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Country Club Welcomes Former Members

It didn’t take long for the Minnesota Timberwolves’ President of Basketball Operations, Flip Saunders, to begin implementing those that will ultimately become his coaching staff. The organization’s Country Club complex is the focal point of offseason criticism, predictable are the decisions of Glen Taylor and Saunders, and that selective, mythical group of members grew larger on Friday.

Sidney Lowe and Sam Mitchell are the newest members of Flip’s coaching staff, entering the 2014-2015 season. Lowe was a member of the Wolves during their first year as an NBA team as well as an assistant and head coach in multiple stints. He returns to Minnesota after spending last with the Utah Jazz under Ty Corbin– Corbin and Lowe were teammates during on that inaugural Wolves team of ’89-’90. Mitchell was a Timberwolf from 1995-2002, and played under Saunders in his first go-around as head coach ['95-'05]. Mitchell received NBA Coach of the Year honors in 2007, but failed to sustain a win percentage over .500 in his four-year stint with the Toronto Raptors.

The troubling notion presented by these changes among the Wolves staff is how predictable they are. Because insanity is defined as; repeatedly attempting the same action only to yield similar results, time and time again, the foretelling result will undoubtedly be failure. Still, the future remains uncertain until the unfortunate, cyclical results are, again, duplicated. Henceforth, the sharper criticism with the employment-turnover is directed at those leaving to make room for the new, Saunders led coaches regime that’s beginning to implement itself with each passing day in the month of June.

Although David and R.J. Adelman, sons of Rick, will remain employed by the Wolves for the duration of their contracts [one more season], not every member of their father’s staff will be retained. The other night, I asked Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500 via Twitter about the fate of Jack Sikma. According to Wolfson, Sikma is free to pursue other employment opportunities, as the Wolves will not retain him for the 2014-2015 season.

Sikma was selected with the eighth pick in the 1977 draft, was named to the league’s All-Rookie team, and he eventually became an All-NBA defensive player before careers end. Sikma has spent the previous three-years under Adelman assisting in the area of player development. Back in March, Gorgui Dieng was announced as the NBA’s Rookie of the Month.

“It took a lot of effort, a lot of sacrifices.” Dieng told Mark Remme, “I get here before the other players and work with A.J. [head video coordinator Adam Johansen] and work with the other coaches that are here, and after practice I stay and work with Jack [Sikma]. So it takes a lot. It’s just the beginning.”

Dieng’s surgence in the latter portion of his rookie season was a product the coaching staff. In his 33 appearances before the All-Star Break, Dieng averaged only six-minutes per outing and barely managed to average over one point, and rebound, within that time [204 total minutes]. After that, because of injuries to Nikola Pekovic and Ronnie Turiaf, Dieng saw triple the workload in games played after the All-Star Break– though he proved himself very capable of potentially becoming a pivotal role-player that any team would covet when constructing their roster. His post-ASG averages [nine points, eight rebounds per game] were obtained while playing just over 20 minutes in each of Dieng’s 27 appearances.

How much of Dieng’s production can be attributed to the added effort put-forth by he and Sikma remains to be seen.

Searching for equilibrium, Ryan Saunders, Flip’s son, and an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards. He is expected to join his father alongside Mitchell, Lowe and remaining members of the Wolves staff after his contract expires on June 30th. [Ryan] Saunders aided in the development of a program titled Gametime Concepts, a statistics program used by various NBA/NCAA basketball teams. According to his profile on NBA.com, [Ryan] Saunders has been instrumental in assisting with the preparation for upcoming opponents with extensive scouting reports and statistical analysis.

While the congregating of these Country Club members insinuates that the era of futility that convides the Timberwolves to the doldrums of the NBA, deserving or not, this collection of basketball minds will have the chance to redeem and illuminate themselves under new light. With a fresh start, this bunch will have a lot to prove as they prepare to enter the 2014-2015 season.

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Cloudy Beginnings

Glen Taylor sat aside Flip Saunders, Friday, as the two explained why the decision was made to appoint Saunders as the Minnesota Timberwolves head coach, heading into the 2014-2015 season.

Although, as the press conference morphed from an explanation into an interrogation, the mood was the same throughout questions, and there were very, little laughs. Saunder’s quoted himself, reminding viewers that when he took the job it would require Saunders to ‘roll up the sleeves’ and ‘get his hands dirty.’

Taylor, begrudgingly, admitted that he hadn’t intended to allow Saunders to step-down, but alas; both answered intelligible, formulated questions meant to provoke the plan Taylor and Saunders have for the second-coming of the organization’s winningest coach.

“If we would have found a person that Flip would have recommended that fit our style,” Taylor told media,” we would have just moved ahead.” 

Taylor’s body language presented the notion that he isn’t excited about the imminent future with the Wolves, and he did everything but tell the media that he would have never made this decision if Flip hadn’t talked him into it. And, appropriately, Flip spoke with the more convincing tone, answering questions about a potential ‘coach in waiting’ candidate and portraying the heavy evaluation process that the staff will forgo in the following months.

“We evaluate players, scouts, assistants, developmental coaches,” Saunders said,”we’re going to put together our best staff, right now, for our team”

The underwhelming press conference left the audience with very little answers, but most of those that cover, or are a fan of, the team know that Saunders stepping down is merely the first of two proverbial shoes that will drop sometime before the end of the 2014 NBA Draft.

A glimmer of clarity revealed itself on Friday, and although the Wolves know who will be coaching them next season, the team’s best player in recent memory remains on the roster. Despite the storm of rumors that have gone on over the previous month, Kevin Love remains a Timberwolf. As for Flip Saunders the coach, it would be irresponsible to presume how he will perform based on an outdated sample, but it seems fair that nobody expects much from him just yet. Those critiques, whether they be praises or criticisms, won’t begin until the “Summer of Love” has long since passed.

 

 

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Ricky Rubio Interview From Spain

Ricky Rubio recently sat down to talk basketball in his native tongue, you can watch the interview in it’s entirety below.

