Posts Tagged ‘Timberwolves’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 26

Rivers, Clippers ready to challenge Warriors | Questions abound for new-look Hornets | Pistons open camp in much better space | What’s next for KG?

No. 1: Rivers, Clippers ready to challenge Warriors — They can’t hide from it, the expectations or the obstacles. And Doc Rivers knows as much, has prepared for as much heading into the 2016-17 NBA season with designs on taking the Los Angeles Clippers to places they haven’t been before, even with the Golden State Warriors and their superstar-studded roster (Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) standing in the way. Rivers insists his Clippers are ready to challenge the Warriors, no matter what the doubters think. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times breaks down the challenges facing the Clippers with training camps set to kick off around the league:

Last season the Clippers had another successful regular season (53-29) and had high hopes going in the playoffs. But that quickly evaporated when they lost a first-round series to the Portland Trail Blazers.

Paul broke his right hand and Griffin reinjured his left quadriceps tendon in Game 4, forcing both to miss the last two games of the series.

Once again there were complaints that the L.A. Clippers still had never made it past the second round of the playoffs.

“You should never run from the truth. That’s true,” Rivers said. “But getting past the second round is such a [expletive] goal. That’s not my goal. My goal is to be the winner. So, to be the winner, part of that is getting past the second round. The second round talk does nothing for me. The endgame is being the winner.”

Rivers quickly pointed out that “we’re not” one of the favorites to win the 2017 NBA championship.

Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has the Warriors as the title favorites at 5-7 odds, with defending NBA champion Cleveland second (5-2), San Antonio third (6-1) and the Clippers fourth (20-1).

“We’re in the conversation,” Rivers said.

So much of the Clippers’ success will be determined by the health of Paul and Griffin, both of whom Rivers said are 100% healthy based on how well they have looked while playing in pickup games at the practice facility.

But Griffin has another cloud hovering over him. He broke his right hand in a fight last January with then Clippers assistant equipment manager Matias Testi.

Griffin penned a letter to Clippers fans on the Players’ Tribune Friday, apologizing for last season.

“It’s been a hard year for Blake – from the knee injury to the Matias thing,” Rivers said. “Blake had a year of life lessons. And that’s OK. I don’t have a problem with that. We all have them. I actually will say Blake is in the best physical and mental place he’s been in since I’ve been here.”

The Clippers will gather together for media day Monday and open their training camp Tuesday at UC Irvine.

In recent weeks Rivers has watched as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has taken a knee during the the national anthem in his quest to raise awareness about racial injustice.

“When I hear people say, you have to stand with your team, that’s true. But there are certain issues that transcend everything,” Rivers said. “This is a very serious problem we have. And to me, none of us are smart enough to know the solutions. But what we can do is start the debate and the talk.

“And usually when enough people get to talking, there are usually results in some type of action. To me, whether you like what Kaepernick did or not – and it’s not for me to tell you if you should or shouldn’t – the fact that you’re reading about a statement that I’m making about it means what he’s doing has had an impact. Now we have to get to the endgame and that’s the hard part.”

On the basketball court, the hard part for the Clippers and the rest of the league will be getting past the Warriors with Durant and two-time MVP Stephen Curry as the expected super team of the NBA.

“There’s always going to be a competitor in our league. There’s never going to be one team that wins it every year,” Rivers said. “There’s always going to be someone that’s standing in front of you and our job is to stand directly in front of them and block their way.…

“But that’s fine, if that’s what people want to believe [about the Warriors]. We’re just not going to believe that crap.”



Garnett retires after 21 seasons

Fifteen-time All-Star Kevin Garnett has reached terms on a buyout with the Timberwolves, according to Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and is has retired from the NBA.

The 40-year-old Garnett, who has played 21 seasons in the league, was drafted out of high school by the Timberwolves in 1995 and played with the franchise for a dozen seasons until he was traded to the Celtics in 2007. Garnett won his only NBA championship with Boston in 2008.

Garnett was traded to Brooklyn in 2013, then returned to the Timberwolves in 2015.

If Garnett has indeed decided to retire, he will join Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan in the prospective 2021 Hall of Fame class.

Garnett announced his decision on his Instagram page.



Morning shootaround — May 21

Love conquers all | Thibs cleans house | Kerr’s fight continues | Casey defends Lowry | D’Antoni or Silas in Houston?
No. 1: Playoffs a perfect fit for Love here — A season ago there were all the problems trying to fit into the new atmosphere and new system and new team in Cleveland. Then came the playoffs and he was quickly injured and forced to the sidelines. But a year later Kevin Love is not only comfortable alongside LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, but he’s a perfect 14-0 in the playoffs for his career and having fun riding the wave. Our own Steve Aschburner caught up with Love, who talked about the change:

“I think there’s a sense of purpose now,” Love said. “We have our identity. And we also know that because of last year [injuries to Irving and Iman Shumpert, as well as Love], things can be taken away from you at any time.”

For Love the biggest difference between playoff basketball and that regular-season variety to which he was limited in six seasons with Minnesota is the urgency.

“Every play really does matter,” said Love, who made it to three All-Star games before ever helping a team reach the playoffs.

“Plays in the first, second, third quarters that can change the ball game in the fourth. Everything counts. One bad defensive play. A technical foul [or a flagrant] where they get the ball back and hit a three. Things that, in the regular season, you might be able to brush off. Here you have to really stick with it.”

Love said he has embraced the physical nature of the postseason, too, and he’s reminded himself to attack the offensive boards, rather than floating from his spots around the perimeter.

“I’ve had a mentality where I want to hit first,” said Love, who takes enough punishment — shoulder “stingers” in particular — to unnerve some Cleveland fans. “It’s going to get chippy. Both teams want to win so bad. You definitely remember [hard fouls]. But whether it’s a success or failure, you have to handle it quickly and get on to the next play.”


No. 2: Thibodeau cleans out Wolves front office — You really didn’t expect Tom Thibodeau to take long to put his footprint on the Timberwolves, did you? The new leader of the wolfpack came down hard on Friday, firing GM Milt Newton, president of basketball operations Rob Babcock and several others and it’s likely just the start. Kent Youngblood of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has the gory details:

“If you’ve been around sports, you know how things happen,” Newton said. “Once you bring in a new group they want to put their stamp on it. It’s part of the job. I definitely don’t have any hard feelings towards anyone. I wish those guys well. And I wish the players well.”

Said Babcock: “Nobody likes to be let go, but that’s part of this business. When someone comes in new, the likelihood is there will be changes. I’ve been through it on both ends. They’ll do an outstanding job here. I’m disappointed I don’t get to be a part of it. But I understand completely. I hold nothing against them at all.”

These could be the first of many moves made by Thibodeau, who is clearly intent on building the organization in his image.

He spent a lot of time preparing for this. During his season away from the NBA, Thibodeau visited 13 franchises looking for ideas on how to run a front office, assemble and coach a team.

The moves were made shortly after the NBA’s scouting combine finished, as the team is ramping up preparations for June’s draft.


No. 3: Being back with Warriors helps Kerr with recovery — What should have been one of the best, most fun-filled seasons of Steve Kerr’s career in the NBA has instead been a constant battle with pain as he continues to recover from offseason surgery. Though he’s far from mended, Kerr told our Scott Howard-Cooper that there’s no way he’s walking away from the job and the group of players that are the best medicine:

“I wouldn’t equate my health with anything that’s happened basketball-wise,” Kerr said. “I’ll put it this way. Under normal circumstances if I hadn’t had this health issue this would have been one of the great years of my life. But instead it was, honestly, one of the worst. Probably the worst.”
But quit, now that he’s made it back this far?

No. Not a chance. Not even if he could have slid into some advisory role with the team and whispered to assistant coach Luke Walton not to take the Los Angeles Lakers job because the big chair was opening on the Golden State bench. Not even if the Warriors follow their 73-9 finish, the best record in league history, with a second consecutive title in June and Kerr can go out on top like few others.

He loves the gig too much. Returning to broadcasting isn’t appealing, as good as he was as an analyst, and the idea of becoming head of basketball operations somewhere again, a role he had for three years with the Phoenix Suns, practically makes him cringe. GMs are separated from the team a lot, and the daily interaction is exactly what Kerr enjoys most. Nothing at age 50, far removed from a playing career of five championships with the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, compares to the competitive energy, the trash talking, the camaraderie, the adrenaline rush of being on the sideline and under pressure, especially in the playoffs.

That is why Kerr fought his way back to the Warriors. It’s not that he wanted to get healthy to return to the job. He wanted to return to the job to get healthy.

Kerr required the frenzy of the 2015-16 Warriors.
“I needed the job to distract me and engage me,” he said.


No. 4: Casey says Lowry didn’t quit — With his team already getting hammered before halftime of Game 2 on Thursday night, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry headed to the locker room early and opened the door for a ton of criticism. But Toronto coach Dwane Casey came to Lowry’s defense and said there’s no way the quarterback gave up on his team, according to Mike Mazzeo of

“Kyle did not walk out on his team,” Casey said. “He and Cory Joseph use the bathroom more than any two human beings I know during the game. … I don’t think he quit on his team.”

Lowry faced criticism after he left the bench with 2½ minutes remaining in the second quarter “just to kind of decompress.” At the time, he was 0-for-4 from 3-point range and had committed five turnovers. Cleveland closed the first half on a 16-2 run to take a 14-point halftime lead.

“It’s whatever. I think it’s an overreaction, personally. I’ve done it countless times,” Lowry reiterated. “Maybe I went to go to the bathroom. I’ve done it before, going to the bathroom. It’s just the magnitude of the situation, which makes it a lot bigger than what it really it is.

“So next time I’ll clarify, ‘Hey, I’m going to the bathroom,’ or ‘Hey, I’m doing this.’ I’ll make sure I’m clear on it so everyone knows.”

Through the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, Lowry is averaging 9.0 points, 4.0 assists and 4.5 turnovers while shooting 28.6 percent from the field and 1-for-15 from 3-point territory.

The Raptors lost Games 1 and 2 by a combined 50 points. Game 3 is Saturday in Toronto.


No. 5: Rockets search down to D’Antoni vs. Silas — It could be down to a matter of years in Houston. The final two in the Rockets’ search for a new head coach is evidently down to 65-year-old veteran Mike D’Antoni or 42-year-old up-and-coming Stephen Silas. The deciding factor could even be the choice of lead assistant. Jeff Bzdelik with D’Antoni or Lionel Hollins with Silas. So says the always tapped in Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Though very traditional in his approach, Hollins has long been favored by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who hoped to add Hollins to Kevin McHale’s coaching staff after the 2013-14 season before Hollins landed the head coaching position with the Brooklyn Nets.

Much of the conversations with D’Antoni since his meeting with Morey and Rockets owner Leslie Alexander have also been about the staff he would put together with Grizzlies assistant Jeff Bzdelik emerging as D’Antoni’s likely choice as a defensive specialist. Bzdelik, a former Nuggets head coach, met with Morey and Alexander about the Rockets head coaching position on Thursday.

Just as D’Antoni, 65, has had many head coaching stops — with the Nuggets, Suns, Knicks and Lakers in addition to a celebrated career in Italy — Silas has been with five teams as an assistant. Silas, 42, coached with the Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets, the Washington Wizards, Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers before returning to Charlotte for his current position under former Rockets assistant Steve Clifford.

Silas, the son of longtime NBA head coach Paul Silas, who was a candidate to be the Rockets head coach in 2003, became the youngest assistant coach in NBA history when he was hired by the Charlotte Bobcats at age 27 in 2000.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Steph Curry says his elbow is fine and because of that the Warriors are feeling better heading into Game 3…Is America ready for Vice President Mark Cuban?…The buddy-love between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade doesn’t sit right with NBA old-timers…Pat Riley says he’s expecting a lot more from Goran Dragic next season….It seems that Draymond Green has a very long memory…New head coach Frank Vogel says the Magic are ready to take the next step…Steven Adams is getting bruised and battered in the playoffs, but will keep plugging away…The Coyote is retiring in San Antonio.

