Category: Uncategorized

“White Timberwolves” jokes have now become serious. Because of course they have.


Deprecated: Function eregi_replace() is deprecated in /home/howlintw/public_html/wp-content/themes/blaskan/functions.php on line 543

You know how we all joked about the Timberwolves’ predominantly not-black roster two years ago? And then remember when we all stopped making jokes about it because it got old (except for Myles Brown who, somehow, remained funny)?

Well, now local Minneapolis civil rights activists want to get involved and make the whole thing for real. From the USA Today:

“How did we get a roster that resembles the 1955 Lakers?” Tyrone Terrell, chairman of St. Paul’s African American leadership council asked Jerry Zgoda and Dennis Brackin of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I think everything is a strategy. Nothing happens by happenstance.” [...]

“It’s just basketball,” [Brandon] Roy said. “I never really had to feel like I’m the only black guy out here. I’ve played on teams that maybe had all black guys and the feeling is just the same when I’m out there on the floor playing with these guys. The only problem we have is in the weight room, arguing over what music we’re going to listen to.”

But Ron Edwards, a local civil rights advocate said “I think, personally, that it was calculated. Is this an attempt to get fans back in the stands? Minnesota, after all, is a pretty white state.”

By no means am I trying to demean what civil rights activists do. Racism is still a real problem in our country, and activists, particularly local activists who have their ears to the ground at all times, are vital to making sure that racism is rooted out, exposed, and hopefully corrected. I don’t live in the Minneapolis area, so I don’t have any experience with the St. Paul African-American leadership council, but I’m sure they do a lot of great work within the community.

It’s true the Wolves have a white team. It’s impossible not to notice when they step out on the court. And yes, Minnesota is a “pretty white state” (86% of  the population, according to a 2011 census).

That being said, this whole discussion is utter crap.

Frankly, this sounds like a bunch of borderline sports fans who know player names but not player talent levels. Wes Johnson and Michael Beasley were replaced by Andrei Kirilenko and Chase Budinger in the offseason? That’s two white guys replacing two black guys…racism!

Except that Chase and Andrei are huge upgrades from Wes and Beas. Not because they are white, but because they are better players. And they aren’t better players because they are white, they are just…better. Sorry. I don’t know how else to spell that out.

Roy’s quote is the most telling. The real question is how a black player feels on the Wolves roster, and Roy feels right at home. And honestly, that comment is hilarious. Who do you think wins the weight-room music argument? And what is everybody pushing for? Is Kevin Love constantly trying to sneak in a Beach Boys CD? Does Ricky Rubio love the latest One Direction single? Does Andrei Kirilenko prefer the musical stylings of Подпишись на новые клипы? Is Pekovic a fan of sea shanties sung by ancient Vikings? I need answers, guys.

Listen, it’s easy to see how a civil rights activist, whose senses are finely tuned toward racial wrong-doing, would look at this situation and see something wrong, but the fact is that anybody who follows the Wolves closely can see that it really did happen by happenstance. The best player available to the Wolves at each position was white. David Kahn went out and got the best player he could each time. The result is the roster you see.

Moreover, if Minnesota had been really racist, they could have drafted Enes Kanter instead of Derrick Williams. Let’s just be grateful they didn’t do that, and then let’s leave it alone and get back to basketball. Please, before I lose my mind.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Where in the world is Nikola Pekovic? Probably lifting weights


Deprecated: Function eregi_replace() is deprecated in /home/howlintw/public_html/wp-content/themes/blaskan/functions.php on line 543
Internet journalism is finding a YouTube video of a Google+ Hangout of Nikola Pekovic and screenshotting an appropriate image. You’re welcome.

Y’all already knew Nikola Pekovic is strong. That’s obvious in any picture/video available on Google Images or YouTube. It’s obvious when you watch him plant his ass on the block and go nowhere despite his defender’s fruitless attempts to move him, even if that defender happens to be Andrew Bynum or a similarly robost adversary. It’s obvious when you watch him fight a viking battle and pillage a village all by himself, picking up villagers in each of his mighty hands and throwing them into the river. I mean, it’s a bummer that your husband got carried downstream for several miles and won’t be back until next week, but you should have known not to mess with Pek on a Monday. Pek HATES Mondays.