Someone [username: Heimdal] in the Rube Chat forums at KFAN translated/transcribed the interview. You can see the original translations by clicking this link.

I’ve elected to highlight and comment on a select number of questions.

Q: You were a clear candidate to reach the playoffs. Wasn’t that a disappointment since there haven’t been that many injuries? Where do you think was the key for the failure: the close losses? the lack of a good defense?

A: The close losses were very costly. The Sest has been insanely hard. Still, no excuses. 40 wins were not enough. I would put the blame on the inability to play well on close games.

There shouldn’t be many that disagree, Ricky. The Wolves record in games decided by four points or less is the obvious black-eye on the 2013-2014 season. Although the reporter states Minnesota was a clear candidate to reach the playoffs, I believe Rubio bites his tongue a bit, as you wind find a quote from him believing that the postseason was the goal for Timberwolves this season.

Q: You are still almost untouchable in Minnesota. Your shirt is the best-seller, over even Kevin Love, but I’ve seen how the national media, when trying to explain why you didn’t win those games, or the team couldn’t reach the playoffs, they would give three or four reasons. Your shooting woes were one of them. How has that affected you? Given, during second half of the season, your field goal percentage was 42 percent. Was that an answer for your critics or have you felt better as the season progressed? How have you adjusted things in your game?

A: No, it wasn’t an answer. I don’t have to answer to them. I like to play and I needed to confirm to myself — it was not about my shot selection — I needed to lead the team. That made me feel more comfortable, so my percentages and shot selection improved. I have to take that end to the season and take it forward to the next.

Rubio shot 38 percent from the field last season. By a small margin, his shooting percentage has improved each year Rubio has been in the league. Entering the season, Rubio’s ability to finish on attempts taken in areas around the rim was a concern. During the 2012-2013 season, he converted 78 of 180 attempts taken within five-feet of the basket [43%]. This year, after playing a full 82 games, Rubio made 143 of 297 attempts in the same area. The larger sample shows improvement in multiple areas; a good sign for Wolves fans.

2013-2014

2013-2014

2012-2013

2012-2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

[This question was asked later in the interview]

Q: This long jumper of yours, after beating the first defender, when you stop and execute a long jumper, which you practiced at the end of last season and with the national team. Have you practiced it that much? Have you not had the chance because of the team’s system?

A: I think it’s related to the team’s system. We didn’t have that option. It’s true you always have that shot, but when the ball doesn’t get it you don’t want to take it too often. I talked to Flip Saunders at the end of the season and he told me that I had taken 10 shots from 4-5 meters (14ft) in the entire season and that the number had to go up next season. It’s something I’m going to work on.

Disclaimer: Looking at this by the numbers is getting too deep into the answer. Rubio shot 19 percent [6 of 31] from that midrange area, but, took less attempts from the 10-14ft range than he did the season before. While he struggles from this region, Rubio understands that, which may be why he attempted less shots from that area than he did during the 2012-2013 season. Rubio is a distributor, and he’s right, Wolves fans should want him to distribute before looking to score from the midrange area.

Q: Have you felt your coach Rick Adelman? Being his last season, and with his personal problems, do you feel he was disconnected or “discouraged”?

A: Yes, maybe. Maybe the team lacked the proper motivation, not only from the coach, but the motivation of wanting to win from all of us. This includes the staff, coaches and assistants, and whoever else has command over that. When you know it’s your last season and you’re not 100 percent players can feel it. Still, even at 80 percent, Rick Adelman knows so much.

This answer is curious for multiple reasons. Rubio insinuates Rick Adelman wasn’t very inspirational tactics, but also, mentioned that the ‘want to win’ needs to come from everyone from the staff down to the players. Rubio’s answer here cements a notion I made back in March over at Hickory-High, where, in a column titled Lacking an Alpha, I proposed the idea that the Wolves weren’t winning close games because of leadership/performance on the court in clutch situations. Hopefully a new coach and a similar roster, next season, will be hungrier to venture somewhere the team hasn’t been for a long time — the postseason.

Q: Another problem, the bench. I think the Wolves bench was the worst in the league when compared to the starters. They offered the biggest drop off between starters and bench. Sometimes it’s because the lack of talent and sometimes it’s related to the “mixes”. Are you disappointed with the bench or some of your teammates? For instance, Gorgui Deng was great at the end, but, didn’t play much to start the season.

A: Yes, I think it was more about the team all around, not only the bench. It looked like a problem of adaptation among them and with the starters. We can’t focus on them alone but the entire roster. We’ve seen with the rotations, at the end of the season, when given minutes Gorgui Dieng responded. Maybe he could have had more chances at the beginning, but you never know. But it wasn’t just one thing. It’s rotations, mixing, getting to adapt to each other.

Let me just stop and admire this reporters ability to ask the hard questions. Admired, ok, let’s move on. Rubio’s saying all the right things by putting the lack of success on the entire team, rather than scapegoating anybody. The question regarding Dieng’s playing time, or lack there of, posed to Rubio was something many knowledgeable fans asked during the season. However, Dieng’s inability to play on the court without getting into foul trouble early in the season was ultimately what lost him more opportunities.

Q: It’s reached here, maybe because of the discouraging results, that Kevin Love would certainly leave the team for another franchise and a big market. That the situation ‘allegedly’ separates him [Love from the team a little bit. On his own, he’s not being a leader inside the locker room. Was it like that with him?

A: No, Kevin Love is a special player, I mean his stats are amazing, but maybe the leader has to be someone else. He leads the team with his production, but he may not want to be the vocal leader. There are different kinds of leaders, so maybe we lacked a bit of that, a commanding leader, a commanding voice inside the locker room. Maybe he shouldn’t be it, maybe Kevin Martin should have been the one, someone with more experience, or maybe I can take a step forward and be the leader once and for all. These things happen in teams so young, we missed that. If you take stats, it’s clear Kevin Love is the one who must get the ball at the end. 

