passion, and is so upbeat, as he is every day,” said Flip Saunders, arguably – with owner Glen Taylor – one of the two most important people in franchise history not named Kevin. “Even when they were getting their [butts] kicked here, it was going to be ‘better the next day.’ He’s always been extremely positive in what he’s done and that’s why he’s one of the best in the world.”

Harlan would growl J.R. Rider‘s name. He’d lose it sometimes on Tom “Googly-oogly-otta, baby!” But the one that stuck best was hanging “The Big Ticket” on Kevin Garnett.

“Always electrifying,” Garnett said of Harlan the other day. “No matter what he’s going through, it always seems like he’s in the same playful mood. Refreshing is the word I would use. Not only great to work with but great to be around. A true sense of a friend and a breath of fresh air.”

So you’re good with the “Ticket” thing?

“Absolutely. It’s who I am.”

KEVIN McHALE

Kevin McHale, 2009

Kevin McHale, 2009 (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

The second-most famous son of Hibbing, Minn. – Bob Dylan, after all, calls it his hometown – wanted little more after his Hall of Fame NBA career with the Celtics than to come home, hunt, golf and keep a hand in basketball. A native of the state’s Iron Range and a Big Ten star at the University of Minnesota, McHale initially worked with Wolves big men and soon took a seat next to Harlan.

The team’s worst nights, when the two would largely ignore the game and banter on air between fistfuls of popcorn, often were the best, too.

Then the Wolves nearly got sold to New Orleans in the spring of 1994. Taylor, a billionaire businessman from Mankato, Minn., swooped in to rescue the franchise and persuaded McHale to take the title of assistant GM to Jack McCloskey. By May 1995, he was vice president of basketball operations. For most of the next 15 years, he was the organization’s primary decision-maker on personnel matters

McHale’s first move was a masterstroke. He and Saunders, holding the fifth pick in the 1995 Draft, attended the invitation-only workout of a Chicago high school player trying to become the first preps-to-pros success in 20 years. McHale went for the kid named Garnett.

He courted savvy vets such as Terry Porter and Sam Mitchell, added to the locker room by subtracting trolls such as Rider and Christian Laettner and, in his second draft at-bat, made the right move again by trading Ray Allen‘s rights for point guard Stephon Marbury. For two seasons, Marbury and Garnett were a budding Stockton & Malone or Payton & Kemp.

“I came to Minnesota out of respect to Kevin McHale,” said Porter, now a Wolves assistant on Rick Adelman’s staff. “He was trying to start something and he just gave me the plan: ‘We’ve got some young talent but they don’t know how to win yet.’ He’d been part of a championship pedigree and I’d been a part of really good teams, so a lot of stuff he talked about was changing the culture here.”

With McHale upstairs and former college teammate Saunders on the sideline, Minnesota made eight playoff appearances in eight years and reached the Western Conference finals in 2004 when they gambled by adding mercenaries Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell.

Seven of the postseason trips were one-and-done cameos. The Marbury move backfired and so did other drafts (Ndudi Ebi, Rashad McCants), trades (Ricky Davis, Marko Jaric) and signings (Troy Hudson, Michael Olowokandi, Mike James). What McHale got in return for Garnett in 2007 (Al Jefferson and Celtics discards) got portrayed by some as a sweetheart deal for old Boston pal Danny Ainge. And don’t forget the Joe Smith fiasco, in which McHale at least fell on his sword for the franchise in a 1999 salary-cap violation that cost the Wolves three forfeited first-round picks in four years.

Twice McHale took his turn in the coaching tank, replacing Saunders in February 2005 and Randy Wittman in December 2008. He went a combined 39-55 but showed real enthusiasm for working with players and real acumen for exploiting mismatches and playing to his talent.

Most who knew him as a player and an exec never figured him as an NBA head coach, but he liked it enough to snag, in 20-11, the job vacated by Adelman in Houston. Heading into Wednesday’s schedule, McHale’s Rockets had gone 92-75 and 13-6 this season. They went to the playoffs last spring, while Minnesota’s drought has reached nine years.

“You’ve got to find your team’s strengths, you’ve got to go to that, and I think he’s done that very well,” Adelman said.

McHale’s tenure as Wolves VP has been polished up a bit lately, too. Four seasons of David Kahn in that role – Kahn dumped him as coach in June 2009 – made McHale, in numerous ways, look good. Two of Minnesota’s three core players, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, were acquired by McHale (and were underappreciated by Kahn because of it).

“What can I say about Kev?” Love said. “Mac’s the best. He’s a lot of fun on and off the court. Guy who always kept it light, always kept it interesting. I still look at him as one of my mentors.”

McHale’s best move, of course, remains his first.

KEVIN GARNETT

Rookie Kevin Garnett, 1995

Rookie Kevin Garnett, 1995 (Dale Tait/NBAE)

He’s got a glare most often seen in the moments before a prizefight’s opening bell. Lately, he’s been glowering in a widely circulated headphones commercial, shutting out a world where loudmouths and loyalty do not mix.

