Saturday, February 14, 2009

Last Call

The current recipe for the complex cocktail known as the Timberwolves franchise:
  • 1 part hopeful off-season
  • 2 months disastrous start
  • 1 firing of a head coach
  • Mix in demoted VP as new head coach, stir roster, then chill for 13 losses.
  • Add in 1 recovering month
  • shake franchise vigorously with unlucky injury
And there you have it... you can call this concoction Basketball Brutal. The first taste is pretty bitter, but after you get used to it, you tell yourself with a few tweaks (hold the Shaddy, add some Love), this is going to taste okay.

This is where I belly away from the bar, because unless the mixologist changes, the drink itself will never really change. The proprieters of the franchise consistently try to sell you on what good taste really is (30 wins, low playoff seeds, etc), and suggest you should be thankful for the product. The one year they had a great drink special, it was judged a failure. Go figure.

Well, while not quite the equivalent of a 12 step program, I'm going to go on hiatus for a bit and try to move in a different direction. I'm going to be writing for a site called American Chronicle, and expand my beverage selection. We'll see what happens...

See ya when I see ya.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

No Al AND No Defense


"When you say let's play faster, that seems to be code for "You don't have to play defense.' I'm going to have a find a different way to say it."- Kevin McHale

It was inevitable that the Wolves would mourn the loss of their stud, Jefferson. The reality is however, Al wouldn't helped beat the Raptors, because--just like the other 33 losses they've suffered this season--this team doesn't play defense. Even with the loss of their own legitimate All-Star, Chris Bosh, who's equal or better than Big Al, Toronto won the smallball contest 110-102. A video recap of the game can be found here.

There are times when being stubborn is a good thing; when it's wrapped up in an arrogant vision of how a team--first as a franchise executive, and second as a head coach--should be assembled and play, then it has to be evaluated on it's own merits. Here's the essential flaw in an organization where cronyism is valued over results: there's no one who can apparently step back far enough to parse the details correctly. This team has let one good month go to their heads, because the alternatives apparently are too overwhelming to consider. And now since Al is shelved, they have great cover to stick their heads in the sand, apply for an exemption to grab a couple of D-Leaguers, and play the majority of minutes with no one over 6'9 in their starting lineup. Why? I guess because the Iron Ranger says so, with little to no push back at all, apparently. Here's a guy who has done little right in the last five years, and where--even with Al in the lineup--they are undersized at every position. Even with Al in the lineup, their defense is awful. Now, with Al out of the lineup, what's the solution? Go smaller, play less defense, and try to outscore another admittedly bad team who still is built on an European model, a lot of outside shooters and a couple of post players, when healthly. The mind boggles.

I'm not a huge Kevin Love fan yet, I think it was another draft miscue by the franchise, but the kid knows a lot about team play. It's obvious to even bloggers who are always accused of knowing nothing that if you leave him out on an island with no help or no size, the combination of additional minutes and battling solo against bigger opponents will wear a body down. I thought we wanted to develop the rook! When a broken down Jermaine O'Neal starts toasting you at crunch time, what's to be learned from that? Only that for the rest of the season, if Love remains at the five instead of the four, every big man and their cousin are going to run at him, because he doesn't block shots. They're going to try and get him in foul trouble, or create a consistent help situation where the opposition will just sit on the double team, swing the ball to the open perimeter shot, and score with impunity.

Even Kevlar doesn't offer unlimited protection over a hail of bullets.

Here's hoping for the rest of the season, they can put a bigger body out there to save the lad and actually have him gain some confidence over the last half of the season, because--with no other moves made--it's one of the things this club can do to retain hope the rest of the year. People WANT this kid to succeed. Having Love become another casualty of a mediocre basketball vision doesn't do anyone any good.

The bottom line is, with enough assets assembled for the next couple of years, the Wolves don't have to blow the team up again. But someone, anyone other than Kevin McHale needs to assert themselves into the franchise mix, and add a serious defensive attitude and presence to this club, as well as a little size. That's how real progress is going to be made, and enthusiasm is built, even with your primary offensive stud on the shelf.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


A few weeks back, while the Wolves were racking up wins against teams with injury-depleted rosters, I opined that their luck might finally be turning.


Just for information sake, here's a couple of links talking about general ACL surgery: (somewhat old)

We don't know the extent of the injury as of yet, but I think while it might take awhile for Big Al to get back, the odds for him making a full return are good...if he's lucky.

There's that word again.

At the risk of being self-indulgent (I'm not sure there's any other definition for bloggers who write on a continual basis for free), I think Wolves fans are going over a little over the top on this. Al was a top notch offensive marvel on a bad team. Were they improving? Sure, but the goal here was modest: 30 some wins. Much like our economy, before Al's injury, they were going to need another "stimulus" to really make the jump to the next level, because frankly, Kevin Love probably isn't going to be it. He could turn out to be a nice piece on a 8-9 man rotation because the quality traits he does have--passion, fundamentals, and a great basketball IQ--is great for team play. At least we may finally get to see how good he can get in the last half of the year.

However, it was obvious that the club was going to still need major help across the board; Love and Jefferson are/were redundant at power forward. As a result, the Wolves have to depend on what has been their weakest link--personnel management--to pull them out of the doldurms.

Here's what I wrote on 1/24:
"A popular opinion about the Timberwolves franchise was that it is cursed, or unlucky at best. Such awful win-loss records, no #1 choice ever. Stephon Marbury. Tom Gugliotta. Joe Smith. Malik Sealy. Bad draft choices. Poor trades and mediocre free agent acquisitions. The evidence is substantial, when you think about it. While a lot of these results can be square put on the shoulders of human error and bad decision making, one has to consider that SOMETHING supernatural might have affected the franchise's fate up to this time."