Again with the leadership questions, Rubio states that maybe the leader of the Wolves may not be Kevin Love despite the statistical prowess. He goes onto say that perhaps more of a commanding presence in the locker room [ex: Kevin Martin]. The encouraging quote is here is Rubio saying that maybe he can take a step forward and be the leader once and for all, but it’s great that he understands that Love must the one with the ball in his hands when the game is on the line.

Q: What’s your relationship with Flip Saunders? We know it was very good with David Kahn, the man who drafted you. It has to be crucial for you to stay in Minnesota.

A: Very good, he’s giving his all and he’s got the ambition of coming back to this franchise and taking it far again. Talking to him I’ve seen he trusts me a lot so I hope I can perform like he expects of me.

All is well, but what about Flip’s relationship with Love? No? Ok, moving on.

Q: Flip has work to do. Of course he has to find a new coach. He has the chance to extend your contract and decide what to do with Kevin Love, which is not easy. At this point their relationship seems to be in good shape, he wants Kevin to stay and extend his contract, but step by step, what coach would you like to have, of what kind?

A: The new coach must continue with the project. I mean, with his own wrinkles, he must be similar to Adelman in his style: offensive minded, liking the open court, because this team is made for that, it’s working and this team is progressing. Young players like me or Chase Budinger, players who are young and keep progressing, I think next year we can be much better if we have a coach similar to Adelman.

Agreeing with Ricky, the new Wolves coach shouldn’t try to implement a completely new scheme. Someone who will inspire, motivate, and challenge the roster would be an ideal fit. It’s fair to assume Rubio doesn’t seem to like the idea of someone else coming aboard and changing too many things.

Howlin’ T-Wolf took a closer look at who the Wolves next head coach might be. Click the link.

Q: So, you think this team doesn’t need to play better defense, so instead of finding a coach who offers that first and foremost, let’s bring a coach who gets the best of this team and adjusts certain aspects. With this profile I see two names who have been heard lately: George Karl and college coach Billy Donovan from Florida, the prestigious college coach known by his offense, who develops the “screen and continuation,” offence. I don’t know whether you have references or not from any of the two.

A: Well, yes, Corey Brewer talked a lot about George Karl this season, he loves him (laughs). He was COY 2 seasons ago and Denver played beautifully up and down. About the college coach, it’s true they are thinking about 3 or 4 college coaches, the one from Michigan and some others, but we’ll see. The problem with this is the coach who comes will have his doubts about accepting the job, because the star doesn’t know whether he is staying or leaving.They don’t want to gamble on taking the job and having to start from scratch. 

Won’t touch on too much of this one. Rubio referring to Love as the ‘star who doesn’t know whether he’s leaving or not’ is troublesome, for me.

Q: I wanted to ask you about Shabazz Muhammad, who is a strange player. His career, those cases when he was in college.. he’s known as a big time scorer, but the season was weird. At first, he got no chances, then he gets a few minutes, he seems to take the opportunity and does help, then he disappears again… how is he, as a basketball player and as a person.

A: As a basketball player he’s a little inconsistent. He’s a scorer but he’s a little raw (green), he lacks understanding of the game. He’s got many good things: a leftie with a very good hook shot, he posts very well and takes advantage of his size and strength and as an offensive rebounder I think he’s the best I’ve ever seen. He lacks a bit of knowledge of the systems, but I think that is normal in a college player who comes to the NBA, who needs to learn and adapt to the systems to understand basketball. On a personal level, he’s a young player with ambition, hard-worker. If he controls himself he’s going to make a name for himself in this league. 

Pretty accurate description of Shabazz Muhammad, I’ll call it a statement full of respectful feedback.

Q: What about Barea? He’s suffered a huge drop off in performance, a drop off that affected the team. Maybe regarding stats, there are stats where he’s probably regressed, but it’s obvious it’s the worse JJ of the last 3 or 4 years, right?

A: Well, yes, he arrived from Dallas, playing with huge confidence and these last years he came out of the bench and he was the spark (revolutionist). This year we missed that, the scorer from the bench was supposed to be Barea and because of the rotations, or for some other reason I don’t know why, he couldn’t provide that extra scoring when we needed it.

Even overseas there were those who noticed ‘Bad Barea.’

Q: I see, in my humble opinion, that Pekovic and Kevin Love, who I find both to be excellent players… are not very compatible. I see the team lacks intimidation. On defense, when they play together, defensive scoring efficiency isn’t very good. I don’t know, both players score a lot, but they lack some height. Do the media talk about this? What about the franchise?

 A: No, it wasn’t commented too much, but it’s true we lack some intimidation because we don’t have a blocker, something we got with Gorgui Deng. But on defense, for instance with Pek in the post… for instance, I remember after playing the Sacramento Kings I talked to DeMarcus Cousins and he was a little scared of how strong Pekovic was, how difficult it was to play in the low post against him, so maybe he didn’t offer the intimidation a blocker does, but he’s got the resistance. It’s true the defensive level…specially because we didn’t play… we played a game oriented on attacking and our game wasn’t centered on defense that much, but we lack something on defense and maybe with Gorgui Dieng we can add him to this couple and it can be very positive.

The reporter seems careful to ask this question by stating it is merely his opinion, going on to claim that Love and Nikola Pekovic aren’t very compatible on the defensive end. Rubio must not pay much attention to the media, because there were many that gripped to the fact the Wolves weren’t very good at defending the rim during the season. This issue was overblown, somewhat, but is also a concern — however — Dieng’s emergence as a shot-blocker is certainly going to help the rim protection next season.

Rubio on the postseason thus far:

I’ve enjoyed the first round, no surprises. Five series needed seven games but the best was the one that ended before; Portland-Houston. It didn’t get to seven games and it was great it didn’t after what Damian Lillard did.I expected more from Houston, with great players such as [Dwight] Howard, [James] Harden and Chandler Parsons. Players I expected to go further in the competition.

No big surprises, well, maybe Indiana and their drop off in performance — specially Roy Hibbert. But it’s not only him, it’s the whole team. You watch one of their games at the beginning of the season and one now and it’s like night and day. They are the ones who can give Miami trouble. I hope a team can stand tall against them [Heat] in the East, but I see Miami reaching the finals easily.

In the West, things are more complicated. The [Los Angeles] Clippers are playing well, but I’m still a fan of how the Spurs play, how they blend. One game against them, Kevin Love and I talked about it. We were losing bad. We were sitting on the bench with the game out of reach and we commented how well their bench was playing. They play a different basketball and it’s really beautiful.

-zb

 

 

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Certain, Uncertainty; Wolves lose to Warriors, 130-120

Heading into Monday’s meeting with the Golden State Warriors the Minnesota Timberwolves faced another opportunity to get over the .500 mark, a proverbial hump that they’ve failed to overcome throughout the entire season. Prior to the game, the Warriors announced that their starting center, Andrew Bogut, would miss the remainder of the season and some of the postseason. Andre Iguodala did not dress in uniform, either.

The Wolves jumped out to a double-digit lead during the first quarter, and by the time the frame ended they led the Warriors by 14. However, for every Kevin Love three-pointer (he connected on four of them in as many attempts) there was an equalizer provided by Stephen Curry. Curry connected on four of six attempts from behind the line and scored 16 of the Warriors 28 points during the opening quarter. Love, meanwhile, entered the second having scored 22 of the Wolves 42 and it should be mentioned that neither team emphasised the importance of defence during that time.

J.J. Barea, Corey Brewer, Dante Cunningham, Robbie Hummel and Luc Mbah a Moute — labeled an inept bench, in terms of scoring, by some —  combined to score nine points in four minutes on the floor together, during the second quarter. These five shot four-of-nine from the field, collectively, in addition to grabbing four rebounds and adding on three assists. However, a poor effort from the starters during a brief, three-minute stretch and less-than-stellar bench numbers helped the Warriors cut-down the deficit before halftime. Curry led the way for Golden State, and scored 23 points by halftime. Golden State cracked the thin-layer of glass around Maurice Speights, and his seat on the bench, and played the crusty veteran for nearly 10 minutes during first half due to their lack-of-depth at the center position. David Lee added eight and Draymond Green scored six points to aid Curry in cutting the score to 62-64, with the Wolves ahead at after two quarters.

Undoubtedly; the future of Rick Adelman and Kevin Love as members of the Wolves in already on fans minds. Sentiment arose Sunday in Sacramento, as Adelman potentially stood on the floor of Sleep Train Arena for the final time. The 67, soon to be 68, year old stoic — but too old to finish out the remainder of his contract — head coach has seemingly released the Wolves offense to hunt without direction, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The narrative is distinct as it pertains to Love. Regardless of his future, Love’s etched a place for himself in Timberwolves history throughout his brief time in Minnesota. Monday, despite the Wolves loss to the Warriors, Love embedded himself deeper within the Wolves’ still-adolescent history by breaking Kevin Garnett’s mark for most points (1951) scored in a single-season.

Yet, while the records of a beloved legends are broken, Love remains a potential villain pending his uncertain future. Fans are reluctant to label Love the ‘Best Timberwolf Ever,’ and that’s understandable, but that debate stands as irrelevant when looking at the bigger picture. Considering the majority of this roster was constructed under the David Kahn Era, and the salvaged functional components acquired during the offseason are thanks to a new ‘Shot Caller’ in Flip Saunders — Love and the Wolves around him have done a respectful job of almost digging themselves out from as deep down as Earth’s core, after being stranded there by men destined for a trip into the deepest realm of NBA front-office hell. Note: That’s from the perspective of Wolves fans, I think.

Following the same statistical patterns in defeats coming before Monday; the Wolves early, upbeat pace attained during the opening quarter was not sustained throughout the first half. Resulting in an offensively stagnant second-quarter.

First Quarter:

  • Pace (Possessions per 48 minutes): 121.60.
  • Points: 42.
  • Offensive Rating: 141.3

Second Quarter:

  • Pace: 101.28.
  • Points: 22.
  • Offensive Rating: 85.4

Decline:

  • Pace: -20.32
  • Points: -20.
  • Offensive Rating: -55.9 (!!!)

Since March 7th, the following is the Wolves first and second quarter averages in the same categories.

First Quarter:

  • Pace: 102.77
  • Points: 30.
  • Offensive Rating:116.9

Second Quarter:

  • Pace: 97.61
  • Points: 25.5
  • Offensive Rating: 103.06

Decline:

  • Pace: -5.16
  • Points: -4.5
  • Offensive Rating: -13.3

Well, the Wolves nearly quadrupled their usually decline in production within each category — resulting in the loss of a 14 point lead — and at halftime the score was 64-62, in favor of the Wolves. The sudden decline rises and falls with the Wolves starters. If Rubio, Love and the gang are scurrying around for 12 minutes during the third quarter, the offensive numbers are as productive as any team in the league, but when it comes time for those guys to rest the offensive efficiency, and overall-productivity, plummets uncontrollably [most often during the early minutes of the final quarter].

The Warriors, a team already over the proverbial, postseason hope, ultimately surpassed the Wolves and defeated Minnesota, 130-120.

Although the disappointment tied with failing to meet, set-goals and aspirations aside a notable amount of uncertainty  — involving the team’s best player —  surrounds the Wolves and the upcoming postseason. Moreover, one game remains on the schedule against the lowly Utah Jazz, the season should be ending on a good-note. If the Wolves defeat the Jazz, and I expect them to do, they’ll have won 41 games.

