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Minnesota owner says interim coach Ryan Saunders ‘has a good chance’ to get job full-time

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The Minnesota Timberwolves did not suddenly turn a corner after coach and GM Tom Thibodeau was let go midseason.

The Timberwolves have gone 10-12 under interim coach Ryan Saunders, although they have looked better in recent weeks. In their last 10 games the Timberwolves have a top-10 offense in the league, and since the All-Star break Karl-Anthony Towns put up big numbers until a car accident sidelined him. All of that is not enough to get Minnesota in the playoffs this year, but there is some reason for optimism going forward.

Owner Glen Taylor likes what he’s seen out of Saunders and thinks the youngest coach in the NBA could keep his job after the season. Here is what Taylor told Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune.

“I think he has a good chance [to get the job full-time],” Taylor said. “It’s like everything, we’re going to wait until we play out these last 20-some games and I think we’ll know and he’ll know at that time if it works out. But he is off to a good start.

“I would just say I really like him as a person. I have known him since he was a young man, and I am really pleased with how he is starting out coaching this team.”

To me, it’s been challenging to judge just how good a job Saunders is doing. There isn’t enough hard evidence to swing a job review one way or the other yet.

It’s always difficult to judge an interim coach because there are only so many changes one can make midseason. In Minnesota’s case, you need to throw in a rash of injuries that muddy the picture —  Robert Covington, Tyus Jones, Jeff Teague, and Derrick Rose have all missed time for Saunders, and now Towns is in that mix as well. On the upside, players seem to play hard for him, but the team isn’t winning at a different pace than it did for Thibodeau. Towns had a good stretch of games (before the concussion). Andrew Wiggins has been up-and-down for Saunders, but he is up and down for everyone, that’s just Wiggins.

The other big question in all this: Who will be the general manager next season? Scott Layden is in that role now and there have not been rumblings of the Timberwolves contacting other teams to talk about potential candidates. Layden may keep the job, but whoever is in that chair should get to choose their coach.

Saunders may get to keep the job because the owner really likes him “as a person.” It’s just hard to tell if that will be the best thing for Minnesota going forward.

Sixth Man of the Year predictions: Sweet Lou Williams for three, or new blood?

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With the start of the NBA season just more than a week away — it’s predictions time. We’ll be covering most of the postseason awards between now and the opening tip of the NBA season.

As a disclaimer, we get it: making NBA preseason awards predictions is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. We’ll be wrong. But it’s fun, so the NBA staff here at NBC is making our picks. Today…

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin Spencer Dinwiddie (Brooklyn Nets). It’s hard to go against the duo with the Los Angeles Clippers — Lou and Trezl rum the smoothest, sweetest pick-and-roll in the league — but this is the year Dinwiddie gets it done. He was absolutely in the mix for Sixth Man through the first half of last season, until he needed thumb surgery and came back not quite as efficient. Before the injury, he averaged 17.2 points per game, had a 59.8 true shooting percentage, and was a key part of the Nets push to the playoffs. He’s a tall guard at 6’6″ but has the quickness to blow by people and get to the rim, and he plays with a confidence that stands out on the Nets second unit. Dinwiddie will come off the bench behind Kyrie Iriving and when the drop off isn’t that steep people will notice.

Dan Feldman: Lou Williams (Los Angeles Clippers). Last year’s winner (both deserved and in actuality), Williams has name recognition for this award. He has won Sixth Man of the Year three times, tying a record with Jamal Crawford. With Kawhi Leonard‘s and Paul George‘s health issues and pedestrian playmaking relative to their other supreme skills, the Clippers might once again lean heavily on Williams’ scoring off the bench — especially in the regular season, when these awards are decided.

Dane Delgado: Lou Williams (Los Angeles Clippers). You wouldn’t be wrong if you thought that the addition of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers would make it harder for Lou Williams to win a fourth Sixth Man of the Year award in 2019-20. The team in L.A will be much better, and so it might be harder for Williams to win the award based off of the performance of his superstar teammates. But the Clippers will need to use load management throughout the entirety of the regular season, and so smart NBA fans will take note of just how important Williams will be to a hopeful championship run for the Clippers this season. That could be the thing that puts Williams over the edge, and past Jamal Crawford for most 6MOY wins. If the Clippers are clearly reliant on Williams when both Leonard and George are resting, that will only boost his profile this season.

Rockets focused on basketball after fallout from Daryl Morey’s tweet

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HOUSTON (AP) The Rockets are back home in Houston, looking to leave behind the distractions from their trip to Asia.

Their two games in Japan were overshadowed by the aftermath of a tweet by general manager Daryl Morey in support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, angering fans and officials in China.

In their first practice since returning, the Rockets insisted they wouldn’t let the fallout distract them from preparing from the season.

“Guys can handle it,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We still got good work in. Everything’s fine, but you know what happened (is) regrettable, and it happened, but as I said, our work will get done.”

Veteran P.J. Tucker denied that dealing with this situation has been a distraction to this team trying to contend for its first title since winning back-to-back championships in 1994-95.

“Not really, honestly,” he said. “This time of season, everybody’s getting in shape, getting ready for the season, focusing in. So with all of the things that go on in life, and whatever, this is still our job, so we still come in and do our job every single day.”

The Rockets were in Hawaii on Oct. 4 to play a preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers on the first leg of a trip that included two games in Japan when Morey tweeted an image that said: “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong.” His tweet was in reference to pro-democracy demonstrations in the semiautonomous Chinese territory that has been mired in escalating violence between protesters and law enforcement.

The tweet was deleted soon after it was posted, and Rockets owner and billionaire casino and restaurant owner Tilman Fertitta quickly rebuked his GM with a tweet saying that Morey does not speak for the team. He added: “Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization.”

Despite the swift response from Fertitta, the damage was already done. Former Rockets star Yao Ming took offense to Morey’s support for the anti-government protesters and as president of the Chinese Basketball Association, suspended its ties to the Rockets over the tweet.

Events in China promoting the Lakers-Nets series were canceled, NBA media partner Tencent said it was evaluating its plans to cover the league, and China state broadcaster CCTV did not air either preseason game.

The tweet also caused some Chinese corporations to suspend relationships with the NBA and it is unclear what can be done to mend the relationship.

D’Antoni was asked if there is anything the coaches and players can do to help repair things with China.

“We’ve just got to keep playing and keep trying to be good ambassadors for the game, that’s all the players can do,” he said. “And then we’ll let the NBA and the Houston Rockets sort things out.”

Morey hasn’t spoken publicly since the tweet, with his only comments on the issue coming in two more tweets on Oct. 6. In those tweets he did not apologize for his initial tweet but did say that his tweets “in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver backed Morey’s right to express his opinion and said: “We are not apologizing for Daryl exercising his freedom of expression.”

Morey was at the Toyota Center on Sunday but did not speak to reporters and was not at the small portion of practice that media was permitted to attend. While Morey stayed out of the spotlight it was up to the players and D’Antoni to address how the Rockets can move past what happened.

James Harden understands that as the face of the team, people want him to be a spokesman for the Rockets in all issues, but right now he wants to keep his comments on basketball.

“We’ve just been focusing on us and getting better,” he said. “Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. We focus on what we can control in this locker room … we had an unbelievable road trip, a great experience in those cities, and now we’re back and just trying to get better.”

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AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.

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More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tacko Fall reportedly earns two-way contract with Celtics

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Internet goobers can now rejoice, Tacko Fall will be joining Boston Celtics on a two-way contract this season.

The 7-foot-6 Fall, who played college ball at USF, has quickly become an internet darling based on his sheer size. His lanky frame and ability to shoot the 3-pointer hasn’t hurt Fall’s reputation as a fan favorite, either.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Fall will be signed to a two-way contract but is expected to spend most of his time in the NBA G-League.

Via Twitter:

Who knows if Fall will spend how much time with the Celtics this season. It’s not clear whether he’s actually ready for an NBA role just yet, particularly for a team in Boston that is looking to take over the Eastern Conference in the absence of Kawhi Leonard with the Toronto Raptors.

The Celtics are looking to make an NBA Finals run in 2020, and PFallaul will be an unlikely candidate to play a factor in that goal. Still, it’s a fun story and great to see a fan-favorite make it through and earn a contract.

Jayson Tatum doesn’t think Kobe Bryant taught him any bad habits

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There have been a lot of jokes about how Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum worked with Kobe Bryant two summers ago, and how that may have affected his performance in 2018-19. Tatum increased his shooting in segments between three and 16 feet by a combined 8% last season over his rookie year. Those midrange shots were largely attributed to Bryant’s influence by the social media sphere.

This regression went so far that Tim Bontemps recently wrote a story at ESPN about trying to de-Kobe-ify Tatum this year in Boston. But Tatum has heard those rumors, and he doesn’t believe that Bryant gave him any bad habits. To that end, Tatum said he’s still going to shoot the midrange jumper and he’s not putting Kobe at fault for his lack of progression last year.

Tatum’s comments were… well, just read them below.

Via MassLive:

“I’m still going to shoot the mid-range,” Tatum said after the Boston Celtics blowout of the Orlando Magic. “I seen all the people talking about the de-Kobe-ing. No, Kobe didn’t teach me anything bad. Everything we talked about and he showed me was great.”

“Last year, the jump that I didn’t make that everybody expected was not his fault,” Tatum said. “He’s one of the greatest ever. Everything he taught me was — I’m very grateful and it helped me. I gotta take responsibility for how I played last year and not being that big a jump that people thought. I’m still going to shoot mid-range.”

“I got better last year. Just not what people expected, not what I expected, and I take full responsibility,” Tatum said. “That’s why I’m excited for this year. But Kobe didn’t teach me any bad habits. I didn’t say that.”

Tatum’s problem wasn’t just his shot distribution, it was his shot selection. Not only did he shoot more buckets from three to 16 feet, but Tatum performed significantly worse from 16 feet out to the 3-point line, where he dipped by seven percentage points. He also saw a six percent drop in his 3-point shooting.

Combined with his shot distribution, Tatum’s percentages dropping in key areas made him a much less effective offensive player. Then again, if you watched any of the Celtics the last year — or paid attention to Boston pans online — you would know that they were fed up with some of the forced, Kobe-ish buckets Tatum would take at inopportune moments.

Even if Tatum ends up being a very good midrange shooter, that would cap his potential at DeMar DeRozan. That’s not what Danny Ainge and Boston are looking for, so perhaps someone can talk some sense into Tatum before it’s too late.

Leave it up to a former Laker to ruin the Celtics from within.