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Timberwolves’ handling of Flip Saunders’ death caused rift with Kevin Garnett

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When Kevin Garnett rejoined the Timberwolves, there was talk of him eventually joining Flip Saunders in management or maybe even ownership.

Instead, Saunders died before last season. Garnett played out the year under interim coach Sam Mitchell and interim general manager Milton Newton, saw Minnesota fire those two then retired.

Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press:

Garnett believes that promises were broken and he left last summer after a tense buyout negotiation with owner Glen Taylor.

“I love those young guys,” Garnett said, referring to the Wolves’ young core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine that he mentored in his final season. “I told Thibs I want to work with him, but obviously me and Glen don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things and that’s how it’s going to be.”

Garnett envisioned having a large role in the decision-making process, particularly when it came to the move to fire GM Milt Newton and coach Sam Mitchell — Garnett’s close friend — after last season.

Garnett also told the AP that he was upset with the way the team handled a memorial service for Saunders, the coach who drafted Garnett as a skinny teenager out of Farragut Academy High School in Chicago in 1995.

Saunders was honored in an emotional service before the team’s home opener against Portland last season. It included a touching video tribute, with players, coaches, media members and others speaking about the impact Saunders had on their lives.

One glaring absence was Garnett, who said he “couldn’t put a lifetime of friendship into three minutes.”

“How do you put a time limit on something like that?” Garnett said. “And then, too, I thought he wasn’t celebrated the proper way. You have high school banners, you have (expletive) hockey banners (hanging in the rafters). You couldn’t put a Flip banner in Target Center, some place that we helped build? … We established that market. I helped grow that with him. You can’t put him in the (rafters)?

“So I just had problems with how they were shoving this down all of our throats. The young guys, they weren’t invested enough to really understand what was going on. I chose to be mute, to be professional and keep all the negative energy down. There was a bigger message I wanted to tell, but I supported it and just kept my mouth shut.”

Taylor told the AP in February that the Wolves reached out to Garnett in hopes of arranging a ceremony to retire his jersey.

“We think that’s the appropriate thing to do,” Taylor said. “At this time he hasn’t commented on a timetable. We just have left it open.”

Garnett said he has never heard from the Wolves.

Here’s the video tribute:

Every Timberwolves player at the time besides Garnett appeared. The team also wore jersey patches.

Garnett obviously cared deeply about Saunders, and losing a friend can be trying. If Garnett didn’t feel comfortable participating in the tribute video, that’s totally fine.

But why criticize it for existing? What makes that the wrong way to honor Saunders and a banner the right way? Why does the banner have to be raised immediately after his death?

Saunders dying shook the franchise, and everyone – including Garnett – was left to deal with it. That isn’t easy, and everyone tried their best. Just as I’ll excuse Garnett’s unfair criticism as a byproduct of a tragic, difficult-to-handle situation, he should give the team employs charged with memorializing Saunders latitude to do so as they deemed best.

As far as broken promises and Garnett’s number being retired, who knows? This is a he-said, he-said situation.

But I know this, the Timberwolves paid Garnett his full $8 million salary this season, according to Basketball Insiders and Yahoo Sports. They could have demanded he report or forfeit that money. Instead, they gave him a lucrative sendoff into retirement.

Top-10 college recruit Anfernee Simmons may go straight to NBA

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A couple of years back, Thon Maker decided to play a post-graduate fifth year of prep school ball, not go to a major college, then jump to the NBA. He could because he had graduated a year before and was 19, the Bucks took him in the lottery, and so far it has worked out for everyone.

Now another recruit, Anfernee Simmons, may follow that path. Simmons is spending this year at the IMG Academy, and the combo guard is considered a top-10 recruit in this class.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN broke the story after speaking to Simmons.

“Some people have brought it to my attention,” Simons told ESPN during an interview in Connecticut, where his team was participating in the National Prep Showcase. “As long as the opportunity is there, I will do it.

“I can see myself going to the NBA combine, if I have enough teams to actually invite me or recommend me for the combine and enough teams want to bring me for workouts. I really need to hit the weight room hard and get a little stronger.”

This is a sensible approach — find out where you roughly fall in the draft, then make a decision. Listen to the teams, not friends/family/agents. If you have a first-round guarantee, then go pro.

Givony and others describe the 6’3″ Simmons as talented but still a project for the NBA level, starting with the fact he needs to get stronger (something true of most rookies). Not that it really scares off teams any longer, many are willing to develop and wait on a player with potential (he could spend a chunk of his first season in the G-League). Simmons is fast when he drives, and has a smooth release on his jumper. If he gets stronger and his game matures, a team may take a risk on him.

Shorthanded Cavaliers now without Iman Shumpert for 5-7 days

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Isaiah Thomas is still rehabbing his hip, he should return next month.

With him out, Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers have had to lean more on Derrick Rose at the point, except he has a sprained ankle that is going to have him out a couple more weeks.

That has forced Iman Shumpert into the starting point guard role in Cleveland, although he mostly is there for defense/shooting as the playmaking duties fall to LeBron James.

Now the Cavaliers will have to get by without Shumpert for a while with water on the knee, Cleveland announced on Saturday. He left Friday night’s Cavs win against the Clippers with a sore knee and did not return

“Additional examination and imaging today at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health confirmed left knee effusion. He will be out 5-7 days while he undergoes treatment and rehabilitation,” the Cavaliers said in a statement.

This is going to force Lue to play Jose Calderon, who he has kept glued to the bench this season despite the injuries. J.R. Smith and Dwyane Wade will need to take on more run as well.

The Celtics have won four in a row — thanks to a more focused offense — and face the Pistons, Nets, and Hornets this week.

Joakim Noah on if he can play at former level: “Probably not. Probably not.”

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For three games, Joakim Noah has been clear of the 20-game PED suspension he started at the end of last season.

For three games, he has not even dressed for the Knicks.

This is the former Defensive Player of the Year who was already on the decline when Phil Jackson gave him a $72 million contract that is now the worst in the NBA. Noah is out of the rotation, where Enes Kanter starts at center (with Kristaps Porzingis at the four) and Kyle O’Quinn coming off the bench.

Noah told Marc Berman of the New York Post he is frustrated but gets the situation.

“I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right,’’ Noah said in his first comments since being reinstated. “I understand the situation. I’m going to make the best of it.”

When asked if he still feels he can be close to the player he was in his 2013-14 campaign, Noah said: “Probably not. Probably not. You know. I can help. I feel like I could help this team and that’s just my reality. But I just want to just be the best that I can be.

“It’s not about trying to be what I was three, four years ago, because it’s not the reality.”

Noah is a smart and mature player, he understands his reality, and he has the exact attitude you want a veteran off the bench. He can help in practices, he can help because he understands how to play defense and can teach it, and eventually, he will get a chance on the court. He is not part of the future of the Knicks, but he can guide these young players.

The Knicks new management will look for a way to unload Noah’s contract, but considering the sweeteners the Knicks would need to throw in to get a team to deal for Noah, it’s unlikely we see any action on that front for a long time.

Frustrated Gregg Popovich calls all three referees “f****** blind”

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The Spurs completed an amazing comeback win against the Thunder Friday night, coming from 23 down to knock off the Thunder when Carmelo Anthony‘s game-tying three was just a two because his toe was on the line.

Gregg Popovich was into this one.

So much so that when he didn’t like an out-of-bounds call he made sure all three officials knew exactly how blind he thought they were.

The best part of this is Popovich covering his eyes, just to really emphasize his point.

We’re really going to miss Pop when he steps away to live at a winery full time.