Let's gear up, we've got basketball to watch

It seems like all that’s left to do is shake on it.

With news breaking of the NBA and its players finally reaching a tentative agreement that ended the  lockout, it’s time to move past the mysterious station of limbo in which we all floated in for so long.

Once the Dallas Mavericks were named NBA Champions back in May, every fan of the NBA slipped into a state of comatose; your faith and fandom in the NBA stopped but time kept cruising on without any regrets. Days passed, then months but still no deal was in place. Billionaire owners and millionaire players sat at long, mahogany executive tables bickering over who deserves more of our hard-earned money. It was everywhere. It was sickening. But, most of all, there was nothing we could do about it.

But it’s all over with. The NBA season — or at least a part of it — has been saved and we can all go back to enjoying the sport we love. I’m not going to go through the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of every concession on the new collective bargaining agreement because, frankly, the CBA is as complex and confusing as the show Lost — I’m only starting season 4 on Netflix; don’t spoil it for me.

One thing we can agree on is the fact that the Timberwolves are officially back in business but they have some lofty expectations to live up to.

While players were gone, basking on the beaches of Southern California or hosting charity games at local high school gyms, the Timberwolves’ place in the Target Center was shifted. A new basketball power came to order — not like the Wolves were much of a power to begin with. The Minnesota Lynx defied all odds and went on to post the WNBA’s best record of the season and grabbed a championship trophy while they’re at it. The Lynx, just like the Wolves, have been historically bad for their entire existence. But crafty roster moves — I still miss you, Katie Smith — and the luck of the draft (Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, the list really goes on) put them in position to break from their slump and grab the attentions of thousands in the greater Minneapolis area.

Just like the Lynx, the Wolves now have a roster that seems primed for a breakout season. The additions of Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams stabilize two positions the Wolves have failed to get consistent production from for years. Kevin Love is finally recognized as a top-class player amongst his peers. Depth, something Wolves fans know little about, now prowls the bench with veteran presence in Luke Ridnour, Martell Webster and even newcomer Brad Miller.

One reason the Lynx succeeded this season was because of the emergence of the once-forgotten Seimone Augustus. The former first overall pick has had an injury-riddled career that never shined like many had thought it would. She rose above all expectations this season and finally came to form, leading the Lynx to the championship. I find a striking resemblance between Augustus and Wolves’ forward Michael Beasley — And no, it’s not the hairdos. Both Augustus and Beasley are natural-born scorers. From anywhere on the court, they find a way to put the ball in the basket. What I saw in Augustus that was different from year’s past was her mental focus that helped her ignore the mere thought of getting hurt or failing. Beasley needs to find that focus as well. If he can soar past the thought of failing or getting hurt on any given play, he may finally have the chance to fully focus on the game and, in turn, breakout and crush the expectations he had after being chosen second overall in the 2008 NBA draft.

There’s one way the Timberwolves may be able to exceed their lowly expectations next season and that is Rick Adelman. The soon-to-be Hall of Famer enters his first season as the Timberwolves coach with a very special opportunity in Minnesota. A young roster, so talented it’ll make you salivate, needs a strict decision maker that will teach the game and discipline when needed.

Remember back to when David Kahn and the Wolves had Kurt Rambis hanging on a string. His future with the franchise was uncertain but neither side wanted to make advancements. Of course, the saga turned into the classic Timberwolves screw-up and we were portrayed to the basketball world as clumsy and flat-out stupid. Once Rambis was officially let go, the Wolves were lucky to toss such prestigious names into the drawing: Sam Mitchell, Larry Brown, Don Nelson. But one name, in particular, stuck out as the clear-cut choice, and that was Adelman. Minnesota sports, in general, usually have a difficult time choosing the right coach — Just ask the Vikings, for starters.

Adelman was officially announced and it was a day of rejoicement. For once, a professional sport in the state of Minnesota made the right decision on a coach. Thanks to that decision, even with the inexperienced roster, the season is just that much brighter than in years past because they have that passionate leader, poised to make basketball relevant again in the Twin Cities.

Speaking of the Twin Cities, have you ever seen Target Field? Or perhaps visited St. Paul’s Winter Carnival? The Twin Cities could very well be a hot spot for incoming free agents. Kahn worked his magic last year convincing David Lee to visit as well as Rudy Gay — even though he de-boarded the plane after the Grizzlies called and offered him stacks on stacks of cash to stay. The Wolves have serious cash to spend and a guy who’s not afraid to spend it. In year’s past, we’ve seen owner Glen Taylor hesitate to dish out the money for a winning team, but with the NBA’s economic status in dire trouble, it’s now or never on deciding when to go big.

It’s an exciting time to be an NBA fan, and a specially exciting time to be a Timberwolves fan. There will be a lot more analysis coming, but let’s just leave it with this: How excited are you for basketball to be back?

Breaking News: NBPA rejects latest offer, plans to decertify

The fate of the entire season may now be in jeopardy after the NBPA officially rejected the owners’ latest offer at a collective bargaining agreement.

“Going forward, collective bargaining will not be how this process continues for us,” added union president Derek Fisher. “We’ll let our legal team really lead the charge.”

This isn’t going to end any time soon now.

Doomsday: The NBA Lockout edition

Well, here we are. Fans and bloggers alike are running around like they’ve been beheaded like a chicken. Not really, but this is a real mess, regardless.

So the NBA will lock out its players, a long-expected move that puts the 2011-12 season in jeopardy and comes as the NFL is trying to end its own work stoppage that began in March.

The latest lockout begins at 12:01 EDT on Friday. It will last until players and owners can agree on a new collective bargaining agreement, one owners demand must give all teams a chance to profit.

Everyone agrees that this couldn’t have come at a worse time. The NBA just came off one of its best seasons in decades that ended with the ultimate American comic book story ending of good over evil, all while the good team’s lone superhero emerged victorious, officially inscribing his legacy in stone. Honestly, what could have gone better, besides a successful Wolves’ season of course?

Now we just have to sit and wait and hope for the best. At least we have football to look forward… Oh, wait. Is it just me or did I miss some phenomenon of some demonic, lockout bug that came in, poised to suck the fun right out of our key means of entertainment and, for some, a lifestyle, and gnawed on the NBA’s and NFL’s reason to negotiate? It sure seems that way.

Anyways, the world’s not over, especially here at Howlin’ T-Wolf. We will continue to do our best, giving you all the up-to-date news on the lockout and, of course, anything and everything Minnesota Timberwolves that surfaces during the downtime. So continue to check back here for a fresh perspective on your Minnesota Timberwolves.

We’ll only be waiting in a lockout for a little while, right?

Waning through the rumors

Agree or disagree but rumors have the power to saturate one’s mind. Living in a fantasy where everything lives up to your standards is the ultimate dream for so many Americans. Even us basketball junkies can become swept by the rough tide rumors create.

So it’s time to face our fantasies. Let’s quickly review all the rumors going on in the past few weeks and I’ll tell you exactly why they will/won’t/should/couldn’t work.

Andre Iguodala

Andre Iguodala:

This one is a bit old dating back to the trade deadline but Iguodala’s name has popped up everywhere this offseason to no surprise. Most recently he’s been linked to the Golden State Warriors, where an Ellis-Iggy swap could be done straight up. As for the Wolves, a move for Iggy would be picture-perfect; he’s an NBA All-Defensive team player with emphatic skills on the offensive end to hold his own.

The issue is the asking price. Some rumors are linked to Mike Beasley, Ricky Rubio and the #2 pick (Not all but a combo of probably two of them). The other problem with Iggy is his contract. Iggy’s guaranteed over $44 million for the next three seasons. And although the Wolves have the money and flexibility to absorb that deal, it’s not very practical. David Kahn has been adement on keeping that cap flexibility open — for only God knows what reason — but now with the financial stability of the league at stake as well as a looming lockout, it’d take a Charles Barkley to gamble that much money away in unstable times like these.

Iggy would be a great play for the Wolves if the conditions were perfect, but they’re not. From what I’ve been hearing, the 76ers are asking for too much, Iggy gets paid too much, and so, it’s just not there. Therefore the rumors should be DENIED. Continue reading

The Oklahoma City Model

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OKC cashed in with two lottery picks (Luck) but have also developed talent (Ibaka) and made smart decisions behind the scenes (Perkins, Harden). It's all apart of the "Rags to Riches Model" of the NBA

When one Googles the words “Oklahoma City Thunder model”, 9 of the first 10 results are NBA lottery level teams claiming they are going to follow the Thunder’s recipe for recent success. But what is this formula? And is it actually possible for other teams to follow it?

