No. 1: Towns expecting big changes in Minnesota — You have to go back a dozen years to reach the last season in which the Minnesota Timberwolves made the playoffs. That 2004 run to the Western Conference finals, led by Kevin Garnett, was the postseason high point for a franchise that has struggled to regain that success since then. But with reigning Kia Rookie of the Year winner Karl-Anthony Towns, plus former Rookie of the Year winner Andrew Wiggins, the athletic Zach LaVine, rookie Kris Dunn and new coach Tom Thibodeau in the fold for 2016-17, things can’t help but look up for Minnesota. Towns, for his part, is expecting the Wolves to be more than improved writes Jace Frederick of the Pioneer Press:
Karl-Anthony Towns grew up in New Jersey. He loves it there.
But it’s not home anymore.
“A lot of times, I talk to my friends and family and I’m always trying to rush back to Minnesota,” Towns said Wednesday during his basketball camp at Hopkins High School. “This is where I call home.”
“I thank God every day that I get a chance to do all these great things in a Timberwolves jersey.”
Towns has carved out some court time to work on his game, too. He said he has worked on all aspects of his craft and added new moves to his arsenal.
He also has worked on his three-point shot. In New Jersey, he said, he was one of the top three-point shooters and now is moving “back to his roots,” using some shooting drills he used to do.
“It’s been paying dividends,” Towns said. “My shot has looked the best it’s looked in about four years, and I’m really happy.”
Towns’ focus already is centered on next season, which he talks about with Wolves teammates regularly. The primary topics are what the league looks like, how the division will look and what the Wolves need to do to accomplish their goals.
“We’re concocting a plan to be the best Timberwolves team that’s come around in a long time,” he said.
This month, Towns sent out a tweet that read, “Remember us.” He explained the reasoning Wednesday.
“A lot of people tend to think that we’re the Timberwolves, and we’re at the bottom of the barrel,” he said. “I just want everyone to know that we’re coming. Just remember us, remember who we were for the last 13 years, because things are about to change.”
No. 2: Watson recalls scolding he got from Popovich — By all accounts, the Phoenix Suns had a rough season in 2015-16, from the 23 wins they posted (their fewest since 2012-13), to the myriad of injuries they endured to stars such as Eric Bledsoe and others, to the mid-season firing of then-coach Jeff Hornacek. His ouster led to the team moving Earl Watson over as interim coach and although the team went just 9-23 under his watch, his ability to reach the team’s young players and regain a sense of direction for the franchise wasn’t lost on team officials. Watson was named Suns coach this summer and in an interview with Marc J. Spears of TheUndefeated.com, he talks about how he got a stern talking to from legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich last season:
Watson was asked to interview with the Suns as an interim head coach for the rest of the season. As exciting as the opportunity was, he sought the blessing of Hornacek before agreeing to interview.
“I called Jeff because if he was discouraged about it, I would walk away from it,” Watson said. “You don’t want to ever interview for a job from a guy who brought you in. It’s torn emotions.”
Watson landed the interim opportunity and earned a 9-24 mark in what would end up being the second-worst overall record in Suns franchise history. One game of note was a 118-111 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 21 in which the Suns challenged the NBA power. Watson got scolded by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich afterward for being too hard on himself after not landing the big win.
“[Popovich] told me, ‘Great job.’ I said, ‘Coach, we have to win games. No one cares about great job.’ He got in my face and asked me if I was crazy. ‘Are you f’ing crazy. Great job. I really mean it. You were poised. Your team is playing great. They’re playing for you.’ I told him that I love him. He said, ‘I love you, too,’ ” Watson said.
While Watson was stressed about earning wins, the Suns actually were not judging him on wins and losses with the young and injury-riddled team. The hope was rather to improve the team’s attitude. And when the 2015-16 season concluded, the players’ attitude toward Watson was extremely positive. Several told Suns management before and during their exit meetings that they hoped he was retained .
“What he inherited is maybe one of the toughest situations that any coach has had to inherit,” Suns center Tyson Chandler told The Undefeated toward the end of last season. “What he has done is taking these young guys and put their focus in the right way. I love what he is doing. I love the way he approaches it.
“As just as serious as he was on the court, there is just as much passion [coaching]. His knowledge for the game is actually what I thought he would have been as a young coach. His leading ability … Young guys are usually feeling themselves out. But he surprised me.”
The Suns agreed with their players’ assessment and hired Watson on April 19 as the permanent head coach. He immediately became the NBA’s youngest head coach at 36 years old. Suns guard Devin Booker called it a “great move for our organization.”
“Going into next season we understand that it will be a process, but Earl is the best fit to lead our squad,” Booker said in a statement to The Undefeated. “He’s played the game before. He has experience. We trust him and he trusts us.”
No. 3: Divac responds to Gay’s complaints — Sacramento Kings swingman Rudy Gay was the team’s second-leading scorer in 2015-16 (17.2 ppg) and is one of the core pieces to a team hoping to get back into the upper crust in the Western Conference. Gay, however, is also entering his 11th season come 2016-17 and has just seven playoff games on his career resume. In an interview earlier this week with Sactown Royalty, Gay voiced his displeasure with the team’s direction, which Kings VP Vlade Divac responded to, writes James Ham of CSNBayArea.com:
Divac played cat and mouse, initially saying that he hadn’t heard Gay’s comments. Once informed of what the veteran wing had told the media, Divac weighed in.
“He has my number,” Divac told CSN California. “If I do something, I will call him. Obviously, if I didn’t call him, we didn’t do anything.”
In case you missed it, Gay went public on Monday with his frustrations over the uncertainty surrounding his future with the team and the current direction of the franchise.
“I think it’s pretty obvious what situation is going on here,” Gay told Sactown Royalty. “At this point in my career, I think I want some kind of consistency and we don’t have that here, at all.”
Divac has restructured the Kings roster in the offseason, bringing in eight new faces via the draft and free agency. Sources have confirmed that the Kings are shopping Gay and the team has fielded plenty of calls, but they have yet to find a deal that makes sense for the team.
The Kings GM has spoken with his small forward on this subject in the past and has nothing new to report. Divac has been on both sides of the table as both a player and now and an executive and he understands the frustration of being in limbo. But he also has a job to do.
“Look, I was a player, 16-17 years in the league, nobody called me everyday and tell me what management is doing,” Divac said. “Management was doing their job. If something big happened, they called and told me. Obviously, nothing big happened (so) I’m not going to call anybody.”
When asked whether the Kings’ roster is set so far, the 7-footer kept his cards close to the vest. He is working the phones trying to do what’s best for his team and be it Gay or Kosta Koufos or Ben McLemore, Divac is looking for value in return, not a salary dump.
“There’s always room to improve,” Divac said. “I’m happy for now, but down the road, we’re always trying to improve.”
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