Category: Opinion/Commentary

Romancing the Misery

As a sports fan in Minnesota now days it’s easy to fall into the self-pity trap when things go wrong. I know, I’ve been there, too. When the losses, injuries and general failings begin to mount at once it is especially difficult to avoid feeling this way.

Take this season’s Timberwolves for example.

After nearly a decade of middling to downright awful teams, it appeared this team had finally positioned itself for a playoff run once again. Then Kevin Love broke his hand, Chase Budinger’s knee gave him trouble, the Brandon Roy experiment flamed out, and naturally Ricky Rubio had to ease his way back into playing. This is of course on top of nagging injuries to everyone else on the roster. And I do mean everyone.

Even Josh Howard who was brought in to take Brandon Roy’s minutes while he got healthy suffered a season-ending knee injury, Rick Adelman missed time tending to his wife, and the losses began to mount and fans (and some bloggers) got restless. After all, it’s been a long, what, nine years now since the team had sniffed the postseason and it began to feel as if the promise of the new season was slowly slipping through our hands, right before our eyes.

Like a reflex or a crutch to lean on when you’re wounded, many played the “Woe are we!” card while bemoaning the recent lack of success of the local teams in general, not just the Timberwolves. And that’s the thing: we romanticize our misery to the point where I’m not even sure we’d know how to feel if teams started rattling off championships. Instead of realizing that losing seasons come and go just like the winning seasons do and that injuries are just a part of the game, we get emotional and exaggerate the magnitude of the disappointment.

The thing is, it doesn’t only “happen to us”; it happens to everyone, but some just have worse luck than others. With the Timberwolves, they signed Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko — two vets with a history of known injuries — who have missed time. Nikola Pekovic has dealt with nagging injuries here and there since last season, so it’s no surprise that he too has had his moments. Frankly, when you add players with a history of health issues you’re taking a chance, and sometimes those gambles come back to get you.

The Timberwolves are not cursed, as unfortunate as their luck has been at times. They knew there was a chance these things could happen, and some acquisitions have worked out pretty well most of the time when you step away from it all. If the team were in fact cursed would we point to Jordan Hill’s injury trouble this season with the Lakers as a result of his visit with the Timberwolves this offseason? Ridiculous, right? Injuries and misfortune are just a part of the game, and there isn’t anything you can do about it. Heck, look at the Knicks right now and the injuries they’re dealing with, and you’ll see that everyone goes through injuries at some point.

I know that the frustration comes from losing and the frustration of having those high hopes for the season dashed from the onset by injury after injury, but these times will pass, too. After all, sometimes you’re the pigeon and sometimes you’re the statue, if you get my drift. But know that when we’ve seen this team at even 80% we know that this current roster has a ton of potential, and anything the organization can extrapolate from the 8-10 games they will get to see of the healthy Timberwolves will only give them more of an idea on how to improve them for next year.

The losing sucks and I’m as tired of it as the next person, but it’s beyond anyone’s control. It’s a bit of a lost season, but unlike past years we know that this is now a 20-win team at best.  I’ve always believed that hanging in there through the lean times makes the winning all the sweeter, and with this team that winning is probably going to be pretty damn great.

 

 

Kevin Love Not Cleared to Practice, Does Not Pass Go, Does Not Collect $200

Despite Kevin Love’s optimism of being cleared today to begin practicing once again at a check up with a hand specialist in New York City, Love got the news that he’s still 2-3 weeks away from just contact. However, they did get the good news that his hand is at least healing well, and with the Timberwolves out of the playoff chase for the season it makes sense to have Love take his time.

Oh, you can’t hurry Love! No, you just have to wait– whoops, sorry; I couldn’t resist.

Out since January, this pushes Love’s return closer to April, leaving the Timberwolves to (hopefully) get a feel for what a full healthy lineup will look like for about 8-10 games since Chase Budinger, Andrei Kirilenko, and Nikola Pekovic should be back as well. This way, hopefully the Timberwolves will get an idea of what they already have on the roster for next season and what they need to do in the offseason. Now, nobody else get hurt (again) in the mean time.

