Posts Tagged ‘Sam Mitchell’

Morning shootaround — Oct. 2


Tristan Thompson and Cavs sweat out deadline | Dwight Howard feels silence is better this time | Back in the coaching chair, Sam Mitchell is ready | Big man pairing has Okafor and Sixers excited |

No. 1: Tristan Thompson officially a holdout — The midnight deadline came and went and nothing changed in the Tristan Thompson negotiations, or lack thereof. Thompson had until midnight to sign the Cavs’ qualifying offer, which he refused to do. And the sides are still apart on a new deal. Thompson can either sign a new deal or accept an offer from another team until March 1, which the Cavs would then be free to match. The Cavs expected Thompson to report to training camp Friday, although that’s uncertain now. Here’s Jason Lloyd of the Beacon Journal with a recap

The two sides remained separated this week on a long-term deal. If Thompson accepts the qualifying offer, he will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Contracts are fairly rigid under the collective bargaining agreement, making holdouts rare in the NBA — although they do happen. Anderson Varejao’s bitter contract dispute spilled into December in 2007 before he finally signed a three-year, $17 million offer sheet with the Charlotte Bobcats that was quickly matched by the Cavs.

“It wasn’t easy for me. I missed the first 21 games if I remember,” Varejao said Thursday. “But I had to do it back then because I felt like I was disrespected with the offer they offered me. I don’t really know what’s going on with Tristan right now, numbers and stuff, I’m not sure. But I’m pretty confident he will be here soon.”

LeBron James twice in recent days also said he was optimistic the two sides would reach agreement on a long-term deal sooner than later.

James Jones is the secretary/treasurer of the players union and held the role when the current collective bargaining agreement was ratified. Players typically always stick together on financial issues, yet Jones is a veteran trying to win another championship and understands Thompson is a vital piece the Cavs need.

“First thing’s first. We understand that this is a business, and once the business is taken care of we can come in and work on the floor,” Jones said. “Until that’s resolved, he’s handling his business and we support him 100 percent. At the same time, the guys that are here are working, and we have a goal and a mission and we’re not going to let anything stop us from focusing. We’re staying on course.”


No. 2: Dwight Howard feels silence is better this time — When the summer arrives and if he becomes a free agent, there won’t be a big fuss made about Dwight Howard. For one, he perhaps isn’t the franchise player now than he was then. And he isn’t going to make the process a dramatic presentation, unlike a few years ago when he made a messy exit from Orlando. Older and wiser and certainly stung by the criticism, Howard has adopted a new approach this time: He’d rather leave well enough alone. Ken Berger of CBS Sports had a take on Dwight and what the future may hold…

Given that each of Howard’s pre-free agency go-rounds with the Magic and the Lakers turned into a full-on circus, this was a step in the right direction for the soon-to-be 30-year-old All-Star.

“There’s no need for me to focus on anything next summer,” Howard said. “My job is to focus on how I can get this team to be the best team in the NBA and win a championship.”

The Rockets didn’t get LaMarcus Aldridge, as there is only one LaMarcus Aldridge and he signed with the Spurs. But with a worthwhile gamble on Ty Lawson — who will take some of the play-making pressure and defensive attention away from James Harden — the Rockets will be among the better teams in a loaded Western Conference. According to Las Vegas oddsmaker Bovada, the Rockets’ championship odds are 16-1 — sixth in the NBA.

Though the team revolves around Harden, the Rockets need a healthy, committed and engaged Howard to be in the hunt to come out of the West. Healthy, committed and engaged, however, are not words that have been synonymous with Howard in recent years.

With the Lakers, he was hindered by after-effects of back surgery and an uneasy partnership with Kobe Bryant. Last season, he played only 41 games due to persistent issues with his right knee.

In many ways, Howard is a cautionary tale for marquee free agents who are thinking about leaving their teams when the TV revenue windfall hits the market over the next two summers. After forcing his way to the Lakers from Orlando in a 2012 trade, Howard spent one miserable season in LA before bolting to the Rockets. Howard, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony are just a few examples of superstars who left for supposedly greener pastures (either through free agency or via trade) and still have yet to advance as far in the postseason as they’d been with their former teams.

Are you paying attention, Kevin Durant?


No. 3: Back in the coaching chair, Sam Mitchell is ready — The guy in charge of the Wolves at the moment never thought he’d be in this position so soon. But a year after joining the staff as the top assistant to Flip Saunders, Sam Mitchell is now coaching the Wolves while Saunders recovers from cancer treatment. Mitchell was a former Coach of the Year with the Raptors but flamed out shortly thereafter and found himself out of work until his old buddy Saunders reached out. Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune recently did a question and answer with Mitchell…

Q. It has been seven years since you were a head coach. These obviously aren’t the circumstances you wanted, but did you always want to do this again?

A. Yeah, once I made the decision to come back into coaching, to prove myself and show people I want to be a head coach again. I enjoyed my time in the media. I learned a lot, got to watch a lot of basketball. It still tugs at me a little bit with the circumstances, but we all have a job to do and we’ve got to be professional and do our jobs.

Q. How did being away from coaching change the way you look at the game?

A. When you’re coaching, you just watch your team and the opponent. When you’re doing TV and radio, you’re watching everybody. I got a chance to talk to different coaches. Why do you do this or do that? It was a great learning experience and it proved to me I can do something else if I needed to. A lot of guys panic if they’re not in coaching, like that’s all I know, what am I going to do? It gave me confidence in myself that I can do other things.

Q. You said it at the news conference yourself and Glen Taylor said he has seen you mature. How will people who watched those Raptors teams see it now?

A. That’s not for me to say. I think every day you try to get a little better. That’s what I try to do. I’m probably not as hard on myself and not as hard on people as I used to be. I’ll probably still have my moments. But I appreciate life in different ways now. I can appreciate what these guys do, I can appreciate what assistant coaches do, I can appreciate what the media does now because I was there. Hopefully with that experience I have more patience and I look at things a little differently. But I’m not going to sit here and try to list how I’m different. I guess if you’re around me enough, you’ll see it.

Q. Were you too hard, too intense the first time around?

A. Well, I’m not going to lose my intensity. I was talking to my minister recently and he reminded me don’t lose what got you here. You’re an intense person, but you can do it a little bit different. I can communicate a little differently. Hopefully my language is better.


No. 4: Big man pairing has Okafor and Sixers excitedJahlil Okafor was a high lottery pick and so was Nerlens Noel and now these two found themselves playing next to each other for the team that drafted them. When that team is the Sixers, you can see what they’d be in position to score a pair of bigs in two years. Now many teams have the luxury of putting two promising young bigs on the floor and watching them develop, yet that will be one of the main themes of the Sixers this season while they use yet another 82-game season to search for a star from within. Marcus Hayes of the Daily News thinks Philly is on to something …

With skillful tanking and blind luck, the Sixers today find themselves in a nearly unprecedented position. Noel and Okafor were the two most coveted post players of their respected draft classes; each nearly 7 feet tall with wonderful athletic gifts, though slightly different; each hungry to prove he was more valuable than the slot in which he was drafted.

Ralph Sampson, the Virginia gentleman, and Hakeem Olajuwon, the Nigerian project, were drafted first overall a year apart by the Rockets, but they played only two full seasons together. Both No. 1 overall picks, they never had the extra incentive of being snubbed.

Charismatic Midshipman David Robinson had cemented his Hall of Fame berth by the time the Spurs added dour islander Tim Duncan in 1997.

“They were very different people,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown, who worked with Duncan and Robinson briefly as a Spurs assistant.

Those pedigreed pairs had less in common than Noel and Okafor.

Both Noel (Boston) and Okafor (Chicago) are products of big American cities; AAU-groomed, highly touted, one-and-done products of elite college programs expected to lead their drafts.

Both also are still upset that other teams passed on them. Each was projected as the No. 1 overall pick but slipped; Noel, injured, to fifth two years ago; Okafor, his unmatched skill set out of vogue, to third this year.

So, they are angry.

So much common ground.

So much time to grow.

It shouldn’t take long.

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Warriors will wear special jerseys in the opener … Mike Conley is sticking with the mask for now Serge Ibaka is coming back from an injury too, remember … Dorell Wright wrote a letter to his younger brother and NBA rookie Delon …

Report: Cancer battle ongoing for Timberwolves’ Saunders

The announcement by Golden State that Warriors coach Steve Kerr is taking a leave of absence to recover from back surgery brought the number of NBA head coaches dealing with health issues this preseason to two. The other, of course, is Minnesota’s Flip Saunders, who is battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma and will not be actively involved with the Timberwolves for at least the first half of the 2015-16 season.