It seems overly kind to the Thunder’s brass to say that Oklahoma City’s success is based solely off making good basketball and financial decisions. After all…the whole franchise at the moment is built off a twice-lucky draft pick in 2007, lucky once because they were able to draft a franchise superstar like Kevin Durant, and lucky again because instead of winning the lottery and picking Greg Oden (the consensus number one at the time), they got the second pick…which turned out to be the real winner.

Not only did the Thunder score on Durant, they somehow won a superstar who was uninterested in the bright lights of Broadway or Hollywood. In the Summer of LeBron, of loud Decisions, documentaries, and even louder commentary, Durant quietly signed a 5 year extension on his current deal with the Thunder. Instead of announcing it on a one hour special on ESPN, Durant announced it on his Twitter feed, informing the basketball world that he was committed to winning a championship for Oklahoma City. No GM in the world could have seen a superstar like that coming.

Likewise, this current Thunder squad wasn’t going to be a true contender to defeat the Lakers or Mavericks out West without GM Sam Presti somehow encountering Boston GM Danny Ainge, the only executive in the league willing trade Kendrick Perkins, a defensive specialist against the biggest, baddest bodies in the NBA, for two players who are currently buried in the bench rotation in Boston. (Ugh.)

So…it’s partially luck, just as Jonah noted when commenting on the league’s bottom-dwelling, small-market squads, who are looking to break the ice just as OKC did. Just ask the Knicks, Clippers, Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Bobcats, or any of the other 8 teams who sucked worse than the 2008 Chicago Bulls, who somehow won the lottery and snapped up current MVP Derrick Rose.

Still, while it may be a bit implausible to ask small market teams to fully follow the Oklahoma City model, given the whole “Kevin Durant, the best scorer in the freaking NBA, totally fell into their laps” thing and all, the Thunder have certainly made many wise decisions, shattering common belief that it was all just luck.

Russell Westbrook was pegged to struggle at the point guard position coming out of the draft in 2008, and Presti was widely criticized for taking him 4th. But while recent accusations about his shot selection are fully factual, nobody can deny that he has been an instrumental part of this OKC team, as well as a deserving All Star this season. His continued development is one of the biggest keys behind the Thunder’s current status as a legitimate championship contender.

Also, allowing Serge Ibaka to develop made the Thunder frontline of Perkins and Ibaka a dangerous combination of athletic and strong. Not only that, but trading Jeff Green and giving Ibaka more minutes at the 4, by far his more natural position, has worked wonders defensively for the Thunder.

So what does this mean for Minnesota? It’s tough to tell. It certainly means some hard questions need to be asked if this team is going to truly contend in the future. The hardest question of all might be this one: can a contender be built around Kevin Love? Let’s be honest: Kevin Love’s free agency is approaching, and he is going to get paid handsomely by someone. Which, of course, he deserves; he had a great season, winning the MIP, becoming an All Star, and significantly developing his offensive game. There is no reason to believe that next year won’t be equally successful. But he’s not a go-to scorer in crunch time. Minnesota still doesn’t have one, as much as we all love Beasley. And given that Love can also be abused on defense, Minnesota will be forced to ask themselves this: How much are rebounds and hustle worth in dollar bills?

Ultimately, it appears the formula for success as a small market team in the NBA is a strange, difficult to define combination of foresight, luck and losing. One needs the wits to realize what will work in the NBA, the luck to acquire it, and the patience to see it through.

But losses in the standings mean losses in the stands, which in turn leads to losses in the checkbook. And ultimately, money runs (and ruins) everything. One can preach about teams needing to lose to rebuild, but in these volatile NBA times, with the lockout looming, the horrifying word “contraction” being thrown around, and small market teams constantly in danger of bouncing from city to city (Sacramento is just the start of things, folks), the biggest question for small market teams actually becomes a bit frightening.

How many franchises can actually afford to improve?

The end of things as we know it?

How about those NBA Playoffs?! Derrick Rose is leading the Bulls like a once-led-by Jordan team did back in the day. Russell Westbrook has established himself as just as worthy and important to the OKC Thunder as teammate Kevin Durant — might there be some jealousy clouding the team’s Playoff hopes? We already witnessed the Hawks of Atlanta beat down Orlando and their muscly-chiseled giant and could very well see Memphis take the Best of the West down too. All that in the opening round, and it’s just heating up.

