Young Timberwolves have their coming-out party in W over GSW

1 Comment

Shaquille O’Neal was holding court at a press event during All-Star weekend, offering his analysis and opinions about all things NBA, when he was asked about Karl-Anthony Towns, the superb rookie of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“Don’t nobody watch Minnesota,” O’Neal bellowed with a playfully dismissive chuckle, reaching for an imaginary remote control. “I see the Timberwolves on TV and … click.”

Maybe it’s time to change the channel again. O’Neal was among the many watching Tuesday night when the young Timberwolves stunned the history-chasing Golden State Warriors at home with a 124-117 overtime win.

The performance took a message the Timberwolves have been saying locally for two months – that a downtrodden franchise is turning the corner on the backs of the best compilation of young talent in the league – and blared it through the megaphone of a nationally televised triumph over the defending champions that dealt a blow to Golden State’s pursuit of the NBA’s single-season wins record.

“Like I told our guys before the game, very few opportunities do you get the chance, when you’re not a playoff team, to do something special,” Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said. “And I thought tonight, against this team, with this crowd in this arena, just proud of our guys.”

It was just the sixth national TV game of the season for Minnesota, one of the worst teams in the Western Conference. Playing in a small market and wearing a name on their chests that has been synonymous with failure for more than a decade, it was easy to see why so many have been slow to notice what is building.

In Andrew Wiggins and Towns, the Wolves have the last two No. 1 overall draft picks, both of whom have shown signs of being able to carry a franchise. They also have second-year guard Zach LaVine, who has won two straight slam dunk titles and solidified himself as a starting-caliber shooting guard in his second season.

Point guard Ricky Rubio is playing the best basketball of his five-year career and Gorgui Dieng has blossomed alongside Towns in the frontcourt.

“The talent they have is foundational,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said in March when Golden State escaped Minnesota with a five-point win. “Sometimes you have some good, young players you can’t figure out what you’re going to do with them all. With this group, the pieces fit. Keep them together, let them grow.”

The Wolves have four players 21 or younger – Wiggins (20.8 points per game), Towns (18.2), LaVine (13.9) and Tyus Jones (4.2) – accounting for 54.4 points and 101.1 minutes per game. Those numbers dwarf any other group of similarly aged players on one team in NBA history and there have certainly been growing pains.

The Wolves went through a miserable stretch from late December into mid-January, losing 14 of 15 games as they struggled to balance youthful energy and inexperience while also playing veterans like Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince and Kevin Martin.

At the All-Star break, the Wolves turned the team over to the pups. The new starting lineup of Rubio, LaVine, Wiggins, Towns and Dieng is 10-13.

The group has struggled mightily on defense, and there has been inconsistency while they learn how to play together. But there are also nights like Tuesday in Oakland, when Wiggins, Towns and Shabazz Muhammad helped Minnesota outscore Golden State 52-33 over the final 18 minutes of the game and snap the Warriors’ 114-game win streak when they held a lead of 15 points or more.

There is still a lot of work to be done. The bench needs serious help, owner Glen Taylor has to decide on Mitchell’s future and the young players have to figure out how to play consistently. The league’s longest-running playoff drought will reach 12 years this season.

But the core is in place. That much was clear on Tuesday night.

“It means a lot to us,” Wiggins said. “It’s a process. It’s not just one game for us. This game is leading into the future, leads into all the games next year. It’s a big game for us because they didn’t lay down. They were up 15, they were up 17, and we kept fighting. They’re playing for history and we’re just trying to get in the way of it.”

Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:

Damian Lillard says Trail Blazers shut him down, talks loyalty to Portland


Players feel the wrath of fans for load management in the NBA, but more often than not it’s a team’s medical and training staff — driven by analytics and the use of wearable sensors — that sit a player. Guys don’t get to the NBA not wanting to compete.

Case in point, Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers have shut him down for the rest of the season, but he told Dan Patrick on the Dan Patrick Show that it was a team call, not his.

“I wouldn’t say it’s my decision at all. I think maybe the team protecting me from myself… Every time that I’ve had some type injury like that kind of get irritated or aggravated or something like that, it’s come from just like a heavy load, and stress, and just, you know, going out there and trying to go above and beyond. So, you know, I would say just; there is something there, and also them just trying to protect me from myself as well.”

Maybe it’s a little about protecting Lillard at age 32 — who played at an All-NBA level this season — but it’s more about lottery odds.

Portland and Orlando are tied for the league’s fifth and sixth-worst records. The team with the fifth worst record has a 10.5% chance at the No.1 pick, the sixth worst is 9%. More than that, the fifth-worst record has a 42% chance of moving up into the top four at the draft lottery, for the sixth seed that is 37.2%. Not a huge bump in the odds, but the chances are still better for the fifth seed than the sixth, so the Trail Blazers as an organization are going for it.