Saunders’ dual role as president/head coach is being handled on an interim basis by GM Milt Newton and assistant coach Sam Mitchell. The organization is giving Saunders and his family as much time and privacy as they need while fighting his illness. Wolves beat writer Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune did provide an update Thursday during a live chat on the newspaper’s website:

There’s no question things have changed dramatically since the team announced his diagnosis in August, back when it quoted his doctors saying the cancer was very treatable and curable. Since then there have been changes to the way his body handled the chemotherapy (and maybe how much cancer they’ve found) that have made it life threatening. Everyone involved has gone radio silent because of the family’s request for privacy and federal patient-privacy laws, etc., but between the complete silence, the lack of people visiting as far as I can tell apart from his immediate family and very inner circle while he remains hospitalized here in Minneapolis and the things I’m hearing second-hand, well, none of it is good. I’ll just say this, and this is just my own opinion, if he pulls through this: I doubt very much he’s back this year, it’s probably unlikely he coaches again just because of the stress inherent doing both those jobs and I think there’s a pretty good chance he doesn’t return full time to either job. As far as the franchise goes, that will put them in a holding pattern for some time. I can’t see Glen Taylor allowing Milt Newton and Sam to make a major decision until they know more about Flip’s future and Glen decides who will run his team for the long term. I wouldn’t assume it’ll be Milt and Sam going forward, that’s just for the short term until things become clearer.

No. 1 pick Towns’ hectic summer settles down to serious NBA business

VIDEO: Take an all-access look as Karl-Anthony Towns becomes 2015’s No. 1 pick

EDINA, Minn. – From being the first NBA newbie to shake Adam Silver‘s hand on the stage in Brooklyn to squeezing into a phone booth with actor Kevin Spacey on late-night television, from taking some high, hard lessons from new grizzled teammate Kevin Garnett to maybe bringing some high heat of his own from the mound before the Los Angeles Angels-Minnesota Twins MLB game Sunday afternoon at Target Field, it has been a summer like no other for Karl-Anthony Towns.

But the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 6-foot-11 rookie forward/center knows that, fun as it was, it all flows from his status as the league’s No. 1 overall draft pick.

“I got a job this summer, I didn’t get a scholarship,” Towns said Saturday. “So for me, I actually have to play a different role now. It’s been a crazy summer, to say the least. The most hectic I’ve ever had in my life. But to be able to have it all happen the way it happened is a blessing.”

Towns, recently back in the Twin Cities after traveling the country for the NBA Draft, the Las Vegas Summer League and workouts in L.A., participated in a pair of youth basketball camps Saturday hosted by the Wolves. He’ll throw out the first pitch before the Angels-Twins game in downtown Minneapolis. And then he’ll be a week out from what matters most, the first training camp of his professional life.

Prepping for that has gotten most of Towns’ recent attention, he said.

“I’ve been everywhere,” said the University of Kentucky’s newest-minted millionaire. “But mostly just focusing on my game, making sure I’m the most prepared I could be for the season. Just came back from L.A. Had a great time training there for a week of, I guess I call it basketball meditation. I usually do [it]. My phone was completely off and making sure I was focusing on the game.”

A multi-talented big man, Towns said he worked out with some NFL players, along with former NBA forward Al Harrington. “But mostly I was working out by myself,” he said. “Basketball-wise, just playing, getting ready for the season, making sure I have all my fundamentals and making sure my skills are as sharp as possible.”

The expectations for Minnesota, just 16-66 last season in a rebuilding season, are genuine now. No one is predicting a leap into the Western Conference playoffs, but the talent base is broad now with the addition of Towns to a roster already blessed with Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio and a half dozen other legit players.

The Wolves will cope with the absence, at least early in the 2015-16 season, of coach and basketball president Flip Saunders, on a leave of absence while undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Assistant Sam Mitchell will serve as head coach on an interim basis at least through the season’s first half. Towns said he doesn’t expect the situation to disrupt his or his teammates’ development.

“No, we’re fighting right now,” Towns said Saturday. “We’re all fighting the same way he’s fighting. We all just worry about him getting better. He’s getting better every day. And we’re just glad to know our coach is getting well.”

Towns’ first taste of NBA practices and his swift learning curve in Las Vegas gave him a base to build on in camp. He averaged 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds, looked far more comfortable by just his second game, yet had three games with seven or more fouls (players don’t foul out in the summer league). That won’t cut it in the preseason or the regular season, of course.

“I think the biggest thing is, you have to understand the different rules,” Towns said. “There are so many rules that change from college to the NBA. Change of pace is a big thing also.”

Towns, who won’t turn 20 until Nov. 15, said he talked to some of the kids Saturday about doing “what you love.” Growing up in Piscataway, N.J., he switched his early passion for baseball – he was a pitcher – to basketball over time and not merely because of a growth spurt.

“I did what I loved. That’s why I think I play the way I do,” Towns said. “I’m very passionate, and I love the game I play.”

