Posts Tagged ‘Tim Leiweke’

Metrodome, Site Of NBA Attendance Mark, Will Crumble Before Record

As a baseball park, the HHH Metrodome in Minneapolis was an affront, its plastic grass and Hefty-bag curtains producing a version of the national pastime that was the equivalent of playing marbles in a bathtub. For football, much of the joint’s lousy public relations came from the likes of Mike Ditka (“the Rollerdome,” he slandered it) and that remote-camera video of the December 2010 roof collapse, the Teflon-covered dome losing its poof from too much snow and ice.

But for one memorable season, the Metrodome was a basketball Mecca, drawing more customers to the NBA than any other arena before or since.

With Target Center under construction for what would be the expansion Minnesota Timberwolves’ second season, the Dome (as it was known in the Twin Cities) became the new team’s temporary digs for its 1989-90 inaugural home schedule. Like other domed stadiums turned into makeshift gyms – the Superdome in New Orleans, the Pontiac Silverdome north of Detroit – the configuration for basketball wasn’t ideal.

The court had to be snugged up to one section of the permanent grandstand, with portable bleachers on the other sides. The vastness and lighting messed with shooters’ backgrounds. Then there were the locker rooms, accessed through the baseball dugouts, followed by a long trek up into the bowels of the concrete structure.

“The hardest thing about it was the walk from the court to the locker room,” said Sam Mitchell, the former NBA forward and coach-turned-analyst who scored the first points in Timberwolves history. “You could pull your hamstring in the time it took. It took us forever.

“They had to give us an extra five minutes to get from the locker room down to the court. That was a pain in the butt. You had about 200 stairs to go up and down. And it was cold in there in the wintertime. But from the standpoint of fan support … it’s just something I’ll never forget.”

Don’t be distracted by the Wolves’ 22-60 record; this was more than just a lousy expansion team’s first season. The NBA once had been hot in Minneapolis, the Lakers establishing the league’s first dynasty by winning five titles with George Mikan, Jim Pollard, Slater Martin, Vern Mikkelsen, coach John Kundla and the rest. But the franchise was moved to Los Angeles in 1960, so the Wolves’ arrival tapped into a pent-up demand for an NBA that – with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as its stars – had grown into a monster.

The Dome, with cavernous capacity built for the NFL and MLB and large enough to host the NCAA Final Four twice, was more than capable of accommodating that.

A crowd of 35,427 showed up for the Wolves’ home opener, with Jordan scoring 45 points for the yet-to-be-champion Chicago Bulls. Boston, with Bird and state hero Kevin McHale, pulled in a crowd of 35,713. When the Lakers came to town on St. Patrick’s Day and narrowly escaped with a 101-99 victory – with Wolves coach Bill Musselman pestering Johnson with 7-foot-3 center Randy Breuer defensively – there were 43,606 in that building that night.

Musselman’s grinding, physically-and-mentally demanding style won over fans, too, some of whom remembered his work with the University of Minnesota Gophers in the early 1970s. The Wolves were as rag-tag as you’d expect for a squad built off the league’s leftovers – the starting five for the opener in Seattle featured Mitchell, Tony Campbell, Tod Murphy, Brad Lohaus and Sidney Lowe – but they slowed the pace to a crawl, defended up in their opponents’ grills (No. 2 in fewest points allowed, 99.4) and took on their feisty head coach’s personality. Whether they liked it or not.

“The Wolves used the visitors’ [baseball] clubhouse, on the other side of the laundry room,” said Clayton Wilson, the Timberwolves’ longtime equipment manager, who worked for the Twins before switching over with the move to Target Center. “Tom Kelly [Twins manager] could sit in there and listen to Musselman rip into the players. ‘Lohaus, you [bleep]!’ Muss would get in their faces a little bit.”

Kelly was a season-ticket holder, like Twins Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett.

“T.K. loved the Xs & Os,” Wilson said, “so he would go in pregame and listen to them, and then [during the game] he’d say, ‘OK, see how the coaches said they were going to deny this guy the ball and get it to that guy? That’s what they’re doing.’ “

There were more than a few nights, Wilson said, that Kelly – rattling around his Dome office in the middle of a Minnesota winter – would give the regular laundry guy a night off and wash the Wolves’ sweaty uniforms and socks.

With a clubhouse built for 25 players, the Wolves had space but few creature comforts in their ersatz locker room. Not that it mattered.

“Most of us had not played in the NBA,” Mitchell said over the weekend. “And the guys who had been on NBA rosters, hell, they had barely played. So I would have played in a brier patch. It didn’t matter to me. I would have played butt-naked, outside and barefoot. Just give me an NBA jersey.”

The team’s attendance had been strong all season. It went 17-24 at home and outscored visitors by 0.4 points, vs. 5-36 on the road with an 8.8 points deficit. But that huge Lakers crowd put Minnesota within reach of something special. The NBA’s home attendance mark belonged to the Pistons, who drew 1,066,505 fans in 1987-88 – the first Detroit “Bad Boys” club to reach The Finals.

After 38 home dates, the Wolves were at 937,148, averaging 24,662 per game to Detroit’s 26,012. That’s when president Bob Stein, marketing whiz Tim Leiweke (now the Toronto Raptors’ top exec) and the rest of the front office shifted into another sales gear. Targeting the NBA record, the Wolves packed in 45,458 for Orlando’s visit on April 13, 40,415 to see Utah two nights later and finally 49,551 for the home finale against Denver on April 17. More than 135,000 tickets – some at wildly reduced rates, many with horrible upper-deck sightlines – were sold for a team that lost 60 games and eight of its final nine. Their final count: 1,072,572, an average of 26,160.

It’s a record that still stands, even if the building in which it was set – the Vikings played the final Metrodome game there Sunday and demolition already has begun – soon won’t be.

Raptors’ GM Search Nudges Colangelo Aside

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No, this won’t be awkward. Not at all.

Bryan Colangelo is going to stick around as the Toronto Raptors president but will no longer hold the title of general manager. That job, hierarchically the lesser of Colangelo’s two roles over the past seven years, will go to a person still to be hired by Tim Leiweke, the new CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

A person who will have autonomy over basketball decisions and not be beholden to Colangelo, we are told, no matter how much he strains at the leash.

“It’s a unique situation for me to be in, but not an ideal one,” said Colangelo, whose roots and passion for NBA front office work have sprung from basketball operations, given his GM job with the Phoenix Suns for 11 seasons before signing on with the Raptors in February 2006.

In a teleconference call with reporters, Colangelo also said: “It’s being portrayed as a non-basketball job, but we’re in the basketball business.”

Well, there’s always the possibility that it could become a non-job.

Leiweke made that pretty clear when delineating the respective spheres of influence for the semi-defrocked Colangelo in his new role on the business side of the franchise and whoever it is — Denver’s newly minted Executive of the Year winner Masai Ujiri is reported to be a leading candidate, if the Nuggets allow Leiweke to woo him — winds up making the basketball calls.

After all, Colangelo, 47, has been doing that for the past seven seasons and all Toronto has to show for it are two first-round eliminations (2007, ’08) and, since then, a record 90 games under .500 and three different coaches in five years.

Leiweke was unflinching in telling the media in a separate media call prior to Colangelo’s that there will be no blurring of the lines, in terms of duties, responsibilities and authority. Colangelo can suggest, but he can no longer decide. All the big stuff, all the basketball stuff, will be the new GM’s domain, from Dwane Casey‘s future as coach to scouting priorities.

“Bryan’s going to have to occasionally take a deep breath and understand now that a GM is going to have a direct report [to me] and final say-so on all basketball decisions,” Leiweke said. “He’s going to have to live with that. And I hope he can. Because if he can’t, I’m fairly certain we’re not going to fire the Toronto Raptors.”

There also was a question about Colangelo being free to pursue another basketball job. Leiweke’s stance was evident in the quick and simple way he said: “Yes.”

Because Leiweke – a longtime executive with sports and entertainment conglomerate AEG — has his roots in the business and marketing side of pro sports, it’s not likely Colangelo will get his brain picked on branding and sponsorship decisions, either.

Now, as someone to send to Flin Flon or Labrador City to raise the Raptors’ profile as “Canada’s NBA team” on an offseason promotional caravan, sure. But it didn’t take much reading-between-the-lines of Leiweke’s platitudes about Colangelo’s performance in his dual role to see this as a warehousing.

Good soldier. Good citizen of Toronto. Ugh. Was this a redeployment or a eulogy?

“I don’t believe I’m being pushed off into a corner somewhere,” Colangelo said. “I think I’m going to be used in a fashion that my 18 years of experience is going to be tapped into, not just by Tim but by the new GM.”

Good for Colangelo. But odds are, MLSE has just turned “team president” into one of those “assistant to the assistant manager” positions fit for Dunder-Mifflin, a job from which one seeks one’s next job.

Front Office Phil (Jackson) Headed North?



HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You need a passport for this week’s stop on the Phil Jackson rumor train.

Cleveland is history, Mike Brown‘s the new (old) coach there. The Seattle situation, complete with Chris Hansen and his affinity for Jackson, took a serious hit Monday when Sacramento prevailed in its bid to keep the Kings in California. The Los Angeles Lakers’ situation is still in flux as no one knows what is going to happen with Dwight Howard (free agency looms), Kobe Bryant (rehabilitation from Achilles surgery is underway) and coach Mike D’Antoni (good for next season as coach), but they will all certainly be in the crosshairs this summer.

So the attention to Jackson has shifted north, to Toronto, where reports have the Raptors exploring the possibilities of trying to woo Jackson to be a part of their front office structure. Since he’s made it clear that he has no interest in returning to the league as a coach, the ideal situation for the Zen Master is to return as Front Office Phil.

Jackson’s relationship with new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment boss, Tim Leiweke, presents the Raptors with an opportunity to pursue Jackson in ways that didn’t seem possible before, as Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com detail here:

One source said that Leiweke’s “vision and energy” and history of shared success at Staples Center with the 11-time championship coach ensures that Jackson will give the pitch strong consideration despite skepticism around the league about his willingness to relocate to Canada.

Amid its pursuit of Jackson in the wake of Leiweke’s arrival, Raptors president Bryan Colangelo is scheduled to meet with the MLSE board next week in hopes of convincing his bosses to pick up the option year on his contract. The 2013-14 option in coach Dwane Casey‘s contract was picked up by Colangelo before this season, but Leiweke’s arrival has thrown both of their futures into some immediate doubt.

In an interview last week with the San Francisco Chronicle, Jackson said “three or four teams” have already expressed interest and that “none of it involves coaching.”

“There are some interesting situations that are presenting themselves, but I really haven’t made up my mind yet what I’m going to do,” Jackson told the Chronicle.

Jackson also confirmed to the newspaper he’s interested in a developing team “where you’d have the influence in [selecting the] coaching staff and the kind of culture that goes along with it.”

It makes sense, until you remember that Jackson’s ties to the Lakers remain extremely strong. And until the Lakers make some concrete decisions about their future, there always be those who hold out hope that Jackson (alongside his fiancée Jeanie Buss) will return to the Lakers and help fix all that’s gone wrong since he departed two years ago.

That reconciliation seems impossible as long as Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak remain at the controls for the Lakers. Quite frankly, they have more pressing matters to tend to, namely what Howard will do in free agency. Having him in the fold with Pau Gasol makes the Lakers’ recovery from their ragged 2012-13 season one of the most crucial stretches in recent franchise history, considering they’ll have to do it without a healthy Bryant to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility.

There remains another potential option in Jackson’s preferred Southern California, one that Lakers faithful fear above all others, and that’s Jackson working down the hall at the Staples Center in the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room. What better way for the Clippers to cement their takeover as the city’s top basketball outfit than to lure Jackson over to their side in his return to the NBA?

A team with a nucleus of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan with Jackson working behind the scenes (or as coach/executive, if things don’t go Vinny Del Negro‘s way during this postseason) has all sorts of possibilities. Same goes for the Brooklyn Nets, who could have a coaching vacancy this summer, barring a surprise championship run during these playoffs.

So much of this is speculation at this point, with everyone believing that they have the perfect situation for Jackson to walk into and craft to his liking, it’s hard to know what’s a legitimate possibility and what’s just hot air.

But as long as Jackson is reportedly interested in making a comeback, in whatever capacity, there will be suitors lined up to pitch him and plenty of fans anxious to see if he bites.

Prokhorov’s Plan For D-Will

LONDON — Phase 2 of Sell-Deron-Williams-on-the-Nets kicked into high gear here Friday afternoon with the arrival of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who hit town just in time to see Williams lead the Nets to the first regular season win on European soil in NBA history.

But Prokhorov shared some of his thoughts on the Nets’ plan before the game. Sitting on a panel with NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, AEG President and CEO Tim Leiweke and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tannenbaum, Prokhorov admitted that this time in London would be his first opportunity to sit down and begin selling Williams on the Nets face-to-face.

“We only had a 10-minute chat after the game and he was really tired,” Prokhorov said of the time they spent chatting after a game in San Antonio the day after the Nets snagged Williams in a trade with Utah for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, two first-round draft picks and cash. “I think we will meet here in London for a more substantial meeting, for a global discussion. For me, it is very interesting, the reaction of an All-Star player, what he is feeling about what is going on in the global world. I have one approach, maybe he feels something different.

“But from that first meeting, we have a lot in common. He wants to be No. 1, we want to be No. 1. We are on the same page. That is very important.”

Prokhorov had to like what he saw from Williams Friday night. The two-time All-Star scored 14 of his 16 points after halftime and also finished with 11 assists as the Nets pulled away late to snap a six-game losing streak.

Even more important, though, was the way Williams owned the floor and the flow of the game when he was out there. In Brook Lopez (25 points) and Williams, the Nets already have two of the pieces they’ll need to reshape their team into a playoff contender in the next year.

But they also have a time crunch they are dealing with. Williams can become a free agent in the summer of 2012. He said he won’t make a decision until it’s time. That gives Prokhorov and the Nets a little time to make their case, one strong enough to sway Williams into making the move from New Jersey to Brooklyn after next season.