It’s really unfortunate that these lively and entertaining Playoff games have to be dolefully overshadowed by the unfortunate situation in Sacramento. Some may think nothing of it — Why should we care about what’s going on in a poor basketball town like Sacramento? But when the league’s integrity is at stake, it should be considered a big deal.

If you’re not up to date on the Sacramento situation, here’s where we are now: The Maloof’s, Sacramento’s “proud” owners of their Kings, screwed up, ran out of money, cut the costs of operations throughout the organization and now they’re in a pickle looking for a new arena and a new beginning. Unfortunately, a city as small as Sacramento can’t afford a new arena to please the Maloof brothers’ requests and they’ve explored the option of relocating. “Relocation,” it’s the only word that provides enough motivation in the word itself to bring a community together to fight the stronger powers of the world. So as the city of Sacramento rallies itself to save their lone professional franchise — The Maloof’s already allowed their WNBA team to hit the fan — the fate of the Sacramento Kings is now in the NBA’s hands, as they’re now figuring out if it’s worth their interest to keep the franchise afloat in a dismantled NBA market.

In Sacramento’s case, we’ve quickly learned the fact that smaller-market teams are ruining the NBA’s limelight. By that I mean that they’re low attendance, poor marketing and tendency to withhold franchise players from going to a preferred destination hinders the league and its owners — and in Lebron James’ case, can curse a franchise and its fans. That won’t get you on David Stern’s good side, where he pictures the NBA as joyful as a fairy tale, where Chicago, New York, Miami, Boston and L.A. are all an integral part of each season and postseason.

But we’ve seen this all over, especially as of late with the Kings on the fence and other franchises in limbo. To make matters even more relevant than it blatantly should be already is that it happened in our very own city. Kevin Garnett hoisted this franchise onto his back and hauled it for 12 long, demanding seasons. But when KG left at McHale’s request — and ultimately for the good of the league — the franchise turned into a crippled and demoralized heap of excrement that proved to be more detrimental to the league than helpful. After that, all those involved, especially the fans, grew detached from the situation entirely. And now we’re winding down an awfully similar, and eery, path that the Kings tumbled down. We’re watching operation costs getting slashed, the fan support is decreasing and they haven’t caught a glimmer of luck, or hope, yet.

We’ve seen very similar situations happen multiple times — Seattle and New Orleans most recently — where the NBA’s front office has had to intervene in one organization’s business because either A) Owners go broke, B) Fans grow disinterested for any number of reasons, or; C) The team just flat out sucks. But more importantly, what all these troubled teams have in common is they’ve just failed to catch that break and, honestly, were never in the right caring hands to begin with.

Why didn’t the situation implode? Because Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge showed up. Because owner Paul Allen embraced how deeply Portlanders identified with his franchise and started emphasizing character. Because Allen hired an enterprising front office that used his money as a competitive advantage, buying extra draft picks, thinking outside the box with creative free-agent offers and raiding cost-cutting teams of solid veterans. The team built a good enough foundation to survive a few bad breaks (most recently, Oden and Roy), and now they’re giving the Mavericks everything they can handle in Round 1. Maybe the Blazers haven’t been totally lucky, but they’ve definitely been smart.

Bill Simmons said that here and I advise taking 15-20 minutes out of your day to read the article in its entirety. Anyways, back to the point: Teams in smaller markets are doomed in the NBA. Unless they’re being run by very smart people, such as the Blazers, or have just caught some lucky breaks, such as the Thunder, you’re years in the NBA, or at least in a specific city, are limited at best.

The next question is how can we fix this dilemma. Underprivileged owners in poor markets don’t have the gonads or the resources to survive in the NBA. It could very well lead to a contraction process in the NBA. Would contraction be a bad thing for the NBA? Looking forward both economically as well as the entertainment factor, a condensed and consolidated league could be the best thing going forward. No longer would Stern have to worry about bankrupt owners. No longer would city’s sit through season after season of suffering and aching. No longer would down-to-earth athletes have to make a professional decision about leaving their “home team” because of a “business decision.” The league would flourish in mounds of cash, sponsorships and the overwhelming amount of publicity they’d receive with all the different rivalries that could stem from big name players moving from one big name city to the next.

