Wolves GM: ‘We’re not talking about trading Ricky’ Rubio

3 Comments

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When the Minnesota Timberwolves signed Ricky Rubio to a four-year, $56 million contract extension before last season, it was a giant show of faith that the young point guard was going to be an integral part of pulling the long-suffering franchise out of the NBA basement.

Last year was miserable on all fronts. For the Timberwolves, who won an NBA-worst 16 games, and for Rubio, who played only 22 games because of a severe ankle injury.

Rubio spent all summer recovering from surgery and gearing up to return with a vengeance. But in the weeks leading up to one of the most anticipated Wolves seasons in years, rumors started to circulate that the team is looking to trade the flashy playmaker. With the first training camp practice just five days away, general manager Milt Newton put a stop to any speculation.

“We’re not talking to anybody about trading Ricky,” Newton told The Associated Press. “We expect Ricky to be an integral part of our team this season. We expect him to be here come training camp and leading our team.”

With an exciting young core highlighted by Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns – the last two No. 1 overall picks – and accomplished veterans like Kevin Garnett, Andre Miller and Kevin Martin on the roster, the Timberwolves believe they can make huge strides from the injury-plagued failures of last season. Rubio’s ability to bounce back from his ankle injury and get back to the passing wizard and defensive disruption that prompted the Wolves to give him that big contract is one of the biggest keys for those hopes to be realized.

“He’s one of the best facilitators in the NBA,” Newton said. “We’ve got a young team of guys that are athletic, that are going to get up and down. And we’re going to utilize those talents that they have. Who better than Ricky to be the one leading the charge, pushing the pace, pushing the ball and getting our guys easy opportunities and getting the ball where they can be their best? We’re looking to him to be that person.”

The Spaniard has had two of his first four seasons short-circuited by serious injuries and has struggled mightily to consistently knock down open jump shots. But when he has been healthy, Rubio has proven himself to be a difference maker.

He energized the franchise as a rookie in 2011, helping push them into playoff position before the team faded when he tore an ACL in March.

Rubio played all 82 games in 2013-14, and the Timberwolves scored 5.3 more points per 100 possessions than their opponents when he was on the floor – the second-best net rating on the team, according to statistics compiled by NBA.com.

When Rubio was off the floor that season, the Wolves were outscored by 6.7 points per 100 possessions, the biggest drop of any player on the team.

Last year the woeful Wolves were outscored by 9.8 points per 100 possessions. But in the 22 games Rubio played, they were only outscored by 1.6, a huge disparity and by far the best rating of any Wolves player to play more than 10 games. When Rubio was off the court, the Wolves’ net rating was minus-11.5.

Team president and coach Flip Saunders is on leave from the team while being treated for Hodgkins lymphoma. Newton has been elevated to the primary decision-maker in the front office and Sam Mitchell has replaced Saunders as coach on an interim basis. That means Rubio – one of the longest-tenured Timberwolves – will need to bring a steadying presence as the quarterback of the offense.

The Wolves also brought in renowned physical therapist Arnie Kander in part to help Rubio stay on the court and signed the 39-year-old Miller – one of the smartest point guards of his generation and one that, like Rubio, has never relied on overwhelming athleticism – to be his backup and serve as a mentor.

Now he begins his new contract as one of the team’s most important players. His pass-first mentality should fit well with a roster brimming with young talent looking for shots. Wiggins, Towns, Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad are all under 23 years old.

As one of the league’s top stealers and a solid defender on the perimeter, Rubio will also be counted on to team with Garnett and Wiggins to bolster what was the league’s worst defense last season.

There’s no doubt his shooting and ability to finish at the rim must improve for the Wolves to make big strides this season. But it all starts with his health, and Kander is encouraged by what he’s seen.

“Ricky’s got great ankles,” he said last week, later adding: “He’s looking good. Everything is where it needs to be.”

76ers rumored to be looking for new top man in basketball operations

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two years ago, the Philadelphia 76ers kept Brett Brown as coach and searched for a new top man in basketball operations, someone who could work collaboratively with others. They settled on Elton Brand as GM, just a couple years after the end of his playing career.

That collaboration, that order of hiring — coach and then GM — did not work.

Philadelphia is now looking for a new coach after firing Brown. Still, while a coaching search goes on, the franchise is considering bringing in a new head of basketball operations, reports Keith Pompey of The Inquirer.

League sources have said the Sixers are inquiring about the possibility of hiring a president of basketball operations. One source said that Portland Trail Blazers president of basketball operations/ general manager Neil Olshey might have some interest in the Sixers, but that’s only if he has total power, as the president and general manager.

Former Atlanta Hawks president of basketball operation/GM Danny Ferry’s name keeps popping up as a possible candidate. But the Sixers keep shooting that down.

A source also believes the Sixers will attempt to inquire about Houston GM Morey and Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard. The source, however, believes it’s unlikely that they would be interested.