Looking back on it, I was being kind. The truth is past the Sealy tragedy and bad ping-pong lottery bounces, you really do make you're own luck in this league. It's not about perfection, it's about the percentages; the ratio of good draft picks, free agent signings and trades to bad, the way talent is developed. The Wolves haven't been very good for years in that aspect; to overcome this unlucky break, they're going to have to significantly improve the ratio of good moves over bad.

In the end, that might just make the entire franchise--and their luck--more successful.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Insult to Injury

Copyright 2009 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Okay, losing to Houston on the road isn't the end of the world, in fact it was expected. Against New Orleans however, where the Hornets were missing two starters (Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler), one key reserve (Morris Petersen), and for the second half their other all-star (David West, in his premier as a WWE enforcer), that's insulting. On top of it, Big Al gets hurt.

If Jefferson is on the shelf at all, the fact that the All-Star break (no pun intended) is coming up is indeed fortunate. However, if it's more serious, where substantial healing time is needed, a little lemonade making will be in order. This will be a time where our dear Iron Ranger can have every excuse in the world to adjust his vision and put in a traditionally big lineup--albeit with journeymen-type bigs (Collins, Booth) at the five, and Love, Cardinal, Gomes at the four. This means no more cherry-picked minutes for young Kevin; he can demonstrate how he handles in part the ball running through his meaty hooks.

Folks have to remember that since Randy Wittman got fired, it's not just about restoring hope, it's about saving face. It's about Kevin McHale proving to the world that his version of smaller ball, up-tempo, not quite run and gun, five-guys-who-can-play-despite-their-size basketball can be successful. The dude is former President Bush stubborn. McHale's played his hand; people like Britt Robson in his latest post over at Secrets of the City may be getting annoyed at the fact no veteran big gets off the bench, but this is about proving everyone wrong. That's why he started Craig Smith and Rashad McCants in the first game post-Wittman, and that's why no one over 6-11 is getting in the game. If McCants wasn't such a knucklehead, he'd still be getting minutes. It's all about the Ranger.

Injury can change that, and give McHale the perfect cover for mixing things up.

If it sounds like I'm rooting for Al to be seriously hurt, I'm not. But Love had his half-season of getting used to the league. On an irrevelant team where he was a top five draft pick, he needs to start showing what he's got in ALL types of on-court situations. Similarly, to be able to throw in a big or two at the five in stategic points--setting picks, blocking shots--might just be a revelation for McHale. Given the fact that team has regressed to the point that Jefferson is the only one capable of creating any consistent offense, they'll probably lose "big" as well, but they're back to losing anyway. They know what they have in Jefferson, it's time to see who else can truly step up and play.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Blue Wednesday

Copyright 2009 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Looks like I picked the wrong day to watch Minnesota basketball. Both the Gophers and Wolves went down to defeat; the Gopher game was over in about the first three or four minutes, the Wolves took another disjointed, awful game and made it close until the end, losing 94-86. You can watch a video recap of the Wolves game's safe to watch this one.

Even though Minnesota shot like they were charter members of a bricklayer's union (.364 for the game), this game was more entertaining than the Indiana contest, and was filled with subplots. We had the starting of Kevin Love, the resurgence of Mike Miller's outside shooting, and the return of Rashad McCants.

I'll be up front: I'm not a McCants fan. There are continual apologists out there who still try to sell the fact that at the time of their drafting, McCants and Indiana'a Granger was a pick-em game. I don't think that's true, but even if it was, passing up someone with size and shooting ability over someone much smaller and who had already been exposed as "mercurial" emotionally while still in college was a bad idea from the get-go. As I remember, Dick Vitale was the only one who stood up for McCants on draft night. That sealed the deal for me right there.

Having said all that, I'd rather see someone with Rashad's talent on the court; there must be a coach somewhere who can get that knucklehead to play the right way...consistently. Then again, JR Rider is out of the league, isn't he?

Rashad's appearance was an indicator that some proverbial walls had been hit. It's been offered that the Wolves were pooped after playing their third game in four nights, but it's more obvious that for whatever reason, the poor shooting of Sebastian Telfair was the primary explanation for a McCants sighting. As much as Telfair's shooting enhanced the effectiveness of the Hawks' zone defense and propelled Rashad into the line-up, it also meant Randy Foye had to play point guard in the fourth quarter, in a primarily half-court game. This is increasingly becoming the kiss of death for Minnesota. If the game is a free flowing, run 'n gun affair, that's one thing, but in the half-court with the game on the line...we need another point guard. Execution in the half-court against winning teams is one of the next indicators of progress for this club; finding someone in the off-season who can run the team and shoot for a higher percentage is crucial.

Love's starting appearance was a result of Craig Smith being hurt, still, in slightly over 30 minutes of play, the excuse NOT to play him at clutch time in the fourth quarter was officially because Atlanta went small. Here again...with as many shots as the Wolves were missing, and being the fact that night after night we hear endlessly about his rebounding ability, couldn't we have used that skill, and made someone adjust to US? Gomes was having a terrible night. When will the defacto third pick overall in the last NBA draft be given a chance--like all the other top rookies--to expand his game, particularly on an extremely mediocre basketball team? It's not like anyone is making a playoff run here. Set Love free!

With road dates in Houston and New Orleans coming up, the Wolves may be tarnishing their recent success a bit until after the All Star game, where they get to play Toronto and Washington. The dog days of the season are quickly coming upon us, it will be fascinating to see how the Wolves keep their mojo alive, in search of a 30 win season, and McHale's future potentially hanging in the balance.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

10 Seconds of Porn Would Have Been Better

Copyright Notice: 2009 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

During Tuesday's Wolves-Pacers game, I chatted with a NBA League Pass rep, asking them if they had the 10 seconds of porn shown during the Super Bowl. Anything had to be better than what I was watching on FSN. I would have taken even Cinemax soft porn, Showtime's L Word...anything.

