Kurt Helin

Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau sends in some signals during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, in Minneapolis. The Timberwolves won 82-75. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Report: Timberwolves set meetings with Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy

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The Minnesota Timberwolves coaching job is, arguably, the most desirable coaching job available. If you’re a coach into winning. The job comes pre-loaded with soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, last season’s ROY Andrew Wiggins, not to mention Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio, Shabazz Muhammad and other quality building blocks. This team has the potential to be an elite squad in a few years.

Plus, for the right person, the Timberwolves will reportedly throw in the hammer on player/personnel moves — a defacto GM spot.

With that, they are getting interviews with some of the biggest names out there. Via Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have meetings set with the two top targets of the franchise’s basketball operations and coaching search: Tom Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy, league sources told The Vertical. Those meetings are expected to happen in the next few days, sources said.

What Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor reportedly wants is the Detroit Pistons/Stan Van Gundy model, where they have an experienced GM but Van Gundy is the ultimate decision maker. If you coach has the right vision that can work — and in Detroit it appears to be working.

While the Timberwolves gave lip service to giving former interim coach Sam Mitchell a shot at the job, that was about as likely as John Wooden getting the job. Scott Brooks is another name associated with Minnesota, but Washington and some other teams expected to let go of their coach are going to be interested in him. Brooks (and Thibodeau, and Van Gundy) will have options.

Adam Silver calls North Carolina law “problematic” but no decision to keep or move 2017 All-Star game in Charlotte

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: NBA commissioner Adam Silver looks on during the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was tap dancing around a difficult issue like a presidential candidate Friday.

Following the NBA Board of Governors’ meeting Friday (that’s the owners), Silver was asked about the NBA’s stance on HB2, the “bathroom law” in North Carolina, and if the league is planning to move the 2017 All-Star Game scheduled for Charlotte. He said that the goal was to find a way to encourage change in the North Carolina law before bringing down the hammer of moving the event. From the Sporting News.

“By no means are we saying we’re stepping back,” Silver said at a news conference. “The message is not that somehow the current state of affairs is OK for the league. Let me be clear: The current state of the law is problematic for the NBA in North Carolina. For the league office and our owners, I think the discussion was, how can we be most constructive in being part of a process that results in the kind of change that we think is necessary?”

He said there were no discussions with owners of moving the event. But that is like a GM saying he never discussed a trade — there are levels of discussion. You can be sure the NBA has reached out to potential new destinations and started that process, and with that there have been some off-the-record, back-channel conversations with owners about it. But a formal discussion with all the owners? No, not yet.

The NBA released this statement clarifying their position, via Mike Bass, Executive Vice President, Communications:

“During a media availability earlier today following the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting, Commissioner Adam Silver clarified that the NBA remains deeply concerned about its ability to successfully host the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte, North Carolina, in light of recent legislation that discriminates against the LGBT community.  At no time did Adam affirm that the league would not move the All-Star Game; rather he stressed repeatedly that the legislation is problematic, that we feel it is best to engage with the community to work towards a solution, that change is needed and we are hopeful that it will occur.”

Recently, North Carolina’s legislature called a special session to approve the law, which restricts transgender bathroom use (you have to use the bathroom for the gender with which you were born) and preempted anti-discrimination ordinances put in by Charlotte and other North Carolina cities that tried to block discrimination against gays and lesbians. The law led to a business backlash — PayPal, Deutsche Bank, and others have pulled plans for expansion in the state off the table — as well as a social one, including things such as Bruce Springsteen canceling a concert in the state.

The most likely outcome is the North Carolina legislature goes into regular session and rolls back portions of the law, everyone declares victory, and the NBA keeps the event in the state of incredible vinegary barbecue. I don’t believe that’s enough, I’m with Stan Van Gundy that the league should move the event. But compromise is the American way.

Playoff Preview: Three Questions about Dallas Mavericks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 24:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks drives to the basket against Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half at American Airlines Center on February 24, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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On the surface, this 3 vs. 6 seed matchup shouldn’t be close. Oklahoma City won 55 games (and played better than that based on point differential), has two of the top five players in the NBA, and in Enes Kanter may have the Sixth Man of the Year (he’ll finish in the top three in the final voting). Meanwhile, Dallas scrambled to make the playoffs and needed the defense and energy of a rookie — Justin Anderson — to get them over the hump at the end.

