VIDEO: Top Plays from Friday’s playoff action
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Thibodeau ready to roll — Returning to the scene of where it all began for him as an NBA coach, Tom Thibodeau is all smiles these days, and why not? He just hit the motherlode: Millions to coach a game, lots of sway in personnel decisions and a solid young group of players on the Minnesota roster. Given all that, this is one of the best coaching vacancies to come along in a while, and Thibodeau is ready to get going. He spoke recently with Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, who filed this:
An assistant on the expansion Wolves’ first two teams, Thibodeau on Wednesday agreed to coach what he calls the league’s “best young roster” and share management decisions with longtime friend and newly named GM Scott Layden, with whom he once worked in New York. He terms it a “partnership” with a man he calls “one of my closest friends” rather than total control over personnel decisions.
Fired by the Bulls in part because of conflicts with management, Thibodeau negotiated the president of basketball operations title into his Wolves deal.
“It wasn’t an absolute must, but I’m glad it has worked out that way,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure I had a voice. The person I’m with, I trust Scott. He has great integrity. He’s a great worker and he has great experience.”
He cited that partnership, the team’s young roster — “and where it can go” — and owner Glen Taylor’s “commitment to winning” as the reasons he agreed to a reported five-year, $40 million contract only a week after the Wolves announced they’d search to fill two jobs and ended up filling three.
“When you look at the young guys, when you look at the [salary] cap space, when you look at the draft pick that’s coming, there’s great flexibility there,” Thibodeau said. “There are a lot of assets there. If you formulate a really good plan that studies and organizes everything, I think this situation is positioned great to go forward.”
He calls himself well-suited to coach such a young team, noting Derrick Rose was 22 and Joakim Noah 25 when he accepted his first NBA head coaching job in 2010. Often criticized for playing his starters too much, he answered Taylor’s inquiry on that matter by telling him to speak with former players. On Thursday, he said his Bulls players’ minutes compared to others at their position in the league.
“Some of it is more myth than fact,” Thibodeau said. “If you dig deeper, you will see that. A lot of other guys play a lot of minutes.”
Thibodeau’s objective with such a young team is what every coach seeks: maximize its strengths, minimize its weaknesses. He said this team can score, will get to the free-throw line and is willing to share the ball.
“We have to get turnovers down a bit,” he said. “You eliminate all the ways you beat yourself first.”
Thibodeau visited 13 different NBA teams during his season off and found enlightenment in not one revelation but many little things.
He also watched a lot of NBA games. Included were the Wolves under interim coach Sam Mitchell, who was not retained.
“I thought they improved, I thought they had some good, solid wins,” Thibodeau said. “You start looking at it and you’re just impressed.”
Those favorable impressions begin with 20-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns, 21-year-olds Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine and 25-year-old point guard Ricky Rubio.
Thibodeau’s discussion about each player began with praise of their talents and ended with needed improvements, particularly defensively.
• On Towns: “It’s pretty amazing for a first-year guy to come in and do the things he did. There’s obviously room for growth. But his skill set is very unusual. He has the potential to be very good defensively, with his rebounding, his shot blocking. The way he plays the game, the way he sees the game, he has the ability to make other players better. He had a very impressive first year, but it’s just the beginning. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to move the group forward.”
• On Wiggins: “He impressed me the way he scored against us when I was still coaching. He made it look easy. I think the challenge — not only him but for his teammates — is there’s going to have to be dramatic improvement defensively. You have to make a commitment in that area. The players are too good in this league to guard individually. You need to have five-man defense in all aspects. If one guy’s not doing his job, the group is going to look bad.”
• On Rubio: “All players have their strengths and weaknesses and Ricky has established himself as a very good player. So we’re excited about that. The point guard position is such an important position in the way the team functions. You need to have a good understanding where guys like to get the ball, who has a good matchup, what’s going on in the game and keep the team organized and I think Ricky’s really strong in those areas.”
• On LaVine: “I thought he improved a lot. I’m excited at what he can do. He improved his shooting, his defense and his rebounding as well.”
No. 2: Wizards ready to spend big? — There’s the very sound and sensible scenario where the Washington Wizards open the vault for Kevin Durant when he hits free agency this summer, but maybe it doesn’t stop there regardless if the Wizards get lucky or not. By bringing in Scott Brooks as coach, there’s the feeling Washington is ready to make big changes on a team that underachieved this year — or maybe was too tapped out to improve. With the rising salary cap and an anxious fan base, the Wizards could chase other free agents or make some splashy trades that bring in players with hefty salaries. Here’s the take of Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post:
Since Ted Leonsis became majority owner of the Washington Wizards in 2010, the franchise has been known for playing it safe.