Can any of the broadcasters, reporters or bloggers who advocate offense over defense justify a game like this? Does anyone objective still wonder why the Wolves can't consistently beat quality teams? From my Useless Press contacts, I understand even Norm Coleman is demanding a recount of the score...he feels jobbed.

No matter, the Wolves "won"116-111. Randy Foye, awful in the first half, (nine turnovers overall) made a couple of key defensive plays and scored five points in the fourth to secure the win. Secure is a term to be used loosely, because the club suddenly brain-locked late in the fourth and allowed the Pacers a chance to tie the game. TJ Ford, normally a great free throw shooter, bricked the back-end in two consecutive trips to the free throw line to prevent Indiana from extending the contest. I guess they felt the fans had seen enough.

Meanwhile our pro-wrestling television broadcasting equivalent--Jim Petersen and Tom Hanneman--continue to spin to a miniscule audience. Frequently guffawing when Kevin Love grabs a rebound, as if Love just won a tough man competition, Petersen hasn't quite realized that with a half year under the belt, most watchers have developed their opinion of dear, undersized, overweight Kevin. They even are trying to come up with a new nickname--Kevlar--to describe how "rugged" he is. Hanneman marvels what a year Love has had, even though he's only 20. Of course, he neglects to say that most quality college players now only play one or two years of NCAA ball, making them around 20 when they land in the NBA.

For the record, Love was born Sep 7, 1988. Taking a small sampling of those who actually MADE the Rookie Game roster All-Star Weekend, Rose, Westbrook and Lopez were all born in the same calendar year. There are a lot of young'uns making signficant contributions to their club in their rookie year, Tom. Kevin Love is not the baby Jesus, the second coming of Wes Unseld, or even Dennis Rodman. He's an above average rebounder who's at best a mediocre finisher. And, McHale is still cherry picking his minutes, as opposed to the before mentioned rooks who are making noise in the league.

But I guess there has to be some data the Wolves are getting that are telling them their audience is eating this stuff up. If true, it's once again a reminder that stats often don't tell the real story.

For those who really, really must...a video recap of the game can be found here. Here's a hint: Saw V is a classic compared to this.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Rock, Meet Hard Place

Would McHale be this friendly with the opposition if it were Phil Jackson?

Photo by the AP,

Okay Wolves fans, lets review the last three games:

Game 1 vs. Detroit. Unable to execute in the half court offensively with Randy Foye primarily at the point in the fourth quarter, or guard Rasheed Wallace either down low or behind the arc. They lose.

Game 2 vs. Lakers - Unable to outscore one of the top offensive teams in basketball, or stop the appropriately sized Andrew Bynum at center (Kobe's always a given). They lose again.

Game 3 vs. Boston - Unable to out rebound or compete with oneof the top defensive teams in basketball, even when the Celtics lost their intensity in the second half. They lose once more.

Three losses against one above average and two upper echelon teams. What does that say about this roster?

In the short term, not much. Kevin McHale has succeeded in putting this team back in alignment with expectations for this year, somewhere in the mid 30 win column, give or take a couple of games. Barring a total collapse or another January type month, they have restored some sembalance of hope. Who cares if they can't win against championship or playoff caliber teams, that will come later...right?

Rock, meet Hard Place.

It's pretty obvious to any objective viewer that the Wolves have neither the size or the defensive acumen right now to compete against the "bigs" in the league. The hope seems to be that one day in the near future, Love and Jefferson will channel the late 70's duo of Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes and restore the club to relevance. I was in my late teens at the time, but I seem to remember there was a ton of pot smoking in the league back in that day as well. So, as the Wolves gravitate toward mediocrity, the haze in the room only gets thicker, the vision gets blurred. It will harder and harder for the franchise to realize that a more sure way of re-emerging as a contender is to add front court size and skill, and commit themselves to defense.

Meanwhile, Al puts up big numbers offensively, gets excited a bit on defense when the game is close (but only for a time), and Love's starting to yap at the referees more. This will be entertaining for awhile, but for how long?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Homerism in Minnesota

It's time again for another episode of "Minnesota Gets Shafted", where angst-ridden sports fans can vent about the injustices that professional sporting leagues have wreaked on our local franchises.

Today's topic: The NBA All-Star weekend -"LOVE AND JEFFERSON GOT JOBBED!"

Your host: the one, the only, our Chief Vindicator, Jim Petersen...

Nope, I'm not going to mock anyone today. But reading some of the local missives here in the Great Cold North, you'd think the wind chill had gone directly into the bloodstream. On the other hand, I had my first Chuck Norris shot last night, so maybe I'M the one hallucinating.

Did Love deserve the nod? Sure, but I can understand why he didn't make it. As I pointed out last post, it looks like the primary consideration was the quality of minutes played in the first half of the season. Here, actually I'm giving credit to the Wolves organization; they did the right thing by babying Love along. It looks like compared to Marc Gasol--who is older, more experienced and started sooner--Love's stats didn't get the benefit of the doubt. People who say that Love should have gone instead of say, Eric Gordon, aren't paying attention to the idea that probably the NBA doesn't want a roster full of lumbering forwards playing in a showcase exhibition. In the end however, I think the Wolves have no one else to blame but themselves in not letting Love develop on the court. If he continues his progress--and the Iron Ranger actually starts him sometime--he will represent the Sophmores next year, if they decide to actually continue that ridiculous event.

Jefferson, on the other hand, is an offensive, not defensive All-Star. Being that the All-Star game features absolutely no defense, his skills would have certainly been showcased for a nation of basketball fans. But politics, small vs. big market, and won-loss record all factored in when Shaq got the nod instead of Big Al. Don't forget that in the last few years that KG was in Minny, there were calls for him not to make the squad because the Wolves were awful. In that case, the politics and longevity angles worked for us.

So, put down the bias-ridden stats, grab a paper bag and breathe deep. Quit whining. Love and Jefferson were slighted a bit, but not jobbed. As the cliche goes, hopefully they will use it as motivation, since the best team in West is actually showing up for a game tonight.

BTW, how about the Gophs last night? It's amazing how a young team can overachieve when they play great defense...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Travesty at Target Center


Copyright 2009 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Not Wednesday’s game, of course, won by the Pistons 98-89. Who cares if the Wolves got slightly exposed in a primarily half court, playoff-like game where a historically unbalanced but talented veteran forward used his height and superior skills to torch our smaller front court in the second half? Nah, there's something else to get hung about.

Can you believe Kevin Love didn't make it to the Rookie Game on All-Star Weekend?


I'm sure if we had our full contingent of Senators, or if our other elected representatives weren't busy trying to solve a massive budget deficit, or bring us back from imminent national financial default, we could get SOMEBODY to investigate this. Given the emotional devastation of players, coaches, broadcasters, reporters, if not bloggers over this slight, how will the Wolves handle a likely Al Jefferson All-Star snub, at the eve of probably their biggest game of the season? Ah, I love kidding this club.

Look, K-Love will probably be a decent player in this league. And generally all you need for these Rookie games is a consistent pulse to get in. But one good month doesn't an invite make, especially for a team where for much of the first half of the season they were awful, and Love sat a lot. Here are the rookie participants , their roles, and their minutes played to date:

Derrick Rose Starter -37.4
OJ Mayo

Starter -32.2

Marc Gasol

Starter -30.4

Greg Oden

Starter- 23.3

Rudy Fernandez Bench - 26.4
Russell Westbrook

Starter -31.0

Eric Gordon

Starter -32.2

Michael Beasley Bench - 24.6
Brook Lopez Starter -29.9

And, our own K-Love:

Kevin Love        Bench - 23.0

The first thing that jumps out at me is that most of these players are actually starting for their teams--Beasley, Fernandez and Love do not. Unless Beasley was a total bust, one would figure he almost gets a automatic invite. Oden was the number one pick in 2007, so politically speaking, it would be hard to leave him off as well if he’s at all playing decently. Fernandez in my book is the arguable one, but he plays an entirely different position than Love. Plus, as has been pointed out, this rookie class is particularly good.

The moral of the story may well be that if Love had got thrown out by the Wolves a little more in the first half of the season, and not “nurtured”, given his steadily improving numbers, he might have gotten the nod. The other moral could also be an old, standard complaint: the Wolves tend to over value their own talent.

At any rate, the Wolves—especially Love and probably Jefferson—need to man up. If they continue to play well and win their share of games, the accolades will come. If they can’t play though and grind out games like Wednesday, the fact they’re playing in a small market, fly-over tundra like Minnesota won’t help them.

When you consider what else is going on in America today, is it ALL that bad?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wolves Game Prep vs. Pistons

Suffice it to say Pistons rookie head coach Michael Curry will never probably coach a run and gun, Euro-ball team:

"We shoot 50-something percent with five turnovers and 100-plus points and lost the game," Curry said of Sunday's loss to Houston. "What I told them today is: Don't worry about your offensive efficiency numbers. Be in the top five in field goal percentage defense and points allowed and ... you got a chance of being really good in the playoffs."

Of course, he probably won't be coaching the Pistons after this year, if they continue their mediocre season (24-19 overall, 5-8 in January). But it is refreshing to hear from someone who knows the difference between playing well in the regular season and succeeding as a playoff team.

As with the Denver Nuggets, Allen Iverson has not been the Answer for Detroit, although his expiring contract may help in renovating the team in the off-season. I can remember all the folks here in Minny that wanted him so badly...including KG. Looking back on the non-trade, I'm guessing that event was Garnett's initial epiphany that continued success in Minnesota wasn't going to happen.

For the moment, these two franchises are headed in opposite directions, though they may meet at briefly at mediocrity. Check out two Detroit Free Press articles: the current team mid-season grades, and the cyber complaining about the before-mentioned Curry. Hmm...bloggers unhappy with their coach...where have I heard THAT before?

The Wolves have another opportunity to catch a team on the downswing, or it could be Piston revenge for the drubbing a then bad Minnesota team gave them in Detroit back in November. Rasheed Wallace is a barometer for his club; if he's enthusiastic about defending Big Al, the game should be interesting. If not, Minnesota could come up with yet another January win. Detroit gets energy and scoring off their bench with both McDyess and Hamilton, we have no one that really matches up with the way Rip moves without the ball and curls off of screens. Our bench has been better most nights than the opposition, and Kevin Love should be able to continue his rebounding prowess against a underwhelming Pistons front court.

With the Lakers coming to town on Friday, this contest may prove to be a good warm-up to the premier statement game of the month.

Detroit Probable Starters:
Allen Iverson, Rodney Stuckey - Guards
Kwame Brown - Center
Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince - Forwards

Minnesota Probable Starters:
Sebastian Telfair, Randy Foye - Guards
Al Jefferson - Center
Craig Smith, Ryan Gomes - Forwards

Target Center, 7pm
Local TV Broadcast: FSN North
Radio: KFAN-1130

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Getting Their Gloat On

Photo by the Associated Press

The Wolves scored 27 points in both the second and third quarter to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 90-83 Monday night. A video recap of the game can be found here. Big Al led the way with 23 points and 10 rebounds; Ryan Gomes played the able and clutch sidekick, scoring 22 points and delivering the knockout blow with a 27 foot, three point shot with 1:46 left to play. The game was primarily won on free throw disparity and the fact Milwaukee tried their best to channel their fallen star Michael Redd in jacking up the three-ball, but only went 1-14 from behind the arc, the Wolves finishing 8-27. Both teams shot poorly (.400) and were content to jump shoot their way to a potential victory, instead, it was the means by which the Bucks lost and Minnesota allowed Milwaukee to make a run in the fourth quarter, scoring only 16 points.

If you watched even a minute of the recent television broadcasts, you can't help but hear five primary themes the last few weeks, repeated ad nauseum:

1. The Wolves have the best record in the NBA since Christmas.
2. Al Jefferson should be an All-Star
3. Kevin Love was a great draft pick.
4. Jim Petersen is always right.
5. Other people don't understand.

Fair enough. Given this team has been bad for so long and have been criticized for so long, a little gloating is in order here...I guess. I mean, the team did have to trade it's Hall of Fame player last year, a potential Rookie of the Year candidate this year, fire a coach and release Randy Foye's latent basketball genes just to get to a point where they could have a dominant month. And, after well over a decade of second chances, Kevin McHale might have found his calling. Call me Pollyanna, but if I was a major player in a franchise with as poor of a track record as this one has had in recent memory, I'd be simply be happy and a bit relieved that the fans have a reason to watch us again. Instead, the team seems happy for only themselves, in a smug, self-serving sort of way, like if all the bad decisions George Bush had made as President had turned out to be good ones.

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned that this cursed franchise might finally have found a little luck, because they have played many teams missing some very core players. However, if you think about it another way, this team is finally having some success, in the worst economy in recent history. Even if the fans wanted to come, they may not have the money to plunk down for a ticket. Talk about your luck!

It's just another reason why the club might want to tone it's smugness down a few degrees, and let success--and the product--speak for itself.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

That's No Bull...

Copyright 2009 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Lacking energy in the first quarter and defense for nearly the entire game, the Wolves persevered despite a poor performance from their back court, coming back from an early first quarter, 16 point deficit for a 109-108 OT victory over Chicago at Target Center Sunday. With 13 seconds left in the overtime period, Minnesota actually defended Derrick Rose and survived a couple point blank tip-in attempts to pick up the win. A video recap of the game can be found here.

Now once again, who says defense doesn't matter? It was pretty clear by the middle of the fourth quarter that the team who could make the most stops was going to win this game, and that Sebastian Telfair's ability to play Rose straight up at the end of the fourth quarter as well as the OT period were huge for the squad. Those two possessions were about the only things the Wolves backcourt did well all night, as Big Al and Kevin Love flexed some serious muscle against a surprisingly tough Chicago front court of Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas, Aaron Gray, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni. Jump shooters need not have applied in this game; and as was correctly pointed out by Jim Petersen during the game, and Paul Allen at the FSN post-game wrap up, Jefferson was not in the mood to pass the ball out of the double and triple teams. Love showed some improved ability to finish in addition to his superb rebounding.

Petersen worked the All-Star angle for Jefferson all night, and tried yet again to trumpet Love's stature by denigrating another rookie performer, Brook Lopez. On both fronts, I'm not sure the logic is accurate. First off, based on the lists I saw and heard from both national columnists and broadcasters alike, Jefferson is not on anyone's short list. Based on his offense, Jefferson is a worthy choice, but until the Wolves get closer to actually a winning record, it's going to be a hard sell. A consistent defensive effort would help as well. As for Love vs. Lopez, Petersen tried to make the point that the New Jersey center plays a lot more minutes than our rookie in comparing rebounding statistics.

Key Stats between Lopez and K-Love:

























Now, I'll grant that seven minutes a game is somewhat significant (but not THAT much). However, if you take a look at the fact that a top draft pick like Lopez can actually start for his team, perform actual center tasks like blocking shots, clogging the middle, be a better finisher--at least right now--AND would allow Jefferson to play his natural power forward position, still trying so hard to spin the Love pick is futile and premature. At least he's not trying to salvage yet another McHale pick--Rashad McCants--by saying he should play point guard, or worse, lead guard.

I'll be honest though; I don't see why Love isn't starting. I think he's more than proven himself capable, and, on a rebuilding team...why not? Isn't seeing what your players can or can't do part of the rebuilding process? How much of his own Celtic career does McHale want to channel through K-Love? I get the fact that by coming off the bench, he can play "center", allowing Brian Cardinal to play power forward, but they are undersized as it is. Simply sit Al or Kevin down and mix in either Cardinal or Smith as the matchups present themselves. Stop babying the rook and let him play.

Mike Miller is another issue, and a curious one at that. After getting hurt late, why did McHale leave him in the game? Especially in overtime, replacing Miller with Carney would have given the club a more reliable three point shooter to spread the floor with. Here's another example of Petersen spin; the guy came here to shoot, he's been in a slump, and now he's being touted as this all around baller. Britt Robson has been pretty vocal on the subject; it seems that what the Wolves have gotten is not Miller High Life, but Miller Lite. With the February trade deadline approaching, here's another storyline worth following...will this guy get moved?

In the end, one can't really bitch too much about this win. The fact Minnesota continues to find paths to victory is encouraging. As I pointed out, luck is again with them. With Milwaukee losing Michael Redd with both an ACL and MCL knee injury for the season, it will be fascinating to see if the team can show some energy in a back to back game--especially given the overtime stint.

The drama continues tomorrow...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Healing of a Cursed Franchise

"There is an old saying, "change your attitude and you can change your life". This especially applies when it comes to removing a curse. We believe that the most effective long-term solution to clearing a curse, jinx, or getting past a "black hole" in your life is rooted in a change in attitude." - Global

A popular opinion about the Timberwolves franchise was that it is cursed, or unlucky at best. Such awful win-loss records, no #1 choice ever. Stephon Marbury. Tom Gugliotta. Joe Smith. Malik Sealy. Bad draft choices. Poor trades and mediocre free agent acquisitions. The evidence is substantial, when you think about it. While a lot of these results can be square put on the shoulders of human error and bad decision making, one has to consider that SOMETHING supernatural might have affected the franchise's fate up to this time.

Could a little luck be finally moving in the Wolves direction?

Friday night the Wolves once again caught a break, dispatching the New Orleans Hornets 116-108, playing without the services of both David West and Tyson Chandler, two front court core pieces for NO. As the game played out, their absence turned out to be a deciding factor, when looking at the box score:

Overall FG% -
NO: 42-79, .532, the Wolves 40-78, 513 (3pt shots - 13-22, NO, 10-21, Minnesota)
Rebounds -
NO: 25, Minnesota: 42
Free Throws:
NO: 11-13, Minnesota: 26-34

New Orleans shot more times, with a slightly better field goal percentage, made more threes, and still lost the game. Why? No inside play, and a huge free throw disparity. Without their primary front court players--despite the best efforts of Sean Marks and James Posey--the Hornets tried to beat the Wolves by jump shooting, and lost. Without Chandler to patrol the middle, the Wolves substantially outrebounded and outscored NO in the paint, shared and moved the ball with 26 assists, matching them enough from the outside with clutch shooting from Rodney Carney and Randy Foye to win the contest.

Lucky for the Wolves? A little. But it's not all about luck. It's not just spin to say this club's attitude has changed with the removal of Randy Wittman. After a horrible start, the team has benefitted from shortening the rotation, not playing Rashad McCants, and continuing to develop core pieces in Jefferson and Foye. The team is fun to watch, and it's also a true statement that despite the absence of two primary Hornets players, Orleans could have won this game earlier in the year.

This improvement can be defined as progress.

One huge question (among many) still needs to be answered long term: is Kevin McHale the only person who could get any success out of this roster?

Hopefully, the Wolves will be lucky enough to find a real answer.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Picking on Al

Boy, there has sure been a lot of nitpicking on old Al Jefferson these last few days, particularly over his defense. Yep, it's bad...but on this team there's more than a few bad defenders to pick from. And, with a hefty contract in hand, I'm sure he barely hears the refrain from folks like us, the last fans standing, watching an irrelevant franchise trying to rebuild. Since I have been haranguing broadcast commentators and bloggers alike about their arguments relegating defense to some back pew at the basketball cathedral, let me offer some perspective.

It seems to me that people who could be classified as winners--in any walk of life--mostly share a common trait: the ability to do what is necessary to advance and improve. Defense requires a tough minded outlook, it's hard, and often requires the cooperation of other teammates to do it really well. If that is a true statement, then watching how a team plays defense will reveal more about chemistry and identity than any color commentator can blather on about. Why should I believe a spin-creating, supposed insider who gets "special" access at shootarounds and practices, when I can watch the players perform on the court?

It's been a long time since the Wolves played any meaningful defense. KG was a great defender, but during this franchise's decline, only Trenton Hassell was anything resembling a defensive stopper. In the front court, creaky old Ervin Johnson played fundamentals well enough to compliment Garnett, but that was the exception and not the rule. Now Garnett is raising hell with the Celtics and we only have his replacement--Jefferson--to examine as the club tries to resuscitate the franchise. We love the way Al works down low on offense--as opposed to KG--but really wish he would pass the ball and be at least a more enthusiastic defender. In other words, what we really still want is the perfect Kevin Garnett. That obviously is unreasonable.

In the end it's not about one player, it's how the team accepts the challenge of becoming a winner. So Al's not a great defender; can he take the challenge to improve any shortcoming and show his teammates that he's willing to pay the price? Is Sebastian Telfair or Randy Foye willing to commit themselves to denying penetration on the perimeter? How about Mike Miller? What makes Brian Cardinal such an effective role player is that he takes whatever talent he has and adds heaping portions of hustle on top of it. It's the hustle, the ability to do what's necessary beyond the natural skills of the individual that will make the team better.

One can pick on Al all day long; you wouldn't be wrong, but the team as a whole needs help. This whole argument about whether you need to be top ten in offense or defense first is silly. My point has been that there's been a lot of talk about defense, but the results on-court have been disasterous. Trying to consistently out score NBA teams will only bring you a modicum of success. Seeing your supposed "core" players understand their limitations and accept the challenge to get better in any way possible will to more to put the team in a position to succeed than anything else.

In short, it's the effort to improve fans should be looking for at this point. When the entire team is pretty much chopped liver defensively, picking on one guy doesn't do any good. They all just need to get better.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Utah Tough


Copyright 2009 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

Utah head coach Jerry Sloan is a tough SOB. So are his teams. Monday night, his team wasn’t quite as hardened as in years past, but they were certainly tough enough to beat the Wolves 112-107. One can talk all about the 12-0 Utah run to start the game, or the substantial free throw disparity (11-16 for the Wolves, 27-29 for the Jazz), but if you aren’t a tough-minded team that’s willing to play some amount of defense, forget about it. Outscoring this bunch won’t usually work, at least with Minnesota’s talent level.

Once again, those local commentators and bloggers who emphasize offense over defense simply don’t get it. Jerry Sloan eats Europeans for lunch. Sloan and the Euros share some nice offensive strategies, like back cutting, pick and roll, and ball movement, but it’s the annoying, physical part of the game that would have any Spaniard or Lithuanian crying to the referee by the second half of any contest. Heck, by the end of the second quarter, the Wolves’ players were yelling at the refs, and McHale had picked up a technical.

A team playing away in Utah has to be focused, work through those irritants and simply outwork a Jerry Sloan team. To be fair, both teams played pretty bad defense last night, but Minnesota’s was worse. To their credit, Minnesota hung in, but couldn’t prevent crucial turnovers, or wrap their heads around the fact that it’s really hard to dribble in the paint against a team that’s looking to hack and strip you every chance they get.

Those folks who simply want a ‘Sota return to respectability are welcome to their opinion of course. As has been mentioned before, the club is playing a much better brand of basketball, especially on the offensive end. Randy Foye has rediscovered his game to some degree, and has shown he has another gear or level to his game when needed. If all this club wants to do is provide some face saving for the Iron Ranger, that’s their deal. Some fans will come back; they will see an entertaining brand of ball more nights than not, and the team will be in the majority of contests until the end. And, being that at least half of the league any given year is pretty mediocre, if the Wolves can beat a high percentage of those bad teams year in year out…that IS a recipe for a certain level of success. Hope will have been restored to the tundra.

But if you want to consistently beat a Jerry Sloan team, or do well in the playoffs, or even—gasp—contend for a title, it would be wise for this team to set it’s sights a bit higher, and not wait for respectability. To truly compete in this league long term, it would be wise to be Utah tough.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In a Game SOMEBODY Had To Win…


(AP Photo/Phil McCarten)

The Wolves took care of the Los Angeles Clippers 94-86 on Monday afternoon. Being the “JV” game before the Lakers would take the court against the Cleveland Cavaliers later Monday night, it would have taken some energy and pizazz to get the laid back LA crowd into this one. Unfortunately, the Clippers were missing just about all their veteran talent (Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Zach Randolph, Marcus Camby), and somehow, incredibly, Ricky Davis couldn’t blend well enough with rookies Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan—as well as second year three point specialist Steve Novak--so it quickly degraded into a game only hard core fans could love. A video recap of the game can be found here.

Our broadcasting crew started the game by telling us what a great practice the club had on Sunday, since the coaching staff was concerned about this young team getting caught up in the summer-like LA weather. For the first half of the first quarter, it seemed like the comment was accurate, with Craig Smith helping the Wolves to a sixteen point lead. The Wolves stopped attacking the rim and began jump shooting, which led to the Clips making a run in the last part of the quarter and keeping the game relatively close the rest of the way.

It was a mixed day for Jim Petersen, color commentator, who offered some on-target observations, and a couple of whoppers as well. The correct observation was that the Wolves were playing down to their competition. Given the thrilling victory over the Suns last Friday and the depleted Clippers roster, this game should have been easier. But after the first quarter run, the Wolves continually let the Clippers back into the game, primarily on the back of rookie Eric Gordon, and the shooting of Steve Novak. Mixed in was the interior play of rookie center DeAndre Jordan, an unpolished player from Texas A&M.

One of Petersen’s off-target comments was that Al Jefferson was going to dominate Jordan, a player who stock had seriously dropped in last year’s draft. That didn’t happen. With 8 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocked shots, Jordan wasn’t spectacular, but he was good. Eric Gordon was the consistent, solid player for LA; no one on the Wolves club could really stop him.

The other whopper was Petersen’s contention during the first quarter of the game that concerns about defense in the NBA are overblown. This flies in the face of just about every team that are considered contenders in the league; they become contenders by the type of balanced scoring we are now starting to see from Jefferson and Foye, but also by being able to make stops at least when necessary. Prime examples of this were on display in the fourth quarter of the Clippers game, as Mike Miller blocked Al Thornton’s shot with around two minutes left and Foye’s steal from Gordon with under a minute left to play. Foye is by no means a great defender, but during this streak of improved play from the Wolves he’s been able to make key defensive stops which has contributed greatly to Minnesota wins. Points are obviously important, but what separates NBA quality play from the D-League or Euro ball is the ability to play defense.

The Wolves have another opportunity to show their true improvement tonight against the Jazz. They have every excuse to lose; a back to back game on the road against a quality team, after all, so a win or competitive loss will be another sign of positive change for this team. Almost like an inauguration happening today…

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Breaking News: McHale plans “I Told You So” tour

(Useless Press Incorporated – Los Angeles, CA – January 18, 2009)

In a first for a demoted NBA basketball executive or newly hired head coach, Minnesota Timberwolves Head Coach Kevin McHale plans to announce during the half-time of Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers dates for a summer “I Told You So” tour, as a rebuttal for all those fans, journalists, bloggers and various media sports personalities who doubted his ability to put together a competent NBA roster as well as his coaching ability, according to an unnamed source.

“Yeah, it might be premature”, commented the source, “but I gotta tell you, he’s been chomping at the bit to do this. I mean, he’s been a triple threat exec for this franchise: broadcasting, vice-president, and coach. In fact, he’s proving that he’s just about the only one who can coach his selections. Everyone else just kind of falls short. He’s succeeding beyond even his wildest dreams.”

Among the plans for the summer tour, or caravan as it was called last year, is a reunion of the 70’s rock band Orleans, who will kick off the event with a theme of “Still the One”, one of their biggest hits. “After all the grief he’s taken over the years, I think this will be sweet justice, especially if they can make it back to 30 wins this season. He’s really proud of the fact Kevin Love and Randy Foye are starting to emerge as core pieces for this team. I have no doubt that if he wants it, he’ll be back as VP of this club before long, in addition to coaching. He’s even thinking of growing a beard like Popovich, just to give him that edgy, Van Gogh elitist look.”

More details to follow…


January 19, 2009 - Los Angeles, CA

According to sources, due to the MLK day celebration, the upcoming Obama inauguration, and at least a couple of more wins, Timberwolves Head Coach Kevin McHale has decided to postpone the official "I Told You So" announcement.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Po-Town Showdowns

Julianne Viani passes the ball against Tania Kennedy of Saint Peter

Poughkeepsie (Po-Town), NY -

Talk about your victorious double headers: a Marist/Minnesota dynamic duo.

One of the true delights I have in bringing back my daughter to Marist College in Poughkeepsie for another semester is the chance to watch one of the best mid major women's basketball teams in the country, the Marist Red Foxes. Currently ranked 21st in the nation by the AP, this team is a well coached example of how a relatively small school (approx 5,000 students) goes about creating a success program that at times can compete with the majority of bigger, more well known programs. Their burly coach--Brian Giorgis--is a stern tactician that has brought this team to the NCAA tournament the last three years, reaching the Sweet 16 two years ago, and the second round last year.