Anyway, reports started trickling onto Twitter a couple of weeks ago that Pek had arrived at camp looking fit and super ripped, and last night we got an early look at just how ripped Pek is. It’s pretty awesome. You can look at the picture above for further evidence, but I should warn you (in fact, I probably should have warned you earlier): it’s not for the faint of heart.

The implications of this rippedness could be very important to Pek’s continued development. He is already a force at center, but this new build should give him additional quickness and mobility, making him even more dangerous on the block and quicker operating out of the pick and roll. Basically, he’ll still be Pek, just a better, more athletic version of Pek.

None of this should REALLY come as a surprise. We could see from last year’s incredible improvement that Pek is a hard worker and that he loves basketball, so we probably could have guessed that he would come into camp in excellent shape. But in a world full of Rasheed Wallaces and Andray Blatches, it’s always nice when a player arrives fit and ready to ball, even if we could have seen it coming.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Preseason Game 1 recap: REAL LIVE BASKETBALL!


Deprecated: Function eregi_replace() is deprecated in /home/howlintw/public_html/wp-content/themes/blaskan/functions.php on line 543

Working in defiance of every journalism class I’ve ever taken, we are going to do this recap by starting with the parts that doesn’t matter and working our way to the bigger stuff that does.

The least important part of this game was the final score, as the Wolves beat the Pacers 94-80. This was irrelevant for three reasons. 1) It’s the preseason. Wins and losses mean literally nothing. 2) The Wolves ACTUALLY won this game by quite a bit more than 14, as their scrubs at the end allowed the game to get closer and 3) It’s the preseason. Seriously, it means nothing.

Slightly more important: this game took place in Fargo, part of the preseason tour that teams usually go on to reach out to their fans in other places. According to the T-Wolves website, over 9,000 fans attended, so kudos to Fargo (my old stomping grounds) for a preseason game well attended.

So now let’s get to some bullet points. It should be noted that we’ve seen one preseason game, so it’s too early to tell anything for sure (indeed, it might be too early to even guess), but these are all points that MIGHT matter.

  • Pek looks RIPPED. It has been well publicized how much he has worked out this summer, and it’s clearly visible.
  • Everything is so backward in preseason. I literally couldn’t care less about Kevin Love’s 12 points. Instead, I care that Lou Amundson came in off the bench, grabbed a couple rebounds and played with a lot of energy. I actually watched a game in which I cared more about Lou Amundson than Kevin Love. WHAT HAS BECOME OF MY LIFE?
  • This team can pass the crap out of the ball. Kirilenko’s court vision is surprisingly fantastic, as is Alexei Shved’s. Even Love tossed a couple of nice passes. Once Rubio comes back…my goodness.
  • Chase Budinger took six free throws tonight, which is 13 more than Wes Johnson took last season. You know, roughly.
  • In fact, Budinger was such a significant upgrade from Wes, it was almost shocking. Budinger knocked down 2-4 3-point attempts and shot 4-9 from the field. But what was most pleasantly jarring was that he could put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop without Wolves’ fans cringing, waiting for him to dribble the ball off his foo, although, I’ll admit, I cringed anyway out of habit and I’m guessing a lot of you did too. It’s ok. This is a safe place. So Budinger looks like an excellent pickup.
  • Shved showed some flashes as well. He clearly has excellent court vision/court sense, and he looked very comfortable. I commented on Twitter (shameless self-promo alert) that he may need some time to adjust to NBA athleticism. The play to which I was referring was one in which Shved drove to the basket, getting by Sam Young easily, and flipped a layup into the air, attempting to get it under Young and use the rim for protection. Young, however, was having none of that and easily swatted the ball out of bounds. This is the kind of play that Shved will need to adjust to, but once he does (and once his much hyped shooting stroke shows up, he was 0-4 from the field and didn’t score all evening), he could clearly be a very good player with a nice flair for the dramatic, tossing a couple of very fun alley-oops to Derrick Williams.
  • Williams, for his part, did Derrick Williams-y things. 4-7 from the field in 13 minutes was a nice statline, and he had a couple of highlight reel dunks, but all three of his missed shots were jumpshots. Still. Positivity.
  • And then, perhaps the most important and positive development: Brandon Roy was 5-9 from the field with 13 points. He scored on a variety of plays: catch and shoot, mid-range jumpers, layups off penetration and even out of the post. Overall, he was everything we could have possibly hoped he would be in his first game back.

    Of course, the real question is whether he can sustain this over a grueling 82 (and hopefully more) game season and whether his beaten up body can withstand all that abuse. It’s an extremely valid concern. But for now, he’s off to a great start. 

Some more on this tomorrow, but for now, enjoy Minnesota’s one game winning streak and the return of Timberwolves basketball. Man, it feels good to be back.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

Timberwolves Introduce Andrei Kirilenko and Droppin’ Dimes.


Deprecated: Function eregi_replace() is deprecated in /home/howlintw/public_html/wp-content/themes/blaskan/functions.php on line 543

Friday the Timberwolves finally got Andrei Kirilenko in for his introduction. I feel like in the past month since he’s actually signed, I’ve written on him three times, not including this one. Not just a press conference, Kirilenko did a one-on-one with Timberwolves.com’s Mark Remme and a Google+ Hangout afterwards with fans that are both worth your time. Here are some things that I took away from the content:

-          The biggest factors to Kirilenko seemed to be Rick Adelman, Kevin Love, and Alexey Shved. In fact, Kirilenko raved about Adelman, and talked about how players respect him league-wide. The admiration is real, and Adelman is no doubt a positive for players weighing an offer from the Timberwolves.

-          Andrei seems to be a pretty funny guy. When asked about having Shved here Kirilenko said, “He’s gonna make donuts. He’s gonna bring donuts. He’s gonna do some stuff.’ I couldn’t tell what the rest of the story was, but it seems he was referring to some rookie hazing ritual from his Jazz days. Speaking of Shved…

-          …the mentor thing kept coming up. It’s kind of a talking point that some enjoy, but I tend to shy away from. Kirilenko told him to just play like himself and not worry and be fine. It also sounds like he’s going to help Shved with his English. Kahn told an amusing story to kick things off how being the oldest (Kirilenko is a few days younger than Luke Ridnour, but has more NBA experience) player on the roster entitled him to being the last one to come to camp.

-          Don’t take that entitlement thing the wrong way, though. Kirilenko seems to be very invested in the team. When asked in the Hangout what the biggest thing he could contribute to a young team, he said helping Rick Adelman get the players to learn to play team defense and help them develop chemistry defensively, too. Kirilenko went on to stress that, even with a player of his defensive reputation, it takes more than one player to guard the Kobes and LeBrons of the league- it takes a team. He also added that he can see himself guarding 2’s-4’s; players from Kobe to Garnett.

-          Andrei said that he plans to hit up the Walker Art Center and guided tours (ok), but not the MOA because his kids may like it more since they’re apparently Spongebob fans.

-          Timberwolves fans began treading some seriously dangerous water asking if there are any parallels between playing with Stockton/Malone/Sloan and getting to play with Rubio/Love/Adelman. It was pretty funny how uncomfortable he got with those questions and tried to avoid saying something absurd, which he did pretty well. CALM DOWN PEOPLE.

All-in-all, there was a lot of good stuff to take away from the presser, but there was one thing nobody mentioned about Kirilenko’s game that could help the Timberwolves, and that’s his passing. It blows my mind that anyone who has watched Kirilenko didn’t bring up how his passing will open up shots for perimeter players like Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger as well as post guys like Nikola Pekovic. Especially once Rubio gets back, this team is going to be so fun to watch, and it’s going to be good team basketball. Watch the videos below and observe his passing skills.

Here, note the passes at :37; :54; 1:21; 1:51; 2:34; 2:49; 3:00 (If you blink, you’ll miss it.)

And here. Look at :14; :36 (THROUGH CHRIS BOSH’S LEGS!!!); 1:03; 1:22; 1:42; 2:03; 2:20; 3:04.

See?! How could you not mention his passing ability? Yes, he’ll help improve the team defense and defensive chemistry, but he’s also going to help the offense flow, and help create open looks for teammates. He’s more than just pretty chase-down blocks, after all, and knows exactly where his teammates are on the court (read: Awareness (n): trait of a smart player).  Just wait until he gets a training camp and preseason in with his new teammates, and builds that chemistry; then we’re really going to have fun.

