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Country Club Welcomes Former Members

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coachelor

The Coachelor – Episode 3

Coachelor

Written by: Nick Allen and Jonah Steinmeyer

PREVIOUSLY ON: The Coachelor

After Mark Jackson and Lindsey Hunter became the first two coaches to depart from the competition, it was time to spend a little more one-on-one time with the eight remaining candidates. Things became a bit tense as Billy Donovan and Sam Cassell needed to be separated when heated words were exchanged. Tom Izzo and Fred Hoiberg didn’t seem to have as much interest in the job as I would have hoped and it was ultimately the two of them that would be sent home. There have been some new developments surrounding the team in the past week and it will be interesting to see how the six remaining coaches take the news as soon only four will remain.

THE POWER OF LOVE

I initially thought about trying to hide the news or at least downplay the reports that Kevin Love basically wants out of Minnesota. At first I thought the timing couldn’t have been worse. Here I am putting my heart out there for the world to see and now the discussion is how much longer I’ll be able to keep the star in town. I decided not to confirm or deny the reports, but instead use them to see who ultimately had less interest now that Love may not be a part of the organization come next season. It was time to give the contestants an opportunity to ask me some questions in an effort to weed out the serious contenders a little better.

I didn’t have a specific order in mind for this go around, but apparently Sam Mitchell was incredibly anxious to talk to me first. I figured there would be no harm to it, until he came storming into the office I waited in and slammed a manilla folder down on the table in front of me. I began to reach forward to examine what exactly had the man so fired up, but Mitchell snatched the folder up as he began sounding off:

“How in the hell do you expect me to help this team when your best player won’t even be here?! You completely missed the playoffs this season with him being healthy and you’re asking for immediate success in return from the guy that takes over coaching the team?! Listen, we definitely had some good days together, but you’re asking quite a bit of anyone that fills in.”

He put the folder back down on the table as he looked at me, waiting for a response; an answer to his questions. Anything. I picked up the folder, making sure he wasn’t about to pick it up again, and opened it to discover articles and blog posts about what exactly this news surrounding Love meant. A lot of it was speculation, truthfully, which led me to believe Mitchell just wanted to understand the situation better. However, I wasn’t very fond of how Mitchell went about trying to find out. I told him that everyone must overcome challenges if they are to succeed at the highest level. Whether Love is with the team or traded somewhere else, it doesn’t matter; success remains the goal and expectation.
This wasn’t exactly what Mitchell was hoping to hear, apparently. He thanked me for the opportunity to compete for the position, but told me he was no longer interested in becoming the head coach of the Timberwolves and withdrew himself from the competition. I had a feeling this might happen with one of the contestants, but I was a little nervous about this only being the first to talk to me. How strongly would the others feel on these matters? Would anyone else just get up and walk out like Mitchell? Before I had a chance to talk to anyone else, some representatives of the NBA overlooking The Coachelor wanted to talk to me.

I was informed that, due to two of the contestants voluntarily leaving the show, another coach was going to be brought in for me to interview. I was shocked and pleasantly surprised. Who could be willing to join the competition after all of these rumors have been flying around? The representatives said the new person wouldn’t be joining until after this round of cuts, but that I would still have to eliminate two of the coaches despite Mitchell leaving The Coachelor. I wasn’t too thrilled about that. I was already having a tough time trying to determine which two would be cut from the six remaining, but the pressure of cutting two from five was even more immense.

My head was elsewhere and I decided to change things up a bit. Instead of meeting with everyone individually after talking to the NBA reps, I decided I would bring the five remaining coaches together and talk to them as a group. I explained that Mitchell had decided to leave the show, which some of them expected. Then I dropped the bomb that two of them would still be leaving by the end of the night and that yet another coach would be joining the competition after these cuts. This news didn’t thrill the contestants, as expected. George Karl guffawed, presumably expecting me to tell them it was a joke. The baffled smile slowly crept away from his face after he realized how serious things just became.

I had to tell them that things are what they are in Minnesota. While no promises can be made when it comes to the Wolves organization, it doesn’t mean I’m a completely lost cause! I expected to come here and fall in love with one of the coaches, not have to answer questions about Love. While some of them may have been displeased with the lack of facetime they got, all I needed to know was whether or not they still had any interest in coaching the team. This was their out, any of them could walk out now or remain on the show…

ROSE CEREMONY

As I sat thinking about my decision coming ahead, I felt like the drama was never going to end. I almost just wanted to call Rick (Adelman) and beg him to come back. But I knew that wasn’t right. All I have to do is breathe, slow my mind and make a decision.

Easy for you to say.

I gathered the remaining five coaches. We’re all used to this part by now but there’s still no denying the pressure it puts over each and every one of us. But, nonetheless, it had to be done. I picked up my first rose and decided I’d say a few words about each one receiving a rose tonight.

“Flip, come get your rose. It’s been hard for me to envision us getting back together in this capacity but I’m warming up to the idea every day. There’s just something about your charm that keeps me thinking ‘What if?’ Will you accept this rose?”

“Next, is you, Billy. Although I know your home is much different than mine but I appreciate how you’ve actually entertained the idea of coming to Minnesota. You’re much different than how Tom and Fred acted with me, and I like that. Please accept this rose.”

“And, finally, this is a really difficult decision for me. You three (Karl, Cassell, Hollins) each have a different, unique connection with me, and I appreciate you all. But I can only choose one. So…”

“George, come on up here! You and I don’t have a lot in common but I can see that you have a general interest in me. I want to see more of that in the coming weeks. All I ask is you not give up on me!”

And with that, Cassell and Hollins were gone.

“Look, Sam, I know that we’ve had our moments together. But I just don’t think you’re quite ready for a head coaching role quite yet. When you think you are, I want you to keep me in mind. And, Lionel, you’re resumé is outstanding and you’re an honorable man with ties to my city, but I want you to consider other opportunities. There’s going to be a special place for you like in Los Angeles or New York. You’ll get your dream job soon enough.”

Next Week on The CoachelorJust as the NBA promised, another coach was going to join my search quite unexpectedly. I mean, why so late in the competition? Does the next contestant even stand a chance considering all the time they’ve lost since we started? How will they get along with the other coaching candidates? Whoever it is, I’m both excited and nervous for them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Quarter:

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

Second Quarter:

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

Decline:

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

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

First Quarter:

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

Second Quarter:

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

Decline:

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

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

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

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

Wolves Wins by Season

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

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

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About Dieng Time?

Dieng or Pek? That shouldn't be the conversation...

Dieng or Pek? That shouldn’t be the conversation…

There’s been a lot of talk recently on the Wolves’ rookie center Gorgui Dieng. Most notably, David Thorpe had some overly nice things to say about the Louisville product’s development and, more importantly, his production over the last month.

The Timberwolves’ best news, though, has come in the form of their rookie center out of Louisville, Gorgui Dieng, who has exploded onto the scene and will now play a huge role in Minnesota’s future plans — a role that could also have a big impact on Love’s decision whether to stay in the Twin Cities.

Woah now! You’re telling me that Dieng could impact where Kevin Love is going to play basketball in a year and a half? Either Thorpe is psychic or he’s gone off the deep-end. But sure enough he stuck by his point/article and reiterated his enamor for the rookie big man on today’s version of TrueHoop TV.

Dieng has been a awful nice piece. I won’t fight anyone on that account. His per game numbers on the season are terribly misleading because of exactly what Thorpe said: Rick Adelman doesn’t want to play young guys unless; A) they can flat-out ball WITHIN the system; B) he’s forced to develop because management said so or now, in the Wolves’ case; C) injuries force Adelman’s hand to play unproven commodities. And if you argue with Adelman on that point, you’ll never win.

So instead, let’s take a look at his numbers for the past month since taking over for Nikola Pekovic, who is nursing a constantly troubled ankle that hindered him last year into this season. Firstly, Dieng’s numbers as a starter in eight games are pretty nice. He’s averaging just over 12 points and 12 rebounds as a starter. He boasts a solid true shooting percentage (59 percent) and, what I personally love, is that is usage rate is on the lower side compared to Pekovic, who runs as focal point 1B in Adelman’s offensive sets, especially early in ball games.

What Thorpe was so excited about in regards to Dieng was his defensive aptitude and the always-sexy athletic intangibles. He’s right that Dieng is a fantastic above-the-rim defender, whereas Love and Pek, now both average to above-average defenders, stay well below the rim, utilizing their strength to move bodies and grab defensive rebounds. At 6-foot-11, 245 lbs., Dieng is a force in the paint who can jump above the rim and force penetrating guards out and make some of the most offensively skilled big men to think twice about their movements.