Hard to believe, then, that when Garnett arrived on the NBA scene in the fall of 1995, he was a hoops version of Ernie Banks. Or Magic Johnson 2.0. His game didn’t click for half a season, but his personality was a plus from the start for a team that had relied too long on its narrator.

“I had a couple years with Garnett and for whatever reason, we just connected,” Harlan said. “He brought such hope, and with hope comes enthusiasm, and that certainly came out in the broadcast. You knew this kid was going to be something and that Kevin and Flip had a handle on things and it was an ascending situation.”

The joy of basketball was evident in Garnett’s smile, in his words, in the spring in his coltish game.

“I think when he first came in, he was just so happy where he was in life,” Harlan said. “He was on an NBA floor with Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan. It was fun for all the right reasons.

“Once he began to win, I think he looked around the league at other people who won and he saw serious people. He saw Jordan, he saw serious-minded people who felt every night was a war.”

Some would say Garnett felt pressure living up to the $126 million extension he leveraged after just two seasons (and from the blame it got for triggering the 1998-99 lockout). Others saw frustration from all those first-round exits and McHale’s inability to put a supporting cast around him like Tim Duncan had in San Antonio.

While his demeanor changed, Garnett’s game abided. He strung together 20-10-5 seasons, six of them from 1999 to 2005, while earning one MVP (2004) and arguably meriting another (2003).

Garnett logged crazy minutes and played hard at both ends. As the disappointments mounted in the team’s post-playoffs, too-many-coaches-and-teammates period, he kept media and fans at arm’s length and started checking out of bad seasons early, some minor ailment cutting short his last two Wolves seasons.

He fought the trade to Boston almost to the end, his sense of loyalty out of sync with the business of sports and even his own best interest. What he wound up with was an instant living-well-is-the-best-revenge tale, winning his long-sought championship in his first season out of Minnesota.

Garnett, 37, now is in Brooklyn in what has been a miserable six weeks. He remains the greatest player in Timberwolves history.

“I’ve never been around anyone who has the passion that he has to play,” said Saunders, back now as Wolves president of basketball operations. “He’s such a perfectionist … he’s one of the few guys you can put into a locker room and he’ll change the whole culture of a team.”

In Brooklyn’s recent visit to Target Center, Garnett and Love battled all night, the former Wolf picking up a technical for whacking at the current Wolf’s arm. Love’s team won and he posted the better stats line, but he said afterward he was happy not to catch Garnett (who had dominated their matchup two years earlier) in his prime.

“Garnett is another guy I grew up watching,” Love said. “Obviously I tried to emulate him but being 7-foot-1, as big as he is, that’s definitely tough to do. He’s a Hall of Fame player who, as far as effort goes and passion for the game, a lot of people should look up to.

“When he really locks in on defense, there are very few who can match that. Most of the time, he’s going to play better defense than you’re going to play offense. He’s that good.”

The fellow speaking, if you’re counting, was Kevin No. 4.

KEVIN LOVE

Kevin Love, 2008

Kevin Love, 2008 (David Sherman/NBAE)

People might forget that Love broke the news of McHale’s ouster on Twitter back in June 2009. “Today is a sad day…” the young forward Tweeted, fresh off his rookie season.

He and the man who dumped McHale never saw eye-to-eye on much after that. When Love’s $61 million contract extension in January 2012 was capped at four years, rather than the five for which he was eligible, what was left of a smoldering bridge between Kahn and Love was ablaze again.

Then there was Kahn’s – and to be fair, others’ – assessment that, if Minnesota were going to become a legit title contender, Love would need to be the team’s second- or third-best player. Even if that was meant to highlight the Wolves’ need for a go-to shot creator, it seemed to patronize his spectacular abilities as a scorer and rebounder, along with his burgeoning 3-point game.

Love, for his part, found the backhanded compliment within.

“Have they not looked at the guys who are the third-best player on championship teams?” he said. “OK, that’s Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, perennial All-Stars. You look at Boston [recently], that’s Ray Allen and Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett. And what, [All-Star point guard Rajon] Rondo‘s the fourth link?

“I think that’s overrated. To win at a high level, especially to compete for a conference title or an NBA title, of course you have to have great players. Right now, we have to be more of a Dallas from 2011, a team where it all comes together. But I do look at myself as the leader of the team. I like having that on my shoulders. It’s something I always wanted. But now I think we have the personnel to really make some noise.”

Love twice has been an NBA All-Star. He earned an Olympic gold medal in London in 2012 and he’s been in the early-season conversation among MVP possibilities (23.7 ppg, 13.6 rpg). But the opt-out in his contract after next season already has rumors circulating and Minnesota fans fearing the worst. Every national media mention is vetted for signs that Love will be looking to play elsewhere in 2015.

But Saunders isn’t Kahn. And he isn’t worried.

“Kevin is extremely vested in where we’re at,” he said. “He’s one of the top five or 10 players in the NBA, and the most important thing is to have your best player committed to what you’re trying to do. I’d say that us being able to [achieve] that is as important as anything, since I came in here.”