That should serve him well as his relationship with Garnett deepens. The greatest player in Wolves history, back for his first full season in Minnesota since 2006-07, is seen even in late career as one of the NBA’s fiercest competitors. Towns’ rookie season figures to be a special project for KG and KAT.

“He’s my mentor,” said Towns, who spent time with Garnett in Los Angeles last month. “Everything he knows, and countless years he’s been playing this game at a high level, [I am] just trying to garner information from him every day. Learn how to be a better leader, how to be a champion, just to be a true professional.”

Minnesota rookie Karl Anthony-Towns signs autographs after a Timberwolves youth clinic. -- Photo by David Sherman

Minnesota rookie Karl Anthony-Towns signs autographs after a Timberwolves youth clinic.
— Photo by David Sherman

Rival coaches welcome, dread healthy return of Lakers’ Bryant

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant’s career milestones

CHICAGO – As one of the NBA head coaches said Thursday, the word out of Los Angeles that Kobe Bryant is fully healthy for the start of the Lakers’ training camp is a classic case of good news-bad news.

Good news for Bryant, the Lakers and NBA fans, obviously, after enduring Bryant’s two injury-marred partial seasons. Bad news, presumably, for rivals if Bryant is able to get back to something approximating his Hall of Fame-bound younger self.

But Bryant, at age 37, after a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2013 and a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder last season, never has been so mortal or so old. He’s returning to a Lakers team that has gone 48-116 the past two seasons, the worst of the franchise’s L.A. era. And the harsh reality is that the Lakers were no better with Bryant in the 41 games he played than they were without him in the other 123 – their winning percentages with (12-29) and without (36-87) were precisely the same: .293.

So it’s one of the larger questions looming over the 2015-16 NBA season: How far back will Bryant get? Several of the league’s head coaches tackled it – and shared their thoughts on Bryant’s particular brand of greatness and intensity – Thursday prior to the start of their annual fall meeting in downtown Chicago.

“I think he’s still probably capable of being an All-Star,” said George Karl of the Sacramento Kings. “A lot of Kobe Bryant now is his brain as much as it’s his skills and athleticism. For years he was skilled and athletically bigger, stronger than the players he played against. Now he’s learned the angles. He’s still going to be extremely difficult to defend – you’re going to need to defend him with one of your better players. He might not be as great defensively but he’s still going to make defensive plays.”

As for Bryant’s ability to make peace with any decline in his game, Karl said: “It’s probably a little more difficult than you think it is. I was a very ordinary player, and I didn’t want to give up on who I was. I didn’t want to think I wasn’t an NBA player and I wasn’t good enough to play in that game. Now Kobe’s going from the top of the mountain, from a Mt. Rushmore-type, to maybe just being a really good All-Star. I don’t know how long Kobe will take to make that decision. Will he like who he is and continue to play at that level, or does he just want to remember himself as being one of the best?”

Washington’s Randy Wittman talked of the tough intersection Bryant’s at, with injuries, age and a struggling Lakers team converging. “Some handle it better than others,” the Wizards coach said. “But look, I don’t anticipate anything different from what Kobe’s been. I think he’s going to come out and try to show that he’s still got it.”

Coping with the Lakers’ losing ways? “I don’t think he thinks they’re going to lose,” Wittman said.

Sam Mitchell, interim Timberwolves coach during Flip Saunders‘ medical leave to battle cancer, said he thought of Bryant while packing for his flight Thursday morning from Minneapolis. ‘They were talking on ESPN about Peyton Manning, and they were saying he didn’t have the zip he had and using all these clichés,” Mitchell said. “But remember something about those veteran players, they’ve got heart, man. They’re gonna go down swinging. Eventually Father Time’s gonna win. But Kobe Bryant’s got five championship rings and he’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever been around in my life. And you know what? In his mind, he’s still Kobe Bryant. Until someone proves him wrong and knocks him off.”

The Timberwolves open their season against the Lakers at Staples Center on Oct. 28. “We’re going to prepare for Kobe Bryant on opening night as if he’s the Kobe of old,’ Mitchell said, “because he’s going to come out and play.”

Denver’s Mike Malone echoed that. “You can’t talk about Kobe like an ordinary player,” Malone said. “His will to win, his tenacious personality … everybody says ‘Well, he’s not going to be the same.’ But I’m never going to short-change Kobe Bryant.”