Rosters released for Rising Stars game

The core of the young, improving Timberwolves — Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine — were among 20 rookies and second-year players chosen for the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge that will be played Feb. 12 in Toronto as part of All-Star Weekend, the NBA announced.

The rosters released Wednesday in a continuation of the format of the U.S. against the World were selected in a league-wide balloting of assistant coaches. Votes had to include a minimum of four guards, four front-court players and two at either position per side. The teams must also have at least three first-year players and three sophomores.

The Timberwolves will have the strongest representation, led by Toronto native Wiggins, the reigning Rookie of the Year, and Towns, the leading candidate at midseason for the 2015-16 award. One of Wiggins’ World teammates, Dwight Powell of the Mavericks, is also from Toronto.

The U.S. roster consists of Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel (76ers), Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell (Lakers), Rodney Hood (Jazz), Jabari Parker (Bucks), Elfrid Payton (Magic), Marcus Smart (Celtics), Towns and LaVine.

The World roster is Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks), Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets), Clint Capela (Rockets), Mario Hezonja (Magic), Nikola Jokic and Emmanuel Mudiay (Nuggets), Nikola Mirotic (Bulls), Raul Neto (Jazz), Wiggins and Powell.

The World won the 2015 game, the first under the current format, 121-112 in Brooklyn. N.Y., as Wiggins scored 22 points en route to being named MVP.


Hang Time Podcast (Episode 217) Featuring Scott Howard-Cooper

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The rookies are for real.

Don’t rub your eyes … they’re absolutely real.

From Karl-Anthony Towns and his seemingly nightly double-doubles for the Minnesota Timberwolves to Jahlil Okafor and his scoring prowess with the Philaelphia 76ers to the truly pleasant surprise of the group, Kristaps Porzingis (they are already chanting his name at Madison Square Garden), and his highlight reel work for the New York Knicks, this year’s rookie class appears to be ahead of the curve.

The prevailing wisdom was while this bunch was loaded with intriguing talents, players like Emanuel Mudiay in Denver and Mario Hezonja in Orlando joining the aforementioned group of budding young stars, like almost every rookie class they would need time to flourish. But you can dig down deeper into the late lottery for guys like Miami’s Justise Winslow and Detroit’s Stanley Johnson and find youngsters ready for prime time.

The impact in many instances has been immediate.’s Scott Howard-Cooper has tracked these players from the start of the process to now and will continue to do so with his weekly updates on the’s Rookie Ladder. Our Draft and rookie guru saw this group coming before the casual fan could match names and faces. We took more than a few minutes with Howard-Cooper to address the Houston Rockets’ firing of Kevin McHale and the Golden State Warriors’ 12-0 start, too.

All that and more as he joins us on Episode 217 of The Hang Time Podcast.


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of, Lang Whitaker of’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis already has the crowd at Madison Square Garden chanting his name

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 26

VIDEO: The NBA remembers the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Flip Saunders


Saunders remembered as leader, cherished member of NBA family | Anthony, Knicks gain inspired by Mets | Parker ready for new, reduced role with Spurs | Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball?

No. 1: Saunders remembered as a leader and cherished member of NBA family — Flip Saunders lost his battle with cancer Sunday at 60, succumbing to Hodgkins lymphoma on the eve of a NBA season he was going to start away from the Minnesota Timberwolves as he continued his four-month fight. Instead, he’s being remembered around a league where he touched many throughout his career. Our very own Steve Aschburner, a longtime former Timberwolves beat writer, shared some of his own reflections on Saunders:

Saunders had other pet phrases, things he’d coined or gleaned from the many coaches’ books he devoured during his trek through basketball’s trenches — seven years in the CBA in Rapid City, S.D., in La Crosse, Wis., in Sioux Falls, S.D., after college work at Golden Valley Lutheran College, Minnesota and Tulsa. “You are the position you can guard,” he’d say. And: “You give a player only as much responsibility as he can handle.” And: “Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.” Sometimes he’d footnote, sometimes he wouldn’t.

Flip also could prompt one back, typically when he’d claim that the only reason Marquette (my alma mater and first beat) won the NCAA men’s championship in 1977 (his senior year) was that Minnesota, despite its 24-3 record, was on probation and ineligible for the tournament. “But like Woody Allen said,” I’d remind him, “80 percent of success is showing up.” He’d wave his hand and we’d banter another day.

The fact is, Saunders disliked confrontations. It was the single biggest criticism of him as a coach and, when his teams in Minnesota and Detroit went through some tough times, it was cited as key to his undoing. When your best player, Kevin Garnett, is a blast furnace of motivation and improvement, there’s little about which a coach needs to confront him or the teammates intimidated into following. When some salty veterans such as Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell or Rasheed Wallace plant their heels, though, being player-friendly can get you pink-slipped.

Saunders was easily the most successful coach in Timberwolves history, particularly during his first stint. The Wolves went 411-326 and made the franchise’s only eight postseason appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2004. All other seasons (including 2014-15 with Saunders navigating downward for lottery chances), they’ve gone 407-940 with zero playoff berths.

The good times were the product of Saunders’ coaching, Kevin McHale‘s acumen and Hall of Fame experience as VP of basketball operations, and the two college teammates’ and friends’ commitment to Garnett and, for as long as it lasted, to Stephon Marbury. That blew up in less than three seasons and, despite the subsequent playoff runs, Minnesota never got quite good enough.

A comment Flip made a while back in hindsight about that fizzled vision turned particularly poignant Sunday. “I hope years from now,” he said, “KG, Steph and I aren’t sitting around a table at All-Star Weekend saying, ‘We really screwed up.’ ”

He couldn’t push the Pistons over the top in three years, either, and the situation in Washington went sideways thanks mostly to Gilbert Arenas and his guns. And yet, while Saunders got fired three times at the NBA level — the Wolves dismissal, coming from McHale, stung all the way to the end — he got hired four times.