Lillard also talked about his loyalty to Portland, which is partly tied to how he wants to win a ring — the way Dirk Nowitzki and Giannis Antetokounmpo did, with the team and city that drafted them.

“I just have a way that I want to get things done for myself… I just have my stance on what I want to see happen, but in this business, you just never know.”

Other teams are watching Lillard, but they have seen this movie before. Nothing will happen until Lillard asks for a trade and he has yet to show any inclination to do so.

But he’s got time to think about everything as he is not taking the court again this season.

Seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge officially retires

Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

LaMarcus Aldridge retired once due to a heart condition (Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome), back in 2021. That time it didn’t take, he came back to the then-a-super-team Nets and showed there was something in the tank averaging 12.9 points (on 55% shooting), 5.5 rebounds and a block a game. However, the Nets did not bring him back this season (leaning into Nic Claxton) and no other offers were forthcoming.

Friday, Aldridge made it official and retired.

Aldridge had a career that will earn him Hall of Fame consideration: 19.1 points a game over 16 seasons, five-time All-NBA, seven-time All-Star, and one of the faces of the Portland Trail Blazers during his prime years in the Pacific Northwest. Teammates and former coaches (including Gregg Popovich in San Antonio) called him a consummate professional after his initial retirement.

This time Aldridge got to announce his retirement on his terms, which is about as good an exit as there is.



Report: NBA minimum draft age will not change in new CBA, one-and-done remains


While the NBA — representing the owners — and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) continue last-minute negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) before an opt-out deadline Friday night at midnight, one point of contention is off the table:

The NBA draft age will not change in the new CBA, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. The NBA one-and-done rule will remain in place.

The NBA one-and-done rule is unpopular with fans and college coaches (and, of course, players coming up). NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had worked to eliminate that restriction saying it was unfair, but he could not get it done.

There wasn’t much motivation from either side to make a move. From the players’ union perspective, lowering the draft eligibility age to 18 would bring more young players in to develop in the league and take away roster spots from veterans (and the union is made up of those veterans, not undrafted players). The union has suggested ways to keep veterans on the roster (possibly a roster expansion) as mentors, but a deal could not be reached. As for the teams, plenty of GMs would prefer an extra year to evaluate players, especially with them going up against better competition in college/G-League/Overtime Elite/overseas.

There are other impediments to a CBA deal, such as the details around a mid-season NBA tournament, the configuration of the luxury tax, veteran contract extension language, a games-played minimum to qualify for the league’s end-of-season awards.

If the sides do not reach a deal by midnight, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would likely opt out of the current CBA, meaning it would end on June 30. The two sides would have until then to reach a deal on a new CBA to avoid a lockout (although they could go into September before it starts to mess with the NBA regular season calendar and not just Summer League).


Timberwolves big man Naz Reid out indefinitely with fractured wrist

Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

UPDATE: Naz Reid had surgery on that fractured wrist and will be out six weeks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That means he is not only out for the rest of the regular season but likely the first couple of rounds of the playoffs, if the Timberwolves can make it that far.


This sucks for a Timberwolves team finding its groove.

Part of that groove was the offensive spark of big man Naz Ried off the bench, but now he will be out indefinitely with a fractured wrist, the Timberwolves announced. From the official release:

An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) taken yesterday at Mayo Clinic Square by Dr. Kelechi Okoroha on Reid revealed a left scaphoid fracture. He will be out indefinitely and further updates on his progress will be provided when available.

A scaphoid fracture involves one of the small bones at the base of the hand that connects the wrist and fingers. Reid injured his hand on this dunk attempt against the Suns, he instinctively used his left hand to help break the fall and it took the weight of the landing.

Impressively, and despite being in pain, Reid played through the injury.

Reid developed into the sixth man, spark plug roll for the Timberwolves behind starters Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns. In his last five games, Reid averaged 18.8 points on 59.1% shooting (including 45% from 3 on four attempts a night) and grabbed 5.2 rebounds in his 22 minutes.

Reid is a free agent this offseason. The Timberwolves want to keep him and have had talks with him, but he will have plenty of suitors.

His loss will be a blow to Minnesota, especially heading into crucial games down the stretch — starting with the Lakers Friday night (a team Reid had some big games against) — and into the postseason. Expect coach Chris Finch to stagger Towns and Gobert a little more, and he can turn to Nate Knight or Luka Garza off the bench, but their role would be limited (especially come the playoffs).