Malone was on Golden State’s staff when Bryant suffered his Achilles injury, a point at which some thought Bryant’s playing career was done or jeopardized. And now? “I’m curious to see how he is and, really for our league, I hope he comes back and plays great,” the Nuggets’ new coach said. “I expect to see a very determined, passionate and hungry Kobe Bryant, because he’s been away from the game for a while. I know when Denver plays the Lakers, we’re not going to go in expecting to see ‘poor old Kobe.’ We’re going to expect to see the Kobe of old.”

That word comes up a lot now: old. Father Time has a consecutive victories streak and doesn’t play favorites.

“He’s gonna still be ‘Kobe Bryant,’ ” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, “but when you’ve missed two years basically and you’re older, it’s not easy. Just the rhythm and timing alone, on top of the injuries and fighting the age as well. Kobe is probably as mentally as tough as any player we’ve seen since Michael [Jordan]. So he’s gonna be ready. He’ll be good.”

Rivers thinks the Lakers bottomed out last season and will be up to the challenge Bryant throws at them, within reason. “When he left, when he was healthy, they were really good,” the Clippers coach said. “He has a lot of young guys he can be a mentor to. And they’ve added – they had a better summer, so there will be some veterans he can play with as well.”

And poke and prod and ride as mercilessly as he does himself.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 17

VIDEO: Recapping the 2015 FIBA EuroBasket quarterfinals


Porzingis ready to prove Jackson wrong | Curry re-signs with Under Armour | Wolves’ Jones expects playoff push | Chandler may help Morris, Suns mend fences

No. 1: Jackson’s comments get Porzingis fired up — In forging his legend as a Hall of Fame coach, Phil Jackson was known as a master motivator of his players. As president of the New York Knicks today, Jackson perhaps went to that well again over the summer with some criticism of the physique of the team’s first-round pick, Kristaps Porzingis. The New York Daily News Stefan Bondy has more from Porzingis, who used Jackson’s mini-barb as motivation:

Kristaps Porzingis isn’t sure why Phil Jackson compared him to draft bust Shawn Bradley, but the rookie is motivated to change those doubts from the Knicks president.

Porzingis, speaking Wednesday at an event to unveil his sponsorship partnership with Shifman Mattress, acknowledged that Jackson’s public concern over his lanky body, “fired me up.” The rookie also understands that reaction was probably Jackson’s intention.

“Yeah I saw it. I don’t know what to say. I guess that’s what Phil does, gets us to work hard and fired up. That fired me up. I’m like, ‘I’m not Shawn Bradley,’ you know?” Porzingis said, responding to a recent interview on where Jackson wondered if the Latvian was “too tall for the NBA” like the awkward 7-6 Bradley. “I want to be better than Shawn Bradley obviously and be stronger than him,” Porzingis added, “but I’m a different player.”

Porzingis, who is roughly 7-2, has aggressively been trying to adapt his body to the NBA, consuming roughly 5,000 calories (including three steaks) per day in hopes of gaining 15 pounds. He’s four pounds short of his goal, and there’s an understanding that he’s built for power forward in the NBA, rather than banging in the paint with centers.

“For now, I’m a (power forward) for sure because of the defense. I’ve got to be able to hold those (centers). So that’s the main thing,” the 20-year-old said. “Once I get stronger, I’ll be able to play (center). Offensively, I can play both positions. At (center), I’ll be way quicker than the defender. So I’ll get stronger and gain more weight, if I want to play (center).”

With less than two weeks before training camp, Porzingis has been participating in two-a-day practices at the team facility and recovering in a hyperbaric chamber. He also mixes in two sessions in the weight room per day. Before that, he was playing one-on-one against Carmelo Anthony and, “just asking him about the moves.”

VIDEO: Kristaps Porzingis talks about getting ready for the 2015-16 season

*** (more…)

Mitchell to serve as Wolves’ interim coach as Saunders battles cancer

VIDEO: Sam Mitchell talked about the Timberwolves’ prospects for the 2015-16 season during Summer League

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Sam Mitchell will serve as the Minnesota Timberwolves interim coach to start the 2015-16 season as Flip Saunders focuses on his battle with cancer.

The news was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports on Thursday afternoon.

The Timberwolves held a Friday morning press conference to make a major announcement, where Mitchell was introduced as the interim coach.

Saunders has been undergoing chemotherapy after being diagnosed earlier this summer with what is considered to be a treatable form of Hodgkins Lymphoma. Mitchell earned NBA Coach of the Year honors in 2007 with the Toronto Raptors and coached the Raptors.

Cavs seek Love, Wiggins seeks NBA home

VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins was a sensation for the Cavs during Summer League play

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking for Love. All Andrew Wiggins wants at this point is an NBA home.

