NBA Season Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves

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Last season: 15-67, second worst record in the NBA last season, although at the end of the campaign they were playing worse ball than the Nets.

Head Coach: Kurt Rambis enters his second year with this question: How good a coach is he? I’m not sold we’ll get the answer. The Timberwolves brought him in to run the triangle offense then gave him personnel that poorly suits it (strong shooting point guards, for one). Minnesota didn’t totally abandon the traditional triangle, but it was pretty heavily modified last season. Will it be more of the same this season?

Key Departures: Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Ramon Sessions, Ryan Hollins

Key Additions: They brought back Darko Milicic for four years at $20 million. I am not as down on the idea of bringing Milicic back as most — he’s a good passing big man who is a decent fit if they’d run the triangle offense — but the price is mind numbing. They were bidding against themselves for his services yet they seemed to keep driving up the price. If this were two years $6 million, it would be a decent risk. At this price it’s a mistake.

The other additions are not as bad: No. 4 overall pick Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley (really a good risk to take, they got him for nothing), Martell Webster, Luke Ridnour, Nikola Pekovic, Anthony Tolliver, Sebastian Telfair.

Best case scenario: GM David Kahn’s best case is at the deadline they are able to make a trade that pulls in the superstar player they need to vault Minnesota to the upper echelons of the West.

Most fans best-case scenario is for them to just take a step forward and play some entertaining basketball.

For that to happen: For Kahn’s best case, it will require and act of God. But he is right in this sense — the next step is for this team to get a star player that can really lead them. Debate amongst yourselves if Ricky Rubio is that guy (he’s good but probably not that good). Love, others on this team could be good number twos but there needs to be an Alpha dog. The question is if you think Kahn can get one? Now we’re back to an act of god.

If that is the future, here is the question for this season: What kind of team is this? Kahn keeps saying a running team yet he brought in a coach that runs the triangle (while transition points is one of the core principles of the triangle, it is not a classic running offense). They have not looked like much of a running team in their couple of preseason games.

Until the Timberwolves decide what they are and then build accordingly, they will live in limbo.

If you’re a running team — get Ricky Rubio over here, draft athletes and pure shooters, and go seven-seconds-or-less. Michael Beasley, Martell Webster and Anthony Tolliver could be fits if you go that direction. (And a more fluid, fast paced European style may be the way to go — they have some athletes on the wings and guys like Kevin Love and Darko that can run the pick-and-pop well. But if you’re doing that, why Rambis? Why Luke Ridnour?)

If you’re a triangle team, you need a guy who can create and penetrate from the wing (and please don’t think Beasley is that guy) and get a center who can protect the rim on defense (might want to do that either way). Luke Ridnour and Darko are decent fits here.

Whatever it is choose one path, then from the owner on down to the guy who has to wash the uniforms, be committed to it. Right now you are all over the map.

Whatever direction they go, one thing needs to happen — get Kevin Love the ball more. Did anyone see what happened when you put this guy on Team USA this summer? He was the best rebounder and outlet passer on the squad. He can be a stretch four or bang inside. He makes smart passes. If the Timberwolves are going to run they need his rebounding and outlet passing. If they are going to run the triangle they need to get him the ball at the elbow and run the offense through him. Just give him the ball; you get better when it happens.

I think the Beasley pickup was a good one — for them to reach their goals they need him to break out. That probably won’t happen, but as they gave up just a couple second rounders for him it was a good risk. He has not done well playing the three spot, he is more skilled and efficient near the basket, but that spot is taken up on the Timberwolves. They are asking him to play the three and he is going to have to figure it out — and defend better on the perimeter — for them to take a step forward.

The other thing the Timberwolves will need is rookie Wesley Johnson to take on a bigger role. It would be asking a lot, but then again a lot is asked of you if you are the No. 4 overall pick.

More likely the Timberwolves will: Be better than last year, but not good.

For all the sniping we do at David Kahn around these parts, the fact is the Timberwolves are a deeper team now than they were last season, and that should win them some more games. There has been some talent stockpiled on this roster.