But the more one delves into the matchups, the more this looks like a series where Dallas can give Oklahoma City some problems. Not enough to win the series, but enough to make the Thunder work a lot harder than they expect to, and enough to put doubt in everyone’s mind (including Kevin Durant‘s, which could have huge implications come July 1).

Here are three questions that will be key to this first round Western Conference showdown.

What devious plan does Rick Carlisle have in store for the Thunder? Remember the first round in 2014, when the on-a-mission Spurs took on the poor, overmatched, outclassed Mavericks team. Except that behind an incredible game plan from Carlisle and a veteran team — Dirk Nowitzki is going to go to his grave knocking down midrange shots — the Mavs pushed the Spurs to seven games. It was (arguably) the toughest series the Spurs had in those playoffs.

This has a bit of that feel. Carlise is a wizard — in the Hogwarts, not Washington, sense. Oklahoma City has weaknesses to attack — Enes Kanter on defense, Dion Waiters, the small forward position — and the only Xs and Os guy on Carlisle’s level in the league is Gregg Popovich (and, maybe, Brad Stevens). Talent, more than coaching, tends to win in the NBA, but this is a series where coaching could make a difference. Russell Westbrook is going to see a lot of defensive looks (not just a steady diet of Wesley Matthews), and some of them will get him thinking. I’m not questioning Billy Donovan as a coach, but welcome to the playoffs rookie.

Can Oklahoma City get the tempo up and take advantage of their athleticism? If this series is a track meet, Dallas players can start booking tee times for April 25 — the day of Game 5. Whatever Rick Carlisle’s game plan is, you can be sure it includes slowing the game down to a crawl. Dallas (like every other team in the league) has no answer for Westbrook in the open court. Or Kevin Durant. One advantage for Dallas: Their guards — Deron Williams, J.J. Barea, Wesley Matthews, Raymond Felton — take care of the ball. They had the second lowest team turnover percentage this season. If Dallas is going to win games, they need to defend well in the half court and take away easy buckets for the Thunder. Controlling the tempo — and ideally, frustrating the Thunder — will be huge for Dallas.

Will the Thunder be able to execute in the clutch? The biggest knock on former Thunder coach Scott Brooks? His team is unimaginative and too predictable — Westbrook and Durant isolations — in the clutch, and it cost them games. So in comes Billy Donovan and… meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The Thunder have struggled late in games. Since the All-Star break, the Thunder have been outscored in the fourth (by 50 points). After the All-Star break, the Thunder were involved in 15 games that were within five points in the last five minutes of the game (the standard NBA definition of crunch time) and in those minutes Durant and Westbrook took 69 percent of the Thunder’s shots. If you’re predictable, you’re defendable. And while I just talked about the offense, it’s the Thunder defense in the clutch that has been worse. Oklahoma City was 3-12 in those 15 close games.

Dallas will grind the series down as much as they can, and if the Thunder are truly the contenders they believe they are, they need to execute in the clutch to win these games. The Westbrook/Durant pick-and-roll, as dangerous as it can be, is not enough.

Prediction: Thunder in six. Maybe OKC is better than I think, maybe they thrash Dallas (that’s more likely than a Mavs series win). But expect Dallas to make them work for it. That said talent will win out. And the Thunder have way more of it.

 

Leicester City ‘s NBA version: “We believe” Warriors of 2007

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 27:  Stephen Jackson #1 of the Golden State Warriors celebrates against the Dallas Mavericks in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2007 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2007 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The NBA doesn’t do upsets well.

Don’t take my word for it, here’s what baseball and analytics guru Bill James once said about the league:

That’s the real problem with the NBA … the best team is going to win in the long run, and everybody knows it. The season becomes a long, crushing battle in which, ultimately, you have no chance to escape justice … as opposed to college basketball, which is vastly more exciting.

He’s not wrong in the big picture — in the NBA favorite wins most of the time. That’s particularly true in the playoffs. That the best team wins may sound like the goal of any league, in reality we want random upsets, we like vulnerability.

We love seeing a Leicester City rise from obscurity to take the Barclay’s Premiere League and knock off the big money, big name clubs (you can watch them go for the title Sunday at 7:30 am ET on NBCSN when they face West Ham). Had you bet Leicester before the season you would have gotten 5000-1 odds they would take the Premiere League title. Now Leicester City on the doorstep of soccer history — arguably the greatest upset in sports history.

It’s not the same, but, the NBA has had a few great upsets.

The biggest playoff upset — the closest thing the NBA has to its own Leicester City — was the 2007 “We Believe” Golden State Warriors knocking off the Dallas Mavericks.