Wolves Wins by Season

  • 2009-2010 – 15
  • 2010-2011 – 17
  • 2011-2012* – 26
  • 2012-2013 – 31

The Timberwolves will likely win 10 more games than they did last season, they’ve already won more games than they did from 2009-2011 (a span of two seasons!). So, while uncertainty looms over the upcoming, imminent postseason, this collection of Wolves performed well-enough this season to aid a teammate into becoming the organization’s single-season scoring leader, in addition to helping fans forget an era whose presence still lingers within the clubhouse.

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Everybody, Get Back to Work

The Sensitive Subject illuminated within the Timberwolves portion of local media outlets throughout the weekend was ultimately diffused, following a victory over the San Antonio Spurs, Tuesday night at Target Center. Albeit serious, the accusations against Dante Cunningham are his to deal with, the legal process doesn’t intensify with the same speed as news outlets after these stories surface; nor should they, and as Derek James points out — Dante Cunningham entered yesterdays’ game virtually unnoticed following the concerning news that took place surrounding his personal life over the weekend.

Before Tuesday night had ended, I can only speculate, the topic had left nearly everyone’s mind.

In-wake of injuries, the Wolves signed a familiar face, Othyus Jeffers, during the day. Nikola Pekovic, Chase Budinger, Kevin Martin and Shabazz Muhammad were inactive, likely for the remainder of the season, and those who would play seemingly didn’t have anything to play for. However, they were not a team that played that way.

While the Wolves and Spurs were supposed to play one-another on December 4th, a fire within a Mexico City stadium, prior to the game, kept them from doing so. Henceforth, the two met last night in Minneapolis. The match up’s significance had greatly diminished. The Wolves weren’t playing spoiler, there will be no postseason, and the State of Hockey’s beloved Wild were hosting a make-or-break meeting in St. Paul that would determine their postseason fate. There were very few in attendance, despite the presence of the stoic Spurs, in-town.

Ricky Rubio, Robbie Hummel, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love and Gorgui Dieng trotted out to start the game against Cory Joseph, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Tim Duncan. The Wolves scored the first basket, and the lead was theirs for the duration of the evening. Rick Adelman’s offense went to work, and Rubio and Love looked to do the heavy lifting during the first quarter. Love, despite shooting only one of seven from the field, was the Wolves’ top distributor during the opening frame with three assists. He’s refined his passing out of the high post throughout the year, a point of emphasis entering this season.

Rubio, although his scoring production is oft the subject of warranted criticism, has been notably more-and-more aggressive slashing to the basket as the year has gone on. Knowing this, the Spurs’ defenders encouraged him to settle for midrange jump shots by sagging into the painted area while Rubio dribbled at near the top of the key. He was able to successfully counter this familiar defensive scheme by connecting on three elbow jumpers on as many attempts during the first.

Without Tony Parker, Joseph and reserve point guard Patty Mills were left to orchestrate the Spurs’ proverbial offensive machine. Minnesota contested shots, denied entry passes and made everything difficult with tenacious defending. The disinterested Spurs scored only 34 first half points, the second-least points scored by a Wolves opponent in a half this season. Minnesota compiled a 20-point lead by halftime, and there seemed to be no passion lost from within the home club.

The one-sided route leveled during the third and fourth quarters, but the energy level from the bench refused to cease until the game was over. Love, who struggled from the field early, scored 10 third-quarter points. Rubio matched Love’s scoring output. Dieng added five points and five rebounds, and the Wolves’ starters balanced scoring provided a 22 point lead entering the final frame. Ronnie Turiaf, who plays as fiery as anyone, hammered home multiple, alley-oop dunks with less than five minutes to play. Even Jeffers, signed earlier during the day, Tuesday, entered the game before it had ended.

With a little over a minute to play, Jeffers received the ball and Cunningham set him a screen near the left elbow. He went around the screen, into the lane, and found a streaking Cunningham with a bounce pass. “DC Hustle,” as he is known, emphatically attempted to add an explanation point to the victory, but to no avail. He missed the dunk attempt and the game ended, the Wolves had beaten the Spurs — 110-91.

Whilst negative, pessimistic, feelings of defeatism oft surround sports in Minnesota, the uneasy — saddening and troubling — news that punctured the Wolves organization was left at-ease, at least temporarily, following Tuesday night’s victory over the Spurs. Adelman emphasized the importance of setting the tone for the remainder of the week, post-game, and victories, ala last night and against the Miami Heat, last week, are a prime representations of the Wolves’ mental focus as they approach the end of yet another disappointing season.

“Liked the way we played. We came out and played solid. The guys on the bench came in did a nice job. They missed a lot of shots in the first half but we were doing what we wanted to, making them jump shoot and not give them layups because they are such a great passing team. They get cut to the basket and we were able to at least limit that some.” – Adelman

Perhaps it’s the type of tone that could echo throughout the postseason, and even into next year. Regardless, they played with as much energy as a playoff-bound team, without the stadium full of roaring fans. In a surprising victory over the Spurs, on a night when most eyes were on the Wild, across town, the Wolves showed that they’re playing for their own benefit.

These were men, accustomed to performing in front of a grand audience, working to accomplish a task at hand. This wasn’t a job done at the request, or for the glory, of others. The victory gives the Wolves opportunity to feel confident about themselves, as well as what they accomplished.

The White Flag Still Waves; Wolves fall to Nets, 99-114

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If the snow is melting all around you and the sun is shining on your skin for the first time during 2014; the Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t going to make the playoffs. It’s an awkward point of the season and there are many questions regarding Kevin Love and Rick Adelman’s future with the Wolves, but there’s a micro and macro approach to how fans can go about perceiving each performance throughout the remainder of the season.

There are still games to be played, and valuable information can be collected from each instance.

The Wolves and the Brooklyn Nets are both quite polarizing teams. The Nets, constructed of proven veterans playing under the instruction of rookie head coach, Jason Kidd, are flourishing late in the season. Brooklyn was 28-12 since the beginning of 2014, entering Sunday. Conversely, the Wolves are a congregation of young, mediocre, but appropriate components meant to appease Rick Adelman’s expiring, yet not quite outdated, offensive vision. For comparison’s sake; the Wolves record since the start of the new year entering Sunday’s game against the Nets was 21-19.

