Kurt Helin

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine, left, confers with head coach Sam Mitchell during time out against the Denver Nuggets in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec.11, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Associated Press

Report: Tension in Minnesota between old-school coach, young players


This wasn’t how things were expected to go in Minnesota this season — Flip Saunders was supposed to be on the bench guiding the development of the young team he put together. A veteran coach that drafted many of these guys, they trusted and had a good relationship with him.

Then Saunders was taken from us — screw you, cancer.

That left his old-school lead assistant coach Sam Mitchell — a former NBA head coach in Toronto — in the big chair.

Mitchell has a different style and pushed his young players — Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, and on down the line . While the team has struggled to a 14-33 record, it’s easy to see the potential for how very good they might be in a few years.

However, the players are not happy about how they are getting there, reports Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press.

There is a battle of wills going on in Minnesota between an old-school coach and a roster built around new-school talent. The team’s surprising 8-8 start has been followed by a sobering 6-24 stretch that has left many players quietly grumbling about their 52-year-old interim coach….

But nearly half the roster of 15 players privately expressed concerns to The Associated Press about Mitchell that centered on three basic tenets: His outdated offensive system, his tendency to platoon his rotations and a lack of personal accountability for the struggles. The players spoke on condition of anonymity because they did not want to publicly criticize their head coach.

In a lengthy Q&A recently, Mitchell talked at length about the challenges of developing young players who didn’t understand things like setting screens at different angles, or the other intricacies of high-level basketball. For that matter, he thought they lacked even basic fundamentals. He talked about the limitations of this roster. He said the same things in this latest piece, but what he’s said doesn’t play well in the locker room.

“We went to the basics because what we realized is because they haven’t gotten it,” Mitchell said earlier this year. “I’ve been doing slide drills since the eighth grade. AAU don’t do slide drills because the guy that owns the hardware store, he runs the team.”

This has induced some eye-rolling in the locker room, since NBA players have jumped to the pros either straight from high school or after one season in college for 20 years now. It also has given some the impression that the blame is being placed solely on their shoulders.

Mitchell can rail against the system and tell everyone to get off his lawn if he wants, but other coaches have gotten past this. Telling players their youth coaches sucked isn’t going to win guys over. The best coaches at player development strike a balance between criticism and praise that earns the players’ respect.

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said at the start of the season that Mitchell — as well as GM Milt Newton — would get the entire season to show what they can do. That’s only fair. There is no reason for a mid-season course correction.

But if the players are frustrated with and starting to tune out the coach — whether you think his old-school ways are right or not — that has to be a factor when looking at what to do next this summer.

Lakers to give Shaquille O’Neal statue outside Staples Center


Magic Johnson has one. So does Jerry West. And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The most photographed one (based on the lines outside the building pregame) is probably Chick Hearn’s.

Now Shaquille O’Neal is going to get one — a statue outside Staples Center (the Lakers’ home).

Can you dig it?!

Shaq learned about this on Jimmy Kimmel Live Wednesday.

The Lakers confirmed the news. Here is the statement from Jeannie Buss.

“We look forward to having Shaq join the other legends who have been honored with statues at STAPLES Center. He is a giant not only in size, but also in stature and in what he accomplished as a Laker. Shaq literally broke the ground for the site, and was hugely responsible for not only getting STAPLES Center built, but for making it one of the most successful and famous arenas in the world. It’s an honor that is well deserved.”

She’s right, the draw that was Shaq and Kobe Bryant (who will get his own statue in a couple of years) helped make the economics of Staples Center work. The building was built and is owned by AEG, which owns the L.A. Kings and also owns a minority stake in the Lakers. The Kings’ alone were not enough of a draw, the Lakers made the construction of the building (which has become the hub a revitalized downtown Los Angeles) possible.

This statue is well deserved, and I like the design hanging over the others.

It’s getting crowded in Star Plaza outside Staples. Besides the Lakers’ statues both Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille of the Kings have ones, as does Oscar De La Hoya.

PBT Podcast: What’s gone wrong with Wizards, J. Michael of CSN joins to discuss

Washington Wizards' John Wall, right, talks to head coach Randy Wittman during an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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I’ll own up to it: Before the season tipped off, I expected the Washington Wizards would be right there with Toronto, Chicago, and Atlanta as teams that would vie for the two seed in the East. I thought this may be the second best team in the conference.

If the playoffs started today, they wouldn’t even make it.

It’s not on John Wall — he’s played fantastically and should be an All-Star — but what went wrong and why in our nation’s capital? J. Michael, the CSNMidAtlantic.com insider on the Wizards, joins NBC’s Kurt Helin to talk about how the Wizards’ season went sideways. We discuss Randy Wittman’s job security (or lack thereof), are trades in the offing, and why small ball has been a dud.

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunesdownload it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.

Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Warriors keep rolling, so do Spurs


If you didn’t watch the NBA’s slate of games Wednesday because you were trying to solve the rash of cheese thefts in Wisconsin, we get it. We got you covered. Here’s what you need to know from a Wednesday around the NBA:

1) It was Klay Thompson’s turn to have a big night, drops 45 on Dallas in Warriors’ win (and 72-wins doesn’t sound crazy). Stephen Curry had just 14 points. Draymond Green had zero points in the first half and 10 for the game. It doesn’t matter against the Warriors, all that just meant it was Klay Thompson’s turn to go off — 45 points. It was the second time this season he topped 40. Thompson had 26 points in the first half while the rest of the Warriors seemed to be napping, and for the game was 14-of-20 shooting. He was the very model of efficiency — seven of his shots came at the rim (hitting six), and 12 of his shots were from three (he made seven), just one shot was in the “midrange” and even that was in the paint near the elbow.

