Timberwolves trying to get Alexey Shved to smile more

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The Russian culture is not one of smiles — the Moscow Times traces it back to the Cold War and before, noting that generations were raised about how Americans had insincere smiles. The stereotypical Russian disposition comes off as a little more austere.

Alexey Shved is Russian, but the Minnesota backup point guard plays on a team with two guys who have an outward exuberance for playing the game — Ricky Rubio and Ronny Turiaf.

This preseason, those two are trying to get Shved to open up and have a little fun reports the Star Tribune.

Last season, TNT’s wired microphone caught Ricky Rubio imploring Shved to “Change your face, be happy, enjoy it” coming out of a timeout in a video snippet that careened around the Internet.

Now Turiaf unknowingly has joined the chorus, encouraging the second-year Russian guard to play with more joy and less concern for his errors while coach Rick Adelman just wants Shved to become more “engaged” when he’s playing off the ball.

“If Alexey smiles, everything else takes care of itself,” Turiaf said. “If he doesn’t smile, he’s a different player.”

Shved may not be that expressive naturally — although he seems to be with his hair — but also likely feels a little more isolated. Last season he was tight with fellow Russian (and CSKA Moscow teammate) Andrei Kirilenko, but now AK-47 is in Brooklyn. Shved may withdraw a little naturally.

Shved showed flashes of great playmaking skill and some creativity his rookie season. He also got forced into a much bigger role that he was likely ready for thanks to the wave of injuries that washed over Minnesota last season. This season, with a healthy Rubio, he should play a more limited role that better suits him.

Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman says in the same story he wants Rubio to work harder off the ball, he’s not so concerned about the smiles. Makes sense as Shved has had the ball in his hands more before he came to the NBA so playing off it is a new experienced.

Either way, Shved could become one of the better backup point guards in the league. If he’s having fun.

Markell Fultz takes ugly pump-fake free throw

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A key question after the 76ers traded for Jimmy Butler: How would the demanding star affect Markelle Fultz‘s confidence?

Butler isn’t even playing for Philadelphia yet, but this isn’t an encouraging sign.

Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice:

Maybe the ball just slipped out of Fultz’s hands on the way up, and he had to continue pushing it toward the rim to avoid a violation. That could happen to anybody.

But given everything we know about Fultz’s shooting woes, it’s impossible to take this as anything other than a ghastly low point in an ongoing problem.

LeBron James: ‘I almost cracked’ with Lakers’ slow start

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LeBron James has played in eight straight NBA Finals.

How’s he handling reduced expectations with the Lakers, who started 2-5 before rising to 7-6?

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

‪“I haven’t changed anything outwardly, but you know me. You know how I am. I almost cracked [last week]. I had to sit back and remind myself, ‘[Expletive], you knew what you were getting yourself into,’” James told Yahoo Sports while laughing after Saturday’s win in Sacramento. “This process has been good for me. I just have to continue being patient.”‬

LeBron warned everyone to stay clear when he loses his patience, but he has never sounded close to losing it this season. He signed a four-year deal with the Lakers, said he doesn’t feel urgency to win quickly before his prime ends and seems content to wait for a co-star.

If anything, it seemed LeBron might be too relaxed, enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle and focusing on showbusiness.

So, this is a welcome sign of his competitiveness.

Also kudos to LeBron for harnessing it unlike others in the organization. These Lakers need time to determine how these oddly shaped pieces fit together – unless a star becomes available. Then, all bets are off.

Dwyane Wade: Making Carmelo Anthony ‘fall guy’ doesn’t address the ‘real problem’

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LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul – the banana-boat buddies – comprise the NBA’s most famous friendship group.

With Anthony nearing his end with the Rockets, that puts Houston teammate Paul in an awkward place. But Wade and LeBron are speaking up. So are the Trail Blazers’ Evan Turner and Damian Lillard.

Wade:

LeBron:

Evan Turner:

Damian Lillard:

It’s unclear whether Wade is scolding the Rockets or fans/media. That comment is far more loaded if he’s referring directly to the organization. I wonder what he sees at the “real problem” in Houston.

A struggling team waiving a minimum-salary player is rarely viewed as making that player the scapegoat. But Anthony has an outsized reputation due to his long, star-level career. With that in mind, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tried to defend Anthony.

But Anthony is a part of Houston’s problems. He’s awful defensively and shooting poorly. There is mounting evidence he’s washed up. Downgrading his role, whether or not that includes waiving him, is a step in the right direction for the Rockets.

It won’t solve everything, and Anthony – after all that he has done in the NBA – should be treated with respect. But there’s no way around his substandard current level of play.

Report: Jimmy Butler planned to hold out from Timberwolves unless traded, informing team during Friday’s game

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According to one narrative, the Timberwolves decided after Friday’s loss to the Kings to trade Jimmy Butler.

But he might have forced their hand, resulting in his trade to the 76ers.

Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Butler decided he would play on Friday night, but he viewed it as the fork in the road. If the Timberwolves didn’t find a deal to fulfill his long-simmering trade request after that, he would begin to sit indefinitely, league sources told The Athletic.

The Kings defeated Minnesota 121-110 to push the Timberwolves to 4-9 and a winless road trip; Butler had 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 41 minutes. He had played almost 124 minutes in the last three games, all losses, and at halftime of the final one, the Wolves were informed that this was it for Butler, sources said.

Butler reportedly held out for a game a couple weeks ago, though he and Minnesota both denied it. It’s quite believable he would’ve held out again if not traded. Still, informing the team during a game he’s playing would have been quite bold.

I’m not sure who actually blinked first. This could be an I-quit, no-you’re-fired (or vice versa) scenario. Both Butler and Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau are stubborn.

But the most important thing is Butler is gone and both sides can move on – whatever ugliness preceded the trade.