 

Chase Budinger cleared to practice, cleared to save us all

Chase Budinger is nearing his return to the court

Chase Budinger was cleared today for full-contact practice after suffering a torn meniscus back in November against the Bulls. It goes without saying that the Wolves could desperately use his help even in the mean time with the current season rotting before our eyes.

As a matter of fact, let’s just review some numbers here:

  • The Timberwolves rank 28th in the league in field goal percentage, shooting just 43% from the field this season.
  • Along those lines, they rank dead last in 3-point field goal percentage, and it’s frankly not even close; they’re at 29% with the 29th ranked team, Phoenix Suns, shooting just shy of 33%.
  • The Wolves are 29th in assisted field goal percentage, which tells me that we’re short on spot-up shooters.
  • Back in January, ESPN Insider released to piece ranking the top corner-3 shooting teams in the NBA. The Wolves ranked 22nd with our best option from the deep corner being Luke Ridnour, who’s recently found himself slumping making just one 3-pointer in the past four games.

It’s no secret that the Wolves are the worst shooting team in the NBA. I can argue that pretty much most of it has to do with the onslaught of injuries but that’s a waste of time. Rather let’s all rejoice in the nearing return of Chase Budinger, right?

Budinger was brought in from Houston because he was a veteran youngster. Just 24 years old, Bud offers a unique mix of experience and youth that very few players on the Wolves currently embody. He’s a well-known shooter but has a special hop in his step that allows him to attack the rim fearlessly. With Andrei Kirilenko still out and Alexey Shved seriously slumping, Budinger figures to slide immediately into that starting 3-role over Gelabale or the first man off the bench, at the very least, once he gets here.

Budinger’s 3-point prowess is a much-needed weapon for Rick Adelman’s offense. I partially blame Ricky Rubio’s awful shooting numbers for the lack of spot-up shooters on the perimeter. Off of pick-n-rolls, due to the lack of able-bodied shooters, Rubio’s been forced to go up the middle and try to finish over bigger, stronger players. That’s not his strength. It should always be an option but his knack is to drive-and-kick, while drawing attention from the perimeter defenders. That’s where Budinger fits in. He’ll be able to give Rubio that extra option as opposed to just driving it himself.

Honestly, can you tell how excited I am to not have to watch Dante Cunningham mid-range jumpers be the only go-to play in the Wolves’ repertoire?!  Hooray!!

But as goes the story of all Minnesota sports, there’s always a downside to the good news. Adrian Peterson wins MVP, Vikings trade Percy Harvin. Twins lock up MVP’s Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau only to lose their primes to injury and disease-laden teams the last two years. Budinger is currently an unrestricted free agent set to hit the market this summer. Although the injury didn’t help his value, Bud’s services will certainly be sought after, especially by championship competitive teams looking for that extra shooter (The reason why JJ Redick was such a hot name at the trade deadline). The Wolves already have a whirl of an offseason coming up with the looming decision of what to do with Nikola Pekovic on top of a player option from AK47. The Wolves will be tight on cap space pending what they do with Pek, making Budinger a potentially difficult signee.

So Bud’s return could very well turn into a tryout for other teams, as the Wolves are leaps and bounds away from turning this season around. In the mean time, the Wolves do get to enjoy Budinger’s services and see what he can do with a month under Adelman and alongside Rubio — and soon-to-be Love. There’s no denying that Budinger is a major missing part on the current makeup of the roster but it’s also bittersweet knowing what may lie ahead come this summer.

Rumor: Timberwolves Floating Ideas to Upgrade Backup Center Position

The Timberwolves will be considering many options to add depth to their frontcourt this offseason, and 1500′s Darren Wolfson has said that Eddy Curry is a name that is being — and I emphasize – floated around as a possible target. Now, before we overreact, the definition of “floated” has not changed to the point of becoming a synonym for “imminent”. It’s an idea, and one that seems pretty typical of the Kahn-Adelman era as a low-cost and low-risk/high reward option. Sometimes those gambles have worked out (Kirilenko) and other times they haven’t (Brandon Roy), and this appears to be another that could potentially be added to that category.

