AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

Timberwolves owner says playoffs priority this year

1 Comment

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves enter the All-Star break in 13th place in the muddled Western Conference, seemingly faced with two options.

They can try to chase down the eighth seed and make the playoffs, with the Denver Nuggets just 3 1/2 games ahead of them. Or they could turn their eyes toward the lottery, either using a higher draft pick to add another talented young player or as an asset to move this summer in a quest for an accomplished veteran to complement a promising trio of young stars.

For Wolves owner Glen Taylor, president and coach Tom Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden, there is no debate.

“We’re all of the same mind, to get in, get the experience,” Taylor told The Associated Press. “Just the winning of games to try to get there is worth it. Our guys can’t see anything positive about losing games. They must win games, and then if we can win enough to get into the playoffs, that in and of itself would be a major step for our young players.”

The Timberwolves (22-35) have shrugged off a lousy start to show signs of improvement over the last 30 games, but there is an awful lot of work to do. Five teams are ahead of them in the race for a likely first-round date with the Golden State Warriors, and the young Wolves are still trying to get a firm grasp on Thibodeau’s defensive system.

Making it more daunting, Zach LaVine had surgery on a torn ACL on Tuesday and will miss the next nine months. That leaves 21-year-old Karl-Anthony Towns and 22-year-old Andrew Wiggins to carry the load, barring a trade before the Feb. 23 deadline.

In the last two games before the break – a loss to Cleveland and a win at Denver – Wiggins became the second player in franchise history to score at least 40 points in back-to-back games. Towns has solidified himself as one of the best young big men in the game, averaging 28.4 points and 11.4 rebounds in the seven games since LaVine was injured.

“We’re on the right path,” Wiggins said after the loss to the Cavs. “We’ve done a lot of good things. There’s still some stuff everyone needs to work on, but we’ve done some good things.”

The Timberwolves are 11th in the league in offensive rating, but 23rd in defensive rating, a point of consternation for Thibodeau, who is known as one of the best defensive tacticians in the league. And a 6-18 start to the season put them in a deep hole. The Wolves are 11-9 in their last 20 games, but still on pace for about 31 wins, which would be just a two-win increase over last year’s team coached by Sam Mitchell.

“I thought with (Thibodeau’s) experience and his mentoring, it would push it along a little faster,” Taylor said. “And it hasn’t gone as fast as we hoped. But I appreciate that he’s looking at the long run. He came here to be the coach for the long run. We hired him for the long run. And we’ve got players that we anticipate will be here for a long time.”

While disappointed in the win total, Taylor said he was bullish on the direction of the franchise.

“I’m happy with my coach. I’m happy with the general manager. They’re being very patient working through this,” Taylor said. “On the other side, I was hopeful that we would have more wins.”

The one thing that appears to be missing is a strong, veteran, defensive-minded presence to hold things together when the young guys either get too excited or lose focus.

“I know the guys will look at other alternatives, but I also know them well enough that they aren’t going to do something foolish,” Taylor said of the looming trade deadline. “They aren’t going to do something that would hurt the team in the long run just to make us look good in the short run. This is a long-run game for all of us.”

Taylor has thrown millions into a new practice facility that opened two years ago and a renovation to Target Center that began before the season started. He has also added two minority owners to strengthen his financial position, hired a new CEO in Ethan Casson and has been pleased with the developments on the business side of his operations.

“They can see I’m committed for the long run and we’re making investments back into the team and building for the long run,” Taylor said. “I think we’ve done all of those things. The only thing that hasn’t lived up to our expectations is the number of wins I would’ve hoped we’d have to this point.”

J.J. Redick: Clippers lost joy

Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

J.J. Redick and the Clippers seemed done with each other before free agency even began.

Redick – who signed a one-year, $23 million contract with the 76ers – gave Uninterrupted a behind-the-scenes look into his free agency. In the above video, he revealed plenty about his situation in L.A.:

It’s s—y to say this, but I think I’ve had a loss of joy. I look at our team and how we play, and it’s just there’s no joy in it. That bothers me.

On June 29th at about 10 p.m., I got a call from Lawrence Frank from the Clippers. I jokingly call it my breakup call. He just told me they weren’t going to offer me a contract. I wasn’t going to be back.

There’s plenty of blame to go around.