Luke Ridnour will likely take a step back but be a steady hand at the helm. Webster can score and he may well lead this team in that category. Beasley will be inconsistent and frustrate T-Wolves fans, and Wesley Johnson may ultimately be the swingman of the future (or maybe not, lots of questions there and as a rookie he will be inconsistent, too). Kevin Love will be good. Darko will be nice. But it’s hard to see where the cohesion comes from.

Prediction: 24-58. And another high lottery pick. It will be interesting to see what they do with it.

Corey Maggette named Big3 MVP, Nancy Lieberman Coach of Year

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When you see Corey Maggette — even in a suit when he is at Staples Center to help do Clippers’ pregame/postgame analysis — your first thought is, “that man looks like he can still play.” The “gun show” is still something to behold.

Turns out, he can still play. Very well.

Maggette suited up in the Big3 this season (he was injured in his first game last weekend), is the captain that led Power to the championship game this Friday night, averaged 16.9 points (fourth in the league), 3.1 assists (fourth in the league), and for that was named league MVP on Tuesday. He earned the award for his leadership as much as his production, and with that he also was named the Big3’s Captain of the Year.

He just beat out David Hawkins of Tri-State for MVP, who averaged 16.8 points and 7.1 rebounds a game.

Power dominated the awards, with coach Nancy Lieberman winning Coach of the Year (in her first year with the league), and Chris “Birdman” Anderson won Defensive Player of the Year behind his 1.4 blocks per game and owning of the paint.

The “Too Hard to Gaurd” award went to Al Harrington, who led the Big3 averaging 18 points per game for Trilogy (last year’s champion). The man can still get buckets.

Biggest Trash Talker award went to Gary Payton of 3 Headed Monsters. We all should have seen that coming.

4th Man of the Year went to Andre Emmet of 3’s Company. He has been the hottest player in the Big3 in recent weeks, averaging more than 20 points per game during the run, and if 3’s Company is going to upset Power in the championship game it will be because Emmet has another monster season.

The BIG Community Award went to Ricky Davis. Every Friday morning, in whatever city the Big3 was in that week, Davis (through the Ricky Davis Legacy Foundation) brought other players and coaches to visit homeless shelters and encampments throughout the city and deliver fresh produce and toiletries. It (along with the weekly youth programs the Big3 did weekly in each city) was a great bit of reaching out.

Just a reminder, the BIG3 championship night kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday night live on FOX, from Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. The championship game will see Power — led by Corey Maggette and Glen Big Baby Davis — taking on 3’s Company (led by Andre Emmett, the hottest player in the league right now) for the title.

Channing Frye says young Lakers may not “truly understand what it’s like to play with” LeBron

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Channing Frye is in a unique position. He has played with LeBron James for years and helped bring a title to Cleveland with him. However, at the deadline he was sent to the rebuilding Lakers as part of the Larry Nance/Jordan Clarkson deal, so he also has played with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and the rest of the young Lakers’ core.

Those experiences inform Frye’s opinions when Erik García Gundersen of the USA Today’s LeBron Wire asked him how smoothly LeBron would fit with the Lakers.

“I’ll tell you this: (the young Lakers are) arguably the most talented group in the NBA. And I mean talented in terms of experience, years playing in the Western Conference and they’re overall position.

I think the thing they’re going to come to and I think a lot of guys are going to have to deal with this. There’s who you expect to be and then who you are when you play with LeBron. It’s two different things. I don’t know if they truly understand what it’s like to play with him because there is no room for mistakes. Because in all actuality, he could do it himself. He could lead a team to 40 wins by himself. I think for all of them they’re going to have to have a reality check, not only them but the people around them. There’s going to say, not a growing period, but a humility.”

Chris Bosh, Kevin Love and a host of other guys would be very happy to explain just how much players need to adapt to playing with LeBron. The Lakers established a style of play and a pecking order last season, and this summer that got blown up. It’s not starting from scratch, but it’s going to be an adjustment — and it can’t take too long in an unforgiving Western Conference.

The other thing Frye notes: The Lakers now have a target on their back. Last season they were interesting, this season teams will circle this game on their schedule. The Lakers are going to get the other team’s best shot every night. LeBron is used to this, for Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and the rest it will again be an adjustment.