No. 2: Melo, Knicks gain inspiration from Mets — Give Carmelo Anthony credit for thinking big — and we’re talking championship big — as the New York Knicks head into this season. He’s drawing inspiration from the New York Mets, who’ll battle the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. And in the Mets, Anthony says he sees similarities in how they have gone from rebuilding to competing for a championship. Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News details Anthony’s vision and how the fortunes of these two Big Apple franchises relate:

It wasn’t long ago that another New York sports team was selling hope over substance, building around a combination of youth and veterans while resisting the quick fix.

So can the Knicks draw inspiration from the World Series baseball team across the East River?

Carmelo Anthony thinks so.

“That’s very inspiring to me, what the Mets have done this season,” he said. “But that didn’t start this season. That was a process. That was a build that was happening the last couple of years. To see them now kind of at the pinnacle of the sport, it’s a good feeling. Even if you’re not a Mets fan and you’re here, it’s a good feeling.”

The similarities between the Knicks and Mets also extend to championship droughts (43 and 29 years, respectively), although only the Jets can claim in New York that they’ve tortured their fanbase longer than the Knicks.

“I don’t want to say it’s similar but you can see some similarities in that,” Anthony said. “The way that they kind of broke everything down and kind of rebuilt piece-by-piece and all of it came together at the right time. I don’t want to say we’re in a similar situation, but we are. Right now we put pieces together and we have to go out there and build that.”

The big difference is the Knicks won 17 games last season and finished with one of the worst records in the NBA. So they’re not close to anything resembling a long playoff run, which took the Mets five years to accomplish since Sandy Alderson took over.


No. 3: Parker ready for new, reduced role for Spurs — The addition of All-Star help like LaMarcus Aldridge and the increased role of budding All-Stars like Kawhi Leonard could mean a new and reduced role for Tony Parker. And it’s a role Parker is prepared to embrace at this stage of his career. Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News details the changes on the horizon for one of the Spurs’ staples:

Days before the Spurs start their quest for championship No. 6, the 33-year-old Parker acknowledged his role is finally changing. No longer will he be relied to do so much on offense, instead passing that torch to Leonard and Aldridge.

“I understand my role is going to change,” said Parker. “I don’t need to score as much and I have to get LaMarcus and Kawhi (going). I know my role is changing, but I love it. The way that (Tim Duncan) changed towards Manu (Ginobili), and Manu changed towards me, it’s the same thing with me now.”

Parker echoed the words of Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who mentioned to the Express-News how the Spurs “equal opportunity offense” will now shift towards Aldridge and Leonard. Popovich was quick to point out that Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker won’t be forgotten, but things will change.

Let Parker tell it, he’s fine with taking a backseat.

“The last four or five years it was my job to be aggressive and score, but this year is totally different,” said Parker. “I have to be the engine in another way.”

Parker has led the Spurs in scoring four of the last five seasons, before Leonard took over last season averaging 16.5 points (Parker averaged 14.4).

Asked his feelings when the offense was transitioning to Ginobili and Parker, Duncan admitted the competitor in him resisted, and still does a bit, but added his unselfishness took over.

“As an individual you got to try not to fight it,” said Duncan, who is entering his 19th season. “We’re all competitors and we all want to do what we’ve always done. You have to understand what’s best for the team and I think we’re all here for that. It’s just about accepting that and finding your niche in your new role.”


No. 4: Ibaka the most unique big man in basketball? —  On a team headlined by superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, might Serge Ibaka be the most unique talent for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season? It’s a great debate. One that Erik Horne of the Oklahoman argues in Ibaka’s favor with a new and crucial season for Ibaka and the Thunder on the horizon:

Catch Ibaka at the end of Thunder practice, and you’ll see the same guy who’s the active leader in blocked shots per game (2.58) outshoot fellow power forward Nick Collison from beyond the arc. At 34, Collison refers to the 3-pointer as something he’s tried to work on “to stay on the court” in the changing NBA.

Factor in the arrival of Billy Donovan, he of the pace and space offense and experience with the skilled big man, and the green light is even greener from 3 for the versatile Ibaka, who at 26, isn’t using the 3 to stay on the court, but expand his stranglehold on it.

“I feel very comfortable with him shooting threes, even corner threes, because of the time and effort he’s put into it,” Donovan said. “but also he’s a proven shooter – he’s a really good catch-and-shoot guy and that’s a unique combination for a frontcourt player in the league to have.”

Donovan couldn’t come up with a current or past comparison for Ibaka either, forced to look toward the future, a player who’s yet to play an NBA regular season game. Donovan said Indiana Pacers rookie Myles Turner has the skill set to mimic what Ibaka does on the floor.

Good luck, young fella.

“I coached him with the USA team. He’s somebody I think has a chance to maybe develop into that role,” Donovan came up with after a few moments of thought. “That would be the only guy I’ve been around and coached in the summer who I’d say is like that.”

What makes Ibaka even more of an outlier: He’s been capable of this longer than his uptick in 3-point attempts has indicated. He’s one of 11 players in NBA history taller than 6-foot-10 to shoot better than 35 percent from 3, 45 percent from the field and block 150 shots in a season. No big deal, except Ibaka’s the only one to do it three times.

The numbers summarize what left Jackson speechless when faced with the daunting question: Is anyone like Ibaka? Jackson knows what a great shotblocker looks like. He played with 7-footer Patrick Ewing, eighth all-time in blocks but someone who kept his game inside the arc offensively in an era where bigs weren’t encouraged to shoot from deep.

Last season, Ibaka attempted nearly twice the amount of threes Ewing hoisted in his entire career.



SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Who needs training camp and the preseason anyway? Tristan Thompson is ready for the Cavaliers’ season opener … Folks keep writing P.J. Tucker off in Phoenix and he keeps on grinding his way back into the mix … No one is sure what to make of the Sacramento Kings this year, which is exactly why they (DeMarcus Cousins, George Karl and Rajon Rondo in particular), are one of the truly intriguing must-see teams in the NBA this season … Serge Ibaka, the most unique big man in NBA history? … The Philadelphia 76ers don’t officially start this season until Wednesday and they are already limping …

Report: Saunders will not return to Timberwolves this season

Flip Saunders will not return to coach the Timberwolves this season, owner Glen Taylor told Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Friday in the latest sad update as Saunders battles cancer.

Saunders, also the president of basketball operations, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in June. He has been  hospitalized since early September.

Asked if he expected Saunders to return, Taylor paused, then said: “Not this year. I just think his illness, I mean, it’s serious. At this point, if he came back I still think he’d have a hard time to recover all his energy and all that because he has been in the hospital for a long time.”

From Zgoda:

Doctors treating Saunders called his disease treatable and curable when the Wolves announced his diagnosis in mid-August. At the time, the team said Saunders intended to continue working while he received chemotherapy treatments, which he had completed by the time he was hospitalized in September.

Taylor called the developments “an unbelievable situation we hadn’t anticipated going into this season” and said he talked with the team’s players about Saunders’ condition and his influence on all of them as coach, chief basketball decision-maker and franchise part-owner during a team dinner at Taylor’s Mankato home earlier this month.

“I don’t care how old you get or how experienced you get, these friendships that are in your lives are so important,” said Taylor, who has employed Saunders two different times and known him since shortly after he bought the team in 1994. “They do affect your heart and your mind on a daily basis.”

Taylor said he and Saunders had talked enough throughout the summer that there has been a “blueprint” to follow that includes such things as buying out young forward Anthony Bennett’s contract before training camp began.

The Timberwolves had previously named Sam Mitchell the interim coach and expanded the duties of general manager Milt Newton in an attempt to fill the void in Saunders’ absence.

Morning Shootaround — July 30

VIDEO: Members of Team Africa and Team World have arrived in Johannesburg


Ujiri leads the charge in Africa | Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves | Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’

No. 1: Ujiri leads the charge in Africa — Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is at the forefront of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders initiative in Africa. It’s more than just an obligation from the Ujiri, it’s a passion project years in the making. Our very own Shaun Powell is on the ground in Johannesburg and captured the essence of Ujiri’s mission to serve as an ambassador for the game, and sports in general, on his native continent:

For anyone who might ask why the general manager of the Toronto Raptors is spending his summer threatening to go hoarse half a world away, well, you must know this about Masai Ujiri. When he’s in charge of an NBA franchise, he’s in his element, because his peers find him very astute and a few years ago voted him the game’s top executive. But when he’s developing basketball and teaching life skills to children and young adults in Africa, he’s in his homeland and his own skin, and there is no greater reward or satisfaction or privilege. When and if he wins his first NBA title, that might pull equal to this.


He was in Senegal last week, holding basketball clinics through his foundation, Giants of Africa. Next up: Stops in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and also Nigeria, his birthplace. He’ll spend three weeks on this side of the Atlantic with the hope of discovering the next Dikembe Mutombo from these clinics, but would gladly settle for the next surgeon.

This weekend is unique and special because here on Saturday the NBA will stage an exhibition game for the first time in Africa, and the participating NBA players and coaches are warming up by serving as clinic counselors.

One is Chris Paul, and the cheers he gets from campers are the loudest, but even an eight-time All-Star knows he’s not the star of the home team, not on this soil.

Ujiri ricochets from one group of campers to another like a blind bumblebee, carrying an air horn that blows when one session ends and another begins. After five non-stop hours of this he is asked if he’s tired, and no, he’s just amused at the question. Who gets tired from doing their passion?

“I look at these kids and they remind me of me of when I was a young kid,” he says. “I see me through them. All they need is a chance.”

It all runs with precision at this clinic, how the students are disciplined and determined, how their enthusiasm rubs off on the NBA players and coaches, how Ujiri’s vision seems so … right. As Ujiri gave pointers, a Hall of Famer who’s also the pioneer of African basketball stood off to the side, shaking his head, astonished at the spectacle and the man in charge.

“Masai has a lot of passion for this, and helping Africa year after year speaks about the person he is,” says Hakeem Olajuwon. “He is a prince. That’s what he is.”


No. 2: Veteran point guard Miller joins Timberwolves — Kevin Garnett won’t be the only “old head” in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ locker room this season. He’ll have some company in the form of veteran point guard Andre Miller, who agreed to a one-year deal to join the renaissance KG, Flip Saunders and Ricky Rubio are trying to engineer with one of the league’s youngest rosters. Miller’s role is more than just that of an adviser, though, writes Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune:

It was less than two weeks ago that Flip Saunders, Wolves president of basketball operations, said his team might be in the market for a veteran point guard.

He has arrived.

A source confirmed a report that Wolves had come to an agreement on a one-year contract with veteran Andre Miller, who visited the Wolves on Wednesday.

It marks an evolution in Saunders’ thinking. Immediately after moving up to draft former Apple Valley star Tyus Jones late in the first round of the draft, Saunders sounded like he might be happy with Jones as Ricky Rubio’s backup. But the fact that Rubio is coming off ankle surgery and Jones is a rookie ultimately changed Saunders’ mind.

“You don’t want to put the pressure on the young guys so much,” Saunders said two weeks ago. “Hey, listen, we’re always looking to upgrade. It could happen.”

And it did. Miller, 39, is nearing the end of a long career, but his experience should help both Rubio and Jones while giving the Wolves some peace of mind. Originally drafted with the eighth overall pick in the 1999 draft by Cleveland, the 6-2 Miller has averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 assists over 16 seasons while playing for seven teams. Last season between 81 games in Sacramento and Washington, Miller averaged 4.4 points and 3.5 assists per game.