Kidd, who inexplicably received the head coaching job without previous experience, spoke highly of former T-Wolf Andrei Kirilenko during morning shootaround, as he should have. AK47 is a versatile defender with an unselfish, offensive mindset that make the Nets better — Brooklyn is 26-11 in games that Kirilenko plays. As for the other former Wolf, Kevin Garnett did not play on Sunday and will likely miss the remainder of the season due to back spasm.

Adelman, on the other hand, is nursing a roster with many players in different stages of recovery. Nikola Pekovic returned to the starting lineup in Brooklyn, after playing 21 minutes in the Wolves blowout win over the Lakers last Friday. Chase Budinger’s legs, or lack there of, have been in question since his return and it’s unsure whether or not he’ll return to a fraction of his former self. Let’s also not forget that Ricky Rubio is on pace to appear in all 81 games this season, and he’s not yet two years removed from having reconstructive surgery that repaired two, torn ligaments in his left knee.

While the starting lineup of Love, Rubio, Corey Brewer, Pekovic and Kevin Martin began the game, how Adelman was going to integrate Gorgui Dieng into the rotation was an illuminated question entering Sunday’s game. Because of his recent outbursts — both scoring and on the boards — Dieng’s presence among the Wolves’ core has grown immensely, depending on the perspective. Some believe it would be best to trade Pekovic, because a small sample size states that Dieng has the potential to be a prominent NBA center, which (in my opinion) is lunacy. Pekovic played eight-and-a-half minutes in the opening quarter and scored four points, in addition to collecting three rebounds, while Dieng played only three-and-a-half minutes and tallied three points and two rebounds during that time.

Joe Johnson led the way for the Nets in the opening quarter by converting on all four of his three-point attempts, and the Wolves trailed by three at the end of the first frame. Johnson, aside fellow starters Deron Williams, Shawn Livingston, Mason Plumlee and Paul Pierce, also added two assists. For the Wolves, Martin seeked to insert himself early, scoring nine on four-of-seven shooting from the field, and Rubio did as Rubio does en route to six first quarter assists. Still, the Wolves trailed the Nets after one.

Love was three-of-five shooting from the field and scored seven points during the first quarter, and that was about the entirety of his evening in terms of his offensive production. According the Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, Love sat on a dolly outside the Wolves’ locker room before the game and was chatting with Jeff Schwartz, his agent who is based in New York City. Love’s future with the Wolves obviously remains uncertain. His recent depressing*…speech?……after a road loss to the Memphis Grizzlies clarified the obvious; Love is gassed after carrying a vast majority of the load this season. He failed to score in either the second or third quarter on Sunday night.

Brewer and Martin, both acquired during the offseason, were the two Wolves players that kept the game close throughout the first three quarters, but without the usual punch from Love the Nets went for the jugular when the fourth quarter began. Brewer, a puzzling conundrum on the offensive end if he’s not receiving outlet passes that lead to easy buckets, was surprisingly efficient (6 of 9 FG w/ 15 points in 18:38 minutes) during the second and third quarters. The notorious gambler also found himself with four steals, but continued to drive me batty with the unnecessary risks on the defensive end. Martin was the Wolves leading scorer entering the fourth, he had 19 points on 8 of 13 shooting despite only four trips to the free-throw line. Usually, Martin obnoxiously tries to create contact so that he can try to rack up points from the charity stripe. Reminder: Kevin Martin is not Kevin Durant.

The Wolves trailed the Nets, 82-85, entering the fourth quarter.

It’s unquantifiable, but the Nets wanted a victory on Sunday night more than the Wolves. The difference between a team bidding for seeding in the upcoming postseason and a group all but mathematically eliminated from postseason contention is immeasurable, but between these two teams, the definable gap is 12 points. No statistic can signify that Brooklyn played more engaged, and with greater effort, during the final quarter. Two minutes went by and what was a three-point deficit grew to six, then 10, until it reached 14 with four minutes to play.

Adelman determined the Nets lead was insurmountable with just over two-minutes to play in the game. Insert Robbie Hummel, Alexey Shved, and Shabazz Muhammad, these three played aside Dieng and Brewer as the Wolves waived the proverbial white flag — Adelman had seen enough. The Wolves would not play the foul-game, and the 10 point deficit at the two-minute mark was all the Nets needed to secure the victory.

Final: 113-99, Brooklyn defeats Minnesota.

The current makeup of the Wolves roster, well, it is what it is. Questions will continue to surface; will Love leave? Is Adelman on his way out the door? But, on the floor, it’s important to focus on the team’s overall demeanor. Body language, motive, and signs of development from the younger players are small, intricate details to keep an eye out for in order to properly assess this team’s future [with the information we know to be certain.

That being said the performance outside of the starting lineup is an issue, and Adelman’s rotations aren’t helping. Sunday, those outside the starting lineup accounted for 23 of 99 points. Can the Wolves find a way, or will Adelman determine a rotation, to conduct bench scoring, or is their fate frozen until Love and Adelman’s futures are decided? There’s multiple approaches that may help assess and evaluate the Timberwolves, just remember to differentiate between the speculation, and the hard data reflected by the players that are still playing basketball — however meaningless it may be.

Investments and Exchanges

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Transactions are subsidized by investors under the impression their ‘stock’ or investment will compliment the others within their investment portfolio.  In a way NBA GMs, and more specifically Flip Saunders, are investors consistently entertaining potential exchanges doing business on the open market. Hence, in NBA terms, trades, draft selections and free agent acquisitions are all investments. This is not a breaking discovery.

Earlier this season the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Derrick Williams for Luc Mbah a Moute. While it’s still too early to have received dividends — exchanging the former number-two overall draft selection for a player with a defined skillset — the interchange didn’t result in the obtaining of a player whose value is ‘in the red,’ nor did the Wolves sell an asset that is making a significant impact for a different firm or, in this context, franchise.