The Lakers are an interesting experiment this season. It’s a one-season thing, they will go hard at other stars next summer (or at the trade deadline) and the roster will get shaken up again next summer. That doesn’t make this season any easier on the Lakers, their players, or Luke Walton. LeBron’s too good to let it all come apart, but the Meme team’s dynamic will be fascinating.

Kobe Bryant “definitely” staying retired, not playing in Big3 next season

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When spoken words get transcribed — or just heard by people half-listening — context can be lost.

Take for example, the Big3 media conference call on Tuesday (which I was on). The executives of that league — co-founders Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz, plus Clyde Drexler and Amy Trask — have a fun, joking relationship that comes through when you speak to more than one of them at a time. They drop inside jokes, poke a little fun at each other, and sound more like you and your friends hanging out with a beer rather than some cold, staged PR event. It’s no secret Cube has tried to recruit Kobe Bryant for a while to the Big3, only to get shot down each time, and that led to this exchange when they were asked about Kobe coming to the league.

Ice Cube: “We have a list of people that we would love to see, I think the fans would love to see. The fans would love to see Kobe, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce. Anybody who still has the passion to play. We don’t want you if you don’t have the passion to play. If Kobe doesn’t have the passion to play at this level, then it’s better for him to watch on tv. If he has the passion, then here we are.”

Jeff Kwatinetz: “I did hear from a credible source that Kobe is going to be playing next year. That’s something, but it may be nothing.”

Ice Cube: “That would be amazing.”

Kwatinetz was joking with Ice Cube more than making a prediction, but that’s not how some read/heard it, the news got out on Twitter, and, well, Twitter is Twitter.

That forced Kobe’s marketing person to shoot the idea down publicly, just to be clear.

I’d like to say this is the kind of thing we see in the off-season when there are no games to write about, but we know better, this happens during the regular season, too.

Just to be clear, Kobe was probably as well prepared for life after basketball as anyone who has retired from the NBA, and he has moved on. He still works out with guys — Boston’s Jaylen Brown most recently — and does his video breakdown series for ESPN, but he’s got a lot of other things going on as well with his businesses. The man won an Oscar already, what more do you want? He has moved on.

Just a reminder, the BIG3 championship night kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday night live on FOX, from Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. The championship game will see Power — led by Corey Maggette and Glen Big Baby Davis — taking on 3’s Company (led by Andre Emmett, the hottest player in the league right now) for the title.

Zhou Qi’s China edges Jordan Clarkson’s Philippines at Asian Games

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) The Philippines was vastly improved with Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson added to the team to face China at the Asian Games.

Just one problem.

Although the U.S.-born Clarkson led all scorers with 28 points, he had to sit out much of the fourth quarter with a cramp in his right thigh. That was the opening China needed, winning 82-80 in Tuesday’s Group D game.

Clarkson returned to play the last few minutes of the quarter, and the Philippines Paul Dalistan missed a 3-point shot with about five seconds left, which could have sealed an upset against the tournament favorites.

“After he cramped, Jordan couldn’t play his 100-percent best,” Philippines coach Joseller Guiao said. “But even without him in there we still played well.”

Despite the loss, Philippines should reach the quarterfinals with China heavily favored to beat Kazakhstan on Thursday.

Houston Rockets young center Zhou Qi led China with 25. The 2.17 meter (7-foot-1) blocked a half-dozen shots for the vastly taller Chinese. China’s other NBA player, Dallas Mavericks small forward Ding Yanyuhang, had seven points.

Clarkson, whose mother has Philippines heritage that earned him a passport, arrived in Jakarta just a few days ago after the NBA finally agreed to let him play.

He hit the third of three straight 3-point shots to tie the game at 55-55 late in the third quarter.

The Philippines led 78-75 late in the game, but couldn’t hold on with Clarkson unable to play at full speed.

“We have to keep moving on and hope we get to play them (China) again in the tournament,” said Philippines guard Gabriel Norwood.

Clarkson skipped post-game interviews, walking directly past reporters to get his leg treated.

“I don’t see this as a loss,” Guiao said. “We formed this team only two weeks ago, and Jordan just flew in five days ago. He was able to get into the flow quickly. We’re a lot better with Jordan Clarkson.”