Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 1.52.23 PM

Everybody, Get Back to Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flip Saunders talks with Colin Cowherd

Flip Saunders

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

Click this link to be taken to the interview. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timberwolves Media Day: “It’s a New Season”

If there was one common theme among Timberwolves players at media day it was that this was a new season. The injuries, the missed games and consequential losses are things that the team is looking to put behind them as they move towards the coming season. In fact, most players brushed back most questions regarding the injuries with the same dismissive answers that make you wonder if they got together and planned out their answers. That’s alright. With so much promise to this coming season the Timberwolves have little reason to look back.

Even when pressed about what they thought of injuries already rearing their ugly head as it has with Chase Budinger, the player’s expressed sympathy for their teammate, but were far from dejected. Where some fans have already begun with the “Here we go again…” diatribe, the Timberwolves reminded us that injuries are a part of professional sports and that players will miss some games. In short, they’re not paranoid, and they’re not checking underneath their beds for the Injury Boogeyman every night.

Kevin Love, who arguably endured the most trying season of all last season, was perhaps the fastest to close the door on any questions concerning last season. When pressed about his relationship with former general manager David Kahn and Flip Saunders, Love just said that “The past is the past,” and went on to praise the job that Saunders has done so far. When asked if he had a message for fans for this coming season he just said that it was a new season– a sentiment many of his teammates also wished to stress to their fans.

Love and the Timberwolves know that how far they go will be dependent in part to the growth of their All-Star power forward. Rick Adelman said that he wanted to see Love expand his game to becoming more of a facilitator and more of a factor on defense. This wasn’t Adelman calling Love out, either. Love said he knew what his coach was talking about and added that he knew that he wanted him to setup a few more plays for teammates (Love called his approach to passing as able, but not always willing.) and — along with his teammates — work to improve as defenders. J.J. Barea added in his availability that Love’s leadership will be a big determinant of their success will also be Love’s growth as a leader and that it has to be him to step in to that role.

Adelman himself said that he is looking forward to having Kevin Martin in the fold, who has he coached during much of the guard’s career. Interestingly enough, Adelman said that Martin came to him last season asking when they were going to reunite. Adelman believed this to be indicative of how much Martin believes in his system and said that now that he has the personnel, he is looking forward to adding more Motion sets to their predominantly Pick ‘n Roll attack from a year ago in hopes of being able make their attack more dynamic.

Additionally, the team addressed concerns over their ability to get defensive stops by saying they expect their to be  a great focus in camp on team defense, not just individual defense. Much of that will be helped by communicating and playing together over time, or as some people may call it: chemistry. Despite their improved offense, the team is aware of their flaws on defense, but it’s encouraging that they appear to be on the same page about how to limit the damage on that end of the court.

If anything, there was a sense of excitement; not just over the new acquisitions or having a new decision maker at the helm, but over the return of last year’s injured players and finally getting an extended look at their three best players on the floor together. Also, you cannot understate the morale boost that Rick Adelman’s return to the bench gave the players. With their best players and one of the game’s best coaches in hand, the Timberwolves have all of the reasons in the world to look at the road ahead.

Weight Watchers

Of course, you can’t talk about the Timberwolves without talking about the weight of their players. Even I fell victim to this trap on Twitter when Love came up to the microphone with his face noticeably slimmed down in what appears to be the best shape of his career. Derrick Williams was also one of the offseason’s biggest losers, having dropped from 250 pounds to 235 pounds with the idea to be better-suited to play the small forward position in a  stacked power forward rotation. Yet, the funniest moment regarding player weight questions was when Shabazz Muhammad and Barea were on the stage together when Muhammad was asked about his weight and Barea turned his head and laughed.

It’s the offseason, JJ. We know it’s not important, but we are out of things to talk about at this point!

Way Too Early, Super-Tentative Opening Night Starting Lineup

This was one thing that Adelman let out that gave us a better idea of where the Timberwolves are headed in the wake of Budinger potentially missing extended time. Adelman said that the guards will probably be Ricky Rubio and Martin; Pekovic and Love at the four and five; but then finished off by saying “probably Corey at the three.” If Budinger winds up missing camp and/or preseason it might make sense to have Brewer start the season as the starting small forward to ease Budinger back into things.

So here is the way too early, super-tentative opening night starting lineup for the Timberwolves:

PG: Ricky Rubio (Duh.)

SG: Kevin Martin (Kinda duh now with Budinger possibly out.)

SF: Corey Brewer (Wasn’t so duh a week ago.)

PF: Kevin Love (Duh)

C: Nikola Pekovic (Duh.)

Ronny Turiaf is the Man (And You Won’t Convince Me Otherwise) 

Seriously. He’s my new favorite player and he hasn’t even played a minute of basketball for the Timberwolves.

Perhaps the best moment was when him and Derrick Williams were supposed to hold their press conferences jointly and Derrick was late, so we proceeded without him. Mid-question, Turiaf notices Derrick standing off to the side and tells him to join us. Derrick says he wanted to make sure he wasn’t interrupting, which is funny because this exchange probably interrupted things more than it would have if he just pulled up a chair next to him.

Turiaf and Williams went on fielding questions from the media for another seven minutes or so. Derrick had the same jaw surgery that Kevin Love had awhile back with the same doctor that corrected his bite and said that he was feeling great because it helped his breathing. Turiaf, was not only an entertaining interview, but also mentioned that he’s made money so he’s only here to make something special happen, which was cool.

As they were getting up to leave, Williams before Turiaf, Ronny calls out, “Thanks for joining us, Derrick!” You might’ve had to be there, but it was perfectly timed.