While Golden State is on top of the NBA world now, the Warriors of 2007 were in a very different place. Golden State had missed the playoffs for a dozen years before the 2006-07 season — they hadn’t made the playoffs since Chris Webber’s rookie season. That’s not easy to do in a league where more than half the teams make the postseason annually. Golden State had in Chris Cohan a man who would have been seen as the worst owner in the NBA and probably the worst owner in professional sports at the time had the Clippers’ Donald Sterling not been Secretariat at the Belmont with that title. Cohen had brought in the respected mad genius Don Nelson to coach his team that season, but he coached a team led by the mercurial Baron Davis and the unrepentant gunner that was young Monta Ellis. Midseason the Warriors made a big trade with the Pacers that brought in Stephen Jackson, Al Harrington, Sarunas Jasikevicius, and Josh Powell.

Despite the new players the Warriors fell to eight games below .500 before a run the last six weeks of the season saw them finish 42-40. The Warriors scraped into the playoffs as the eighth seed that season, playing at the fastest pace in the league. Their offense was good; their defense was not impressing anyone.

Going into the playoffs, the team’s marketing department adopted the slogan “we believe” and it was on T-shirts and banners that filled the building. The loyal and starved fans in the Bay Area did beleive.

The Warriors were matched against the Dallas Mavericks — a 67-win team led by MVP Dirk Nowitzki (he had a 50-40-90 season), a team that had lost just five games at home throughout the campaign. They were serious title contenders expected to roll through the first round… like Manchester United through Leicester.

In a move that now seems like foreshadowing of the current Warriors, Nelson unleashed a physical small-ball lineup on Dallas featuring Davis, Ellis, Jason Richardson, Jackson, and Harrington — their tallest player was 6’9″. The Warriors put five guys on the floor who could handle the ball, five guys who could space the floor and shoot the three. They overwhelmed the Mavericks — the Warriors ran off Dallas makes, they were feisty with Jackson and Matt Barnes off the bench, and Dallas couldn’t deal.

People also can forget how good — and how much fun to watch — a focused and in shape Baron Davis could be. He had 33 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists in a Game 1 Golden State win. When the series returned to Oakland for game three of the series, the long-starved and passionate Warriors fans unleashed the full fury of Oracle Arena on Dallas. Golden State won games three and four at home and led the series 3-1. Dallas took game five of the best-of-seven at home.

Game six at Oracle is still talked about as one of the great moments in Warrior’s history. Jackson drained seven threes on his way to 33 points, and during a 24-3 Golden State run in the third he was draining long balls and the crowd was raising the roof off that building. More importantly, Jackson was physical and had gotten in Nowitzki’s head (he was just 2-of-13 shooting that game).

Golden State won — the first eight seed to beat a one seed in a seven-game series in NBA history. We Believe worked and was etched into the history of the franchise.

This is the NBA, upsets don’t last long — the Warriors were manhandled by the Jazz in the second round, and that was the end of that run.

But not before the Warriors gave us the most improbable upset in NBA history.

Rockets’ owner: “There’s no uncertainty” about Daryl Morey, he will remain with team

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 17:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets celebrates with General Manager Daryl Morey after they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 113 to 100 during Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals at the Toyota Center for the 2015 NBA Playoffs on May 17, 2015 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Last week a report came out that after a disappointing 41-41 season that saw the Rockets barely scrape into the playoffs, there would be changes in Houston — and that could include respected and established general manager Daryl Morey.

Not true if you ask the Rockets’ owner, Leslie Alexander.

Which is just what Fox 26 News in Houston did.

“There is no uncertainty,” Alexander said. “Daryl is with the team. We evaluate everybody, but right now things aren’t changing.

“There’s no uncertainty about his future.”

The Rockets will and should take a top-to-bottom look at the organization and what went wrong this season. If the issues there all tie back to locker room leadership and chemistry issues, then Morey should take stock of and alter his team-building methods. Chemistry matters and while not wholly predictable (nothing is) there are things that can be done, veteran leaders who can be brought in at the right price.

But that’s different from saying Morey’s job should be in danger. It shouldn’t be.

By the way, in the interview Leslie is wildly optimistic about his team’s chances against Golden State. He sounds like a proud father. He thinks James Harden is MVP worthy. I get that — I’m a proud father who likely would boast my 11-year-old-daughter’s club soccer team could hang with national champion Penn State on the pitch. The reality would be far different.

But let Leslie dream.