The Potential Value of Kevin Love’s Olympic Experience


Deprecated: Function eregi_replace() is deprecated in /home/howlintw/public_html/wp-content/themes/blaskan/functions.php on line 543

I’ll admit, I didn’t watch much of the Olympics. Not even much of the basketball, and when I did I watched Russia’s games for Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko. However, I did follow the US’ journey to gold, but found few redeeming qualities in the US mostly rolling to another gold medal. Yet, I was still a little surprised when I found myself thinking, “Please don’t lose to these guys…” during the gold medal game, so I’m not the worst American, ever. Well, I can’t be the worst American ever; I like Breaking Bad.

Of course, that means that our own Kevin Love now has a gold medal to add to his list of accolades he has achieved before his 24th birthday. Not only did he get a gold medal, but he earned it as a key player. In fact, after falling out of Coach K’s good graces by not hustling and chasing rebounds instead of contesting shots, Love wound up being a big reason the United States took home both Men’s and Women’s gold.

His numbers were astounding: 11.6 points, 7.7 rebounds per game, 81% (2pt), 35% (3pt), and 57% FT. Sure, it’s a small-sample, but that 81% is just freaking ridiculous. And as one of my followers pointed out, it looks as if his 2-point percentage and free throw percentage should be flipped.

But it’s not the numbers I care about. I care more about the potential for Love to have learned what it means to be a leader on a championship team. If Love was able to extrapolate anything from Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, or anyone on that team with a ring as far as what it takes to be a champion, then that will be the Timberwolves’ biggest offseason addition.

That means no more bitching about non-calls on offense and hustling back on defense. That means taking responsibility for the play of the team. That means understanding throwing your teammates under the bus and publicly criticizing the team aren’t the same as being an accessible star. That means playing the level of defense we saw before the all-star break last season.

I’ve lauded Love as often as I’ve critiqued him because he’s a special player and should therefore be held to a higher standard. We won’t know for show about any developed leadership skills or maturity, but they would greatly benefit the Timberwolves as much as his added range and improved conditioning have in the past. It will be interesting to see how Love responds over time when he goes back to being the best player on his team, and not the 3rd, 4th, or whatever best option like he was with Team USA.

Apples and Oranges

I had to find a place to fit this blurb in somewhere, so I figure why not put it behind a Kevin Love post? Anyway, as human beings, we love to compare and rank things into their proper places. Instead of just enjoying, we have to know everything’s place in the universe. Some people can’t help it, but it’s still generally annoying.

Sometimes, our comparisons are absurd or ridiculous because we’re trying to compare and contrast two different things. For example, the way people say LeBron James will never be Michael Jordan. I know that A) many have grown out of this thought pattern, but some haven’t and that leads me to believe that B) these people don’t watch much basketball because they’re really two different players.

Consider this: Michael Jordan’s 1992: NBA MVP (30.1 PPG 6.1 APG 6.4 RPG), NBA Finals MVP (35.8 PPG 6.5 APG 4.8 RPG), Olympic Gold (12.7 PPG 5 APG 3.8 RPG)
20 YEARS LATER
LeBron James 2012: NBA MVP (27.1 PPG 6.2 APG 7.9 RPG), NBA Finals MVP (28.6 PPG 7.4 APG 10.2 RPG), Olympic Gold (13.2 PPG 7.3 APG 7.5 RPG)

(Thanks to Kris Habbas of NBADraftInsider.com for the stats)

Do they look like they’re similar enough to compare outside of being basketball players? No. In fact, finding one true historical comp for LeBron is near impossible since you could argue he’s a bit of a few players. They play such different styles, positions, and have such different approaches (Especially early-MJ the Volume Shooter compared to LeBron’s do a little bit of everything style).

Obviously, MJ is widely regarded as the GOAT. And that’s fine. Just don’t miss the chance to appreciate greatness when it’s right in front of you. Much like Shaq, Magic and Jordan were all once in a generation athletes/talents, LeBron is as well.

For Tim


Deprecated: Function eregi_replace() is deprecated in /home/howlintw/public_html/wp-content/themes/blaskan/functions.php on line 543

I don’t really know how to start this, or really go about writing this, but I just feel like I should. And I don’t feel like I should in a self-serving kind of way, but in a respectful way to pay tribute to someone I admired, although I didn’t know him. Maybe tasteful is the word I’m looking for. I just know I’ve been through similar incidents with other people, and losing someone like Tim Allen hurts.