A raw talent so alluring that several franchises sabotaged their 2013-14 seasons for a shot at landing him, Wiggins has been treated for the past six weeks like somebody’s backup date for the prom. As soon as James stunned and, in many quarters, delighted the NBA by announcing his return to Cleveland, Wiggins became less a piece of the Cavaliers’ bright future and more a means to an end — that being Kevin Love.

A deal that will deliver Love, the all-NBA power forward, from the Minnesota Timberwolves to James’ insta-contender in Cleveland already has been struck, according to many sources, awaiting only a formal announcement once Wiggins is eligible to be traded Saturday. Draftees who sign their rookie contracts cannot be traded by NBA rule for the first 30 days and Wiggins put his name on a five-year, $24.8 million deal on July 24.

Soon thereafter, Cavs general manager David Griffin and Minnesota president of basketball operations Flip Saunders reportedly agreed on the much-anticipated trade. Wiggins will go to the Wolves with last year’s No. 1 overall pick, forward Anthony Bennett and a future first-rounder for Love, according to the reports. The Wolves are said to have a deal set to trigger, too, with the Philadelphia 76ers; multiple outlets have reported that Thad Young will head to the Twin Cities for that future No. 1 pick, along with forward Luc Mbah a Moute and guard Alexey Shved.

All of which means Wiggins, a wing player with preternatural leaping skills and a gift for stifling on-the-ball defense, will be part of a future-focused rebuilding effort after all. It will just be Minnesota’s, not Cleveland’s, and the cupboard will be slightly more bare. (more…)

LaVine delivers more than dunks in Vegas

By Jeff Caplan,

VIDEO: Rookie Zach LaVine from UCLA tore up the Samsung Summer League in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Zach LaVine jumps really high and talks really fast. He exudes a brash confidence like Russell Westbrook and plays with a chip on his shoulder the size of Bill Walton.

This latest UCLA product is headed either for a stunning rookie season with the Minnesota Timberwolves or cold, hard NBA reality.

“I’m a very confident person, I always hold myself to high standards,” LaVine said Friday after scoring 22 points with four assists in the Wolves’ sixth and final Summer League game. “You know, there’s a lot of doubters on me. I feel  always like changing peoples’ minds, you know, ‘He’s not NBA-ready, why’d he come out?’ and different things like that. So I just come out here and always try to prove my point. I think I fared well for myself.”

There was little not to like about the 6-foot-5, 19-year-old’s debut in the Las Vegas Summer League. Everybody was aware of his athleticism coming in, but many were skeptical about his decision-making and the durability of his 180-pound frame..

“I definitely have to get in the weight room and let my body mature. But if they can’t touch you, you know, strength really isn’t a factor,” LaVine said. “I feel I’m a pretty physical person, just not the strongest yet, so I definitely have to get into the weight room. But I use my speed to my advantage.”

He averaged 15.7 points a game and more than five free-throw attempts per game in the Summer league. Twice he got to the line 10 times.

Fans mostly will remember a dazzling array of dunks. He’s already nominated himself for the dunk contest when February’s All-Star weekend props up its big tent in New York City.

“I’m definitely going to be in the dunk contest, know that,” LaVine said  “I haven’t lost a dunk contest for a long time, maybe since I first started dunking. So I have some dunks in my package.”

The Wolves are more intrigued by the 13th overall pick’s size at the shooting-guard position, his ball-handling and his higher-than-expected court IQ at point guard. He bounced between the two positions during Summer League.

He scored in double figures in all six games. In the final three games he averaged 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds. He had two games with five turnovers, but averaged just 3.6 turnovers in 32.2 minutes a game, a good rate considering he was playing with little practice time and with unfamiliar teammates, most of whom won’t sniff the NBA.

“We knew he had talent, we knew he was good, but he exceeded all our expectations thus far,” Wolves assistant coach Sam Mitchell said. “He’s smart, he’s athletic, he can handle the ball, he can shoot the ball, he’s a sponge, he learns. We threw a lot at him. We’ve run a lot of NBA sets, we’re doing a lot of things defensively and he just picks it all up.”

The Wolves could have playing time available. Behind point guard Ricky Rubio is the diminutive J.J. Barea, who is in the final year of his contract and has seen his shooting percentages drop the last two seasons. Behind shooting guard Kevin Martin is young Russian Alexey Shved, who took a step back last season after a promising rookie campaign.

“I feel like I’m player,” LaVine said. “Wherever he [team president and coach Flip Saunders] needs to play me at; if that’s the 1, I feel like I can handle the ball and run the team, to a point where I’m still learning the position, but I feel like I can handle it. I like scoring the ball as well, so whatever he needs me to do, facilitate, shoot, defend, anything he needs me to do.”

