Associated Press

Karl-Anthony Towns agrees to sign five-year, potentially $190 million extension with Minnesota

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It was a matter of when, not if.

Back in July, the Timberwolves had offered Karl-Anthony Towns a five-year max contract extension — which could be worth $158 million or, if he was named to an All-NBA team again next season, $190 million. Towns used his leverage and reportedly told management he can’t coexist with Jimmy Butler and reportedly would not sign the new deal until the Butler situation is resolved. Although everyone knew he eventually would sign, he was not leaving that much money on the table.

Minnesota is now working on a Butler trade — ordered by owner Glen Taylor — so Towns is stepping up to be the franchise’s face, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN but that Towns confirmed on Twitter.

Again, for Towns that is a $158 million extension, unless he makes an All-NBA team again (he was third team last season) or is named MVP, then that jumps to $190 million. Making another All-NBA team is certainly within reach.

From Woj:

Towns’ agent, Leon Rose of CAA Sports, informed the organization of Towns’ intention to sign the extension on Saturday night, sources said. The Timberwolves report for media day on Monday and begin training camp on Tuesday.

In a statement, Towns said: “On June 25, 2015, I was drafted to and committed to the Minnesota Timberwolves. On September 22, 2018, I made a recommitment to the Wolves and have the same feelings of excitement that I felt back in 2015.

“I promise to the fans, my teammates and the organization to keep the vision of the man who drafted me, Flip Saunders, alive and treat his dream of winning with respect and dignity. To the fans from Day One and the Timberwolves fans, this is for you. Thank you for believing in me.”

Towns, at age 23, is one of the best centers in the game. He was the No. 1 pick out of Kentucky in 2015 and the next year was named Rookie of the Year. Last season he averaged 21.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, the Timberwolves were 13.1 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court, and he was a key reason the Timberwolves made the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons. Towns is one of the best post-up scorers in the NBA, he shot 72.3 percent at the rim last season, but also added three-point range and took 23 percent of his shots from deep and hit 42 percent of them. He is an offensive force.

Maybe most importantly for Minnesota, he hasn’t missed a single game in three seasons. Age and durability were the reasons that if it came down to Towns or Butler, Towns was going to be the choice of the Timberwolves. Towns signing this extension is not good for the standing of coach/GM Tom Thibodeau, who is not on the same page with Towns.

That said, the pressure is on Towns to step up his game now, particularly on defense. Using ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus (a flawed stat but one that provides a good snapshot) Towns was one of the weaker defensive centers in the league, playing at a current Dirk Nowitzki level. Towns was better last season as a shot blocker for stretches, but he was inconsistent, he is unfocused on that end, bites on pump fakes too much, and he is often slow to recognize the play and get over to protect the rim despite his physical tools.

In the playoffs last season, the Rockets’ Clint Capela completely outplayed Towns.

Towns is getting paid to step up and lead this team now, especially with Butler on his way out the door. Minnesota was counting on the same thing out of Andrew Wiggins after his big contract extension, and he regressed last season and has shown little passion or willingness to put in the work needed. Butler and others want to lump Towns and Wiggins together, but Towns has put in the work and is a professional, it’s not a correct comparison. However, the pressure is now on Towns to take that to the next level.

Dirk Nowitzki likely to come off bench this season, coach Rick Carlisle says

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Dirk Nowitzki said something this summer rarely seen from future Hall of Famers who are the best player in their franchise’s history, he was willing to come off the bench.

It looks like Dallas coach Rick Carlisle is going to take Nowitzki up on that offer, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

That might have been happening at the start of the season anyway, as Nowitzki’s injured ankle is not 100 percent and you can be sure the Mavericks are not going to push him.

Nowitzki off the bench just makes more sense for the Mavericks. DeAndre Jordan is the starting center, Harrison Barnes is really a four (56 percent of his minutes were at that spot last season), rookie Luka Doncic is a ball-handling three, Wesley Mathews is finally healthy and should be the two guard, and Dennis Smith Jr. is at the point.

Then the bench is a throwback to Mavericks favorites with Nowitzki, J.J. Barea, plus Yogi Ferrell, Dwight Powell, and Devin Harris.

Nowitzki is going to get the grand farewell tour this season, as he deserves. He’ll start a few games, particularly his final one at home. But for the team this season, which has dreams of a playoff spot (as long a shot as that may be in the West), this is the best move.

 

 

Pat Riley says LeBron James subtly asked him to replace Erik Spoelstra in 2010

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Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James is one of the best to ever play the game. He has multiple championships to his name, and now it seems as though he might take a different direction in the Sunshine state with regard to his career.

But just a decade ago, LeBron’s legacy was not so certain. In fact, James was a bit of a villain after the disaster that was “The Decision” and his new perceived persona with the Miami Heat.

That transition is the partial subject of a new book by Ian Thomsen, who appeared on a recent edition of Zach Lowe podcast to discuss some of the subjects at hand. Titled “The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown Between LeBron, Kobe, Doc, and Dirk That Saved the NBA” Thomsen’s book has been getting excellent reviews, and based on his conversation with Lowe it certainly seems worthwhile.

One of the best excerpts that Lowe and Thomsen discussed was a story from Pat Riley about James subtly asking for the Hall of Famer to replace young Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.

If you don’t remember the context, this rumored rift between LeBron and Spoelstra started when the Heat began the season just 9-8 in 2010. During a loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 27 of that year, LeBron was seen bumping into Spoelstra going into at timeout after Dirk Nowitzki hit a jumper over Chris Bosh to put Dallas up by double-digits late in the third quarter.

