LOS ANGELES (AP) — As the losses keep piling up for the young Minnesota Timberwolves and the scrutiny increases on interim coach Sam Mitchell, franchise star Kevin Garnett is throwing his support behind his longtime friend.
Garnett approached reporters at shootaround before the Timberwolves played the Lakers in Los Angeles on Tuesday night and offered his endorsement of Mitchell as the right coach to lead the building process around 20-year-olds Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.
“I feel real good about the progression of this team since Day 1 and I think it needs to be said and needs to be understood that I’m endorsing Sam Mitchell and our coaching staff and this organization,” Garnett said. “More importantly, I’m excited about our future. I’m excited about our young players.
“I feel like we’re getting better. These last probably 10, 15 games, we’ve gotten better. You see it. And I think that needs to be said. I think you all need to understand we’re supportive around here.”
The Timberwolves were the early surprise of the league thanks to an 8-8 start that included two victories over Atlanta and road wins at Miami and Chicago. But they are 6-27 since then, a worse mark during that span than the Philadelphia 76ers.
Garnett has missed five straight games with a leg injury.
Mitchell, who assumed the position of head coach when Flip Saunders died suddenly just days before the season opener, has dealt with criticism for the lack of winning and constantly preached patience for the process.
Garnett was asked about Mitchell’s ability to lead the team 10 days ago, but declined to answer. He often swipes aside questions he perceives as negative in nature, but his unwillingness to publicly back the man he has called a friend since he was a rookie in 1995 didn’t help the coach’s cause.
Garnett removed all ambiguity about his feelings on Tuesday.
“I want you guys to understand that not only do I endorse Sam Mitchell, but the other players do, too,” Garnett said. “We believe not only in him, but the system and what we’re trying to do here. I think everybody needs to understand that. The transformation and what we’re trying to do here is build something for the future and these are the first steps of that.”
The Associated Press reported last week that nearly half of the roster privately had some concerns about Mitchell’s offensive system and his lack of personal accountability in the team’s struggles. Owner Glen Taylor told The AP that he is remaining patient and would wait until the end of the season before evaluating Mitchell’s job performance.
The Wolves have played a more up-tempo style in the last two weeks and have done a better job of sharing the ball, though it has yet to translate into wins. Garnett said the ball movement and energy he sees from the team during games and practices leads him to believe that Mitchell has them on the right path.
“That means players are understanding not only the system that’s in place, but they’re understanding ball movement and sharing the ball. That alone forms chemistry,” Garnett said. “Guys give themselves on defense. Talking.
“We’re communicating with each other on and off the court. We’ve been doing a lot of hanging. We did movies one day, we did turkey burgers another day. Those are the things that build character and build chemistry throughout the team and those are the things of which I speak.”