Andrew Wiggins

Three Things to Know: Kneeling, LeBron game-winner, it’s good to have the NBA back

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The NBA is back, but with all the news coming out of the bubble there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out into the afternoon — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) The games started with players kneeling during the anthem…

NBA players went to Orlando saying they would not let the return of games become a distraction to the Black Lives Matter and social justice movements. They would keep the message in front of people.

They did that on opening night, kneeling during the national anthem before both games. Before the first game, Jazz and Pelicans players, wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts, locked arms and took a knee. It was a powerful moment.

The Lakers and Clippers did the same thing before their opening night game.

The team coaches and referees also kneeled.

“[We] played for something. We stood up for something. We kneeled for something,” the Clippers Paul George said after the game. “This league is all about unity. Can’t say it enough. I love being a part of it because of the brotherhood of this league. At the same time, we know that we can change things as well.”

“There’s been progress, but in the past when we’ve seen progress we’ve let our foot off the gas a little bit,” LeBron James said of social justice movements around the NBA (after hitting the game-winner against the Clippers). “We can’t do that. We want to continue to keep our foot on the gas, push forward, continue to spread love throughout America. We’re dealing with a lot of racism, a lot of social injustice, a lot of police brutality, not only in my neighborhoods, not only with Black people, but with people of color. It’s something we want to continue to have people’s ears open to. And we have ears now.”

More than just words, players are taking concrete steps big and small to further that cause. The NBA and players union are helping with that. It was a good look for everyone.

2) … Then the first game ended with everyone asking, “where is Zion?”

The Utah Jazz are a good team trying to find a rhythm, but the New Orleans Pelicans needed this game — they are the ones in a sprint to make the play-in game against Memphis. New Orleans simply cannot afford to lose winnable games, yet the Pelicans — who led 96-89 with 7:00 left — did just that. They blew another fourth-quarter lead, a season-long trend. This come-from-ahead loss was a punch to the gut.

In what had been a sloppy-at-times back-and-forth game, Rudy Gobert sank two free throws — giving him 14 points on the night — to put the Jazz up 106-104 with 6.9 seconds left. New Orleans had one last shot to force overtime, or maybe even get the win.

New Orleans needed its closer and, rookie or not, Zion Williamson is that guy. He had 13 points on the night in 15 minutes of action, seemed an obvious substitution here — New Orleans needed a bucket and the rookie gets buckets.

However, Zion reached his minutes limit (one coach Alvin Gentry refused to discuss pregame but owned up to after), and he wouldn’t put his rookie star in for that last play. For seven seconds.

Should Zion have been on the court?

Yes, for the final shot he should have been. Having Derrick Favors on the court instead allowed the Jazz to switch out and stop the original plan for the Pelicans’ final shot, a red-hot J.J. Redick coming off a triple pin down (although it was open enough, Ingram didn’t try to get him the ball). The backup plan was Brandon Ingram in isolation. He didn’t get off a bad shot, it just missed.

But the gravity of Zion in that setting might well have opened up something better. We’ll never know.

Overall this was a game where two teams played unimpressive defense. Both teams need to tighten up on that end if they are going to make any noise in Orlando.

Despite missing the game-winner, Brandon Ingram led the Pelicans with 23 points, but another impressive night from him caught the eye of Kevin Durant.

Utah got 23 points off the bench from Jordan Clarkson, plus 20 each from Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell.

Gobert scored the NBA’s first points in its return and had the game-winner at the end.

“Life works in mysterious ways,” Gobert said after the game.

3) Would the NBA be back without a LeBron James game-winner?

It just seemed scripted.

Paul George had tied the game with a three, and things were poised to go to overtime.

LeBron James just knows how to make plays when it matters — he missed his first attempt but followed up his own shot and his second attempt proved to be the game-winner in a dramatic 103-101 win. LeBron wasn’t done, made a great read and switch on the other end — the Clippers tried to run something similar to what got George a three, but LeBron read it and jumped out to blow it up — to preserve the win.

It was a perfect end for Lakers’ nation — and just NBA fans looking for drama. The league brought that opening night.

This game started out looking like a preseason game — 21 fouls in the first quarter while the teams combined to shoot 2-of-15 from three. Scott Foster wanted everyone to know he was there in the bubble. Both teams also struggled with turnovers. It wasn’t pretty but it was to be expected on the first real game after four months off.

With two top-five defenses, these Los Angeles showdowns turn into gritty, grinding games.

Davis said afterward he thrives in those kinds of games — and he did again. His 34 points came on 19 shots, but he got to the free-throw line 17 times. He was a beast on the defensive end as well. The Lakers also got 16 points from Kyle Kuzma and 11 on a strong night from Dion Waiters. The Lakers were +17 in the 21 minutes these two shared the court.