No. 3: Matthews: Trail Blazers ‘never made an offer’: — There is no need for an autopsy on Wes Matthews‘ exit from Portland via free agency. He’s a Dallas Maverick now and apparently for good reason. Matthews told Jason Quick of the Oregonian that the Trail Blazers never made an offer to keep him, allowing the injured free agent to take the offer from the Mavericks and move on after being an integral part of the operation in Rip City.:

He had hoped he could return to the city that had embraced him, to the team with players he considered brothers, to the franchise where he grew into one of the NBA’s most well-rounded and respected shooting guards.

But in the end, after five seasons, the feeling was not mutual. He was greeted with silence. No phone call. No text messages. The Blazers never made an offer.

“I was pissed off,” Matthews said. “I felt disrespected.”

He believed he was a viable option for teams, even as he continued to rehabilitate a ruptured left Achilles tendon suffered in March. In the days leading up to free agency, Matthews’ camp released video to ESPN showing him jogging in place, utilizing lateral movement and shooting jumpers. He was, he wanted the league to know, ahead of the eight-month recovery time estimated by doctors.

A story also leaked that Matthews expected negotiations to start at $15 million a season, or almost $8 million more than he made last year.

It was a ghastly number for the Blazers, even though they could technically afford him. Paul Allen is the richest owner in sports, but after a lost era during which he paid more than a combined $100 million to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden, only to see their knee injuries become chronic, Allen was wary of paying top dollar to a player coming off a serious injury.

The only chance the Blazers would pursue Matthews, top executive Neil Olshey later explained, was if free agent LaMarcus Aldridge chose to return, maintaining Portland as a playoff-caliber team. When Aldridge chose San Antonio, the Blazers decided to rebuild. Paying big money to a 29-year-old shooting guard coming off major surgery didn’t make long-term sense.

“I was angry,” Matthews said, “but I also realize that this is a business.”

He figured there would be trying times, with harsh realities, after he suffered his injury during the third quarter of a March 5 game against Dallas. Achilles injuries not only test one’s body, they challenge the mind.

He didn’t expect one challenge to come from the team to which he gave so much of his heart, so much of his sweat. Portland’s silence meant he was losing the greatest comfort of his career: a stable starting lineup, an adoring fan base and a rising profile.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chuck Hayes is headed back to Houston on a partially guaranteed one-year deal … Tyus Jones, the hometown kid, is leading the summer caravan for the Minnesota Timberwolves … A couple of Trail Blazers are going a bit Hollywood this summer … Amir Johnson was convinced Celtics fans would love him before he joined the team

Morning shootaround — June 29

VIDEO: The Lakers’ selected D’Angelo Russell over Jahlil Okafor in the NBA Draft


Lakers boxed into a big man box? | Dollars and sense for LeBron | Garnett, Saunders definitely back in Minnesota | Ginobili will take his time making up his mind

No. 1: Lakers boxed into a big man box?  The selection of D’Angelo Russell on Draft night was celebrated by Los Angeles Lakers’ fans, luminaries and pundits alike. But did that risky move, passing up Duke’s low-post load Jahlil Okafor in favor of Russell, come at a larger price than expected? Marc Gasol has already made it clear that he is not interested in following in the footsteps of big brother Pau in a Lakers uniform. So that leaves slimmer pickings than expected for the Lakers (and Kobe Bryant) in free agency. Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times explains:

The Lakers have enough money for only one big-name free agent, gathering about $23 million in spending power after declining the $9-million option on free-agent center-forward Jordan Hill in a couple of days. Aldridge would make almost $19 million next season after pulling down $16.3 million last season.

The Lakers’ only big men going into free agency are Tarik Black and Robert Sacre after they presumably make the latter’s sub-$1-million contract guaranteed by Tuesday’s deadline.

They boxed themselves into a big-man corner by passing on Duke center Jahlil Okafor to draft Russell, putting the Ohio State point guard next to promising Jordan Clarkson while setting up the Lakers’ backcourt “for the next 10 years,” according to a near-giddy team source.

Perhaps a quick shot of reality is needed.

The Lakers have had problems getting free agents to take their money in recent years. Dwight Howard spurned them for less money in Houston, Carmelo Anthony said thanks but no thanks, and Pau Gasol took less to go to Chicago.

The only big name they signed lately was Kobe Bryant, who accepted a two-year, $48.5-million extension in 2013 before returning from a torn Achilles’.

The Lakers need a Plan B if Aldridge says no. Two teams from his home state, San Antonio and Dallas, will reportedly court him too.

It would take some persuasion to get Clippers center DeAndre Jordan to take less money and leave L.A.’s more talented team. The Lakers love his rebounding and shot-blocking, like many teams, and Dallas will also recruit him heavily.

It’s harder to figure what to make of Love, who had an off year in Cleveland and said in February there was not a scenario where he’d play for the Lakers. He might meet with them next week even if it’s only a ploy to ensure a maximum offer from the Cavaliers, reportedly the favorites to retain him.

Marc Gasol has no interest in the Lakers because of the uneasy last few years his brother spent with them, according to numerous people familiar with the situation. Versatile big man Greg Monroe, oft-injured Brook Lopez and his workman-like brother, Robin, are other alternatives at center.

If the Lakers strike out, they could try re-signing Hill for less and chase swingman Jimmy Butler, who could ease into the hole vacated soon by Bryant. The problem is Chicago’s expected action of matching any offer sheet the restricted free agent signs.

Whatever happens, it’s simple table-setting for a year from now. The Lakers will have double the fun when Bryant’s contract is off the books ($25 million next season) and the salary cap jumps from $67 million to about $90 million with the NBA’s gigantic new TV deal.


No. 2:Dollars and sense for LeBron — Cleveland Cavaliers fans need to get used to hearing the words LeBron James and free agency in the same sentence. They’ll be married this time of year, every year, at least for the foreseeable future. Our very own John Schuhmann of explains how the free agent dollars will make sense for the best player on the planet:

News broke Sunday afternoon that LeBron James has reportedly informed the Cleveland Cavaliers that he will opt out of the second year of the contract he signed last season.