Curry SS

 

Curry would also come cheap based on the contract he signed with the Mavericks at the beginning of the season that was for the league minimum and also non-guaranteed. With the Timberwolves snug against the cap going forward, these are the types of contracts they’ll be looking to add.

However, Curry, who has played very little in the past years, showed several signs of rust with the Mavericks. In just two games, he somehow managed to post a PER of -0.1 in addition to averaging  a comical 10.1 fouls  per 36 minutes and just 5.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. As terrible as he was, his .500 FG% would’ve been his best since the ’07-’08 season, but that’s based off of only a two game sample in which he took just eight attempts.

Likely the only reason the 30-year old Curry still gets any mention is because he’s seven feet tall, and size like that will almost always ensure that you’ll continue to pique a team’s interest long after you’re even a worthwhile garbage time player. After all, the Spurs, Heat, and Mavs have all taken a chance on Curry in the past couple of years using the same low-risk/high-reward mentality.

At his peak, Curry was a solid contributor, but those days are long gone. It’s clear that the Timberwolves are turning over pretty much every possible stone to upgrade the backup center position, and apparently Curry’s name has been thrown out there, although that idea could very well be dead by now. Yet, it seems that help in that area will go by a different name and not Curry’s.

“Change this face. Be happy. Enjoy!”

Words of wisdom that couldn’t come from anyone sweeter. Ricky Rubio’s not always Mr. Nice Guy (No, not that one). He has a fiery passion burning from within, especially when the game’s on the line or disgust fills his soul after yet another pathetic loss. But these kinds of moments couldn’t be subbed for anything else.

Honestly, what if Ricky Rubio were there every time you were having a bad day? He could poof from anywhere, give some special words of encouragement that doesn’t quite make the most sense in English (How does one “change” their face?) and your day would literally be that much better and probably the rest of the week for that matter.

But in all seriousness now, it’s no secret that the Wolves are playing some really bad basketball right now. But as long as Rubio can keep his cool and look towards a brighter future all while still working hard to progress as a better team player, you can’t complain all that much. This team needs leaders, especially vocal ones that send signs of encouragement and screams of despair when appropriate. We all know greener pastures are ahead, and even when it’s hard to see through the dreary fogged stretches of games like the one lately, there’s still a way to push on. All you gotta do is “Change your face,” and all will be renewed.

Wolves-Lakers recap will be out later this afternoon, so please feel obliged to return to HTW later today!

A silent night is a holy night

The title of this post relates to nearly everyone in the Association. Teams up and down the standings decided to stand pat during the 3 pm trade deadline for all sorts of reasons but one major underlying one: The new CBA.

It used to go that teams would trade players to get, well, more players, and hopefully better ones. Rather the CBA and its new tax rules create incentives for those looking to gain assets as opposed to surefire ballers. Assets, meaning cheap pieces to the long-term puzzle, rev the engines towards a long winding road that is a steadier, stronger future. Since many teams under the new CBA are balanced enough — and able to pay their players healthily — they have no reason to sniff out a big deal to land a specific-need player. Instead they can just go out, try to spend one asset to acquire two pieces instead.

The problem is that it takes two to tango, as the saying goes, and many don’t feel the need to play that game when they could very well be on the losing end.

Take the Timberwolves for instance. They stand pat with a losing record and a growingly bleak chance at the playoffs. But one card they still hold is a roster full of blossoming young guns on rookie and/or reasonable deals. They could’ve just easily unloaded the cannons and shipped off any one of those guys on a whim. Derrick, you looked at me funny today. You’re off to Los Angeles.