As with everything 76ers the past couple of years, things seem a bit confused. The front office could use a shakeup, but the expectation had been Brand would have the power and there would be more voices to consult with him. Maybe a strong No. 2 who could bring a new voice and organizational skills to the table.

The names mentioned in this report — Olshey, Ferry, Morey, Prichard — are established top men who will demand complete authority. And, they will want to hire their own coach.

It’s unclear what direction the 76ers are going with their front office — and, by extension, coaching search — but there is not a lot of time to make a call. The 2020 NBA Draft is in two months and the 76ers will want their front office set well before that.

Lakers saw what happened to Jazz, Clippers, say they will not let up vs. Nuggets

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ASSOCIATED PRESS — With one comeback after another in the playoffs, the Denver Nuggets showed themselves to be a team that falls down but doesn’t stay down.

The Los Angeles Lakers noticed.

They watched the Nuggets repeatedly rally from big deficits against Utah and then the Los Angeles Clippers – and, obviously, are aware that the Jazz and the Clippers are no longer in the NBA bubble because of Denver’s comeback abilities.

So the Lakers knew that when it was their turn to face Denver, there would be no letting up no matter what the scoreboard said.

Game 2 is Sunday night. The Lakers know the job is far from over.

“No lead is safe with this team, in the game or in the series,” Lakers star Anthony Davis said. “They have proven that they are a second-half team, where they come out and just destroy teams in the second half and prove that even if they are down a series, they are a team that’s going to be resilient and keep fighting no matter what the score is, what the situation is.

“When we have a lead, we have to lock in even more.”

The Lakers did that in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, turning an 11-point halftime lead into a 27-point bulge in the second half before easing to a 126-114 victory.

“That’s a historic type of resilient team,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve got to understand that, both with the series lead 1-0 right now and wherever it goes, but also within games.”

Denver reached the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2009 by becoming the first team in NBA history to erase two 3-1 deficits in one postseason. The Nuggets trailed by 15 points in Game 5 against Utah in their first game facing elimination, then were down 16, 19, and 12 in the final three games against the Clippers.

The Nuggets are the first team with three 15-point comebacks while facing elimination in one postseason since play-by-play began being recorded digitally in 1997.

“This is an opponent we all greatly respect,” Vogel said. “Save for the comebacks, we respect what they are capable of doing on both ends of the floor.”

It won’t matter how resilient the Nuggets are if they don’t make things tougher for the Lakers defensively.

Davis shredded them so easily on his way to 37 points that the Lakers didn’t even need much scoring from LeBron James, who took only 11 shots and had 15 points and 12 assists. Los Angeles got plenty of opportunities in transition and in the paint, which were areas of emphasis for Denver.

“We were giving up layups after we scored baskets ourselves. So that indicates to me that our sense of urgency to get back was not anywhere remotely close to where it needed to be tonight,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the game.

When the Nuggets do get back, they need to do a better job of defending without fouling. They sent the Lakers to the line 24 times in the second quarter – Denver shot only 28 for the entire game – and both Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray had to go to the bench with three fouls in the period.

“We’ve just got to be better,” Murray said. “We’ve just got to be on point. We’ve got to talk more, talk earlier, point, whatever we’ve got to do.”

This is the first time in this postseason the Lakers will take the lead into Game 2, having dropped their opening games against both Portland and Houston. They didn’t lose again in either series.

Going into Sunday, the Lakers will have the second-best record in the postseason at 9-2, trailing only Miami. It’s a big turnaround for the Lakers, who struggled at times during the seeding games in the bubble – but, as James’ teams tend to do in the postseason, are hitting their best stride when the games matter most.

Denver is also used to playing from behind – much further behind. So even though things looked bad Friday, the Nuggets have been in much worse spots in the bubble and found their way out of them.

“We have proven it time and time again that we can learn from our losses and figure out what we need to do better going into the next game and give ourselves a much better chance to win,” Malone said.

Gordon Hayward does not plan to leave bubble for birth of son

Gordon Hayward birth of son
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

When Boston first went to the NBA restart bubble in Orlando, Gordon Hayward was upfront: He was leaving the bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

Hayward ended up leaving the bubble for another reason — he severely sprained his ankle and was out for more than a month. During his rehab, Hayward left the bubble and spent time at home, returning a couple of weeks ago. Saturday he played his first game back for Boston, helping it to a win against the Heat.

Hayward’s wife, Robyn, has yet to have their son, but now Hayward does not plan to leave the bubble for the event, something first reported by Rachel Nichols of ESPN during Saturday’s game.

Hayward confirmed this after the game. So did Robyn in a social media post, adding the reports she was in labor already were not true.

I don’t envy the Hayward family having to make this choice. As a parent, I can’t imagine having missed the births of any of my children, but, like everything else in 2020, this is far from a typical decision at a typical time. The Haywards are making the best of it they can. They deserve support no matter what they choose.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

Leave a comment

“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one, “I missed that on purpose.” 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. — he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).