Really, I can’t believe it. Even after I saw the posts on his Facebook page, I still didn’t believe it. And even as I sent my goodbye and thanking him for supporting me, I don’t think I fully believed it to be true as I hit share. Which is something that’s hard enough to write when you’re still rendered speechless.

I barely knew what to think, but I looked around and looked for any idea, hint or clue that something was wrong. But there were no obvious signs from his final updates.

Then I finally started to accept the truth: he was gone.

I may not have met him, but from talking to Tim on Twitter or Facebook, I felt like I still knew him. Ultimately, I’ll remember the good times. The good times being the discussions about hoops, movies or whatever. I’ll remember winning a wager on the NBA Finals against his close friend @FemaleSportsLvr and Tim on Twitter that we unfortunately never had time to collect on. And if it weren’t for Tim, I wouldn’t have been so ready to build up Quincy Miller to you guys during the draft.

And it’s strange to see him pop up on my chat as a recently talked to person, and it will be stranger come basketball season to not have him and his unique brand of analysis around. I know I’m not the only one who will miss his generally sarcastic game previews, either. It will be different reading Canis Hoopus without Tim around, that’s for sure.

It’s also been sad-happy to see the outpouring of support and condolences on Twitter from people that likely never met him, but still had their lives affected by Tim. I mean, it’s great to see the impact he had on so many people, but sad in that we didn’t get to say it to him. I know that I appreciated the way Tim often supported my work and meant a lot to me that a writer of his ability and stature respected it enough to earn his endorsement. Unfortunately, aside from the occasional Follow Friday, I never really got the chance to let him know I admired him like I did.

Yet, this isn’t limited to basketball or writing. Somewhere, someone lost a family member, their best friend or someone important to them, and those are the people I really feel for. I mean, it’s hard not to get teary-eyed writing this, and we never met. But they’re not alone. None of us are. On some level, many of us are dealing with a loss.

 

How Dante Cunningham Fits With the Timberwolves


Deprecated: Function eregi_replace() is deprecated in /home/howlintw/public_html/wp-content/themes/blaskan/functions.php on line 543
Per KSTP/1500s Darren Wolfson, the Timberwolves and Grizzlies have a verbal agreement on a Wayne Ellington-Dante Cunningham swap.
Per KSTP/1500's Darren Wolfson, the Timberwolves and Grizzlies have a verbal agreement on a Wayne Ellington-Dante Cunningham swap.

From the same guy that has brought you thousands of words on players like Anthony Randolph, Darko Milicic, and others, comes another (likely) thousand on one of the more non-descript trade rumors of the summer. The trade I’m talking about, of course, is Wayne Ellington to Memphis for Dante Cunningham. Heck, this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve written at length on Wayne Ellington, either.

When I first heard this rumor I immediately lamented the loss of Wayne. Some people get it, and others don’t. Despite not being the most physically gifted player, Wayne busts his hump every time he’s on the court and has been one of the few players with an elevated basketball IQ on the team the past few seasons. My affection for Ellington as a player may be irrational, but I certainly appreciate his game.

I understand why this trade has to happen, however.

-          First, with Brandon Roy, Alexey Shved, and Chase Budinger coming in and Rick Adelman’s penchant for using two point guard lineups, Ellington likely would’ve struggled to see minutes unless there was a rash of injuries.

-          Likewise, the Timberwolves need help in the frontcourt, and Cunningham should be able to provide further depth behind Kevin Love.

-          Not only do the Wolves need frontcourt help, they need a player that works hard on defense, and by all accounts Cunningham does.

-          Ellington and Cunningham have nearly identical contracts in terms of years and dollars.

If you’re not familiar with Cunningham, is a four year veteran out of Villanova, taken with the third pick of the second round in ’09. He has also played for the Blazers (figures) and Bobcats before Memphis.

Contrary to popular Twitter belief, Cunningham is not an Anthony Tolliver replacement (Another favorite). In fact, Cunningham is a power forward and Tolliver is a center-power forward. While Cunningham has a decent mid-range game, he doesn’t shoot the three like Tolliver does. Really, the one thing the two players have in common is that they both wear #44.