Instead the Wolves didn’t see any necessary means to make such a move. There could’ve been a good return on a player like Williams. Rumor has it that — and judging by the current deal that went down — the Wolves could’ve easily gotten their grimy hands on free-agent-to-be JJ Redick. A combination of Williams and the Memphis pick surely would’ve sealed the deal. But the Wolves understand that that kind of move would’ve been judged as premature. Push Williams’ budding game aside and just weigh the two players right now: Redick is a shooter ready to help a team push to the playoffs for one season and likely leave the next for copious amounts of money. Williams is an underutilized, underperforming tweener forward that still has potential to fill in his shoes.

The asset in this scenario, Williams, far outweighs the prospect of a beneficial player such as Redick. And, as mentioned earlier, the Magic were the team looking to add assets as opposed to true-blue players that are ready to move the team forward immediately. Don’t try to tell me that Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb are difference makers in Orlando’s playoff hopes. 

As much as everyone wants to see their team make a blockbuster move at the trade deadline, it continues to prove to me that the ones who stay relatively quiet are the real winners. The deadline is a race you don’t necessarily want to win. There are only a handful of trade deadline deals in history that have changed the makeup of a team for the better that season. Rasheed Wallace to Detroit in 2004 comes to mind, as he helped them win a title that season out of nowhere essentially. But my case rests. The deadline is a fickle beast that only ought to be messed with once every now and then. Poke it too often, it will certainly bite back.

For that reason alone, I’m more than satisfied with management’s decision to stay quiet today. There was little urgency for a move, especially one that didn’t have the short-term and long-term in mind, such as the Paul Millsap rumor. As a matter of fact, the Wolves’ personnel problems stem internally; bringing more players in would only complicate the looming situation coming this summer. Nikola Pekovic needs money, and so does Chase Budinger. Those two alone will put Glen Taylor up to his neck in bills and will scratch the surface of the salary cap and beyond. (Gasp) Not the luxury tax!!

But for those of you that are still feeling disappointed and thwarted, don’t fret. At least we get to watch a team that has won six games since the new year. Wait, I guess that’s not a positive. Well, be thankful we held onto our asses. I mean, assets.

The Rubio and Shved Rising Stars Game Review

It’s safe to say that, while the Rising Stars Game is a meaningless exhibition, last night’s wound up being quite enjoyable for Timberwolves fans as the team’s backcourt of Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved was showcased very well in primetime for Team Chuck against Team Shaq.
Both players were not only factors in Team Chuck’s163-135 win, but also made the win even more enjoyable to watch.

Even an All-Star Weekend hater like myself had to admit Rubio’s and Shved’s performance was well worth my time. In fact, even the national types took note, with former player and current CBS analyst Greg Anthony opining on Twitter about the performance and potential of the team’s backcourt:

 

If you’ve followed me on Twitter and ever seen anyone make even a passing mention to me about the Sacramento Kings’ Isaiah Thomas, who I’ve been a huge fan of since his days at the University of Washington, then you know how much I loved seeing him throw up this alley-oop to Shved.

With the game nearly in hand, and the entire defense literally just standing and watching (Ugh. H8 U, All-Star Weekend), Shved just missed a wide open windmill dunk. Still fun, and watching eventual game MVP Kenneth Faried finish with a windmill of his right after was still pretty neat:

Shved finished with 12 points, 1 rebound, and 4 assists on 5/8 shooting.

Saving the main event, Ricky Rubio, for last, last night’s exhibition was really the perfect platform for Rubio to show off his passing talents on a national stage. Seriously, Rubio’s game was Taylor-made for this kind of thing. Of Rubio’s ten assists, a couple were quite notable, beginning with this alley-oop to Manimal right here.

As if that weren’t enough, Rubio left perhaps an even better pass for later as he drove towards the baseline, guarded closely by Golden State’s Harrison Barnes of team Shaq, and flipped an incredible no-look (Actually, he was looking at the crowd behind the basket!), perfectly-timed pass between Barnes and Team Shaq’s Damian Lillard that found the Wizards’ Bradley Beal on a cut for the slam. Here, just watch here and here.

Rubio may have been the only Team Chuck member not to score in double figures, but let’s be honest, we’re not here to see him shoot. We want to see his remarkable court vision, and watch him hit passing lanes no one else knows exist. And no one is complaining about Rubio’s 5 points (2/4 shooting), 10 assist and one steal performance this morning. Nobody.

Yeah, it may not even have been in the big game (/snickers), but last night was pretty thrilling from a Timberwolves fan’s perspective. Seeing Rubio and Shved play well, and get recognized for their performances was great to see. Kevin Love may not have been able to make the All-Star team this season, but the Timberwolves were still well-represented last night.

Love to the Fans: “They Need to Realize I Love Being Here.” And Fans Gonna Fan.

 

I should really know better than to post on this since I know that the people who want to be paranoid and believe what they want to no matter what I, or anyone else say. In fact, I should probably impose a posting moratorium on the subject after this one. Although, I thought I’d still share this because today Kevin Love told the AP’s Jon Krawcynski that he, “loves being in Minnesota,” as you can see in the tweet I embedded above.

Being a lifelong Minnesota sports fan I completely understand the mindset of fans, and the “Woe is me attitude.” But after twenty years of being a fan, I just can’t hold that victim mentality. I guess having your own misery to hold on to is better than having nothing to hold on to.

I also understand that the Yahoo! article with Adrian Wojnarowksi happened. Maybe that never rubbed me the wrong way because I didn’t disagree with anything Love said, but Love did also say that there were positive comments that were omitted from the story. This is possible because 1) Love has made positive comments about the team recently, and 2) omitting the positive comments really set the tone of Woj’s piece from a writing standpoint, and may or may not be reflective of any personal bias, but that’s just my opinion.

Upon RTing the above tweet on my account I immediately had my mentions flooded with tweets of, “But the Yahoo! article,” and “We’re Minnesota fans! Can you blame us?!” Which is just frustrating even though I know that there is likely nothing Love can say or do to convince fans that he really does like being here. I mean, if he says he likes it here, how do you know he doesn’t? So what if he says he wants to win; presumably, so do the Timberwolves.

I suppose this was a waste of 400 words since the people who didn’t have an issue with Love’s comments are just going to go on with their lives while the people who are dead set on being negative and paranoid will go on not believing Love no matter what he says. Take him at his word, or don’t– I guess it really doesn’t matter.

Hoping for a Tipping Point

It’s tempting to go down the road of a panic trade post, or some other irrational knee-jerk reaction after tonight’s game, but I’m going to fight that urge since we’re not even halfway through the season and, well, I’m not panicking. Maybe exasperated or discouraged. It’s not just that the Timberwolves lost tonight at home. It’s the  three wins in their last seven games, the four five game losing streak, and seeing yet another injury pile up.

After all, we’re just 36 games into the season and the Wolves had just wrapped up a five game in seven stretch while being shorthanded, and also were playing the Clippers, who have played some of the best basketball I’ve seen this season. I mean, the Timberwolves just need time to get healthy, right?

Hopefully.

I’m not one to make excuses, but this team is banged up. You really can’t call it an excuse because it’s so apparent how banged up they are. Every team deals with injuries — they’re a part of the game — but this team seems especially unfortunate. On top of Ricky Rubio trying to re-adapt to playing with his surgically repaired knee we have Malcom Lee, Brandon Roy, Kevin Love, Chase Budinger out for extended periods of time. This goes without mentioning Josh Howard being out for the season or the nagging injuries that have hit Nikola Pekovic, JJ Barea, and now Alexey Shved.

Yeah, yeah, it’s a long season, but this is getting  ridiculous. Much like Malcolm Gladwell talked about in The Tipping Point  with crime, Hush Puppies, and viruses– there has to be one for this insane injury rash, right? Or at least I hope there is one and  that his idea even applies to this situation.

When healthy, this team is a playoff team, and that’s why you can’t just “make a trade” in hopes of solving all of the team’s problems. As unfortunate as the team’s injuries have been this season the solution won’t provide any sort of instant gratification, and that is patience. No, really. This team is missing it’s best player and its second-best player is still trying to regain it’s step.