There’s a chance LaVine could be one of two 19-year-old talents in Minnesota. If the Wolves deal Kevin Love to Cleveland for Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota could be set up with two tremendously gifted athletic wings for years to come.

For now, LaVine is headed back home to Seattle to train. The league will have to wait to see if he builds on his Summer League success. But Timberwolves fans should know that they will hear from their newest addition.

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

VIDEO: Sam Mitchell talks about his days with the Wolves

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

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

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

It doesn’t get much more rare, either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning shootaround: June 14

VIDEO: Fisher discusses the Knicks’ roster 


Jordan explains Higgins’ exit | Beasley as Heat’s cavalry? | Jackson, Fisher huddle with ‘Melo | Cavaliers closing in on coach

No. 1: Jordan explains Higgins’ exit — For years, a lot of casual observers of the Charlotte NBA team (once Bobcats, now Hornets) figured Rod Higgins held his job as president of basketball operations largely because he was a longtime pal of owner/legend Michael Jordan. But in addressing the reason behind Higgins’ abrupt deision to resign – Jordan shifted more responsibilities to general manager Rich Cho – the GOAT made it clear why he valued having Higgins around too. Here’s a peek at veteran scribe Rick Bonnell‘s Jordan exclusive in the Charlotte Observer:

“Rod’s strong points are working with the coaches and the trainers, traveling with the team,” Jordan said. “He was my buffer zone with the coaches. I didn’t want to overwhelm them with ideas, so I’d work with Rod on that.”
Jordan said he wants Cho, with a background as an attorney, dealing more with budgets and managing the salary cap.
“One of (Higgins’) strong points is not negotiating, leveraging teams,” Jordan said. “Sometimes when teams would call (proposing trades), they’d bypass Rod to get to Rich.”
Higgins, with the franchise since 2007, teamed with Cho the last three years. Jordan said that arrangement led to some “confusion over who reported to whom. It created a contentious environment where I had to step in.”
That’s when Jordan proposed these shifts in responsibilities, which Higgins considered a demotion. At that point, Jordan said he asked Higgins if they could wait until after the draft to make a change.
“He chose to leave now,” Jordan said.
Higgins, 54, has been a friend and colleague of Jordan’s for roughly 30 years. They played together with the Chicago Bulls in the mid-1980s. Jordan later hired Higgins to help him run the Washington Wizards’ basketball operation. Jordan said that made Friday’s parting extra difficult.
“I had to make a decision about a brother,” Jordan said. “I hope he gets a soft landing and finds (the job) he wants.”


No. 2: Beasley as Heat’s cavalry? — Before the 2014 Finals began, the suggestion that Miami might find itself in need of help from erratic forward Michael Beasley would have been seen as an implicit admission that the Heat were headed for trouble against the San Antonio Spurs. Well, they are in trouble, down 3-1 and facing elimination in Game 5 Sunday in San Antonio. And more than a few critics have wondered if Miami coach Erik Spoelstra might look to Beasley as an X factor and counter to Kawhi Leonard‘s offensive impact for the Spurs. Our man Jeff Caplan didn’t necessarily see much of a role for Beasley in the series when they chatted prior to Game 1, but now can offer a look at the maddeningly talented but scatter-careered forward:

Beasley has yet to be active in The Finals and has been inactive in 10 of Miami’s 19 playoff games. He’s played a total of seven minutes in three games. During the regular season, he appeared in a career-low 55 games and averaged career-lows in points (7.9), rebounds (3.1) and minutes (15.1).
Yet, Beasley said: “Honestly, this season has flown by faster than any other I’ve been in. I don’t know why, I don’t know how. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun.”
The Heat had no fun in Games 3 and 4 in Miami and now head back to San Antonio for Sunday’s Game 5 in the unenviable position of trailing 3-1. After Game 4, Spoelstra was asked if Beasley could be an option in Game 5 to provide some much-needed scoring punch. While his playing time was sporadic, Beasley did record a career-high shooting percentage of 49.9 percent and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a better mark than only his rookie season.
Spoelstra didn’t give a direct answer, and in an indication as to how Beasley is still perceived, the questioner was roasted on Twitter by fans and also media covering The Finals for having even broached the subject.
“I shouldn’t say no. I do, but I’m not going to stress over it,” Beasley said when asked if he cares more now how others view him. “People who know me, my family, my kids, my closest friends, they know me. I’m not trying to get everybody to know that I’m a good guy, a great guy or whatever. At this point I’m just focused on playing basketball.”


