Five Takeaways from an NBA Monday: Wiggins, Towns, Timberwolves are legit

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Another work week underway, and in case you didn’t spend your Monday night watching NBA games because you were too busy making silly complaints to Starbucks about their cups (you pay $5 for a cup of coffee and your moan about the cup?), here are five things you need to know from a Monday night around the NBA.

1) Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Timberwolves are legit. Coming into the season, Minnesota was considered a team to watch, a team with great young talent — Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, even Ricky Rubio is still fairly young — and a team a year or two away from being a playoff threat. That last part seems to be off — the Timberwolves are 4-2 to start the season, have the fifth best defense in the NBA (95 points per 100 possessions allowed), and will be a legit playoff threat in the West if they can sustain this.

The Timberwolves made a big statement Monday — they went into the home of a 7-1 team that won 60 games last season and were up by 34 points in the first half. They dominated. Part of that was this is a make-or-miss league and the Timberwolves could not miss: Wiggins was 8-of-10, Rubio 4-for-8, even Zach LaVine was 5-of-6. When LaVine is hitting heat check threes, you know it’s your night. Minnesota shot 63.8% in the first half. In the second half, they gave it all back (because they are young and inconsistent) but a late11-0 run late sparked by Wiggins (who had 33 on the night) secured the win.

Towns the defender is much better than advertised, he’s recognizing rotations and showing out on pick-and-rolls far better than most rookies. Combine that with quality wing defenders such as Wiggins and Rubio, and there’s no reason the Timberwolves can’t maintain a top 10 defense this season. If they do, they will be in the mix for one of those bottom couple playoff spots in the West, and do it a year or more ahead of schedule.

2) Bulls get win over Sixers with regular starting lineup, but changes may be coming. Fred Hoiberg had planned to make a change to the Bulls’ starting lineup on Monday — Joakim Noah was going to start in place of Nikola Mirotic. It didn’t happen because Noah’s knee trouble flared up, so Hoiberg went to his regular starters (Mirotic and Pau Gasol up front) and that was plenty good against the hapless 76ers, who were without Nerlens Noel anyway. For now the status quo stays, but Hoiberg is considering lineup changes.

I’m just not sure he’s considering the right change. Why not switch Noah for Gasol as the starters? First, Mirotic has been great for the Bulls offense, which is 9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor. Or, look at it this way: When Mirotic has been on the floor this season, the Bulls have outscored opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions, when he sits they get outscored by 7 per 100. Even when his shot isn’t falling the threat of it opens up needed space in the offense. Mirotic should start, but pair him with the defensive-minded Noah instead. Here are the Bulls front court combos through eight games (points per 100 possessions; and take it with a grain of salt, there is some serious small sample size theater here).

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 1.52.30 AM

The problem with starting Mirotic/Noah is you end up with Gasol/Gibson off the bench, but you can limit those minutes and stagger with the starters. Hoiberg has plenty of time to tinker with the rotations and see what works best and what doesn’t with this team, but the early numbers point to more Mirotic, not less.

3) The Kings are 1-7 and there are “in house issues” to deal with according to DeMarcus Cousins. Everything is not puppy dogs and rainbows in the Sacramento Kings’ locker room? Who could possibly have seen that coming? Sacramento was easily handled by San Antonio on Monday 106-88 (the Spurs owned the fourth) then after the game Cousins talked about a players’ only meeting saying there were things to deal with, reports James Ham of CSNBayArea.com.

“We got some issues that we got to, you know, carve out,” a cryptic Cousins said. “Can’t really speak on that, but one thing is, us players, we’ve got to stick together. Just with that, that will get us over or get us through most battles.”

“We got some issues in-house we need to figure out,” Cousins continued….

“It will be a players only meeting, but just to make it clear, I believe in every single person in this room,” Cousins said. “We just got to stay together. That part I’m not worried about, but it is issues we got to figure out.”

It’s not clear yet exactly what the problem is in the locker room. On the floor, the issue has been the NBA’s 27th ranked defense and constantly shifting rotations; how much that plays a role in the players’ issue is unclear as well. While Cousins and coach George Karl had a frosty relationship over the summer, the two have said all the right things of late. There is pressure on the Kings to get better — they move into a new building next season in the heart of Sacramento and owner Vivek Ranadive wants a winner, a playoff team to open that building. Right now the Kings look nothing like that kind of team.

I believe players-only meetings are overrated and usually have little to no effect. However, the fact the Kings need one eight games into the season shows the issues are real.

4) Emmanuel Mudiay blocked Damian Lillard, made big plays late. Emmanuel Mudiay is turning the ball over too much, and he desperately needs to improve his jumper, but through those rookie issues you can see flashes of a very good player (I’m in the Mudiay will be a steal camp). He was key in the final minute to Denver holding on to beat Portland on Monday night: With :56 left he nailed a 15-foot fadeaway to put the Nuggets up by four; with :18 seconds left he drained to free throws to keep that lead. Then he tracked down and rejected Damian Lillard at the rim.

There’s a long way to go with Mudiay’s development, but Denver is putting him in situations to learn and gain confidence. This was a big step in

5) The good news is Memphis looked better. The bad news is they still lost. I’m sure the Memphis Grizzlies players and coaches will say there are no moral victories and the bottom line is they are 3-5 to start the season after a 94-92 loss to the Clippers on the road. But this was a moral victory. Memphis’ defense was back, they were the first team to hold the Clippers under 100 points and kept L.A.’s offensive rating 5.1 under their season average. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol combined for 44 points on 27 shots. Mike Conley looked good at the point. There were still some odd lapses — twice in the final minute they left J.J. Redick open and he burned them — but if Memphis plays like this most nights the wins will start coming.

New coach, new attitude, but will that fix Lakers defense, Westbrook fit?

Los Angeles Lakers Media Day 2022
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Darvin Ham was the new face at the front of the room, and since the day he walked in the door he has been about looking forward and a clean slate. The Lakers own tabula rasa.

“This year, we’ve turned the page, you know, we’re looking at the windshield, not so much through the rearview mirror,” coach Ham said.

However, at Lakers’ media day everyone kept looking backward — to the team’s poor defense and questionable fit of Russell Westbrook last season.

Can a new face at the front of the room, a new focus, and some better luck with injuries wipe away that past and make the Lakers a threat in the West again?

“I think everyone here has a chip [on their shoulder], and in every right, obviously, [after last] season, last year,” another newcomer, Patrick Beverley, said. “Everyone wants a little bit of oomph, a little bit of you know, more of whatever it is.”

For Ham, “whatever it is” means defense. On Monday, Ham was preaching defense again. Like he has incessantly since the day the Lakers hired him — he is hanging his hat, his rotations, and the Lakers’ chances on an intense defense.

Of course, Frank Vogel preached defense, too. He is a defensive coach. When the Lakers won the title in 2020 they had the third-best defense in the NBA, the following season it was the best defense in the league. Vogel’s message and the team’s focus on that end got lost last season for various reasons. The Lakers fell to the bottom 10 in the league on that end of the floor. It cost Vogel his job.

Ham tied last season’s defensive concerns and Westbrook fit in the rotation together — if you don’t defend, you don’t play. That includes the $47 million former MVP guard.

“We got to have a defensive mindset,” Ham said. “Those are the guys that’s going to get the minutes, guys going out there to get stops. And… [Westbrook has] told me personally, he’s going to commit to that side of the ball.

“And that’s what camp is for. We’ll see.”

Ham would not commit to Westbrook as a starter. That comes after the Lakers spent the summer trying to find a trade for Westbrook, to move on from last season’s frustrations, but any deal had to bring value back to the Lakers. That really never came close to happening (there wasn’t a great market for Westbrook’s services at his current price tag). So Westbrook is back.

“Whether they want me here or not doesn’t really matter,” Westbrook said. “Honestly, my job is to be professional, show up to work like I’ve always done thus far, do my job the best way I know how to, and that’s it. We’ve all had jobs that sometimes people at our jobs don’t like us or don’t want us there, as you guys can probably attest to, and any other job across the world. As a professional and as a working man I have to do my job and do it the best way I know how to be able to support and take of my family, and that’s what I’ll do.”

The awkwardness of Westbrook’s fit was a structural one — he has been a ball-dominant scorer his entire NBA career, and the Lakers are asking him to play a role now. He’s not their best shot creator, he will be standing in the corners at times. That’s not in the nature of the aggressive, confident Westbrook, and Vogel could never strike a balance.

“We’re telling Russ be yourself like we need you to be yourself. I tell him that before every game, like be yourself,” Anthony Davis said. “Because I didn’t want him thinking too much like, ‘Oh, I gotta get the ball LeBron or AD’ and now he’s being passive and not being aggressive, which is who he has been in his league to be Russell Westbrook. And I think the more he does that, we can adjust.”

Ham, however, has talked about running the offense more through Davis — this is a critical year in his time with the Lakers — and, of course, nobody is taking the ball out of LeBron’s hands.

“My thing is offensively, we want to play fast, want to be physical and play free. And fast meaning our running habits, getting AD on that left block, getting Bron around the elbow area,” Ham said. “There’s a variety of sets that we have planned to install that’s going to highlight their strengths, get Russ in post more.”

Westbrook said all the right things about fitting in. Again.

“I’ll continue doing what’s best for the team doing whatever that is asked of me,” Westbrook said. “I’ll continue doing that. And in those parameters I’ll be the best person I could possibly be.”

Westbrook said all the right things a year ago to LeBron and Davis, then his fit with the Lakers was never smooth last season. Will it really change this season? To quote Ham, “we’ll see.”

Each of the Lakers big three talked about just needing more time together healthy (for the record, the Lakers had a -3 net rating last season when all three shared the court). They jumpstarted the process this summer with conversations, but they all said it was just a matter of time.

“With all of us you know our time on the floor together was very limited because of injuries for myself and Bron but I think that was that was really it,” Davis said. “We just didn’t have enough reps.”

Injuries have been an issue. Davis spent the summer getting healthy and stronger, trying to be on the court more and carry a larger load. LeBron echoed that idea.

“The focus of my game is being available…” LeBron said. “Availability is the most important thing in his league and to be able to be available on the floor.”

Ham’s media day message was not a new one, it’s what he’s been saying — defense, accountability, a team mindset. The question, looking back to last season, is fit. Ham has talked to Westbrook about those things and has been the guard’s most vocal supporter. Russ is going to get his chance.

“Everything has been about you know, being selfless, being team-oriented, having a defensive mindset and holding [Westbrook] to that — words that came out of his own mouth,” Ham said.

Roster changes could come in Los Angeles. They didn’t this summer — at least with the core players — because GM Rob Pelinka would not send out both picks the Lakers can trade (2027 and 2029) for any deal that didn’t make Los Angeles a contender. Asked bout that, Pelinka noted he gets one swing at this and it has to be a home run.

“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it,” Pelinka said. “So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

In the short term, that improvement falls to Ham and the Lakers roster. They are saying all the right things about looking forward.

But will the ghosts of seasons past haunt them again? We’ll see.

Wolves’ Edwards ‘willing to do whatever it takes to make it right’ after homophobic post

2022 NBA Playoffs - Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Anthony Edwards said he’s “willing to do whatever it takes to make it right” with the LBGTQ community and Minnesota Timberwolves fans following the homophobic remarks he recently made on social media.

Addressing reporters at Timberwolves media day on Monday, his first public appearance since the NBA fined him $40,000 for his now-deleted video clip on Instagram, Edwards apologized again for the disparaging, profane comment he made about what he assumed to be the sexual orientation of a group of men he filmed on a sidewalk outside a vehicle he was riding in.

“Man, I respect everybody. I know what I posted was immature, and I’m sorry for that if I hurt anyone,” Edwards said. “I’m working to be better.”

Edwards said he would be OK having a gay teammate if someone came out and would try to clamp down on homophobic language in a locker room if he heard it.

“For sure. I’m taking it as far as I can. That’s not who I am,” Edwards said.

After ranking 19th in the league with an average of 21.3 points per game last season and helping lead the Timberwolves back to the playoffs, Edwards in his second year flourished into a true star and fan favorite who consistently brought a youthful energy and a charming confidence to the court and off of it.

Following the trouble he stirred up earlier this month, Edwards found himself in the strange and sudden position of being an unpopular figure.

“It’s kind of messed up, because I want people to love me, man. I don’t want to give nobody a reason to hate me or talk bad about me, so I felt bad for myself and for what I said about people for sure,” said the 21-year-old Edwards, who was the first overall pick in the 2020 draft.

Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly and coach Chris Finch both had stern conversations with Edwards after the social media post.

“It just makes me think before I do everything now, pretty much,” Edwards said.

Said Connelly: “He’s disappointed in his own actions. He’s disappointed that he put himself in that position, and hopefully he’ll continue to grow and we’ll continue to educate these guys on the importance of being really positive community members and respectful of all people that we’re lucky enough to have in our community.”

BONJOUR, RUDY

Media day for the Timberwolves has often been accompanied by some kind of off-the-court distraction, with the sudden firing of president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas (2021) and the trade demand made by star Jimmy Butler (2018) the most recent examples.

This time, the Edwards situation overshadowed some of the arrival of Rudy Gobert, the veteran center and defensive ace who was acquired this summer from the Utah Jazz for four players and five first-round draft picks.

Gobert recently returned from the EuroBasket championship, where his France national team lost to host Spain in the gold medal game in which he had only six points and two shots.

“You learn from the losses. You learn from the wins. For me, just learn how to finish the job. We had a really good tournament, but we fell short at the end,” Gobert said.

PATIENT RUSSELL

Playing this season on a salary of more than $31 million, point guard D'Angelo Russell has returned to training camp with an upbeat attitude, a new pick-and-roll partner in Gobert – and as a new dad.