The Clippers got 30 points from Paul George, who looked healthy and rested, and 28 from Kawhi Leonard. The problem is the other Clippers shot 14-of-41 (34.2%). The Clippers missed having Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell coming off the bench to spark that unit, and without them the team’s execution was off all night. Doc Rivers can live with that, the Clipper games that matter against the Lakers will not come for more than a month.

Bonus Thing to Know: It’s official: Tom Thibodeau is the coach of the New York Knicks.

We’d known for five days — and, frankly, for a lot longer than that — Tom Thibodeau would be the next coach of the New York Knicks. Thursday, it became official.

And it’s a great story.

The Knicks got their man. Thibodeau is as good a coach as was available, someone capable of building a culture of hard work, player development (even if his record there is uneven), and personal responsibility — top to bottom — that the franchise needs.

But it means Thibodeau needs to make changes from what we have seen before. He has in the past run players into the ground with short rotations and heavy minutes for the few guys he trusts — in his last full season in Minnesota, both Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns were in the top 10 in total minutes played, and both played a full 82-games schedule. The Knicks have promising young players in Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett, but they shouldn’t be playing 38 minutes a night.

Beyond that, the Knicks front office needs to draft better, but then Thibodeau needs to trust his young players, let them play through some mistakes, and coach them up. He needs to show patience, something not considered a Thibodeau strength in the back. Thibs needs to hire development-minded assistant coaches and giving them room to operate (sources around the league have told NBC Sports Thibodeau likes to control everything, designing every practice and game plan, down to the writing on the whiteboard before games and more).

This is a good hire. It can work. But if both Thibodeau and the Knicks organization don’t evolve, it will just be more of the same in Madison Square Garden.

New York got its guy in Tom Thibodeau, but is he the right guy?

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As had seemed destined from the start, the New York Knicks landed their guy.

Tom Thibodeau will be the next coach in New York. It’s a big-name hire by a big-name franchise in search of a big-time turnaround — in the past 16 years, New York has made the playoffs just three times and won just one playoff series (and that was seven years ago).

But is Thibodeau the right hire?

Gregg Popovich thinks it is, telling the Associated Press:

“Tommy’s a seasoned veteran who it goes without saying understands what wins and what loses. He knows how to put a program together, create a culture and be demanding — and at the same time, make people accountable.”

Thibodeau is demanding, and he knows how to get wins, but the man has no chill — how hard pushes to get those wins has led to backlash and injuries in previous stops. Where Popovich has understood when to ease up on the throttle to preserve his teams — yet still get playoff wins — Thibodeau has not shown that deft touch.

Thibodeau’s marriage to the Knicks can succeed, but it’s going to take changes from both the Knicks organization and from Thibodeau himself.

EASE OFF THE THROTTLE

Thibodeau’s win-all-the-games coaching mentality has led to short rotations and heavy minutes for his stars. In his last full season in Minnesota, Thibs had both Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns in the top 10 in total minutes played, and both played a full 82-games schedule, there were no nights off. There are some around the league who look at the arc of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah‘s careers and wondered if load management would have changed things.

Wearing guys down is going to fly with the Knicks, a team looking to develop young players. Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett should get plenty of minutes — and plenty of rope to make mistakes and learn from them — but New York does not want to wear down its young stars. More than that, the Knicks should have a couple of good locker room veterans on the team as mentors, but Thibodeau can’t lean on those veterans to try and stockpile wins with a tight eight-man rotation.

The Knicks need to find and develop other young players (like the Nets did one borough over, giving Spencer Dinwiddie room to grow) and that comes with patience and using a deep bench.

Thibodeau spent his season away from coaching traveling the league, talking to other coaches and watching them work. He told  ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on The Woj Pod he learned a lot from Doc Rivers — the Clippers’ coach known for having the fewest practices in the league.

“But [Rivers] is the best at managing the day before, in between, they had that day off, but everybody came in. And their young guys really work, and the older guys were getting treatment and recovery. So understanding who your team is and what everyone needs.”

If Thibodeau has really learned that lesson, the Knicks will be in better shape.

KNICKS NEED TO DRAFT, FIND MORE TALENT

Talent wins in the NBA. Yes, coaching matters. Chemistry matters. Guys buying into the system matters. But at the end of the day, talent wins out.

The Knicks don’t have enough of it.

Robinson shows real promise. Barrett has potential but the raw counting stats he put up as a rookie hid some ugly basketball. Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina look like fringe rotation players, not key contributors. Julius Randle raises the floor of this team but is not considered part of the long-term plans at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks need a scouting department and front office that not only makes good calls when in the lottery, but also finds guys at the end of the first round or early in the second who can be developed in a couple of years into contributors. That is always a bit hit and miss, even with the best teams, but the best teams find guys. Right now Toronto is the gold standard of finding and developing players — Pascal Siakam was taken 27th, OG Anunoby was 23rd — and the Knicks need to move closer to that model.

THEN THIBODEAU NEEDS TO DEVELOP THEM

Tom Thibodeau has some development success in his past. Derrick Rose was the youngest MVP in league history under Thibs. He also helped turn Jimmy Butler (a No. 30 pick) into the player he is today. However, for the most part Thibodeau couldn’t be bothered with young players because they could not contribute in the short term to winning.

That has to change. It’s both a matter of mindset and of Thibodeau bringing in development-minded assistant coaches and giving them room to operate (sources around the league have told NBC Sports Thibodeau likes to control everything, designing every practice and game plan, down to the writing on the whiteboard before games and more).

Thibodeau needs to build a culture of player development in New York, something that has not existed there before.

It doesn’t mean the Knicks can’t take a swing at a big trade, something the franchise feels it is poised to do. However, it needs to follow more of the model the Lakers did: Draft and develop young players (Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart), trying to win with them while also building up their trade value, then using those players when the time comes to make a bold move (for the Lakers it was Anthony Davis). Right now, the Knicks future picks have more value than anyone outside maybe Robinson on the roster.

Thibodeau has a reputation as a defensive innovator, but his defenses were unimpressive in Minnesota. Part of that was certainly personnel — Karl-Anthony Towns is not going to be confused for Dikembe Mutombo — but Thibs didn’t lift players up or find a system that fits their skills. In New York, he has to build from the defense out (and has a potentially strong anchor in the paint with Robinson) and make it all work.

The Knicks are not a turnkey situation where Thibodeau is walking into a playoff team. A culture needs to be built (one James Dolan doesn’t meddle with). Talent needs to be added to the roster, then developed. Do all that, build a place that superstars want to come, and the power of playing in New York will give the Knicks an advantage. Right now the big stars are choosing Brooklyn first. It shows how much work needs to be done.

Thibodeau could be the guy to lead New York back to the spotlight. Maybe. He’s going to get the chance.

Report: Glen Taylor puts Minnesota Timberwolves up for sale

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor
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Glen Taylor has repeatedly looked into selling the Timberwolves over the years.

Will he actually do it now?

Scott Soshnick of Sportico:

The Minnesota Timberwolves are for sale.

Billionaire owner Glen Taylor has retained The Raine Group to sell the franchise he’s owned since 1995, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter. There are several parties who have bid on the team, two of the people said. A deal could be completed within a month, one of the people said.

Forbes valued the Timberwolves at $1.375 billion. But that was before coronavirus upended the economy. A former state senator whose business and legacy are based in Minnesota, Taylor has also conditioned previous sales talks on the team staying in Minnesota, which could limit interested buyers. So, the sale price might land below the Forbes estimate.

Taylor bought the Timberwolves in 1995. In the 25 ensuing seasons, Minnesota has won just 43% of its games – the NBA’s third-worst mark (ahead of only the Nets and Grizzlies). The Timberwolves have won playoff series in only one season, advancing to the 2004 Western Conference finals. In the last 16 years, Minnesota has merely reached the postseason just once.

Even his critics have noted their personal respect for Taylor. Except Kevin Garnett. The Timberwolves’ greatest player is in a bitter feud with the owner and wants to buy the team.

Garnett on Instagram:

Garnett’s complaint stems from how Taylor handled Flip Saunders’ death. In some ways, it seems Garnett is being unfair about a difficult circumstance.

But there are plenty of other reasons to criticize Taylor, too.

Taylor has too often empowered faulty executives, most infamously David Kahn. Taylor gave Andrew Wiggins an ill-fated max-contract extension… only after Wiggins promised Taylor to work really hard. The organization devolved in recent years.

The Timberwolves just hired Gersson Rosas as team president, and he’s building around Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell. A new owner could disrupt that plan, though Towns looks like a keeper in nearly any scenario.

Warriors GM Bob Myers says team will be ‘good partners’ if league tries to restart regular season

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“Look, for us, our season is basically over. If the league was somehow to start up again, it’s very unlikely we would be playing regular-season games given that they’d be in such a time crunch.”