But at the same time, you can take Minnesota’s perspective and shoot all of those glamours of contraction down. We have the talent to turn things around. We have enough fan support, as we showed during the KG era, to make a statement amongst a league of coast-dwelling, tax-free states that have all the night clubs and warm weather to attract any talent they sought after.

The league doesn’t need to jump to any conclusions: If they find the right hands for a franchise like Sacramento, there’s hope. And if they also hit the lottery like OKC has, they could very well be the Blazers of tomorrow, even in a city as irrelevant to basketball as Portland once was. Minnesota is no different. Given the right amount of time and brains working behind the curtain, any team can be flipped right-side-up.

It’s just a matter of luck and intelligence. Isn’t everything?

Rambis' job status

Yesterday I wrote my reasoning for why Rambis should be feeling the heat of potentially losing his job along with all of his assistants. I’ll be the first to admit that the piece may have been premature, especially after hearing some details form this morning.

ESPN Insider initially reported the potential danger of Rambis’ status of head coach, but since then has started to take a different stance.

Kevin LoveMartell Webster and Anthony Tolliver spoke to the media on Tuesday and they all said Rambis isn’t to blame for the Wolves poor season.

“It’s easy to say when you’re having a tough year,” Love told the Pioneer Press. “It’s not a direct reflection on him. It’s all on us being a young, youthful team. It’s unfair. As a player, I have Kurt’s back.”

“He gets blamed for everything because he’s the coach,” Tolliver said. “He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. It’s up to us out there on the floor to execute the game plan. As players, we have to take more accountability and responsibility for our actions.”

“He’s always putting the work in,” Webster said. “He and the staff never give us the short end of the stick and just throw us out there and say, ‘Whatever happens.’ We’re the ones who have to go out there and play. As players, we can always say the right things, but the proof is how you do on the court.”

Take this how you want, but the players are essentially doing and saying what they’re supposed to. With a GM infatuated with younger, newer players, these guys are supposed to say things like this in order to get the most burn on the court in the final 12 games of the season. No player in their right mind would speak out against their coach at the end of the season unless there was serious turmoil from before that just needed to explode out to the public, but in these players’ cases, all of them are just looking for job security, even Love, who’s looking for a contract extension in Minny (Say he speaks out negatively against Rambis, he could very well find himself following the same path as Big Al).

So no matter what the players say, it comes down to the front office’s opinion.

President of basketball operations David Kahn refuted the report that Kurt Rmabis could be fired after the season and that Kelvin Sampson could be his replacement.

“The notion of Kelvin Sampson is completely false,” Kahn told the Pioneer Press, via the Timberwolves media relations director Mike Cristaldi. “That report is not true in all aspects.”

Rambis didn’t seem too concerned about his job security.

Ok, so maybe the front office, Kahn in particular, won’t go against their beliefs either. Like the players, Kahn, with his best interest at heart, wouldn’t speak negatively against Rambis either. I mean, that’s his guy! He was the guy who hired Rambis in the summer of 2008, hoping for a coach to absorb the blow of some rough seasons in hopes of turning this ship around. If Kahn decided to fire Rambis this summer, all it would show is Kahn admitting he was wrong, which is something no GM wants to swallow.

So what about the guy above the front office? He’s been awfully quiet…

“Owner Glen Taylor cannot be happy with how Rambis handled [the end of Kevin Love's double-double streak] or how he has coached, period,” he wrote. “In fact, I know he’s not remotely happy. I can assure you, the Timberwolves will be looking for a new head coach and a full bench of assistants as soon as the season is over.”

This quote comes from a journalist… from the New York Post. Remember towards the beginning of the season where another New York paper released rumors of Ricky Rubio’s desire to play for the Knicks? I’ll make it simple for you: New York has as many, if not more, bad reporters as good reporters. The last few reports regarding our Wolves coming out from the Big Apple have been malarky at best, so take this with a big grain of salt. Glen Taylor is a tough cookie to crack, some of Minny’s best reporters know that, but clearly the head honcho should be upset — we don’t need some New York article to tell us that. Kahn promised a turnaround in three years, and although we’re not there yet, the Wolves took maybe a half-step forward towards a brighter future, but that may be it. Compared to last year, this year could even be more disappointing because there were higher hopes, so that alone should be enough for Taylor to put his foot down. This ship is his after all, and he indeed has the final say, right? Let’s just hope he steps in, for once, and demands the change needed to take a step in the right direction.