We’ve still seen them fight through the injuries and play .500 ball with pretty much everyone but Love and Rubio. Love will be back. Budinger will be back. Rubio is getting his legs under him and hopefully we’ll start to see the team we thought would have been. I don’t think anyone penciled this team in for last in the Northwest, but injuries have a way of killing playoff dreams.

Since it’s not too late, I guess we just…wait. We wait and hope that the injuries curb themselves in time for them to still steal a low seed. Even if they don’t stop we still know that we have a very good team that is mostly intact for another season, but it’s not the time to concede the season either. If anything, I suppose the purpose of this post is just vent out some of these frustrations or discouraged feelings.

 

Derrick Williams: Are We Seeing Things?

Derrick Williams has shown more than just sheer athleticism this season. Keep reading. (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

For once, I’m able to write something about everyone’s favorite trade chip — Derrick Williams — and have it not be a long-winded post about why and where he should be traded to. In fact, despite some of his struggles at the rim and rebounding, he’s making it more difficult for the Timberwolves to trade him. Or easier, depending on if you think he’s made his value increase. Mostly, I’m referring to his defense and his shooting from distance, which he has improved both. You can see it on the court, and the numbers back it up.

The biggest issue I had with Derrick playing the three, defense aside,  was that he didn’t have the range to play the position. Even Rick Adelman wasn’t crazy about just giving him minutes there because he had never played the position. My case and point last year was in his .412 FG% and .268% from three. And this season didn’t start out looking any more promising for him, but look below:

Derrick Williams Three Point Shooting by Month: 

November: .333% (12 games)

December: .412% (11 games) 

January: .500% (4 games) 

Admittedly January is a small sample that won’t hold at that high of a mark, but he’s still showing a gradual improvement while taking as many threes per game as he did last season (2.0). This is huge on a team that has a dire need for shooters, and even if Derrick’s .400 average on the season slips another couple of points this season, that’s above average, and greatly helps the Timberwolves. How much does it help them? Well, after last night they’re now 5-1 all-time when Derrick hits three or more threes in a game.

Maybe this shouldn’t be so surprising because he was effective from distance at Arizona once he got the reps he needed. Put his month-to-month splits from last season against this year’s and you’ll see that he’s in a nice rhythm that he didn’t have before:

Derrick Williams Month-by-Month Splits ’11-’12: 

December: .250 (3 games)

January: .267 (18 games)

February: .444 (15 games)

March: .269 (17 games)

April: .167 (13 games)

The comeback of Rubio has probably helped Derrick get better looks at more opportune moments, but he’s still had to step up and hit those shots, which he’s been able to do (Unlike last year with Rubio). Even this year’s sample looks more steady and trustworthy than last year’s did where his month of February just screamed “outlier”. Despite his inability to finish at the rim at times this season, even things like his eFG% and TS% have improved considerably, and could continue to climb as he improves as a finisher.

Remember, I never said he could never play the small forward spot, but that he couldn’t play it now. And if he keeps shooting like this, he could play it well one day.

Even defensively, we’re seeing Williams improve. There have been a couple of instances where I’ve watched Williams and been very impressed by what I’ve seen as far as his growth as a defender. Consider the following:

- As a power forward, Williams has posted a respectable PER of 14.4, but he’s held opposing PF’s to a much worse 9.4 PER. PER is far from a be all and end all, but paired with the eye test, it backs up what we’ve seen from Derrick as a defender this season.

Compare this to last season when he had a 12.2 at the position and opponents posted a 16.6 on him, and yeah, he’s made strides.

- With Williams on the court they surrender 101.5 points per 100 possessions, and 104.4 points per 100 possessions, meaning the team has performed better defensively with him on the court this season. Offensively, they’re actually more effective with him watching the game in it, however.

As I said above, Williams needs to improve as a finisher still, and his defense, while improved, can still get better, but he’s done some nice things of late worthy of recognition. If he ever can get his rebounding up to around his college level, he’ll be even more valuable as a player. The thing to remember with young big men is always patience, and we don’t typically see them peak until around their mid-20′s and Derrick is still just 21.