Blame Chris Paul for not relenting enough in his grating perfectionism and being petty. Blame Blake Griffin for being aloof about weight of his actions. Blame Paul and Griffin for waiting too long to get serious about bonding. Blame Doc Rivers for bringing in Austin Rivers and inviting accusations of nepotism. Blame Doc Rivers for too long setting a tone of whining.

Blame a tough Western Conference and injury for keeping a team with championship aspirations from never advancing past the second round. Blame familiarity, which bred contempt over several years with the same core.

Whomever or whatever you blame, the outcome seems tough to dispute: The Clippers looked joyless by the end of their run. Redick saying it only confirms the perception.

I’m curious whether he’ll find more joy in Philadelphia. A new situation will be refreshing, and the 76ers – young and talented – are hungry. Expectations are low after years of tanking, so even modest gains will be celebrated. But they’re also worse than the Clippers were, and losing more often will be an adjustment.

To get a better idea where Redick is coming from as he begins in Philadelphia, I recommend watching the video in full. It’s quite illuminating.

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry: Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo will both start

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
2 Comments

After signing Jrue Holiday to a massive contract, the Pelicans added Rajon Rondo while putting out word that the two point guards would play together.

They won’t just play together. They’ll start together.

New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry confirmed the plan on Dunc & Holder then expanded (hat tip: Mason Ginsberg of Bourbon Street Shots):

I like Jrue off the ball to start the game as a scorer. I like Rondo being on the floor as a leader. Now, obviously, Jrue is going to play some where he’s the primary ball-handler. I spoke to Jrue at length about this, and I think it’s something that can really help us.

Holiday’s value is maximized at point guard. He’s better than Rondo, and it’s generally better to give the ball more often to the better point guard.

But Holiday can defend multiple positions and work off the ball. Rondo can’t. New Orleans is short on wings, so shifting Holiday there is a reasonable option.

Rondo is a minus shooter for his position, but Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins have improved their range immensely. This won’t necessarily be a prohibitively cluttered starting lineup. Paying a starter just $3.3 million is a bargain – one the Pelicans needed considering their self-inflicted constraints. They couldn’t afford someone who’d create no complications. I just think the difficulties causes by starting Rondo are manageable.

The bigger question is what New Orleans does on the wing beyond E'Twaun Moore. Solomon Hill and Dante Cunningham (who’s unsigned but whose Bird Rights are still held by New Orleans) are better at power forward. Darius Miller is far from a proven NBA commodity. Quincy Pondexter can seemingly never get healthy.

If Quinn Cook is ready for the rotation, that could help. He could play when Rondo sits and allow Holiday to spend all his time at shooting guard. But I’m not sure Holiday is ready to cede all his minutes at point guard, the higher-profile position. (I’m also unsure Cook is ready to play regularly.)

Starting Holiday at shooting guard mitigates the wing problem, but it doesn’t solve it. There are still too many wing minutes to go around, and New Orleans is running out of money to spend – both with exceptions and below the luxury-tax line.

76ers second-rounder Jonah Bolden signs in Israel

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
3 Comments

Jonah Bolden – No. 16 on my draft board – slipped all the way to the 76ers at No. 36 in the NBA draft. An impressive summer league has raised his stock significantly.

But Philadelphia won’t reap the rewards this season.

Bolden signed a three-year contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the team announced. The club also said the deal contained NBA outs and the 76ers helped facilitate his move from his previous team, Red Star in Serbia.

This is a helpful arrangement for Philadelphia, which is running out of roster spots. Bolden will develop elsewhere while allowing the 76ers’ to maintain his exclusive negotiating rights.

Bolden must get stronger and more adept at handling physicality. The athletic stretch four can also continue developing his burgeoning perimeter skills.

Then, next year, maybe the 76ers will have room to sign him themselves.

Anthony Davis does #DriveByDunkChallenge (video)

Lars Niki/Getty Images for Saks Fifth Avenue
3 Comments

If you’re not up with what the kids are doing, the cool thing this summer is the #DriveByDunkChallenge – driving to random houses, running out of a still-running car, dunking on their basketball hoop, running back into the car then driving off.

It sounds like a lot of fun for those who can dunk (and don’t get accosted by startled homeowners). An example:

Pelicans star Anthony Davis took his turn: