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‘New captain’ Ryan Saunders has Minnesota players’ trust in interim role

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MINNEAPOLIS — Ryan Saunders has always had basketball in his blood, the consummate coach’s son who as a kid would sometimes doze off on the couch after joining dad for a late-night review of game film.

Roughly three years after the death of his father, Flip Saunders, the 32-year-old Ryan Saunders has assumed the job in Minnesota he’s been aiming for all along, albeit earlier and more abruptly than ever expected.

“He is very capable of doing this job. We all have a lot of confidence in him,” Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “We’re ready to follow him. He’s our new captain.”

Appointed interim coach of Minnesota on Sunday after Tom Thibodeau was fired halfway through his third season, Saunders ran practice for the first time on Monday before the team took off for a game at Oklahoma City on Tuesday.

“You never know if you’re ready until you’re in the situation,” Saunders said, “but I have great support.”

His dad, by far the winningest coach in Timberwolves history, would of course be proud. His mom stopped by his house for a congratulatory hug after the change was made.

Team owner Glen Taylor has long been an admirer of the Saunders family. Several Timberwolves players attended the coach’s wedding. Simply put: There’s hardly a member of the Timberwolves organization who carries more respect than Ryan Saunders.

“He’s the only coach that’s been here since my rookie year,” said shooting guard Andrew Wiggins, who was acquired by Flip Saunders in his role as executive of the roster in a trade before the 2014-15 season. “There’s been a lot of changes, but I trust him. I have a good relationship with him. I think he’s going to do a great job, especially because you can talk to him. He’s not too much older than me, so I think we’re going to go in the right direction.”

Thibodeau was picked for his experience with winning teams and his acumen as a defensive whiz, hired to use his demanding, detailed style to bring out the best in franchise cornerstones Wiggins and Towns. Though the Timberwolves ended their 13-year absence from the playoffs last spring, they’ve by and large underachieved since Thibodeau, who is 60, took over.

Saunders is younger than three of his players, and he appeared a bit nervous but handled his first news conference smoothly while surrounded by a horde of reporters and cameras on the team’s practice court. He was quick to compliment Thibodeau and careful not to make any proclamations about how the team might look different under his guidance.

“I’ve got a lot of ideas, but you’ve got to see what’s best for the team,” Saunders said.

He’s got a 42-game audition before the organization must decide who the next coach will be. Former Timberwolves player and assistant general manager Fred Hoiberg, who replaced Thibodeau in Chicago, will be available, having been fired last month. Every candidate for the job, certainly, will offer more experience than Saunders, who spent five seasons as an assistant coach with Washington before coming to Minnesota.

“If you look at something as a trial, I think that’s when you start putting pressure on yourself or other people that just isn’t there,” Saunders said.

Thibodeau, who was one game short of the exact midpoint of his five-year contract that’s worth about $40 million, was frequently booed during introductions at Target Center, where the Wolves are next-to-last in the league with an average of 14,765 tickets distributed per game. When the team returns home to play Dallas on Friday, the public address announcement of Saunders is sure to receive a rousing cheer.

“I’m excited to see what he’ll do, because he’s a very enthusiastic coach and he’s a very good communicator,” said general manager Scott Layden, who was hired by Thibodeau, also the president of basketball operations, and faces an uncertain future with the club.

The same can be said for Derrick Rose, who flourished in Chicago under Thibodeau and had his career waylaid by a bad knee until his former coach forged a reunion last year in Minnesota. Though he will miss his sixth straight game with an ankle injury on Tuesday, Rose has hit the 25-point mark eight times to reach his highest scoring average (18.9 points per game) since the 2011-12 season, the year after he won the NBA MVP award.

Rose said he was shocked and hurt by the dismissal, but also insisted the change wouldn’t hinder his resurgence.

“He jump-started my career again and for that, I’ll always be thankful. But everybody that thinks that it’s going to stop, kill yourself. It’s just not,” Rose said. He later apologized on Twitter for the insensitivity of his remark.

The pace of the offense in practice Monday was faster, Rose said, hinting at one potential difference that could be on display. Towns, while crediting Thibodeau for pushing him to grow “into a better man,” spoke optimistically of having more of a voice in the on-court strategy and playing more of a “new-school NBA” style under Saunders.

“Thibs has been in the game for a long time. His style was his style. We know what it was. We are going to have a little more change to our game,” Towns said.

 

Nets GM Sean Marks gets suspended for going into ref’s locker room after Game 4

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Emotions are high as the playoffs move into the second week. Things got a little testy between the Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night as Jared Dudley got in the face of Joel Embiid after the Sixers big man committed a hard foul on Jared Allen.

That caused Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler to respond to Dudley, who overreacted to a good, hard playoff foul by Embiid. The result of the fracas was an ejection for Butler and Dudley, and a flagrant 1 on embiid.

But apparently that’s not the end of the disciplinary process for the NBA.

Nets general manager Sean Marks went into the officials locker room after the game — no doubt to discuss what happened here — which is a big problem in the eyes of the league.

According to a release by the NBA, Marks has been suspended for one game without pay and has been fined $25,000.

Marks will be suspended for Game 5 between these two teams on April 23rd.

The playoffs are high-stakes, but Embiid blocking the crap out of somebody shouldn’t result in someone going crazy like Dudley did.

Philadelphia beat the Nets, 112-108.

Everyone’s hero is dad who pulls son away from Nets/76ers fracas (VIDEO)

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Fathers everywhere can relate to this one.

You set up a bonding experience with your son or daughter, one you hope will leave an impression on them and create a memory that will last a lifetime… for example, you get courtside seats, just behind the basket, for one of the first NBA playoff games in Brooklyn, ever.

Then everything hits the fan.

Joel Embiid commits a flagrant foul on Jarrett Allen, Jared Dudley rushes in and shoves Embiid to stand up for his teammate, Jimmy Butler runs in to shove Dudley on the same premise, and suddenly there is a wave of large professional athletes about to trample you and your son. So, you grab him, move onto the court, and get out of the way.

There were two fathers with the same thought, one on either side of the fracas that spills into the first row.

Well done Dads. Well done, indeed.

Andrew Bogut says he plans to return to Australian league next season

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Unable to find a new NBA contract for this season, Andrew Bogut went home. The Australia native signed to play for the Sydney Kings in Australia’s NBL, where Bogut ended up being the league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, leading the Kings on a deep playoff run.

When that run ended, the Golden State Warriors came calling, asking him to fill a role — a role that got much larger after DeMarcus Cousins tore his quad. Bogut has played well for the Warriors in the postseason, and there is a good chance Cousins will not be back in Golden State (the Warriors can only offer him a small raise off what he made this season, that likely will not be enough, even after the injury), so the Warriors may try to retain Bogut for next season.

However, Bogut says he is returning to Australia. Speaking to Matt Logue from the Sunday Telegraph in Sydney, Bogut said he gave his word to the Kings he would return.

“The be all and end all is that I gave my word (to the Kings)… That is basically what it comes down to…

“Someone outside of the Warriors could offer me a deal that would be pretty lucrative and a decent one-year deal, but I’m sold and locked in on coming to the Sydney Kings again to try and better what we did last season.”

Saying you’ll walk away from a lot of money and actually doing it are two different things, but Bogut is a man who stands by his word. He probably returns to Sydney for next season.

When that season ends, however, don’t be shocked to see Bogut back somewhere in the NBA helping a team make a playoff run.

Joel Embiid calls Jared Dudley “a nobody” (but NBA Twitter shows Dudley love)

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Jared Dudley has been in the face of the Philadelphia 76ers all series.

He was the guy who said Ben Simmons was “average” in the halfcourt (which echoed every scouting report on Simmons ever), prompting Simmons to respond, “It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon.” The feud between the Sixers and Dudley was brewing.

Then came Sunday, when Dudley was ejected after coming to the defense of teammate Jarrett Allen, who had taken a hard foul from Joel Embiid. Dudley pushed Embiid, then Jimmy Butler pushed Dudley, then everybody got in a shoving match, and when the dust settled Dudley and Butler were ejected.

In his postgame interview after the Philly win, Embiid said Dudley was “a nobody.”

“First of all, he’s a nobody. And when opponents try to do stuff like that, that’s just to get us out of the game. Especially, I’m too valuable for my team. That’s why I didn’t react.”

That may be how the Sixers feel about Dudley at this point, but Nets fans and NBA Twitter loved the way Dudley stood up to Embiid and everyone else. This is just a taste.