Cunningham sets a screen on Wes Johnson, showing his off-ball ability.
Cunningham sets a screen on Wes Johnson, showing his off-ball ability.

Admittedly, I’ve never seen Cunningham play. I’ve watched Grizzlies games, but never paid any attention to Cunningham. Apparently, like Ellington, Cunningham is an average athlete with a strong basketball IQ. Word is he also works well off of the ball, and is a good catch-and-shoot shooter for Ricky Rubio. As much as I hate to see Wayne go, this move actually sounds like it makes a ton of sense.

Although he’s not a great rebounder, he can get away with being average if he’s playing next to Kevin Love or Nikola Pekovic.

How might he fit in the rotation? Well, he immediately upgrades from Anthony Randolph, but he could spell Derrick Williams on an off night as well. If Rick Adelman wants hard working players who hustle, Cunningham will see the court. At 6’8 he could see minutes at the three, but given his shooting range and reported lack of ball-handling/athleticism, I’m not sure that’s a great long-term idea.

Want to find out more on Dante Cunningham? Follow him on Twitter. Also check out his HoopData, Basketball-Reference, and Draft Express pages.

Understanding the Concept of Value


Deprecated: Function eregi_replace() is deprecated in /home/howlintw/public_html/wp-content/themes/blaskan/functions.php on line 543

Shocked that the Wolves cant get much in return for Derrick Williams? Boy, do I have the post for you!
Shocked that the Wolves can't get much in return for Derrick Williams? Boy, do I have the post for you!

I’ve felt like writing this post at every trade deadline or offseason for every sport, and that is the concept of value- or perceived value. Fans of every team struggle with the idea that their players and draft picks aren’t worth as much in the eyes of other fans’. Well, I shouldn’t say all do, but there is a good amount that do.

Take the most recent Timberwolves example of their offers of Derrick Williams and the 18th to the Charlotte Bobcats for the 2nd in an effort to in turn flip that pick to land Lakers big man Pau Gasol. Or something like that. The other rumor of course was Williams, Michael Beasley and the 18th for Gasol. It was no surprise that the Lakers balked at the offer of two so-far-underachieving tweener forwards and a crappy mid 1st for a player who helped win them a title.

This is the concept of value.

No team is waiting by the phone to take another team’s castoffs and misfits. Hey, if you don’t want them, no one else likely does either. And if you’re fortunate enough to unload those, you’re going to have to take back something off of their scrap pile. It’s just the way it is, and no team is going to agree to a trade that leaves them with a smoldering crater for a team.

Furthermore, unlike 2K, a handful of mediocre players does not in any way shape or form equal one really good player. There is no player equivalency chart for NBA GMs; things just don’t work that way. For instance, the Magic didn’t exactly swoon over the Nets’ offer of Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries for Dwight Howard because teams don’t think like, “Well, Brook doesn’t rebound, but Kardashian Humphries does, so that’s even.”

If you want something good, you’re going to have to give up something good or of equal value to acquire the player.

Finally, you can’t just “throw in a couple picks” to improve a trade like you’re trying to spackle over a hole in the wall or fix a botched paint job. Teams think ahead and figure that if you take their good player, get better, the now-valuable picks will be much less valuable by the time they get to use them. Heck, even if your team still sucks after the trade, draft picks are an ever uncertain commodity.

Of course there are still times when a player-turned-GM will giftwrap a top player to his former team, or a GM who flips his best player to a contender for nickels on the dollar, but these instances are exceptions, not rules.

When you see a rumor, or have an idea, ask yourself how you’d feel if you were on the other side of that. Much like the deals discussed above, they don’t make sense for one team.

Knowing Which Doors to Prop Open and Which to Let Shut


Deprecated: Function eregi_replace() is deprecated in /home/howlintw/public_html/wp-content/themes/blaskan/functions.php on line 543

While all are smiles now, will the Wolves know when to call it an era if it comes to that?
While all are smiles now, will the Wolves know when to call it an era if it comes to that?