An inveterate schmoozer, Saunders has sought out Love’s advice on matters big and small, shared plans about arena renovations and a proposed downtown practice facility and picked up a bunch of lunch tabs between the two. He likes the Wolves chances of building around Love, even as the team’s first-best player.

“Two years, in the NBA, is an eternity,” Saunders said. “All we can do is put our organization in a position where free agents are attracted here, by the personnel you have and the facilities you have. And you have relationships.”

After Love’s injury-marred 2012-13 season, Adelman has challenged him to boost his assists totals, perhaps not to Garnett levels but beyond the 1.9 he averaged through five seasons.

“He’s giving up the ball,” the Wolves coach said. “I think he’s matured as a player. Two years ago, he was scoring big and rebounding big. But we need him to do everything. We need him to pass the ball and be a facilitator too, and we need a consistent effort defensively. So I think he’s changed a lot. Probably being hurt last year gave him some drive this year.”

A foe-turned-teammate has noticed.

“You see the work that he puts in and just his feel for the game,” shooting guard Kevin Martin said. “He puts up scoring numbers that I haven’t seen since Kevin Durant. And rebound numbers? I’ve never seen a guy rebound like that.”

Don’t get confused here. Durant plays for the Thunder. Martin is the Wolves’ Kevin No. 5.

KEVIN MARTIN

Kevin Martin, 2013

Kevin Martin, 2013 (Jordan Johnson/NBAE)

The Timberwolves’ history, as far as free agency, generally has been what the team could do for the player rather than the other way around. Saddled with the league’s, er, most challenging climate and the lack of any championship tradition, Minnesota often has missed out on top talent and overpaid (in years or dollars) what players it has signed.

That’s why Martin’s decision to join up on a four-year, $27.8 million deal was so significant last July. The 30-year-old guard is a professional shooter with 3-point range and a career 17.8 scoring average through his first eight NBA seasons. He had been swapped a year earlier by Houston in the James Harden trade, fitting a little awkwardly into what had been Harden’s instant-offense role off the OKC bench.

For a Wolves team that had leaned on the likes of Wes Johnson, Alexey Shved and Malcolm Lee at shooting guard, Martin was a serious upgrade. A franchise once so barren that it touted its play-by-play man now could surgically add a key basketball piece.

“I wanted to bring in players that were gonna make Love, Rubio and Pekovic better, not players that those guys would make better,” Saunders said. “The way Kevin [Martin] plays, he was going to make those guys better.”

At 23.2 points nightly, while hitting 44.1 percent of his 3-point attempts, Martin is producing at a level unseen since his final year in Sacramento (2008-09). It helps that he’s back with the coach who had him, both with the Kings and the Rockets.

Said Adelman of Martin: “He went through the year last year where he was more of a role player. I think he feels better about his situation [now]. He’s getting opportunities that he didn’t have because of [Russell] Westbrook and Durant there, and I think he’s enjoying it, being a starter again and having responsibility on his shoulders.”

Love called Martin an “easy fit” in personality and in game.

“It feels like it’s been a perfect fit for me since Day 1,” Martin said. “That’s why I decided to come here. Just playing in the system and playing with K.Love, seeing his game grow, which I knew it would.

“With Kevin and Ricky and big Pek coming along, and coach Adelman – that’s another big reason – it’s a more interesting team now. Bringing in a guy like Flip who has won at the highest levels. It’s a great place.”

Not always. But not bad if your name is Kevin.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 3


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Blazers take thriller vs. Pacers | Wolves gear up for Mexico City trip | Bradley trying to maintain Celtics’ tradition

No. 1: Blazers continue to amaze — Before the season, few would have pegged last night’s Blazers-Pacers showdown in Portland as perhaps the top early-season matchup to watch. But that it was, as Paul George of the Pacers and Damian Lillard of the Blazers put on a show in a thrilling 106-102 win for the home squad. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has more on the Blazers, who have the NBA’s best record, and their fast start that seems to be morphing into a season-long trend of success:

At first, the Trail Blazers’ stunning early-season success was dismissed as a hot start.

Then, after the wins piled up against so-so opponents, it was simply a byproduct of a soft schedule.
But now, after another impressive victory against another top-notch foe, it’s hard to find too many flaws in what is unfolding in the Northwest.
It’s time to hop aboard the bandwagon, Rip City.

“We’re a pretty damn good team,” Wesley Matthews said, when asked what Monday night’s win showed. “And we can beat anybody.”

The game was billed as the best of the East versus the best of the West, as the Pacers (16-2) entered the game with the best record in the NBA, while the Blazers sat atop the Western Conference in a tie with the San Antonio Spurs. It also offered a contrast in styles, pitting the rough and rugged Pacers against the free-flowing, fun-to-watch Blazers.