With the win the Warriors are 42-4, they need to go 30-6 the rest of the way to tie the 95/96 Bulls’ record of 20 wins. While the schedule does get tougher and there is a long way to go, that could happen.

2) San Antonio goes home, gets comfortable, destroys Houston by 31. The Spurs team that got blown out by the Warriors Monday was unrecognizable — when was the last time you saw a San Antonio team lose its poise and get sucked into the other team’s style of play like that? The Spurs went back to San Antonio (where they have yet to lose a game this season), took a shower to wash off that loss, then came out and dismantled the Houston Rockets, 130-99. San Antonio looked like itself again. The Spurs put up a season-high 69 points in the first half and owned this one from the start. LaMarcus Aldridge put up a game-high 25 points, plus had 10 rebounds and five assists, while Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green each scored 18 points. Houston couldn’t get stops, which let the Spurs get back and set their defense, and with that, it was all over fast.

3) Karl-Anthony Towns knows how to finish. Oklahoma City won the game (by three), but the leading Rookie of the Year candidate had the highlight of the night — he finished a dunk through Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. That was impressive.

4) Tyronn Lue (all of 2-1 as a head coach) and Gregg Popovich are your All-Star Game coaches. Both of these became official in the past 24 hours — the coach of the team with the best record in the conference come Feb. 1 gets to coach the All-Star Game. In the West, that best record belongs to the Warriors, but Steve Kerr did it last season so the job falls to the coach of the team with the second-best record, and that is the Spurs. This will be Popovich’s fourth turn at the All-Star coaching chair.

Out East, the Cavaliers have the best record. It doesn’t matter that David Blatt coached the team to a 30-11 record — he was fired, he’s not the coach of an NBA team right now. Tyronn Lue is the Cavs’ coach, and while he’s done nothing but say Blatt deserves this honor it is Lue who gets to be the coach in Toronto. It’s a little awkward and strange, but welcome to coaching in the NBA.

5) The Cavaliers put on a show and one of their youngest fans loved it. Cleveland toyed with Phoenix on Wednesday and put together some highlights for SportsCenter in the process. Specifically, LeBron James and J.R. Smith were a highlight machine. First, there was this:

Then came LeBron returning the favor — and one young Cavaliers fan loved it.

Klay Thompson’s big scoring night leads Warriors past Mavs

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Klay Thompson scored a season-high 45 points, Stephen Curry got going after halftime and so did the Golden State Warriors, who avenged one of their four losses this season by beating the Dallas Mavericks 127-107 on Wednesday night.

Curry hit three quick 3-pointers after intermission as Golden State overcame a sluggish first half, and the reigning MVP finished with a modest 14 points on a night the Warriors’ role players and bench provided a balanced effort.

Thompson had his second 40-point game of the season and sixth of his career, shooting 14 of 20, 7 for 12 on 3-pointers and making all 10 of his free throws.

Chandler Parsons scored 23 points for Dallas, which handed the Warriors their second loss of the season, 114-91 on Dec. 30 – but without Curry because of a lower left leg injury. It was Golden State’s largest loss of the four.

After going 1 for 8 in the first half and missing his first four from long range, Curry connected for his first 3 at the 10:02 mark of the third and had his team rolling again right away.

The Warriors ran their regular-season winning streak at Oracle Arena to 40 games, including 22-0 this season. The 40 straight home victories tied the Orlando Magic for second-longest home unbeaten run in NBA history behind the Chicago Bulls’ 44 from March 30, 1995, to April 4, 1996.

Golden State hasn’t lost at home in one calendar year, since falling 113-111 to the Bulls on Jan. 27, 2015. The Warriors also dished out 30 assists for a fifth straight game, first to do so since the 1994-95 Orlando Magic.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr went with a super-small lineup in the second quarter, and that was without Curry on the court. Golden State won its sixth in a row against Dallas at Oracle, shy of its seven-game unbeaten run at home in the series from 1991-94.

The Warriors, with 30-point wins in three of their previous four games, including 120-90 against the Spurs on Monday night, got 13 points from Harrison Barnes and 10 by Draymond Green.

Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki had the night off to rest following a 92-90 road win at the Lakers on Tuesday.


Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he considers Green “automatic” and is hopeful Thompson gets a spot when All-Star reserves are announced Thursday.

“The way I’ve always voted, when I have two people who are pretty even, I go with the team that’s winning,” Kerr said. “I think winning should be accounted for when you make your All-Star selections. The whole point of the game is to win. I think Klay deserves to be there – not only because of the way he’s played, but also because of the way the team has played.”


Mavericks: G Devin Harris missed his second straight game with a strain in his left big toe that required an injection Tuesday, while C Zaza Pachulia sat out his third in a row because of an injured right Achilles tendon. … Former Stanford star Dwight Powell had 11 points and five rebounds.

Warriors: Curry moved into eighth place on the franchise scoring list. … F Kevon Looney made his NBA debut, the 11th former UCLA player to wear a Golden State uniform. He had two points and two rebounds, scoring on his first attempt. … Thompson had his 20th game with 20 or more points. … Curry has hit 34 straight free throws. … C Festus Ezeli sat out with a sore left knee that required an MRI exam Tuesday following Monday night’s win against San Antonio. … Kerr might rest some players during this stretch before the Feb. 14 All-Star Game in Toronto. “It’s a balance,” he said. “You want to give people rest if they need it.” Of his own health after complications from two back surgeries, he said getting good sleep is most important on the road. … Golden State now sets off on a three-game East Coast road trip.