Earlier today I posted a piece on my personal blog also called “Knowing Which Doors to Prop Open and Which to Leave Closed” in which I talked about the risks that come with waiting too long to rebuild, except with a Wizards focus. I wanted to incorporate the Timberwolves, but figured I could just do that here since I’d have plenty of material for such a post. Here is the Timberwolves version.

We all know the story of the 2003 Timberwolves who made it to the playoffs seven consecutive times since ’97, but failed to get out of the first round. Coming off of a 51 win season in which Kevin Garnett was reaching his peak, Wolves GM Kevin McHale went all-in bringing in Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell, and Ervin Johnson to make a deep run. While the plan worked, the Timberwolves were done in by injuries to Cassell, Wally Szczerbiak, and others before bowing out to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

Going into the ’04-’05 season, there was some hangover to be expected, and the Wolves started out 25-26, costing Flip Saunders his job. And while McHale led them to a 19-12 finish the rest of the way, the team would end up missing the playoffs.

Here is where the Wolves went wrong by opting to re-tool instead of re-build. The Wolves let Sprewell go to find another means of feeding his family, and brought in Eddie Griffin. They infamously dealt the 35-year old Cassell (good move) for Marko Jaric (bad move) and extended him there after (worse move).  And in an effort to inject fresh blood, the Wolves eventually dealt Szczerbiak, Michael Olawokandi, Dwayne Jones, and a 1st round pick to the Celtics for Mark Blount, Ricky Davis, Marcus Banks, Justin Reed and two 2nds. .

Now, the Wolves were stuck with an inflexible roster thanks to the cumbersome contracts of Jaric, Trenton Hassell, and Troy Hudson. It’s also a strange practice for should-be rebuilding teams to be dealing first round picks.  Rebuilding teams shouldn’t be taking on long-term money, and build around the young players they get in the draft. Instead, the Wolves tried to force their door of opportunity open with overpaid veterans, while mortgaging some of their future by trading draft picks. Had they been patient, they probably could’ve expedited the process with Garnett’s presence while finally surrounding him with cheap talent, finally.

Looking back, the Wolves almost certainly should’ve rebuilt after the ’03 season. It made sense after 7 consecutive first round exits, but they chose to make one more go at it. It almost worked, and when it all began to unravel the next season, they should’ve jumped at the chance right away (Think of what the Blazers did this past trade deadline). Who knows if they could’ve avoided the two separate rebuilding projects that would follow that ’04 run had they put in a concerted effort to rebuild early on.

Heck, they may not have had to trade Garnett, either.

Seriously, look at their $60 million+ payroll for the ’04-’05 season, and tell me there weren’t things that could have been done. There is no good that comes from toiling away in the middle of the lottery as the 10th seed in the conference; you’re not good enough to make the playoffs, but you’re also not bad enough to land a top incoming talent. To put it simply: Make a run or bottom out if you’re not on the way up.

Would it have taken the Timberwolves 7 years to even get a direction for the franchise if they had rebuilt sooner? Maybe. Would it have helped if they hadn’t burned through 6 coaches (Saunders, McHale, Casey, Wittman, Rambis, and Adelman) in that time? Probably, a little consistency goes a long way. It’s all in hindsight, I know, but there are some lessons to be had here (See: Spurs, San Antonio).

The Wolves could be in a similar situation (yet again) should Adelman decide to call it quits, Love decides to test the market, and Rubio decides to walk. Would they panic and try to keep the door open, or let it shut and find a new one? God forbid that scenario plays out that way, but I’m curious to see how they’d handle it.

-

Derek can also be found on Twitter: @DerekJamesNBA

How Not to Sound Like a Raving Moron on Draft Day


Deprecated: Function eregi_replace() is deprecated in /home/howlintw/public_html/wp-content/themes/blaskan/functions.php on line 543

The Timberwolves opted for Wes Johnson in 2011 over DeMarcus Cousins, the best player available. Was that the right choice?
The Timberwolves opted for Wes Johnson in 2011 over DeMarcus Cousins, the best player available. Was that the right choice?

Draft season is always fun. Whether it’s studying countless mock drafts for days on end, watching the combine, or scouring scouting reports, the draft always seems to take on a life of its own. Yet, there are always some things that put a damper on the fun by looking at things the wrong way, and consequently saying the wrong things. Sometimes, it’s a fine line we walk between sounding like an informed individual and sounding like an endless cliché-spouting ninny. Don’t worry, I’m here to help you survive draft season while maintaining your respectability.