After beating up on the NBA’s also-rans, the Blazers have now earned credible wins over the Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls — with Derrick Rose — and now the Pacers. And Monday’s victory against the brawny, rugged Pacers showcased a Blazers trait often overlooked:

Toughness.

“That was a 48-minute fight,” Batum said.

The Blazers will face two more challenging opponents this week — including the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday — but they way they see it, they’ve already proven their early-season hot streak is no fluke.

“We’re right there,” Batum said, referring to the Blazers’ standing among the NBA’s elite. “This was a big win.”

***

No. 2: Wolves gear up for trip to Mexico City — In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Timberwolves are set to take on the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 4 … in Mexico City, Mexico. Minnesota coach Rick Adelman doesn’t come across as the biggest fan of the trip in this story from Jerry Zgoda of The Star-Tribune, but nonetheless, there’s some definite merit — both financial and otherwise — to the trip for the Wolves as a franchise and the NBA at large:

Ask Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman about flying 1,800 miles to play San Antonio in a “home” game in Mexico City and he’ll strike a pose of a man mystified.But he knows better: He was there at the beginning.

Adelman was a Portland assistant coach in 1986 when the Trail Blazers drafted Arvydas Sabonis and Drazen Petrovic, a pair of European prodigies whose existence until then had been personally verified by NBA aficionados only with grainy video highlight reels or a fleeting Olympic appearance.

“You knew there were good players over there,” Adelman said, referring to somewhere across the sea and a time long ago, “but I never expected the game to change the way it has. You’re seeing guys coming over here, and large groups of guys. Still, that’s no reason to go to Mexico City.”

Adelman is reluctant to give up Target Center’s home-court advantage for one night and compound a hectic November schedule by flying so far south for a game that could have playoffs implications come April.

The league began discussing a Mexico City regular-season game with Wolves officials a year ago, partly because the team has Spanish-speaking Ricky Rubio from Spain and J.J Barea from Puerto Rico among its seven international players.

The Wolves — Adelman notwithstanding, of course — were willing because the NBA is paying it at least the equivalent of a Target Center game’s gate receipts and because owner Glen Taylor calls it “the responsibility of being an owner and doing your part” for a league that’s a $4 billion-plus business.

The NBA operates offices in Europe, Latin America and Asia, including two Chinese offices in Beijing and Shanghai. Taylor has served on the NBA China board since its inception and calls the number of people watching league games on their smartphones and targeted through social media “amazing.”

He also calls worldwide revenues a “relatively small amount” of the NBA’s massive pie — “not a significant part, yet” — but also terms it the league’s fastest-growing revenues.

Taylor said it’s simply smart to capitalize on a growing international game that Adelman believes produces through discipline and fundamentals more skilled, matured team players at younger ages now than an American AAU feeder system that emphasizes individuals and a superstar mentality.

“To us, that’s just good business,” Taylor said, mentioning growing worldwide TV rights and international corporate sponsorships to name just two. “We get paid back in several ways.”

Barea represented the NBA in Mexico City last year at the finals of a school tournament that brought together winners from five regions in the country.

“They love the NBA and basketball is growing there,” Barea said. “It’s a big place: a lot of traffic, a lot of people, but a lot of the fans of the NBA. It’s going to be crazy. If it was an away game for us, it’d be even better. But it’s all right, it’s just one game, a good change. I know a bunch of our guys have never been there before, so it’ll be fun.”

Just try telling that to Adelman, though …

“It is what it is,” Adelman said. “There are a lot of reasons why we’re going there. San Antonio is going to do the same thing. We just have to accept it. You’ve got to look at it as an experience and a challenge. It’s all you can do. Where we are right now, every night is a challenge to get a road win. If we get that one there, I’ll count it as a road win.”

***

No. 3: Bradley trying to continue tradition started by Garnett, Pierce — During the offseason, the Celtics made a decided move to rebuild when they sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn in a salary cap-saving move. As such, most would expect Boston’s defense — a trademark of the KG years — to fall apart. So far, that hasn’t been the case as Boston ranks 9th in defensive rating this season after finishing fifth in that category in 2012-13. Part of that strong defense could be attributed to guard Avery Bradley, who is one of the league’s best perimeter stoppers and has embraced the role of carrying on the Celtics’ tradition of defense first, writes Shams Charania of RealGM.com:

Out of Boston and onto Brooklyn, Pierce and Garnett understood leaders on their former team would be newly cultivated. As much as anything, Bradley heard from them that being a foundational part of the Celtics’ rebuild wouldn’t be easy – that there’s a preciousness to patience, to discipline.

“They told me this was going to be hard,” Bradley told RealGM. “At some point in their careers, they both played on teams that were very young, and that’s how our team is now. It takes time, but if everybody buys into what we’re trying to do, everything works out.”

Bradley has been a solidified voice for these Celtics, and him developing a close relationship with Jeff Green has proven a reliable influence on a hard-playing team. Already, Brad Stevens has established a rapport within his locker room, a scheme on both ends of the court; infusing seven wins a month into the season.