This news was expected and doesn’t mean that James is leaving Cleveland again. All indications are that the best player in the world intends to re-sign with the Cavs. But even if he wants to stay with the wine and gold for the rest of his career, he’s probably going to become a free agent next summer and the summer after that, too. And it’s mostly about the money.

Free agency does give James some leverage. It keeps the pressure on Cavs management to do everything it can to give him the best supporting cast possible.

It also makes James a richer man.

James’ option for the 2015-16 season was for a little less than $21.6 million. A new contract this summer (for a player with at least 10 years in the league) could start at at maximum of about $22.0 million. (We’ll know the exact number when the 2015-16 salary cap is officially announced on or around July 8.) That’s not a huge raise (especially when you take income taxes into account), but it’s worth the paperwork.

James will have much more incentive to become a free agent in 2016 and 2017, when the salary cap is expected to make two big jumps, thanks to the new TV contract.

Assuming James signs another two-year, max deal with an option in the second year (a one-plus-one contract) again this summer, the ’16-17 option would be for about $23.0 million. But a new, max contract next summer could have a ’16-17 salary of more than $29 million.

That deal could have a second-year option (for ’17-18) of about $30.5 million. But a new, max contract in 2017 could have a starting salary of more than $35 million.


No. 3: Garnett, Saunders definitely back in Minnesota — Kevin Garnett and Flip Saunders aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be back in Minnesota to oversee the rebuilding job that is underway with young talent like Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, new No. 1 Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and hometown kid Tyus Jones as the building blocks. Charley Walters of provides some context:

Although it hasn’t been announced, pending free agent Kevin Garnett definitely will re-sign with the Wolves, and Saunders definitely will return as coach.

Terry Kunze, who was a Timberwolves season-ticket holder for 25 years, knows basketball. He figures the Wolves, who won just 16 games last season, were smart to draft Jones.

“I knew they would get Jones,” Kunze said. “The Wolves aren’t stupid — he’s a local kid and he’ll sell tickets. The best thing about losing 66 games is that 18,000 people watch.

“I think (the Wolves) are going to sell a lot of tickets. Tyus Jones has a big name, and I think he’s a good player. He’s under control.”

Kunze was a star guard for 1961 undefeated state champion Duluth Central, went on to start for the Gophers, was drafted by the then-St. Louis Hawks but opted for Europe for three times the salary, then played for the ABA’s Minnesota Muskies, then was a Gophers assistant who recruited Kevin McHale before coaching at East Carolina, then became head coach of the Minnesota Fillies women’s team.

“I like the pick of Towns,” said Kunze, 71, who resides in Fridley. “It was a good (Wolves) draft not only for players, but for public relations.

“What’s the most important thing for a pro franchise? Sales No. 1, winning No. 2. That’s true.”

Jim Dutcher, who coached the Gophers to the 1982 Big Ten championship before becoming a peerless Big Ten TV analyst, said of the Wolves’ drafting of Towns and Jones, “They couldn’t have scripted it better.

“They got the player they wanted in Towns,” Dutcher said.

Saunders had Dutcher, 82, watch some private workouts of draft prospects.

“And being able to tie in Tyus Jones, he’s a perfect fit for them with (Ricky) Rubio‘s health and his end-of-game turnovers in critical situations,” Dutcher said. “In critical situations, they’re directly opposite — Tyus is strongest in key situations at end of games, and to have a young point guard with his potential, particularly a kid from Minnesota, it couldn’t have been better for the Timberwolves.”


No. 4: Ginobili will take his time making up his mind (and will do it in Spanish) — Manu Ginobili will inform the world of his intentions — to either come back for another season in San Antonio or to retire — on his own clock. And he’ll do so in his native tongue, via the Argentinian newspaper “La Nacion” in self-written letter. Take that LeBron James. Mike Monroe of the Express News has the details:

Spurs fans anxious to know if Manu Ginobili will be back for another season may want to brush up on their Spanish and bookmark the website for the Argentine newspaper, ‘La Nacion.’

The 37-year-old guard on Sunday told the Express-News he will announce his decision in a self-written sports column in ‘La Nacion’ “when the time comes.”

Presumably, that time will be before he hits the free agent market at the stroke of midnight, EDT, on Tuesday.

Ginobili acknowledged after the Game 7 loss to the Clippers that ended the Spurs season on May 1 that retirement “could happen easily.” He pointed out that the effects of a pro career that began in Argentina in 1995 has taken a physical toll that sometimes makes him question his ability to compete.

“Some days you feel proud and think you did great and other games I say, ‘What the hell am I doing here when I should stay home and enjoy my kids?’ ”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mason Plumlee could be the perfect fit for the Trail Blazers … The challenge issued in Orlando, Magic need to dare free agents to be different this summer … Houston rookie Sam Dekker‘s not too big to mow his Mom’s lawn … Time for ‘Melo to put up or shut up? …

Morning Shootaround — April 12

VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 11

Clippers get tough | Gasol goes down | Surgery for Rubio | Rose is blooming | Cousins, Gay sidelined

No. 1: Clippers grit and grind over Grizzlies — There’s nothing like a big win in front of the boss and that’s what the Clippers got with first-year team owner Steve Ballmer enjoying himself from courtside at Staples Center. There’s nothing like a big win coming down the stretch and that’s what the Clippers got with a victory that jumped up to the No. 3 seed in the West. And there’s nothing like using your opponent’s style against him, which is what the Clippers did by getting tough in their 94-86 victory over the Grizzlies. Ben Bolch of of the Los Angeles Times had the blow-by-blow:

“We just had to grit and grind a little bit,” Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick said, using the catchphrase favored by Memphis.

The Clippers (54-26) moved into a three-way tie with the Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs for the second-best record in the West, though the Grizzlies would own the No. 2 seeding by virtue of holding the tiebreaker that puts them atop the Southwest Division.

