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Tom Thibodeau returns to Chicago with Wolves in a mess

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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.”

Damian Lillard talks about his “no pressure” pitch to Carmelo Anthony, selling Portland

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Self-made, over-achieving players in the NBA tend not to be the recruiters. They worked hard and made it to where they are more on their own, and their world-view follows that path. Think Derrick Rose in Chicago.

Damian Lillard was one of those guys, but he has done a little recruiting of late — he reached out to Carmelo Anthony last week. Lillard told Chris Mannix of NBC Radio (who is filling in for Dan Patrick for the day on his national radio show) that it wasn’t really the John Calipari hard-sell.

“It wasn’t really a pitch, I just reached out to him and let him know the interest just wasn’t from our front office, if there was a possibility there was definitely interest from the players as well, and I didn’t want that to be confused,” Lillard said on the radio show. “I didn’t put no pressure on him or ask him a bunch of questions, I just said what it was from our end.”

That is nice, but Anthony reportedly has focused in on Houston, and might settle for Cleveland (if there was a deal to be had). Would ‘Melo waive his no-trade clause to head to Portland?

“I didn’t get a sense that he wouldn’t,” Lillard said in a tepid response. “What we have here is a good situation for him and that’s just kind of where it went. I let him know what I thought he could do for our team and what our team could do with his presence. And that was it. We didn’t go over no details or talk about a no trade clause or nothing like that. He’s gonna make his own decision to do that or not, I just want to make sure we had some kind of a conversation.”

It’s a start. It’s likely not enough. Anthony wants to go somewhere and chase a ring, and despite what C.J. McCollum thinks, Portland with ‘Melo isn’t a contender. Even with Anthony, I would have them sixth in the West, maybe fifth at best (Warriors, Rockets, Spurs, Thunder, and probably Minnesota are better still). And this is assuming Portland can find a team to take on Myers Leonard’s contract to make a deal work.

What Lillard wanted to get across was that Portland is a great place to be an NBA player.

“I think people talk about what it would be like in Portland or to play in Portland, but actually having lived here, I live here year-round, so I know it’s a great place to live,” Lillard said. “Some of the best food in the United States. You talk about loving the game of basketball, our team and the soccer team are all the city has, so we get a lot of support and our fans really back our team and are really passionate about our team. That type of environment, and that type of love and support around the city, what NBA player wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

Jimmer Fredette re-signing in China

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Jimmer Fredette played well in China last year, and buzz even emerged about him re-joining the NBA after the Chinese season ended in March. Never happened.

Even in the offseason, when every NBA team had open roster spots, nobody stateside has signed Fredette.

So, he’s returning to the Shanghai Sharks.

Fredette:

Fredette retains a cult following in America, but not the talent of an NBA player. He can score plenty in a lesser league, but his game doesn’t fit with better players on the floor.

Perhaps, he could’ve gotten a training-camp invite, maybe even with a small guarantee. But would’ve faced an uphill battle sticking into the regular season. Better for him to lock into a bigger salary in China now.

Rumor: Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder ‘officially circling each other’

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Carmelo Anthony prefers to be traded to the Rockets. He might soon be traded to the Rockets.

Are the Thunder trying to interject themselves before it’s too late?

Bill Simmons of The Ringer:

Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver was an assistant coach at Syracuse when Anthony played there. Weaver is also well-connected in the Washington area (D.C./Maryland/Virginia). I’m not sure how much that means to Anthony, who grew up in Baltimore – in many ways, a different world from the DMV (which includes only parts of Maryland and Virginia closer to D.C.). Still, Weaver and Anthony at least share their Syracuse connection.

The problem: An Oklahoma City trade for Anthony would almost have to include Steven Adams (way more valuable than Anthony) and/or Enes Kanter (way less valuable than Anthony). There’s no easy way to bridge either gap, especially considering how much the Thunder need Adams’ interior presence.

Here’s my best stab at a workable framework for a trade, via ESPN’s trade machine:

screenshot-www.espn.com-2017-07-24-12-26-16

The Clippers would get a more-skilled backup center while just shuffling bad contracts (at least that’s how it seems they view Wesley Johnson‘s deal). The Thunder would still need to send the Knicks more assets (Terrance Ferguson, Jerami Grant and/or draft picks). The Knicks would get a veteran point guard in Austin Rivers while Frank Ntilikina develops and, more importantly, additional young assets. It’s just a matter of determining whether there’s an overlap in the picks Oklahoma City would trade and New York would receive. That window might be tight – or not exist.

Adding Paul George and Anthony to a team led by Russell Westbrook would be exciting. I’m just not sure it’s realistic.

Rumor: Knicks likely to trade Carmelo Anthony to Rockets this week

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After numerous starts and stops and starts and stops, maybe the Knicks will actually trade Carmelo Anthony to the Rockets soon?

Tarek Fattal of the Los Angeles Daily News:

So, they found a third team to take Ryan Anderson or a fourth team to take Meyers Leonard?

If true, that’d please at least Anthony.

There’s room for a trade to work. New York is clearly ready to move on from Anthony, and Houston wants him to join James Harden and Chris Paul. The Rockets can add sweeteners to convince another team – or maybe even the Knicks – to take a bad contract in the trade.

But this has dragged on so long, I need more evidence the deal is actually close before I believe it.