For Stevens, Jordan Crawford has grown into a playmaker and Jared Sullinger is continuing his basketball growth, adding range and versatility to his jump shot. Nevertheless, the Celtics feed off Bradley’s tenacity on defense and he knows how critical his outside jumper is to the offense. In Bradley, teammates see a little more Pierce than Garnett, more action and force than rah-rah and verbiage.

“I don’t really speak much, I try to lead by example,” Bradley said. “I definitely learned leadership from the guys that were here before, because the Celtics have a culture. Playing hard and respecting the game – I try to keep that going, hoping it rubs off on my new teammates and some of the younger guys.”

Over a summer of sharpening his ball handling and smoothening his jumper, Bradley replayed situations from his most extensive memories last season. As a combo guard asked to play more point guard late in the year, he knew struggles would come in placing the Celtics into proper offensive sets. Yet, everyone around the Celtics expected out of Bradley nothing but further repetition in the offseason – now off to a career start.

“I was put in situations where I had to learn both guard positions,” Bradley said. “I just have to keep improving each game now. Once I got the chance, I knew everything would work out. My main thing now is just consistency.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards reserve forward Trevor Booker is frustrated with his role on the team … ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy calls the state of the the Eastern Conference ‘embarassing’Jameer Nelson continues to embrace his teaching role with the young Magic … Derrick Favors gets some praise from his idol, Dwight Howard

ICYMI Of The Night: Leave it to Tim Duncan to cap off a historic night with a game-winner, too …


VIDEO: Tim Duncan nails the free-throw line jumper to sink the Hawks

Rubio Has Cleared Physical, Mental Hurdles From ACL Injury


VIDEO: Ricky Rubio’s no-look reverse bounce pass to Kevin Love is the assist of the night

DALLAS – Ricky Rubio is in his third NBA season. Yet in terms of games played, he’s not even a season-and-a-half into his expectation-laden career.

In a 112-106 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night, Rubio played in his 116th career game since joining the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011 from his native Spain. His rookie season was first shortened by the lockout and then short-circuited by an ACL tear in his left knee. His recovery delayed his debut last season until Dec. 15, and it would take several more months to gain back the trust in his knee with the long and ugly scar that is ever so remindful of the agony he endured.

Now Rubio is back, all the way back. The doubts and fears certainly still creep into his thoughts now and then, but the magical point guard has figured out how to at least make the emotional scars disappear.

“It’s a big injury and you always think about it even if you don’t want to,” Rubio said after scoring 12 points with seven assists in a desperately needed road win. “I think I have to forget it already and just feel confident out there playing hard, going and running 100 percent. So I feel good.”

He looked good, too, with a beautiful baseline drive for his only two points of the fourth quarter to give the Timberwolves a 98-92 lead with 4:35 to go. He was at his creative best a couple minutes later in a late shot-clock situation. Working at the top of the arc, Rubio beat his defender, Monta Ellis, and as he got deeper into the lane, Rubio made a no-look, behind-the-back pass that split Ellis and the helping Dirk Nowitzki to Kevin Love. Love got off the 3-pointer just before the buzzer for a 106-96 lead with 1:55 to play.

“I saw Dirk was behind me and I was afraid of a blocked shot,” Rubio said. “I knew he was there. I got kind of lucky and he [Love] made it and it was a huge play.”

Still, there is work to be done for the 23-year-old Spaniard. He is averaging 33.1 mpg, very close to the per-game average during the 41 games of his rookie season. Also, however, nearly identical to his rookie mark is his field-goal percentage. Rubio is shooting just 35.8 percent from the floor, but the encouraging news is his 38.2-percent accuracy from beyond the arc, easily a career best.

He was just 1-for-5 from back there against Dallas, but it was a big one, putting Minnesota back in front, 69-68 in the third quarter as the Mavs had just taken the lead with a 27-14 run.

“I feel confident,” Rubio said of his shot following a 4-for-12 night. “I’m practicing in that area. I know I have to improve, I feel like I have to improve in all the areas. I just keep working hard and trusting myself.”

Coach Rick Adelman continues to preach patience, a quality that can unfairly be in short supply when Rubio’s young career is not looked through the proper lens of his early misfortune.

“He’s still playing as hard as he did before [the injury], he competes all the time, so I think that’s passed,” Adelman said of Rubio playing through mental barriers of the recovery process as he did for most of last season. “It’s just he needs experience. He’s a young player. He’s only played, combine both years, maybe one season — and half of that he was hurt. So he’s just very young.”

Q&A: Timberwolves’ Love Clears Mind, Timeline To Focus On ‘P’ Word


VIDEO: Mike Fratello breaks down Kevin Love’s shot selection

MINNEAPOLIS – The top of Kevin Love‘s head has been in fine shape so far in this 2013-14 NBA season. His affability, at least as far as a lot of Twin Cities media folks are concerned, has been less so, because they mostly have been getting, well, the top of the Minnesota Timberwolves forward’s head.