The Clippers hold a tiebreaker with San Antonio by virtue of having a better record against West opponents, provided the Spurs do not win their division.

“I guess it’s more confusing now,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers joked of the playoff picture. “When you figure it out, let me know.”


No. 2: Gasol joins Grizzlies’ growing injury list — It was painful and difficult for the Grizzlies to lose a vital clash — aren’t they all right now? — with the Clippers as they jockey for position in the jam-packed Western Conference playoff race. But more significant may have been center Marc Gasol leaving the game in the first quarter with a sprained ankle. He joins Mike Conley and Tony Allen on the injury list with the start of the playoffs just a week to go. Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal has the details:

Falling in the Western Conference standings might now be the least of the Grizzlies’ concerns.

They keep losing key players to injury.

Grizzlies center Marc Gasol suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter Saturday night and didn’t return in a 94-86 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers in Staples Center.

Gasol logged nearly 10 minutes. He tried to continue playing but eventually asked out of the game and went to the locker room for treatment. Gasol returned to the Grizzlies’ bench in the second quarter. However, the 7-footer never re-entered the game and was ruled out at halftime


No. 3:  Ankle surgery shuts down Rubio — Though there were a couple of big pluses to the Timberwolves’ season — Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine — the season is coming to a painful finish. In the same week that center Nikola Pekovic went under the knife, guard Ricky Rubio now faces surgery for an ankle injury that has nagged him for months. Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune tells the tale:

That’s the ankle Rubio so badly sprained in a game at Orlando at season’s beginning, an injury that has never really healed even though he played 22 games on it this season before he was essentially shut down for the season nearly a month ago.

Rubio visited a specialist in Los Angeles when the Wolves played the Lakers there Friday. The Southern California Orthopedic Institute’s Dr. Robert Ferkel will perform surgery in Van Nuys, Calif., that’s intended to give Ferkel and the Wolves’ medical staff more information about what is still causing Rubio soreness and pain.

Wolves coach and chief basketball executive Flip Saunders said the surgery will “clean up” tissue around the ankle and give everyone involved a better look.

“We don’t know how minor or major it is,” Saunders said before Saturday’s 110-101 loss at Golden State in which Wolves rookie Zach LaVine scored a career-high 37 points and Warriors MVP candidate Stephen Curry again dazzled with circus shots and 34 points of his own. “It wasn’t responding the way we’d expect it to respond. We’ll know more after they get in there.”

The Wolves won’t know a recovery timetable or an expected return to basketball work until after the surgery. Rubio said recently he is fully committed to getting healthy so he can play again for a Wolves team that’s invested $55 million in him for the next four seasons.


No. 4: Rose is looking Bullish — With the playoffs fast approaching, the Bulls need Derrick Rose to round back into his All-Star form and their franchise player took another step Saturday night. Playing in his third game since Feb. 23 and first at home, Rose took another step on the road to recovery with a solid performance in a win over the Sixers, and Nick Friedell of was there to see it:

“Every game I play is a stride,” Rose said. “Every day I go in there and work out, do my rehab or training, it’s a stride. It’s a step forward. So every day is a positive day, even if I have a bad game or if I’m having a bad day, I try to erase it the next day.”

Rose has played better every time he has stepped on the floor this week since playing 19 minutes in Wednesday night’s loss to the Orlando Magic. The biggest difference in this contest is that Rose played more minutes — almost 29 — than the 20 he had been averaging in his first two games. Rose also got the feel of playing in the fourth quarter, something he hadn’t done in the past two contests.

He doesn’t seem to be surprised with how well he’s seeing the floor, despite the fact he has missed so much time over the past few years. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Saturday’s game marked just the fourth time in Rose’s career that he had at least 20 points, five assists, five rebounds and zero turnovers. It’s the first time he has accomplished that feat since the 2011-12 season.

“When you miss three years, damn near, you see everything,” Rose said. “I’m just being patient a little bit more and there’s no point in me forcing anything by the way that they’re playing me. They’re not double-teaming me, they’re letting me do whatever I want to do, it’s just all about me catching rhythm.”



No. 5: Cousins, Gay done for the season — In reality the Kings have been in “wait-til-next-year” mode for quite some time, losing games, changing coaches twice and sinking back down toward the bottom of the standings. But coach George Karl seems to have made that official with the announcement that DeMarcus Cousins and probably Rudy Gay will join Darren Collison on the bench as the Kings play out the string on the season. Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee has the scoop:

DeMarcus Cousins (sore right foot), Rudy Gay (concussion) and Darren Collison (core muscle injury) have all been out, with Collison not playing since Feb. 5. Cousins has missed the last three games and Gay has missed five of the last six games.

“DeMarcus, I think, is done for the year,” Karl said. “I don’t know what’s going to be sent out but the report I got is it looks like they want him to stay off his legs for the rest of the year. I don’t think as an organization we’re going to take a chance on Darren. I would say Rudy is borderline out for the season, too. We’re hoping maybe for a game but I don’t think he’ll play tomorrow. Because he doesn’t play tomorrow, I think they’ll go into the protocol, the concussion protocol, that I don’t understand but I think it’s going to be difficult to get him in either game against the Lakers (next week).”

Cousins leads the Kings averaging 24.1 points and 12.7 rebounds. The Kings are 4-16 this season without their All-Star center.

Gay is averaging 21.1 points and 5.7 rebounds in 68 games.

Collison, who had surgery to repair his injury last month, averaged 16.1 points and a team-high 5.6 assists in 45 games.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Word is the Knicks are already zeroing in on free agent Greg Monroe … Patrick Beverley is determined to return from wrist surgery to join Rockets in the playoffs … Brett Brown wants to see Joel Embiid play in the Summer League … Lakers plans to bring back Tarik Black next season … The Knicks and Magic make history with a historically bad quarter … Clippers pick Lester Hudson over Nate Robinson … It’s all over but the shouting for the once-great Heat.