#TwolfRank: #14 Gorgui Dieng

Photo: TwinCities.com

Welcome to the second annual  #TwolfRank. It’s one of our favorite times of the year, to say the least. Here is the first installment in the series.  As always, you can follow Jonah (@howlintwolf) Derek (@DerekJamesNBA) and Tom (@Tom_NBA) on Twitter as well to partake in the fun.

Gorgui Dieng is ranked this low because, well, he isn’t expected to be making meaningful contributions to this team this season. And with the way this roster is built, that’s just fine, but the future is certainly what matters as far as Dieng goes. Really, this isn’t a bad thing, and although the Timberwolves are hard up for depth behind Nikola Pekovic, they will survive a 2-3 developmental years for Dieng.

At 6’11 and 245 pounds, he has the tools to matter someday. In college, he excelled in offensive efficiency, defensively ability, and on the boards, so he has the ability to become Pekovic’s backup someday as long as he develops properly. I mean, he may not be ready today, but there’s a reason the team invested a first round pick in the guy.

Until Dieng is ready, the Timberwolves will continue to feed themselves on short term deals for journeymen centers to solidify the backup center position. Perhaps a stint in the D-League, which Flip Saunders is a major proponent of, would benefit Dieng better than watching Pekovic and Ronnie Turiaf play ahead of him. Because no team with serious playoff expectations ever really gives a developing center major burn– those things just don’t go together.

What’s encouraging is that Dieng was still the same efficient player he was in college from the field and at the line during summer league, despite averaging 3.5 fouls and 2.2 turnovers in 15 minutes per game. But that’s what young players are supposed to do in places like summer league. Landing in Minnesota as a whole will be great for him because he can be brought along slowly instead of being thrown right into the wolves (excuse me.)

For now, Dieng is number 14 — last — but the idea is that he eventually ascends at least a few slots higher.

 

 

@OmidFerdowsi: @DerekJamesNBA I think he has the skill set to be like Ibaka. I see a lot of upside for him on both ends of the floor.

Want to take part? Look for one of us to tweet out who the next player will be and tweet us your thoughts on him using the #TwolfRank hashtag and we’ll throw your tweet in the post. 

What Happened in Vegas: Timberwolves-Heat Recap

Evidently the third time is the charm as the Timberwolves finally earned a summer league victory with an 80-79 victory over the Miami Heat. Normally when you commit 28 turnovers you should have no business winning, but the Heat committed 20 of their own that, when combined with their subpar shooting, kept them from getting back into this game.

Shabazz Muhammad struggled shooting once again, going 3-10 from the field including a few missed hooks off of the basket. Shabazz clearly wants to be a dynamic inside-out player, but in order to do so he is going to have to convert those high percentage looks. Perhaps some that can be attributed to nerves or just typical ups and downs, but no matter what the Timberwolves will need him to hit those looks.

Gorgui Dieng looked better than yesterday, shooting 4-5 for six points and five rebounds. The Timberwolves still had a frustrating habit of leaving Dieng at the top of the key with the ball with no other player movement, leaving Dieng with two options that don’t play to his strengths: take the jumper or attempt to drive the rim. Typically these plays have ended in a turnover or a forced pass. It would’ve been nice to see more activity and communication in these sets because it seems like they stop running the play as soon as Dieng receives the ball. And I can promise that is not the play call.

Demetri McCamey (who played well yesterday) and John Holland started and gave meaningful contributions as the Wolves took the victory.

After a strong summer league to that point, Robbie Hummel struggled; shooting 1-5 and just three points, although he did manage to bring in seven rebounds.

After the Timberwolves nearly let a lead slip away last night but learned from their game last night by not letting their mistakes mount. For instance, if they committed a turnover they would turn around and force one or get a stop on the next possession– mitigating the consequences all together. Or they would miss a shot, but instead of getting frustrating they would go right back to the same player and the same spot to make it. It’s called having a short memory and not allowing the previous play to affect the future of the game. It’s a trait of team maturity, which feels weird to talk about while referring to a summer league game, but it can absolutely make the difference between a win and a loss as it did today.

This only matters if the members of this summer league team that will play next season for the Timberwovles carry this over to 2014. At the least, it’s encouraging, and will be needed given the various improvements many NBA teams have made, especially those in their own conference.

Rumor: Timberwolves Eyeing Corey Brewer…Again?

While the team addressed their need of perimeter shooting, they incidentally compromised the integrity of the perimeter defense. At least if you’re going to do so you should have constructed an offense capable of running anyone out of the building on a given night, which the Timberwolves may have probably done. However, while the team may be more and more unlikely to retain Andrei Kirilenko, there may be another option available who you may just recognize.

 

 

Yes, Corey Brewer. That Corey Brewer.

Brewer would actually be a far better fit than he was during his initial stint with the team. Then he was asked to be a consistent contributor offensively which is just not who he is as a player. Now, he’d be responsible for bringing energy and playing good defense as the team needs, which he is capable of doing; any offense he contributes would only be a bonus.

When he hasn’t been asked to do too much — like he was at the start of his career with his Timberwolves — he has been a valuable rotation player in Dallas and in Denver. And in Minnesota he could reprise a similar role and solidify the Timberwolves’ chances at the postseason.

The fact that Brewer has hung around so long might mean that the Timberwolves could get him at a bit of a discount since the small forward/shooting guard market has shrunk considerably since the beginning of free agency. Meaning the team could save some a few slivers of cap space in case they need to later on. This would also make it highly unlikely Kirilenko is gone, but Brewer would be younger and cheaper than AK47.

So, this may be nothing concrete yet, but it’s certainly an interesting idea and one that could prove to be a very good one for the Timberwolves.