Love’s postgame session after a home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers was said to be typical: A ring of reporters standing, Love sitting in the middle, looking mostly straight ahead. He fielded questions as they came – if they really were questions – and answered each one. But he did so almost in monotone, with little emotion or animation and even less eye contact.

For one of the league’s great conversationalists, it seemed forced, a little stand-offish. But it turns out, it might just be a handy coping mechanism. Love wants to keep things almost entirely in the present. He’s not willing to rehash the trials and tribulations of a forgetting 2012-13, when a twice-broken hand, inconsistent play in the 18 games he did make, Minnesota’s injury epidemic and sagging record, and alleged rancor between him and former Wolves president David Kahn led to some of the hardest criticism Love ever has heard. Nothing productive there, though, for the here-and-now.

Nor, for that matter, is Love much interested in jawing about the future, since invariably questions hone in on the summer of 2015, when he can opt out of his four-year, $60.8 million extension with a year left and hit free agency. And who can blame him: The Wolves’ future – at least ending a nine-year playoff drought – is now. Love’s individual accolades and achievements, from his 30-15 games to his Olympic gold medal, all would snap into sharper focus if things started to sizzle in his day job.

So that was the context for what wound up being his in-the-moment post-game media session. It was like stepping outdoors, eyes closed, letting the rain splash down or smelling the flowers, all the what-was and what-will-be giving way to what-is.

What is, lately, is pretty good for Love – he went into Monday’s game at Indiana No. 4 in scoring (24.9) and No. 2 rebounding (13.6), an early-season MVP fave. So after an off-day workout last week, the five-year veteran and two-time All-Star talked at length with NBA.com:

NBA.com: Everyone is asking and we have to, too. How do you do what you do so well in spite of your limited natural ability? [Love was the No. 1 pick of NBA general managers for making the most of allegedly meager athletic ability.]

Kevin Love: I don’t feel like I have “limited natural ability.” I guess I can’t jump to the top of the square every time. But I have soft hands, I have great footwork. I can shoot the ball, I can rebound, I can pass.

NBA.com: So where does that impression come from, do you think?

Love: Gee, If I had to guess, it would be that I’m white. I mean, what do you think?

NBA.com: I do remember how Christian Laettner, heading toward the 1992 draft, used to sneer when reporters would mention Larry Bird in straining to make comparisons. He felt it was done only because he was white. So now you hear it, where instead of people comparing your outlet passing to Wes Unseld…

Love: They compare it to Bill Walton instead. Right. People compare “like” to “like,” I guess. I don’t know what it is.

NBA.com: What explains your fast start?

Love: I’m just at peace on the court. Feel great. Off the court, feel great. I’m loving playing with this team. Locker room’s gotten better. Coaching staff. I feel like we all know exactly what they want out of us, so that’s great as well. And yeah, getting into a good rhythm right off the bat is always nice.

NBA.com: I saw the “all present, no past or future” outlook on display last night. How did that come about?

Love: I’ve always wanted to think like that and focus on carpe diem and seize the day and living in the present. I finally spoke it into existence. I don’t want to dwell [on] or be happy about – whether last year or years before – how things went for me, on the court or off the court. But don’t want to focus on the future either. Just want to focus really day-by-day and the [next opponent] at this point.

NBA.com: Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders told me in October about have a very “Zen-ful” summer, then some early frustrations led to an embarrassing nightclub incident and an injury. nner peace isn’t always easy to come by.

Love: Off the court, with my family and close friends, everything’s really going great. So that allowed me to focus on playing basketball. Had a great summer working out – didn’t talk to you guys at all [laughs]. The only time I really did media was at USA Basketball.

A big part about it was, I changed a lot of my contacts up. People weren’t able to reach me. I kind of like that – I was able to work hard, focus. Every night I’d go home, just rest, chill, read a book, watch TV. I like to live a little bit as a recluse and a shut-in so I get to focus on what I love most, and that’s my family and friends and my basketball.

(more…)

Howling Wolves Deal With Quiet Time


VIDEO: The Rockets beat the Timberwolves 112-101 on Saturday

Remember when the Timberwolves were something to howl about?

It was less than two weeks ago when the ball and the shots were moving through the offense like they were notes in a symphony.

You could pull on your parka and a pair of mukluks, then squint your eyes and imagine you were watching the Spurs North.

You could see Ricky Rubio spinning, darting and creating with only the edges of his imagination as a limit, see Kevin Love go down low to score in the post and then come outside and make it rain from behind the 3-point line, see Kevin Martin drop in all those improbable shots from all those impossible difficult angles.

The Timberwolves were 6-3 right out of the box and they were a team that could dance right off into the stars.

But now they have two left feet. All of a sudden, they can’t shoot, can’t defend, can’t muster up enough energy to take the floor and make their coach happy.

“You can look at stats all you want, but we didn’t have enough,” said Rick Adelman after their fourth loss in six games, a flogging by the James Harden-less Rockets. “I don’t know if it’s mental fatigue or whatever. We just have to do a better job and the schedule doesn’t matter.”