Gorgui Dieng has exploded as a starter in lieu of Pekovic

Gorgui Dieng has exploded as a starter in lieu of Pekovic

But what I’ve noticed looking at the numbers is that Dieng only, and I stress only because of how Thorpe pumped up Dieng so highly, averages just over a steal and a block per start in an average of nearly 32 minutes in a game. Perhaps probing steals and blocks in just eight starts makes me look out to be a cynic but considering five of those eight blocks came in just one game, maybe you’d think more about Dieng’s rim-keeping abilities.

I know I’m being harsh. After all, the guy has a 99 defensive rating total on the year, which ranks him amongst some of the best big men (Tim Duncan, Deandre Jordan, Roy Hibbert, just to name a few) in the league. But that’s the point. Everyone is so hopped up about Dieng’s play, which stirs some converse feelings about Pekovic’s standing on the Wolves in the future.

Thorpe is convinced that Dieng is the answer and that the next proper move would be to exchange Pek for some help off the bench or perhaps try to lure one more star in here, at least for the short-term, to convince Love to stay five more years. I understand how refreshing it is to watch Dieng play but do we have to go back and remind everyone just how good and valuable Pek is to the Wolves too?

Pekovic is a better defender than what many give him credit for

Pekovic is a better defender than what many give him credit for

Pekovic came from nothing when he started in the league. He was foreign to NBA basketball and even the USA. He fouled too much, he was reckless and turnover-prone on offense and he didn’t seem to care all that much, taking after his good buddy Darko Milicic. But then something snapped, Pek got hot in his second season, corrected a lot of mistakes — many of which had to do with basic defensive positioning — and eventually performed consistently enough to land him a hell of a pay day last summer. Although the injury bug flies often near Pek’s home, he’s still a top-five offensive center with a knack for banging the offensive boards better than anyone BUT Kevin Love. Pek is actually the fourth-best starting center in terms of offensive rating and also a big-time free throw shooter at nearly 75 percent this season.

Pekovic clearly has value to this team, despite his faults of not being a great defender or a low usage rate guy on offense. But in terms of statistics, he and Love have formed a formidable pair over the past two seasons, which is why he was awarded his fat pay check in the first place. As we all know, statistics aren’t exactly the best way to measure a team’s success — the Wolves would be the first to claim that after this abysmal, disappointing season — and wins are still the ultimate decider. Footnote: Dieng has a .139 win shares per 48 compared to Pek’s .170.

Getting back to coach Thorpe’s idea of trading Pek to make way for Dieng as the new starter in Minnesota, I think it’s obviously clear that that’s not an easy decision to make. Dieng’s sample size as a starting NBA center is too small to determine is long-term potential, and Pekovic’s inconsistent court time could simply be chocked up to shitty luck.

So here’s an idea for ya: Keep BOTH of them!

I’m a full-believer that Dieng can develop into a quality starting center one day but he, just like every rookie, must go through the learning curve, which will see plenty of ups and downs. Just as Pekovic. And as for Pekovic, having watched him grow over the past three seasons, I fully believe that he’s a top-five offensive center — perhaps even top-10 offensive big man — in the NBA. Just like Dieng’s hopping ability and length, Pek’s size and brute strength are healthy qualities to have at your disposal, no matter who’s coaching. So what’s so wrong with keeping both?

Here’s how I see it. You have a top-five, rim-protecting defender with great agility, some good abilities on offense and always plays with high energy in Dieng. You also have a top-five low-block scorer, who is at the very least average on interior defense and a rebound mogul. One is still learning the game, such as positioning, trends and playing styles and the other has been forced to miss a lot of time due to injury. Also, according to both players’ by minutes averages, they both play their best ball when seeing the court anywhere from 20-29 minutes per game. 20 plus 20 is a full game of basketball, folks.

If you ask me, together, Dieng and Pek create one of the most dynamic, physically-gifted tandems the league has seen out of two centers in a very long time. There’s no reason to think that these two players couldn’t play together for the next couple years and make an impact on both ends of the court each and every night. Playing a “center by committee” isn’t a popular strategy but it’s one that could very well work in Minnesota given Dieng and Pek’s strengths, abilities and physical and mental boundaries.

That is why there should be nothing wrong with these two playing together. But still, the problem with many NBA critics today — myself included — is they’re too quick to judge and immediately look to fix any mistake or redundancy they can find. Just because Dieng has looked great in eight starts does not mean that the Wolves should trade away a center in Pek, who’s posted PER numbers of 21, 20 and 20 that past three seasons. That’s why it’s utter lunacy to think and act on such a short-term basis. Most of the time, you’ll just end up sounding like a fool when all comes to fruition. And believe me, I’ve fallen victim to this more than I’d like to know.