No. 3: Jackson, Fisher huddle with ‘Melo — We can assume that, if numbers came up when basketball boss Phil Jackson, new head coach Derek Fisher and GM Steve Mills of the New York Knicks met with Carmelo Anthony and agent Leon Rose Friday in Los Angeles, the Knicks contingent detailed the pay cuts Anthony would be facing were he to leave New York as a free agent this summer. How big would those cuts be? The difference between a nine-figure deal with N.Y. vs. an eight-figure packages from outside suitors, the latest allegedly the Miami Heat in a refurbished Big 4 vision. Knicks beat writer Al Iannazzone laid out some of the basics for Newsday:

Phil Jackson led a contingent of Knicks officials into a meeting with Carmelo Anthony on Friday in Los Angeles, according to a league source, and presented their plan for turning the team into a contender.
The current blueprint includes Anthony, but he has the ability to opt out of his contract by June 23 and become a free agent. All indications are that Anthony will do that.
Jackson has said he hopes Anthony will “opt in” and wait until 2015 to become a free agent. But a league source said Anthony hasn’t changed his mind after saying all season that he would become a free agent this summer.
If Anthony were to opt in, it would give the Knicks more flexibility next summer, and perhaps in 2016, to sign multiple stars. The 2015 free-agent class could include LeBron James, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Marc Gasol. Kevin Durant is the big potential prize in 2016.
Jackson was accompanied by general manager Steve Mills and new coach Derek Fisher during the sit-down with Anthony and his agent, Leon Rose. It was the first time Anthony met with Fisher since he became coach.
The Knicks can pay Anthony more than any other team in free agency. A maximum deal from them would be five years and roughly $129 million. But Jackson also has said that if Anthony re-signs, he hopes he will take less to give the Knicks more room for other moves.


No. 4: Cavaliers closing in on coach — Holders of the Draft’s No. 1 pick, dreamers when it comes to LeBron James’ possible return as a free agent, the Cleveland Cavaliers are said to be getting closer to assigning value to at lease one of their multiple variables: their vacant head coaching position. Longtime Cavs beat writer Bob Finnan wrote about the narrowing field of candidates: Alvin Gentry and Tyronn Lue, both assistants on Doc Rivers‘ staff with the Los Angeles Clippers, and former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt:

Clippers assistant coaches Alvin Gentry and Tyronn Lue and former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt.
Gentry and Lue met with Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert on June 13. It was their second interview with the Cavs.
Blatt reportedly will meet with the Cavs next week. He previously spoke to Cavs General Manager David Griffin about the position left vacant by the firing of Mike Brown on May 12. Blatt told Israel reporter David Pick that he interviewed for the Cavs’ head-coaching job via the phone.
The 55-year-old Blatt announced during a news conference in Israel on June 12 that he was leaving his position as head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv. It is believed that he would be joining an NBA team. If he doesn’t get the Cavs’ job, he could join Golden State coach Steve Kerr’s coaching staff as his lead assistant.
However, he’s very much in the mix in Cleveland for the head-coaching position.
Griffin has been doing some background checks on Blatt, and Pick reported that he has spoken to former Cavs’ draft pick Milan Macvan, who played for Blatt in Maccabi. Macvan, a Serbian power forward, was a second-round pick of the Cavs in 2011.
There was a report that Blatt wouldn’t come to the NBA unless he got a head-coaching job. He said on June 12 that wasn’t true.
If those are the three finalists, two of them — the 37-year-old Lue, and Blatt — have never been head coaches in the NBA. The third, 59-year-old Gentry, is considered by some as a coaching retread who has a below-.500 record in 12 years as a head coach. All three coaches are known as offensive-minded, who would take advantage of the Cavs’ personnel.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Miami’s Ray Allen has at least one of these three R’s in his future: Return, relocation or retirement? … Celtics assistant Ron Adams might wind up on Steve Kerr‘s staff in Golden State, and Julius Randle refutes the claim that his right foot needs surgery. … Tim Duncan has until June 24 to opt in for next season. He, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich all have contracts that run through 2014-15, should they choose to give it one more season. … One more inspiring scrap-heap-to-Finals-star Boris Diaw story. … Can Dante Exum vault into the Top 3 and rock the 2014 Draft? … Sid Lowe goes to the Timberwolves for a third (or is it fourth?) go-around, with Sam Mitchell invoking “country club” privileges next. … Larry Bird tries to help disappointed Pacers fans buck up … We’re not clear as to which trio should feel more disrespected by this, the Heat’s Big 3 or the classic comedic geniuses.