Here’s a quote from Lowe’s podcast, where Lowe is quoting a passage of Thomsen’s book that is spoken by Riley:

[I] asked how things were progressing. They just said, “We’re not feeling it, or something like that.” We talked about the typical things we have to do, have patience, all that stuff.

And I remember LeBron looking at me and he said, “Don’t you ever get the itch?”

And I said, “The itch for what?”

He said, “The itch to coach again.”

I said, “No I don’t have the itch.”

He didn’t ask any more questions and I didn’t offer any more answers but I know what it meant and I always go back and wonder what he was thinking at that time. He walked out scratching at his leg like it was itching.

The story that LeBron wanted Spoelstra out of Miami is not a new one. It was a rumor at the time a decade ago, and much as you might expect we have only come to see its verification some time later, with all concerned parties satisfied with their eventual result — two championships.

This is perhaps the best thing to come out of books like these. The inner workings of the NBA, often rumored, don’t come to light while players are still involved with parties they may take issue with. It’s only with the passage of time, and perhaps physical distance, that players and coaches are willing to speak with reporters to get the real story on record. That’s how we get to know about things like this, and it’s great.

Udonis Haslem reveals why he chose to return to Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Udonis Haslem arrived at the Miami Heat facility for a workout one day last week, and was told he needed to sign a waiver before he took the court.

The reason: Technically, he wasn’t on the team.

“That was a little weird, having to do that,” Haslem said.

It won’t be a problem for the next year. Haslem officially signed his one-year, $2.4 million contract with the Heat on Monday, a deal that was struck last week and finally became official when he put pen to paper. Haslem will enter his 16th NBA season, all with the Heat, and that means the Miami native will be with his hometown franchise for more than half of its 31-year history.

“For the hometown kid in me, that means the world,” Haslem said. “I wish I understood how big that is right now, because I really don’t, but I know it’s big.”

Haslem was the seventh-oldest player in the NBA last season – and will rise at least one spot on that list this season, with the retirement of San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili. Vince Carter is 41 and will play for Atlanta, Dirk Nowitzki is 40 and back with Dallas, and Haslem is 38.

“It’s great to have our captain back,” Heat President Pat Riley said.

The others who played last season and are older than Haslem are Jason Terry, Damien Wilkins and Jamal Crawford. They all remain unsigned for the coming season.

So, too, does Dwyane Wade. He and Haslem are the only two players who were part of all three Heat championship teams. Haslem said he’s busily recruiting his business partner – the pair shares several off-court interests, including a pizza chain – to come back as well.

“My mindset has always been for us to finish it together,” Haslem said. “I want us to do a whole season together. Experience the road, dinner on the road, go through that whole process. I want us to experience that together.”

Wade tweeted his congratulations to Haslem when the deal was signed.

“You are (the) most selfless person I’ve ever met,” Wade said in his tweet.

Haslem appeared in only 14 games last season, and hasn’t had much of a role with the Heat in the last three seasons. Haslem believes he can still play – he has kept himself in tremendous condition – but knows that he probably won’t have a big on-court presence again.

Still, a meeting with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra last week helped seal the deal to return.

“Me and Spo were honest with each other,” Haslem said. “Honesty is not always telling somebody what they want to hear. And we both have gotten to that point in our careers where we value each other’s opinions, whether we want to hear them or not. We trust each other. We root for each other. We both have the best interests of this team in mind.”

But even if he doesn’t get much in the way of minutes, Haslem knows he’s valued. Spoelstra raves about the way he interacts and mentors teammates, and Haslem said that was a huge part of his decision as well.

“It’s about my love for the organization and my love for the guys,” Haslem said. “It wasn’t about me. If I was looking for playing time, I could have gone someplace else or played in China or something. But at the end of the day, would it have made me as happy as being around this organization and being around these guys? No, I don’t think it would.”

 

Jason Kidd confused by Dirk Nowitzki’s shooting advice: ‘Breathe through your eyes’

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Jason Kidd is in the mood to tell a few stories.

Which is limited on the Hall of Fame stage — where Kidd was last weekend, being inducted as he deserved to be — they are only allowed five minutes to talk (not everybody heeds that advice, and unlike the Oscars the orchestra does not play them off). So Kidd turned to The Players’ Tribune to spin a few yarns.

For my money, the best one was Kidd getting shooting advice from future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas.

And I swear, Dirk’s advice — it was the wildest advice of my entire life. It made zero sense to me at the time, and yet it seemed to make all the sense in the world to Dirk.

“Spacing your fingers just like this. Tuck your arm. Spread your feet like this. Release the ball like this.”

It was all making sense. I was following along. That’s when he got this serious look on his face and said, “The key to shooting is, you have to breathe.”

“O.K., Dirk. Got it.”

“No. Through your eyes. Breathe through your eyes.”

I didn’t know how to respond. We kept shooting and Dirk was just kind of shaking his head at me. Maybe he was punking me? To this day, your guess is as good as mine.

Apparently, Kidd did not see Bull Durham, where Annie Savoy convinces Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh he has to “breathe through his eyelids” like a lava lizard. It becomes one of the running jokes of the movie. I have to think Nowitzki was punking Kidd with that line.

Then again, Nowitzki’s pregame routine is pretty out there.

Kidd did acknowledge Nowitzki from the Hall of Fame stage and said he “carried” Dirk to that title. Well played.