That was Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr speaking a few weeks ago about the Golden State’s lack of motivation to return to play regular season games in a “bubble” somewhere. Kerr is not speaking in a vacuum, Nets’ owner Joesph Tsai said recently motivation is lacking for a number of teams at the bottom of the league to expend money and effort for games with little to no meaning (and no gate revenue). The Warriors can say Kerr’s comments were taken out of context (he did say he understood the motivation for contending teams to return), but Kerr isn’t wrong.

Despite that, if the league says teams need to report to a bubble city for some regular season games, the Warriors will be there, GM Bob Myers told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

“The truth is we have the worst record in the league. That’s a fact,” Myers said. “It’s hard to motivate in our unique position. But that doesn’t mean players don’t have pride and won’t come back and play and care about the league as a whole. We want to be good partners and we will be good partners.

“We’d like to see Steph [Curry] play with [Andrew] Wiggins; I think we got to see that for one game where we were hoping to see that.”

Of course if the league calls the Warriors will show up. Should they get that call is another question.

The league office would love to play some regular season games and help regional sports networks. However, Adam Silver told players on a conference call Friday as the lockdown moves into the summer it may not be possible to play enough games for teams out of the playoffs to pass teams already in, and the league may go straight to the postseason.

It’s a matter of timing. Silver said there would be at least three weeks of training camp in the bubble before games are played, plus ESPN was told it would take at least 55 days to complete a full playoff bracket to play out. That is 76 days minimum, meaning to end the season on Sept. 13 the NBA has to open training camps at the end of June. That is without one regular season game played. Since opening training camps much earlier is unlikely, the only to get in enough regular season games to be meaningful is to extend the season, possibly into October. Which starts to push back the goal of starting next season in December.

Nobody knows if or when the season will restart, and what format everything will take. Regular season games being played are not out of the question, because nothing is. However, most likely, Kerr and Myers will have to wait until next season to season starts to see Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins together, and then they can throw Klay Thompson in the mix.

Report: Knicks, Nets, Rockets all have interest in Tom Thibodeau as coach

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Tom Thibodeau wants to be back coaching in the NBA next season, and he may be.

There have been a lot of image-rehab articles with a theme of “Thibodeau is a good coach who got a bad rap in Minnesota” coming out of New York media recently. That doesn’t feel like a coincidence (and it’s also wrong to think Thibodeau was blameless in Minnesota).

Thibodeau’s decade-long friendship with new Knicks president Leon Rose has made him the frontrunner for that job. Now comes a report from Marc Berman of the New York Post it’s not just the Knicks who are considering giving Thibodeau another chance.

While his reputation took a hit with the failure in bringing Jimmy Butler to Minnesota and allegedly mishandling young talent, sources told The Post the Nets and Houston will have strong interest, too. Houston’s Mike D’Antoni will be a free agent.

It appears Thibodeau would have interest in all three jobs. But the Knicks would get first crack at their former assistant coach since they won’t be competing in any potential playoffs… According to sources, Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving each like and respect Thibodeau, who coached them as a Team USA assistant.

While D’Antoni still has a job in Houston, he is in the final year of his contract few around the league expect he will be brought back for another season. Houston will move on.

Thibodeau’s name comes up a lot with the Knicks.

Thibodeau was being booed by the home fans when introduced before every game at the end in Minnesota, and attendance was dropping. The Timberwolves brought in Thibodeau as coach and GM to develop and elevate a young core around an elite center in Karl-Anthony Towns. Thibodeau is a win-now coach who leans on veterans, so executive Thibodeau traded a chunk of that young core — Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and draft picks — to Chicago to bring in his old friend Jimmy Butler. It was a big bet by Thibodeau and it paid off at first when the Timberwolves made the playoffs. Then things fell apart as Butler had issues with Towns — and more so former No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins — and soon Butler was forcing a trade and torpedoing the Timberwolves season.

The Knicks are trying to build a core of young players and a culture that can be a foundation for winning in the future. Rose and the New York front office need to ask themselves: Is Thibodeau the best coach to do that? He has developed players before, with Jimmy Butler at the top of his list, but his old-school style has rubbed other players the wrong way. Plus, Thibodeau is not exactly analytics friendly, and his style is to lean on veteran players more able to help the team win now.

Who Rose hires to coach the Knicks will give a clearer understanding of what direction he wants to go in building the team.

In Brooklyn, the buzz around the league is Durant and Irving want Tyronn Lue as head coach, he is considered a clear frontrunner. Thibodeau’s name does not regularly come up for that job when other sources around the league are asked about it.

If Thibodeau is coaching in the NBA next season, it will be in New York. However, the Knicks and other teams have put coaching hires on hold until some resolution to the rest of the NBA season is figured out.