That is what made the team’s single-minded pursuit of Scott Brooks over the past week, culminating with Brooks agreeing to a five-year, $35 million contract to become the team’s head coach, so fascinating. For a franchise long reticent for spending big and seldom going for the splashy hire, the Wizards did both in one fell swoop.
There are two ways to view the decision of Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld, the team’s president of basketball operations, to pursue Brooks. One is that they would have been better served to cast a wide net to try and replace Randy Wittman, fired last week at the conclusion of a disappointing season in which the Wizards went 41-41 and missed the playoffs after two straight second-round appearances.
The other is that the Wizards identified their preferred candidate, then did whatever it took to get him to join their organization. That kind of action has been uncommon for this team in the past, and could be a sign of things to come this offseason.
Washington had competition for its new hire. The Houston Rockets were interested in talking to Brooks, who was part of Houston’s championship-winning team in 1994 and who had coached star James Harden in Oklahoma City, and it was always possible the Lakers could decide to make a run at Brooks should they part with their current coach, Byron Scott.
But instead of letting the market settle – and giving the Rockets or other potential suitors a chance to woo Brooks – the Wizards pushed the issue. They never met with any other candidate, and they offered Brooks a contract that makes him one of the six highest-paid coaches in the league.
It was a deal that proved to be too good for Brooks to pass up.
The question now is what does the pursuit of Brooks – both getting him, and how they did so – mean for the Wizards moving forward. This summer has been the focus for the franchise and its fans for some time now, given that superstar Kevin Durant will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
No. 3: Carlisle thinks OKC acting too tough — Apparently the Oklahoma City Thunder are not only too talent in comparison to his Mavericks, says coach Rick Carlisle, but they’re too rugged. Illegally, so. Carlisle watched tape of Game 3 and felt OKC played dangerously close to the line, and maybe even crossed the line on a few occasions. He took exception to Kevin Durant‘s stray elbow and a few other things; feel free whether his complaints are legit or simply the rant of a frustrated coach. Anyway, Tim McMahon of ESPN filed this report on Thunder-Mavericks:
“There were four, what I would categorize as non-basketball physical escalations that were initiated by them, including one intentional, unprovoked elbow at the free throw line, which I didn’t understand,” Carlisle said Friday. “And I’ve never seen a guy like Kevin Durant ever do that to a player. Then ultimately, that led to two more escalations between the teams, the fact that that was missed. I’m concerned about that. There’s no place for that in our game.”
Late Friday afternoon, the NBA announced that Durant has been assessed a technical foul for a “physical taunt” as a result of his elbow to Mejri’s chest.
Felton, meanwhile, was angered after being elbowed in the face by Adams when they were boxing out under the basket. Adams, a 7-footer, laughed when confronted by the 6-foot-1 Felton.
“I’m not going to let you just elbow me in my face and I let it go,” Felton told ESPN after the game Thursday. “Whatever. I’ll take a technical or whatever, fine or whatever it is. I’m not going to back down for nothing. I’m definitely not going to let anybody hit me in my face freely for no reason. I’m just down there trying to battle a big 7-footer for a rebound and he elbows me to my face.
“Like, you’re that much bigger than me, what you need to elbow a little guy like me to get a rebound? I didn’t like it, so I let him know that. But whatever, it’s over with now. I ain’t trippin’ no more. You can smile and laugh all you want to. You ain’t just gonna hit me in my face and think everything’s sweet. But like I said, I’m gonna let bygones be bygones.”
Carlisle wanted to make sure the issues were raised again Friday, repeatedly referring to the Thunder as the initiators. Oklahoma City holds a 2-1 edge in the series entering Game 4 in Dallas on Saturday night.
“We’re not looking to do it unless it’s within the rules,” Carlisle said. “But there were some things that I know are going to be looked at today, that going into Game 4, we’re going to be ready for.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George isn’t ready to shut out his teammates and go one-on-one when it counts; with the Pacers against the ropes vs. the Raptors, he feels he needs them … also wants a 3-year deal … Seth Curry opted out of his deal with Sacramento and if you’re in the market for a Curry (no, not that one), he could be yours … Kevin Garnett knew Prince a little … Could the Knicks target Darren Collison in their point guard chase? … An Oregon politician thinks Chris Paul and the Clippers whine too much.