Getty Images

Tom Thibodeau returns to Chicago with Wolves in a mess

1 Comment

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — At the end of November, Derrick Rose brought his New York Knicks to Target Center, the building Tom Thibodeau now calls home with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Adversaries that night, Thibodeau and Rose spent five years together in Chicago grinding out victories and trying to restore the Bulls as Eastern Conference powers. They had dinners together, talked basketball together and bonded through the ups and downs of Rose’s MVP award and his knee injuries.

So when Rose glanced at the standings and saw Thibodeau’s Timberwolves at a lowly 5-13, the point guard knew his former coach, one of the most intense personalities in the NBA, probably wasn’t taking it well.

“He’s probably driving himself crazy,” Rose said. “A lot of late nights. His staff is probably having a lot of late nights, too. But it all comes with just trying to win. He’s a winner at heart. He wants to win every game. That’s the crazy thing about him. Some games you’re going to lose, but he’s probably up late nights and driving himself crazy a little bit.”

It has only gotten worse for the Wolves (6-18) since then, with only the Dallas Mavericks having won fewer games. Heading into a game against the Bulls on Tuesday night, Thibodeau’s first game in Chicago since he was fired by the Bulls in an acrimonious split in 2015, he is searching for answers and a way to connect with his new team.

It’s been a stunning start to Thibodeau’s first season in Minnesota after leading the Bulls to the playoffs in all five of his seasons there. During those years, they were never under .500 after the first two weeks of the season, except for in 2013-14 when they started 9-16. They rebounded to finish 48-34 that season.

Rose is right. Thibodeau and his staff get to the office early in the morning and often don’t leave until well into the night. It’s not uncommon for staffers to sleep at the team’s practice facility so they can devote more time to film study and game planning.

“There’s no shortcut to this,” Thibodeau said earlier this season. “You have to go through it. It’s important to maintain high standards. It starts with practice and preparation.”

Owner Glen Taylor chose Thibodeau over a long line of suitors last summer in hopes that his demanding style would expedite the growth process for a promising young roster and end a 12-year playoff drought.

But the Wolves have been slow to catch on to his defensive teachings, ranking 29th out of 30 teams in the league in defensive efficiency.

After a 27-point home loss to Detroit on Friday, he said he was “very concerned” that his team was not responding to his message.

“I’m going to keep coming. I don’t go away,” he vowed. “I’m going to look at everything, re-examine. Something’s being missed. It’s got to change.”

Thibodeau has been noticeably less demonstrative on the sideline over the last two weeks than he was early in the season, but the Wolves still tighten up when things start to go wrong, as they did in a 25-4 fourth quarter run by the Warriors on Sunday night.

“I studied before I took the job so I knew what I was getting into,” Thibodeau said. “You’re looking at it and I knew we don’t have experience. Part of the learning part is the trial and error. We have to go through it. But I also have to make sure we’re making progress and moving forward. That’s part of my job.”

Offense hasn’t been the issue so far for the Wolves, who are 10th in the league in offensive efficiency. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are the first trio of 21-year-olds averaging at least 20 points a game on the same team in NBA history.

But Towns, the reigning rookie of the year, has looked disinterested on defense, often getting beaten back down the floor in transition for easy layups. Wiggins has been up and down on the perimeter defensively and sixth-year point guard Ricky Rubio, the team’s only real veteran getting significant playing time, has been unable to adapt to Thibodeau’s systems.

“It’s not about (Thibodeau). It’s about us,” LaVine said after the Pistons loss. “We’re the ones on the court. He puts in the effort. We’re not executing.”

The Bulls hired Fred Hoiberg to replace Thibodeau, a more “player-friendly” coach that has lightened the atmosphere in Chicago. But they missed the playoffs in his first season and former Bulls star Joakim Noah said in November that “You don’t realize what you have with (Thibodeau) until he’s not around.” They are 13-10 and in fifth place in the East this season.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Thibodeau said. “You have to work at it. There’s going to be some good days, some bad days. That’s all part of it. But everyone putting everything they have into each and every day, that’s the big thing, so you can make progress, so you can improve, so you can get better, so you can win.”

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

Leave a comment

The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

Getty Images
1 Comment

NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

Getty Images
2 Comments

It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

AP Photo/Steve Dykes
5 Comments

Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.