Rule #1: Remember Who You’re Talking About

This one really requires logic and common sense, so if you already understand things like don’t run a red light, you’re probably on the right track. Of course, I’m talking about our tendency to scrutinize and critique teenage prospects.

“He’s too skinny/fat/short.” Oh, so no one ever was able to put on muscle, lose weight, or hit a growth spurt after the ages of 18-20? That’s unfortunate.

“Player ‘X’ is a little raw.” Well yeah, they’re 18 or 19 years old. Who said they were a finished product? Skills can still be polished and developed here.

How many times have we seen a guy like Paul George hit another growth spurt, or a player landing in the right situation and improving in area? Many times. So do I necessarily care that a guy like Jared Sullinger is a 6’9 center…(See next rule.)

Rule #2: Ability Over Physical Traits, Every Time

…no, I don’t care. Since we’re on a Timberwolves blog, I’ll relate this to them, Kevin Love and Anthony Randolph particularly. Simply put: Would you rather have Anthony Randolph over Kevin Love because he can jump higher or run faster? Of course you wouldn’t, or I hope you wouldn’t. And just because you’re 7 feet doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know what to do with that height. Remember Ryan Hollins? The most practical use for him on a basketball court is designated shot clock duster.

So much of being able to rebound, and defend is being able to time your jumps, be aware, and ultimately knowing how to make the most out of what you do have. It’s pretty cool some guys can jump out of the gym, but if their basketball IQ is the same as their shoe size, it’s a problem.

Kevin Durant is a great example of this. Most readers, and myself can bench press more than him, but he has infinitely more talent than all but a few people in the world. Furthermore, he can get his shot off on anybody. I’ve never seen a basketball game on any level come down to a bench press competition.

Again, physical traits are meaningless unless a player knows what to do with them.

Rule #3: Watch the Clichés

You know who you are. You know what you’re doing. You probably even know you’re driving us all crazy, but you just can’t help yourself. Stop it. Seriously. Nothing is worse than watching or reading draft coverage and writhing in pain because someone had to fall back on their old, comfy clichés. Here’s a shortlist of the most egregious ones my Twitter followers could come up with: “Tremendous upside!”, “He’s a basketball player!”, “Upside/length/athleticism!” “He’s a bust/playmaker!” “Motor!”

Sigh. Yes, we know he’s a basketball player; he’s in the NBA Draft. You don’t know how a player will turn out either way before he’s played a game. Yep, he has “potential”; he is just 19 years old, after all. Please, do your part to stop the cliché’s, buzzwords, or whatever you call them.

Rule #4: If Your Team Won the Lottery, Their Main Need is Talent. Period.

I was talking to @Above_Legit, a Wizards blogger on Twitter about this after a report came out that the team had drafted many forwards recently and may not want to again. He agreed that taking the best player available is the way to go, regardless of need. With a team like the Wizards, they need everything. So what if you drafted Jordan Crawford, Jan Vesley, and Chris Singleton in recent years? You still won 20 games, and are at the top of the lottery again. And anyone whose team lets the likes of Crawford, Vesley, or Singleton keep them from improving, deserves their lottery team. Even our beloved Wolves for those years.

No, your lottery team doesn’t need a PG/SG/SF/PF/C; it needs one or two good PG/SG/SF/PF/C.

You can’t over-think these things and risk setting back your franchise. If the Wolves landed the number 1 pick last year, they should’ve taken Kyrie Irving, even with Ricky Rubio and Luke Ridnour onboard. They took BPA with the 2nd pick even though they had Kevin Love and like, four, other players who could play Williams’ position. That’s just what you do when you’re a perennial cellar dweller: take talent when you can and figure out the fit later. Ask yourself where the team could be had they taken BPA Demarcus Cousins over Wes Johnson the year before. Hindsight is 20/20, but you can’t be afraid to take chances sometimes.

-

I won’t lie, I’ve fallen into these pitfalls in the past. I’m not perfect, but I’m better for having realized it. It’s more fun to observe the process without being hypercritical or regurgitating the same tired draft day lines. Following these easy tips will lead to a better time for all.

Derek can also be found on Twitter: @DerekJamesNBA