The schedule has turned brutal of late, serving up nine games in 14 nights, five in seven, including rising teams such as the Clippers and Rockets and next up are the East-leading Pacers.

“We play 18 games right off the bat this month,” Love said. “It’s tough. I think that’s really what it is. Plus we’re playing some really good teams. So it hasn’t been easy for us.”

One of the things that makes it hard has been the continuing struggles of Rubio to put the ball into the basket. For all of the wizardry that he uses to set up his teammates for easy baskets, the 23-year-old doesn’t seem to have a trick up his sleeve to help himself.

Rubio has made half his shots from the field only five times in the first 15 games, shooting just 34.7 percent. Now in his third NBA season, Rubio has scored 15 or more points in a game while making half his shots only nine times. The Wolves are 6-3 in those games. It’s just not that simplistic, but if Rubio could learn to shoot, the Wolves could take a big permanent step forward.

“It’s a lot easier when all your guys can make shots,” Adelman said. “He’s such a good passer and creator that if he’s making shots it makes it very difficult for the other team. They can’t go under screens, pick and rolls and things like that. It’s a process he’s going to have to go through.

“This is the first year he’s had training camp since he’s been in the league. He’s been hurt or we had a short training camp. It’s going to take time. He’s playing well and hopefully he’s to going to make shots.”

They’re a team that has Love and Rubio back in the lineup after being plagued by injuries a year ago and they have small forward Corey Brewer back with the club after signing as a free agent over the summer. They have big man Nikola Pekovic doing all that he can in the middle and with Chase Budinger again sidelined by injury, they’ve sucked everything they can out of Martin as if he were a water hose in the desert.

“We were the worst outside shooting team in the league last year,” Adelman said. “So having Kevin opens things up. And having the other Kevin (Love) back opens things up too. Last year we were firing blanks. We didn’t really have a lot of answers. This year we have a few more.”

They are still a team that has less depth than a wading pool and could use former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams to be something more than a massive bust or Alexey Shved or Dante Cunningham or Robbie Hummel or anyone to step up.

“We’re a solid team,” Martin said. “We got some work to do. It’s a long season. Everybody goes through their tough stretches with a tough schedule…We feel like we’re right in there. We’ve got a lot of things to work on. Just got to weather the storm right now.”

No Tech For Rivers Left Adelman Teed Off


VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers talks with the media following win over Wolves

MINNEAPOLIS – With the Clippers and the Timberwolves meeting for the second time in nine days, it seemed like a fair and logical question: Would Minnesota’s Rick Adelman be allowed to stroll to midcourt this time to call a timeout at a pivotal point in the game?

That’s what happened at Staples Center in the closing seconds of the Clippers’ 109-107 victory: Doc Rivers went nearly to center court before he got referee Tony Brown‘s attention to call time in the midst of L.A.’s possession. The move incensed Adelman as well as a lot of Wolves fans, who felt Rivers should have received a technical foul for strolling so far on the floor during play.

But the Clippers coach didn’t think twice about it at the time and, from the sound of it, wouldn’t hesitate to do the same thing again.

“If I can get out there, I will,” Rivers said about 90 minutes before tipoff Wednesday at Target Center. “There’s nothing you can do. It’s really a bad circumstance.

“One of the questions was, ‘Didn’t your players know to call a timeout?’ I said ‘No, I gave them a play to run.’ And in the middle of the play, I’m looking at the play and thinking, ‘This play’s not going to work.’ I needed a timeout. I tried to call a timeout.”

At that point, Rivers barged onto the court and got his timeout with 11.8 seconds left.

“There’s really nothing you can do about it — it’s on the opposite side of the floor. There should be no tech called on that, by the way – the worst that can be called is delay-of-game. But as long as you don’t run into anybody or touch anybody, there’s no way around it.”

Rivers said he was open to suggestions on alternatives, such as “give me a red button that I can blink.” He also said he understands an opposing coach objecting to the move. “If that had been Rick, I’d want him thrown out of the game. But me, I think I should be able to do it,” he said, laughing.

Rivers got away with a similar move during the 2010 Finals, when he helped the Celtics avoid a halfcourt violation late in Game 2. “It was almost the exact thing,” he said. “It’s tough on the refs, though. They should not be paying attention to me. … There’s nothing in the rule book, I don’t know what you do about it, but it’s a toughie.”

Actually there is: Rule No. 12, section V, article d(5), pertaining to Fouls And Penalties, Conduct:

A technical foul shall be assessed for unsportsmanlike tactics, such as … (5) A coach entering onto the court without permission of an official.

Adelman initially joked about Rivers’ bit of gamesmanship Wednesday. “I think that’s reserved for certain people. He’s got a lot more money than I have, so he didn’t care if he got a technical,” the Wolves coach said.

Except, of course, Rivers didn’t get T-ed up.

“I could not believe they just allowed that to go on,” Adelman said. “You can’t do that. We’ve talked about it at times. The coaches have, in the last couple years, stepped onto the court to call timeouts. And I’ve had two different discussions: one said no, you’re not supposed to do that.”