Determining Asset Value

Williams, the highest draft pick selected in franchise history did not implement, nor sustain, his presence within the roster during his time with the Wolves. During his rookie season, whilst appearing in 66 games (15 starts) he failed to score at least 10 points per game. Williams also struggled playing under the NBA’s dynamics. His three-point shooting was non-existent (less than 30%) and the inability to consistently connect on free-throws (>70%) posed frustrations for all those expecting greater things from Williams during his rookie year. Conversely, he was still a rookie and first year players hardly ever perform to their potential upon entering the league.

Last season, Williams marginally improved in certain aspects of his game. He appeared, and started, in more games because of Kevin Love’s absence. With experience under his belt, Williams bumped up his averages in nearly every statistical category. However, there were still questions surrounding the Wolves investment. Was Williams, who stands at 6-feet 8-inches tall, a power forward or a small forward (swingman). Was he better adept playing the 3 or 4 position in Rick Adelman’s offense?

Adelman’s variation of the Princeton offense opts to run offensive sets from the high post. Most possessions start with Ricky Rubio feeding Love at the elbow, or the areas above the free-throw line. This is expressed statistically in terms of ‘touches per game’ thanks to NBA.com’s player tracking. Love averages 86.9 touches per game, the sixth most compared to the rest of the league, he is the only non-point guard in the top 15 in this category. Rubio, the Wolves starting point guard, averages less touches per game (83.2) than Love. Some of this can be explained by Love’s rebounding, a rebound is considered a touch, but most of his touches are attributed to Adelman’s scheme.

Williams, still, is too small to successfully post-up on most of the league’s power forwards, lacks ball-handling skills, and never became instinctive enough to perform some of the off-ball cuts required in Adelman’s system. During the 2012-2013 season, Williams shot 33 percent (10 of 30 FG attempts) in post up situations. Ideally, he would have taken — and converted — more attempts in Love’s absence, but that wasn’t the case. Williams is also not a very good distributor; expecting him to make passes outside of the high post like Love is simply unrealistic.

This team wasn’t the adequate opportunity for Williams to succeed, although it’s fair to say he didn’t grasp the opportunity placed before him. Adelman and Saunders moved Williams accordingly because a young player still may have value elsewhere. Howlin’ T-Wolf’s own, Derek James, narrated more about Williams and his new opportunity with the Kings. There was no uproar among the Wolves fans base regarding the trade — the transaction that sent Williams to Sacramento was seemingly the best scenario for all parties involved.

What about the asset the Wolves received in return?

On a personal level, the timing of the trade seemed strange — why now? Could the Wolves have moved Williams prior to the season? Why not hold onto the asset until closer to the trade deadline when, theoretically, Williams may be more valuable to any ‘buyers’ hoping to acquire his services. All of that remains speculation.

@talkhoops I agree with that. But what they got in return. Not helping at all.

— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) March 17, 2014

Michael Malone, head coach of the Kings, began starting Mbah a Moute just before he was sent to the Wolves in exchange for Williams. The following quote was published at Cowbell Kingdom, strangely, on the same morning the trade had been announced.

“He’s a guy that’s kind of made his name in the NBA as a defensive player,” Malone said. “And he’s a guy that when he was in Milwaukee and I was coaching in Cleveland, he would literally guard one through four – Mo Williams to the power forward. So, I think he has a high IQ and he embraces that end of the floor.”

Exchanging Williams for Mbah a Moute was an obvious effort to fulfill the defensive void lost when Andrei Kirilenko declined the option to resign with the Wolves during the offseason. Corey Brewer, albeit he led the league in points scored in transition opportunities at the time, is neither the resourceful offensive player or defensive force that is “AK47″. It’s well-established that Adelman was not a proprietor of Williams, so, swapping the underachieving, misfit player with a capable and versatile, defensive component was undoubtedly going to be a net-positive for the Wolves moving forward this season.

As previously stated by coach Malone, MBAM’s reputation as an NBA player is defined by his defense. During only nine games with the Kings, Mbah a Moute scored a mere four points and collected three rebounds whilst averaging 21 minutes per game. These numbers are small, but, his aforementioned defensive prowess remains as the primary reason the Wolves parted with Williams in exchange for Mbah a Moute.

Dividends

Upon thorough analysis, an investment option promises safety of principal and a satisfactory return. Operations not meeting these requirements are speculative.

While there are moments when it seems Williams is ‘flourishing’ with the Kings; perception is not always reality. Sacramento is 24-44 and the third-worst team in the Western Conference. Williams has exploded on multiples instances this season, offensively anyway. He had a 31 point performance in a win over the Dallas Mavericks last December, but it’s his production against his former team that has Wolves fans up in arms. He has played an average of 27 minutes per game, and during that time, Williams averages 16 points and six rebounds a game when facing his former team.

Those explosive performances may have been detrimental to Kings opponents, which in some cases has been the Wolves, but aren’t enough to justify Williams status as a second-overall draft selection. Yes, not all expectations may be paired with the draft-selection number, but his talent and potential made him the undeniable second-best prospect behind Kyrie Irving. Thus far, Williams (22) status remains as an underachiever since he entered the league.

Not long after the Kings acquired Williams, they obtained Rudy Gay by way of trade from the Toronto Raptors. This was another forward that would sit before Williams on the depth chart, he’s started in only 13 of his 54 appearances since his departure. 

As for the Wolves; they’ve had larger proverbial fish to fry throughout the season. While Mbah a Moute hasn’t made a noticeable difference since his arrival, he didn’t and hasn’t provoked the Wolves execution deficiencies during late game situations. MBAM hasn’t hindered the Wolves, if anything, there’s been more dispute regarding Adelman’s use of the defensive specialist, or lack thereof. Back in January, the Kings defeated the Wolves at the Target Center, Mbah a Moute recorded a DNP-Coaches Decision and watched helplessly as Gay and Williams combined for 49 points.