After an up-and-down season, and a first-round series against the Memphis Grizzlies – a six-game loss – that left much to be desired, Russell did not receive a contract extension. But the eighth-year veteran didn’t get traded, either.

“The money’s in free agency, so if that’s what you’re about, tap into it. No frustration,” he said. “The organization has treated me as great as it could possibly go, and the people here now have obviously showed their love toward me and how much they want me to be here. That’s all I can ask for.”

MISSING TOWNS

Karl-Anthony Towns was absent from media day with an unspecified illness, but he was not expected to miss the first practice on Tuesday.

NBA Media Day roundup: Zion looking fit, Ayton sounding reserved, more

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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Most of the NBA conducted media day on Monday — some moments turned our head.

Here’s what you need to know from media day around the league — just the highlights. This does not include anything on the Nets — there’s a separate story on them — or the Lakers (there will be a story Tuesday morning out of Lakers’ media day).

• The reports of Zion Williamson being in the best shape of his career appear to be true. HoodieBev has the recipts.

We’ll see if this translates to the court — there’s a lot of pressure on him — but Zion looks like he’s put in the work.

• Speaking of players who looked in better shape, James Harden looked slimmed down. He joked he lost 100 pounds, but he also talked about his diet and exercise regimen.

Deandre Ayton got a four-year, $132.9 million contract extension this summer, but not because the Suns were handing it out. Ayton had to get the Pacers to make the offer (which is why he doesn’t have a five-year deal) and then the Suns matched it. Ayton is a guy with a usually upbeat personality, but when asked about his new contract, it was a short answer and a low-key tone.

Coach Monty Williams and All-Star Devin Booker both talked about how they expect Ayton to use the contract as motivation and come out with a monster season. We’ll be watching.

• The Suns’ players and coach had to all answer the “what did you think of the Robert Sarver investigation report?” question, and the answers were unanimous — they were disgusted, saddened, and felt for those (especially the women) who had to deal with his behavior. They also to a man said they had no idea (which, at least before the original ESPN report, may have been true; how he acted around players and those on the business side appears to be different).

• All the Celtics were asked about their former coach Ime Udoka’s season-long suspension, and Marcus Smart summed up the sentiments well — “it’s been hell.” They were caught off guard like much of the NBA was. That said, to a man, they backed interim coach Joe Mazzulla.

• With P.J. Tucker out in Miami there has been a lot of talk about Jimmy Butler playing the four, especially to close games. Butler himself shot that down, saying he is not a four.

The Heat continue to look for a trade for a four, but may not have one to start the season.

• At his end-of-season media session last May, Pat Riley said Kyle Lowry needed to show up in better shape this season. It appears Lowry did, but did it motivate him? “It’s whatever… everyone has their opinion.”

• It’s not media day unless Kawhi Leonard is laughing.

As for Leonard and load management this season, coach Tyronne Lue said he would play it by ear. But also, expect some.

 

Report: Heat, Celtics, Mavericks, Grizzlies may show interest in Crowder trade

2022 NBA Playoffs - 	Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns
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The Phoenix Suns had media day on Monday, but veteran Jae Crowder was not there, part of a mutual agreement with the team to sit out until a trade could be found. It left players and GM James Jones addressing the issue.

What teams are interested in Crowder? Shams Charania of The Athletic says to watch for the Heat, Celtics, Mavericks and Grizzlies among others.

Miami has been at the front of the line in terms of interest (and Crowder has suggested online he would welcome a return to Miami). The Heat have minutes to fill at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly and Crowder — who was on the Heat team that went to the bubble Finals against the Lakers — would be a solid fit. Putting together a trade is a little more tricky. The Heat would likely want Duncan Robinson at the core of the deal, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig — and that means the Heat have to throw in a pick (a protected first) or a minimum-contract player (Gabe Vincent?) to make the deal work. Not impossible, but not likely.

The Celtics need depth at the four but what they can offer is bench minutes, filling Danilo Gallinari‘s role (he is out for the season with a torn ACL) but putting together a trade is next to impossible financially considering who Boston would be willing to give up (not Robert Williams). Dallas could put together a deal if the Suns are interested in Dwight Powell (probably not, the Suns just paid Deandre Ayton a lot of money to be their center) or Reggie Bullock. Memphis could send out the dead money of the Danny Green contract (out for the season due to injury) and picks, or Ziaire Williamson and some minimum players (probably also with picks). Atlanta, Chicago and other destinations have come out in rumors.

As for why Crowder pushed for a trade, the man himself posted his own hype video on Instagram and Tweeted this.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the most heard speculation around the league as to the reason — the Suns were going to start Cameron Johnson at the four to have more shooting and Crowder wanted none of that — but the reason now is moot. Crowder will get traded.

The only questions are when and where.