Any time a team racks up as few wins as the Timberwolves have the last couple years, the coach is in trouble. Any time a bad team seems to get worse — the Wolves are 4-11 since the All-Star Game — the coach is in trouble. We’re looking at you, Kurt Rambis.
Sure, we should lay a lot of the blame on the front office — this team doesn’t have a lot of talent and outside of Kevin Love what they do have is a poor fit for the triangle offense Rambis was brought in to run — but the front office will not fire itself. It can’t just fire players. So the coach is the scapegoat.
But Minnesota players rallied to Rambis’ defense in the Pioneer Press.
“It’s easy to say when you’re having a tough year,” Wolves forward Kevin Love said about the uncertainty of Rambis’ future with the team. “It’s not a direct reflection on him. It’s all on us being a young, youthful team. It’s unfair. As a player, I have Kurt’s back…”
“I know it’s been tough on Kurt,” said Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver, who claimed after Sunday’s loss that “a lot of guys on this team don’t bring it every night.”
“He gets blamed for everything because he’s the coach,” Tolliver said. “He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. It’s up to us out there on the floor to execute the game plan. As players, we have to take more accountability and responsibility for our actions.”
Rambis is not a demonstrative, public guy with his players. He probably got that sitting next to Phil Jackson. But some fans love the loud, rip-the-players-in-the-media coach because it’s cathartic for them. That is very different than it being good for the team.
“Kurt will get on guys,” Wolves swingman Martell Webster said. “He can be very vocal and animated. He’s just not very loud with it. He’s emotional but not outlandish.”
What we need to see is what Rambis can do with a little more talent. He may be better suited to a more veteran team. Or at least a team with players that fit his offense better.
But none of that matters when the team is losing. He will remain on the hot seat.
Jimmy Butler showed little patience for Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns with the Timberwolves. To Butler, Wiggins didn’t work hard enough and Towns was too soft. Butler wasn’t afraid to admonish his teammates for their shortcomings, either. I believe Butler intended good, lighting fires under Wiggins and Towns that would drive them to greatness with the same intensity he used to rise. But Butler actually just alienated them.
Now, Butler joins the 76ers, who have another former No. 1 pick not meeting expectations – Markelle Fultz. Butler already praised Fultz’s work ethic and noted how much he respects that.
But how will Butler actually treat Fultz?
If this is someone who knows how Butler treated Towns and Wiggins and is just assuming how Butler will treat Fultz, this is worthless. Anyone who knows even a little about Butler could make that guess.
But if this is someone who spoke to Butler about Fultz specifically, this would carry massive significance.
Fultz is unique. He shot well in college then had his form completely fall apart before his rookie year. He doesn’t need tough love. He needs someone to help him assess the underlying trauma beneath his problems. He needs to be built up and develop confidence.
That wasn’t at all Butler’s approach with other teammates. Maybe Butler will adjust to Fultz’s atypical circumstances. I hope he does.
But the possibility of Butler worsening Fultz’s issues can’t be overlooked.
Jimmy Butler will be in the starting lineup for the Sixers Wednesday night in Orlando.
Butler is an elite two-way player, a top 10 NBA talent. Where will his game help the Sixers most? Defense is the first thing that comes to mind: Having Butler and Ben Simmons assigned to the two-best perimeter players of the opposition, with Joel Embiid backing them up, has the potential to be lock-down. Philadelphia already has a top-10 defense this season and this trade could make them exponentially better.
But scouts Brian Windhorst of ESPN spoke with had another interesting opinion: Butler helps Philly at the end of games because he wants the ball.
The 76ers have struggled to score late in close games at times, a function of their primary ball handler, Ben Simmons, being a suspect shooter. They were out-executed by the Boston Celtics in crunch time during the playoffs last season. Joel Embiid is off to a fantastic start to the season, but he’s shooting just 35 percent in clutch time this season because it can be hard for the big man to create a shot when the defense is set up to deny him.
Butler leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring this season and has a long history of shot-making in winning time.
“He brings something to Philly that they just don’t have, which is an experienced playmaker who can demand the ball and demand attention. That probably will make it easier on the rest of their guys,” one scout said. “JJ Redick can do that a bit, but he can’t create like Jimmy. It’s one of the rarest things in the NBA. From that standpoint, they hit a home run in this deal. There just aren’t many players like that available.”
That theory likely will not be put to the test by the Magic on Wednesday night.
It makes sense on paper, though. Embiid is not going to create his own shot without a play design to help out (and he’d be doubled quickly in the post), and with Simmons the defense is going to lay back and cut off driving lanes. Butler changes the late game dynamic.
It’s going to be interesting to watch this new big three in Philly meld, and to see if they’re willing to make the sacrifices needed to fulfill the potential of this roster.
Coach and team president Tom Thibodeau rightfully deserves a lot of the blame for how the Jimmy Butler situation played out — and dragged out — in Minnesota. Thibs believed he could win with this core, as they had done the season before, and that winning would cure a lot of ills. Instead, the Timberwolves are 4-9 to start the season.
However, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor has to take some of the blame here, too. He didn’t come in and force Thibodeau to make a decision — when he could have had a better deal (in my opinion) with Miami for Josh Richardson, the Heat’s 2019 No. 1 pick and Dion Waiters as cap filler — but dragged it out and had to settle with the Sixers. After another few weeks of drama.
Taylor sat down with Chris Hine of the Star-Tribune to talk about how it all went down.
“It just appeared that they weren’t working together as a team or as a unit the way that they should’ve. I can’t exactly answer why,” Taylor said. “The only thing that was different that we had was Jimmy’s position of leaving the team. Maybe that was affecting guys more than they even knew themselves.”
Taylor was non-committal on Thibodeau’s status, saying he would be evaluated as things went along. Around the league, few believe Thibodeau will keep his job long after this season ends.
In the deep West, that 4-9 start is going to make getting into the playoffs difficult. One thing to watch for the rest of this season: with Butler gone does Karl-Anthony Towns get back to playing like an All-NBA player and take control of this team? They heed him to.
Already the presence of Jimmy Butler is shaking up the Sixers rotations.
The starting lineup for Philadelphia in Orlando Wednesday night was confirmed by coach Brett Brown at shootaround: Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Wilson Chandler, Joel Embiid.
The change bumps Markelle Fultz out of the starting lineup for the first time this season. And that’s a good thing. He’s looked better — or, at least, less bad — for stretches the ball in his hands creating off the pick-and-roll, but when starting with Simmons and Embiid he had to work off the ball a lot more. Leading a second unit is just a better fit for him, and he can attack downhill getting to the rim. It’s a fit as much as anything is a fit with Fultz right now.
The new starting five should be lock-down defensively (especially with the soft first game against Orlando, the third worst offense in the NBA this season). With two strong on-ball perimeter defenders in Simmons and Butler, with Embiid backing them up protecting the rim, the Sixers should be able to slow down any team’s wing/guard production (and in a playoff series that defense can be a matchup nightmare for opponents).
Offensively, the Sixers really need Chandler to step up and knock down threes and space the floor, because the Sixers do not have enough shooting. They also lack depth. General manager Elton Brand has some work to do to round out this roster, and he knows it.
There is a real excitement in the air around the Sixers now. And there should be.