“… (I) came within about two seconds of putting him (Mbah a Moute) in the game, but … I don’t know … I tried to go with the group that has been playing pretty good — the bench — and it didn’t happen. So, it’s certainly something that you can look back on and think about that you could have done. That’s where he can be very, very helpful.” -Adelman said postgame after the Wolves three-point loss.

Investment Protection

Ultimately the trade is neither a win or loss for the Wolves yet. Mbah a Moute scores only three points and collects two rebounds playing an average of 12 minutes per game in 42 appearances since arriving from Sacramento this season. He’s going to continue producing lackluster offensive numbers because, as we know, that isn’t MBAM’s game — he’s a defensive player. To date, Adelman has used 10 lineup variations of which have played for over 40 minutes on the floor, together, this season. Only two of the qualifying groups of five have a defensive rating that is less than 100 (defensive rating is defined as how many points opponents score per 100 possessions), both of those lineups feature Mbah a Moute.

The Wolves have underachieved this season, but this may end up being the best season in franchise history, excluding the Kevin Garnett era. I expect them to win 40 games, something they haven’t done since the 04-05 season when they recorded 44 wins, but they will also likely miss the postseason. Meanwhile, Rubio and Love have remained healthy (knock on wood), Kevin Martin is playing as well as any shooting guard in franchise history, Chase Budinger may potentially return to his pre-knee surgery form and Nikola Pekovic — aside from his injury woes — is inked to be a Timberwolf for years to come. In addition to the offseason retained and acquisitions, draft selections Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng have both shown signs of visible progression at their respective positions.

For Derrick Williams, seeing few instances of improvement playing for another team is no reason for worry. He’s a young and developing player with freakish physical attributes. However, Williams now plays on a dysfunctional, losing roster and hasn’t presented any consistent production that has me stressing over his departure. As a fan, I would wish Williams all the best.

In the case of Luc Mbah a Moute there isn’t enough samples insisting his production has hindered the Wolves in the slightest. He’s certainly not the most potent offensive player, but, for now he’s an irreplaceable presence on the defensive end that the Wolves don’t possess. Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad, Chase Budinger, Robbie Hummel and Dante Cunningham are all offensive minded wing players, this signifies that Mbah a Moute is a complementary asset to the roster currently in place.

The market is always fluctuating and there are those constantly watching the rise and fall of investment values as they occur. Thus far, the Wolves swapping stock with the Kings is a wash. Neither Williams or Mbah a Moute have payed excessive dividends to their respective brokers, or firms. However, the state of things in Minnesota remain unfathomably more promising than the state of Sacramento — perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the Wolves early season investment helps get things ‘in the black,’ somewhere the franchise hasn’t been for quite some time.

Flip Saunders talks with Colin Cowherd

Flip Saunders

Flip Saunders appeared on ESPN radio and spoke with Colin Cowherd about his transition from coach to a front-office position, other teams’ interest in Kevin Love, and how well he slept in his days as an analyst.

Click this link to be taken to the interview. 

Cowherd starts things off cordially by asking Saunders about the difference between being a coach, and working in the front office of an NBA franchise.

You sit up in the stands and you really have no control of what your players do on the floor. It’s then the coaches decision; who to play, what plays to run, and how to guard people, defensively. That becomes the most frustrating thing when switching to the front office.”

“When you’re a coach, you live in the present, you live for today. When you’re in the front office; you live for today but you also have to have an eye on the future.

Not long after than Cowherd got to the good stuff.  He went on to ask Saunders whether he feels “more empowered, or powerless, with a star player.” Needless to mention that Cowherd asked specifically about the Kevin Love situation, you know — that thing.

“Well, I laugh. One, having had, conversations with Kevin –maybe– every week. Having a pretty good relationship with him, you understand where he’s at. There are many things that have been said about the, “Glamour Situations,” but, whereas Kevin said (referring to his recent quote in GQ Magazine); it might not be so glamourous.

“You know good players are going to be wanted. That really comes with the business, so, when you have a player that’s wanted by people; people are going to talk about them because that’s what goes on.”

Cowherd continues talking about Love by asking Saunders; “why hasn’t he (Love) produced more wins with his unbelievable production?”

Kevin has been with a lot of very young players, he’s still only 24-years old. That’s what people don’t understand. He’s still a very young, and talented player. The other thing is, it’s very difficult for a player like Kevin, and the way he plays.

He’s a big player, even though he does shoot the three. Many times players don’t have the ability to carry teams down the stretch. He relies a lot of players, either getting him the ball for a three-point shot or getting him the ball into the post.

So, other players many times, in the fourth-quarter have to help him makes plays. We’re a young team, we’re gettin’ guys that are learning to do that. That’s going to be part of the transition for (Ricky) Rubio.

The final sentence sounded as if it were an admission of confidence. Only speculating, but it sounded as if Saunders believes Rubio is the point guard of the Wolves future. At no point did it seem like Cowherd was insinuating anything Rubio’s way and it was the first mention of his name in the interview.

Two days ago, Minnesota Republican State Representative, Pat Garofalo, tweeted out a controversial opinion. Cowherd asked Saunders about how he deals with those who negatively perceive the NBA without such warrant.

You have to educate the people. When people are educated on what our players do, and how active they are in their community. (Even) Individually, on their own — I know a lot of players go out to hostels and get involved with St. Jude (A Childrens Hospital), that’s a big thing for us this month.

You just have to educate the people and understand that they have to realize that, many times, perception is not reality. We’ve got players that do a lot of positive things in the community.

Cowherd ended the interview by asking if Saunders slept better; as a coach, or as a president, of an NBA team?

As an ESPN Analyst. That’s when we sleep the best. When I can talk to you in the morning and we can talk basketball.

That would be the life, wouldn’t it? Again, you’re able to listen to the interview via ESPN, just click this link.