The Wolves coach also sounded surprised that Rivers was desperate to get the timeout called. “I couldn’t believe … why he was so mad,” Adelman said. “They had the [2-point] lead and they had the best point guard in the game [Chris Paul] with the ball.”

Wolves, Wizards On Different Paths




VIDEO: Kevin Love is all smiles after a win over Cleveland

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In an effort to soften the blow, we put our sunglasses on when scanning back at our preseason predictions for this season.

There are so many hits and misses, it helps to have a little shade to work with for the ugly misses. For every prediction we hit out of the park (thank you Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves), there is a prediction that seems to go horribly wrong (there’s that mess in Cleveland and, of course, that wobbly start from John Wall and the Washington Wizards).

The BluBlockers are needed for tonight’s Timberwolves-Wizards matchup tonight in D.C. (7 p.m. ET, League Pass), a duel between teams on very different paths early on this season. Both teams are loaded with young talent and have quality depth. But the results have been vastly different for the two teams that are inextricably linked — Wizards coach Randy Wittman used to be Timberwolves coach Randy Wittman while the boss in Minnesota, Flip Saunders, once coached the Wizards.

While Wall and the Wizards have struggled to an ugly 2-7 start, including their current four-game losing streak, Love and the Timberwolves have shown themselves to be an exciting and aggressive crew.

At 7-4, the Wolves are living up to all of the hype, internal and otherwise. Love, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Nikola Pekovic, J.J. Barea and Co. have managed to take on heightened expectations and handle them appropriately. Throw in that Chase Budinger is back and practicing with the team and Minnesota is looking even better.

Love is in the MVP mix, coach Rick Adelman‘s got his supporting cast thriving and the roster’s balance and depth is finally paying dividends. The Wolves are in the midst of back-to-back grueling stretches of five games in seven nights, a mettle-testing, early-season grind that will could serve them well months from now.

Tonight’s game kicks off a monster week that will see Adelman’s team face off against the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night at home and the Brooklyn Nets Friday at the Target Center. Then comes a road date in Houston with the Rockets on Saturday and they’ll finish this stretch up in Indiana on Nov. 25.

Happy Thanksgiving!

“I don’t know if [the league schedule-makers] know that we’re almost to Canada and Houston’s almost all the way to Mexico,” Adelman told reporters Monday.

When your team is top three in the league in scoring and set to get another boost whenever Budinger returns to the rotation, none of the teams you are blindsiding will grant you any sympathy.

The Wizards, meanwhile, could use a little sympathy … and anything else they can get right now. When their owner, Ted Leonsis, used every opportunity in the lead up to the season to tout his team as a legitimate playoff contender in the East, he surely did not envision this humbling start.

Signing Wall to an $80 million maximum contract extension in August was supposed to be a sign of the commitment Leonsis was making not only to the young face of the franchise, but to the future. Wall was not only going to be the change agent for the Wizards on the court, his extension was also supposed to serve as the symbolic change in the way the Wizards did business going forward.

Veterans would see that the organization was serious about putting the resources in the right places and taking that next step from playoff pretender to contender. But it didn’t take long for reality to set in. As sound as the plan looked on paper, the Wizards simply didn’t have the right mix.

As talented as Wall and his backcourt mate, Bradley Beal one of a handful of early candidates for the league’s Most Improved Player award — surely are, something is still missing.

As my The Beat colleague and TNT’s own David Aldridge pointed out in The Morning Tip, Wall does not shoulder the burden of the Wizards’ slow start on his own. They’re not the same defensive monster they were a year ago, not with Marcin Gortat taking Emeka Okafor‘s place in the lineup.

A top-10 defensive unit last season, the Wizards are now a top-10 scoring team but falling woefully short on the defensive side. As DA pointed out, the slightest tweak to the Wizards’ rotation and chemistry has altered the product on the floor dramatically:

Nene, whose antipathy for banging in the post was well-known, was especially good with Okafor. The quintet of Nene, Okafor, Martell Webster, Bradley Beal and Wall was one of the league’s best defensive fivesomes last year. It’s not that Gortat is a horrible defender. He tries. But opponents, according to the league’s player tracking stats, are shooting 56.7 percent against him on shots at the rim. (By comparison, opponents are shooting 31.4 and 31.5 percent, respectively, on shots at the rim against New Orleans’ Anthony Davis and Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez.)

“March has done a good job for us,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said Saturday. “No question, ‘Mek was solid back there for us, the last line of defense for us, with his basketball knowledge. I think what March brings, though, is that big guy who can challenge at the rim. He’s also got a very good IQ. Defense is a matter of getting your knees dirty each and every night. It’s not a fun thing, but it’s a valuable thing. That’s where we have to get back to, understanding how valuable that is for us to be a good team.”

A good team?

How about a playoff team?

After all, that’s what we all predicted for the ‘Wolves and Wizards this season. But as of right now only one of these teams is living up to that expectation.