In the end it’s a “Why get rid of one when you already have both?” situation for me. There’s no reason to rush a decision of who you have to keep right now when you can enjoy having both of them for the foreseeable future. While I appreciate reading and listening to David Thorpe and others bask in Dieng’s glimmer of success because it has been a silver-lining to what is yet again a very depressing season, there’s no reason to throw ideas of moving in a new direction or trading anyone when, in actuality, keeping both could be all the depth the Wolves need in the first place.

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Who Coaches the Timberwolves Next Season?

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It’s not uncommon in sports to have the coach become the scapegoat for a disappointing season. The Timberwolves’ Rick Adelman has been no exception with fans. Some have been frustrated by his rotations and questioning his in-game adjustments. There has been speculation that Adelman may walk away from the job after this season after his wife struggled with health issues last season. Consequently, this has led to even more speculation about who would replace him as coach in such an instance.

The first name that many fans have been drawn to is Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg has strong ties to the Timberwolves organization as both a player and management. Given the team’s history for bringing in former associate’s, this makes sense. My only question is would the grass be greener for Fred in the NBA? I’m not so sure. He has built a successful program in Ames, Iowa and was handsomely rewarded by signing an extension worth 10 years, $20 million. On top of that, college coaches have an iffy track record in transitioning in the NBA. It’s really an entirely different animal, but Hoiberg may still be able to reach professional players considering he was one not too long ago.

Secondly, there’s Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. This is one that I personally doubt would happen. I mean, Tom Izzo is the face of the Spartans’ program with a great reputation and financial situation. Unless he’s yearning for the challenge to prove to him that he could be a successful coach at both levels, it’s hard to see.

Then there has been Jeff Van Gundy, who probably hasn’t coached since I was in elementary school. Van Gundy is apparently close with Flip Saunders, so there’s that, but Van Gundy has had a steady, less-stressful gig as a broadcaster, which no former player or coach would gladly choose to give up. After years of being off the court would he want to jump back in now? Is this the right situation for him to return? None of these questions I really have the answer to, but Stan Van Gundy, his brother, would be the more likely replacement than Jeff. Though SVG would require more shooters as he had in Orlando, but may do wonders for this defense. SVG is still a good coach who would probably be coaching had he not been fired by Dwight Howard. I mean, the Magic.

Finally, there’s Saunders himself who is the likeliest candidate at this point. Saunders has had the itch ever since he left Washington and was rumored for the Gophers coaching job before Richard Pitino was hired on. Additionally, he is close to Taylor and this way they wouldn’t have to pay someone else to do it.

Of course some of this will likely come down to Kevin Love. Love’s opinion likely matters and that’s one of the reasons besides being a good coach the team won’t push Adelman out the door. We don’t even know for sure if Adelman is leaving as nothing has been voiced publicly by any party involved. This conversation may very well wind up being for nothing, but this is kinda where we’re at now.

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

Who wants to play "Caption this!"?

Who wants to play “Caption this”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final: 113-99, Brooklyn defeats Minnesota.

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

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

Investments and Exchanges

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

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

Determining Asset Value

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

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

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

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

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

What about the asset the Wolves received in return?

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

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

— Jon Krawczynski (@APkrawczynski) March 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

Dividends

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investment Protection

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

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

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

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

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

Love breaks the news

When the Minnesota Timberwolves decided to relieve Kevin McHale of his duties, Kevin Love was the first on the scene. Contrary to your average breaking news, a person involved in the situation, other than the boss, usually doesn’t crack the case. Love did in that instance via Twitter and paid the price.

This time, Wolves fans couldn’t be happier to hear the news from Love.

“Houston, we have a coach,” Love said via Facebook.

Although he hasn’t specified who the new coach is, it shouldn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure it out. The past few weeks the Wolves have flirted with the idea bringing in high caliber coach in Rick Adelman, a superiorly renowned coach that’s been coaching around the league since 1988, when he started in Portland with the Trail Blazers.

Adelman toyed with the idea of a year or two off when he and Houston split ways after the past season.

But now the Wolves have a coach and are certainly heading in the right direction. There will be much more to come once news of the contract details surface, as well as some commentary to go right along with it.