This team plays the right way--tough defense, passing, exploiting matchups and giving your core players a chance to win the game. Friday night the Foxes pummeled Saint Peter 78-58. Rachele Fitz, currently 10th in the nation in scoring with 21.6 points a game, scored 22 points last night. Redshirt senior guard Julianne Viani added 18 points in a victory that at times had the Red Foxes up by nearly 30. Marist withstood Saint Peter's consistent full court pressure and excuted superbly; though without either Viani or Fitz in the game, the Red Foxes had problems getting into their offense.

Since their conference--the MAAC--only brings one team into the tourney via their tournament, it would be an upset of major proportions that any other team would make it to the women's Big Dance. Keeping Fitz and Viani healthy and on the court is going to be a key, especially if they are fortunate enough to land back into the tournament.

Of course, the other big story was the Wolves 105-103 victory over Phoenix. In a game where the club didn't die when the Suns went on a run to go up by 11 in the third, Minnesota took advantage of Randy Foye's five fourth quarter points, good offensive rebounding, and somewhat clueless play calling by the Suns to secure the victory.

Five players figured prominently in the win--Big Al, Craig Smith, Randy Foye, Kevin Love and Rodney Carney. Jefferson did his usual with 22 points and 12 rebounds, but I thought the real catalyst in the game was Carney, giving the club energy and athleticism off the bench with 17 points. Love's 14 rebounds were also huge, but the reality is that he, Jefferson and Smith are problematic as a playoff ready front court.

Why the Suns--who in the third quarter were having clear success with dumping the ball into either O'Neal or Stoudamire--started their usual jump shooting, getting away from what worked to build the 11 point lead is a head scratcher. Kevin McHale attempted to get Stoudamire in foul trouble by running continual plays for Smith in the third, but Steve Nash was not his normal clutch self in trying to score over the top against Minnesota, shooting only eight times, scoring just six points. Watching the game on NBA League Pass Broadband, Suns broadcasters Gary Bender and Eddie Johnson tried to offer the 4 am arrival time of the Suns back in AZ as a result of their last game against Denver as an excuse, but clearly the Suns let the Wolves off the hook, and to their credit, the Wolves hung around and showed more energy in the fourth quarter, racking up 32 points.

That Minnesota finished off a winning team in a game that was clearly theirs to have is another indication of progress. The Wolves have a long way to go, but this team has rejoined the ranks of watchable teams, and has renewed hope at least in the short term that they are head to somewhere other than oblivion.

All around, it was a fantastic night for basketball.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Heat Stroked

(Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

Yep, it's true. The juggernaut known as the Minnesota Timberwolves finally lost a game in 2009, losing to Miami 99-96. It's also true that if Mike Miller (1-7, 4 pts) and Al Jefferson (4-14, 9 pts) had better games, the result might have been different. Truth is a curious animal however, a door that swings both ways. For example, it could very well be true that good teams--especially playing at home and full of confidence--should find a way to win games like this. Unsound fundamentals--bad passes by Love and Telfair with under 3 minutes left, Michael Beasley stealing a rebound off of a free throw with 8 seconds left--helped the Wolves lose this game.

Will the guys learn from their mistakes?

"That's just the way we play now," Foye said. "We get the ball out quick. Obviously, sometimes there will be mistakes. [Wolves coach Kevin McHale] didn't say too much about it because that's the way we play." - Randy Foye, via the StarTribune.


"We're still confident," Wolves forward Rodney Carney said. "We won five in a row. We can start anew." - Rodney Carney, StarTribune

Okey-dokey. Enough said. Let's move on.

I won't get too negative was pointed out in Britt Robson's post today, especially with around 8:49 in the second quarter, we witnessed great ball movement and scoring, a model for how ideally the game of basketball should be played. The Wolves now play with purpose and an emerging identity, dynamics that Kevin McHale can clearly take credit for developing. Did he sabotage or prevent Casey or Wittman from developing those same dynamics? Maybe, but as the cliche goes, I'll give credit where credit is due.

My only caveat here is once again the fan base is too beaten down with the Wolves' incremental improvement to see the familiar warning signs on the frigid horizon. Witness this excerpt from Jerry Zgoda's supporting piece in today's StarTribune, with our Iron Ranger discussing bringing in other players:

"Somebody asked Wolves coach Kevin McHale before Tuesday's game if Minnesota's infamous cold might drive free agents away.

"I can tell you right now, if you go to Detroit, if you go to Chicago, it's cold there, too," McHale said. "If you win, they'll come."

Miami rookie Mario Chalmers, a Timberwolf for about two seconds on draft night, was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, and he called Tuesday's cold worse -- "Not even close," he said -- than anything he experienced growing up.

"He's crazy," McHale said. "I just saw Fairbanks is minus-45. I don't care, it's cold in Alaska, it's cold in Minnesota, it's cold in Chicago, it's cold all over the Upper Midwest. I don't think that's a big deal."

Here's where an objective sort might go...WTF? We couldn't surround KG with talent when he was here; the one year we did was labeled a "failed experiment". In the history of this franchise, we haven't signed a truly huge free agent. Those are simply the facts; to ignore them, and the person who supposedly gave up his VP slot to coach, would be pretty foolish. It IS cold here, the tax environment is uninviting, and it's a small market where it's harder to get endorsements and visibility for any young knucklehead who thinks he's the next Lebron James. Kevin McHale is repeating the same sort of cluelessness that drove this franchise into the ditch in the first place.

In the same article, a quote from Dwayne Wade:

"It's unbelievable cold," said Heat star Dwyane Wade, a potential marquee free agent in 2010 who will be well out of the Wolves' reach. "It shows me that I love Miami, I know that."

That's a stance you can take to the free agent lottery bank of 2010. Playing better and reaching a 30 win plateau is one thing, developing a true NBA contender is another. I'm all for positivity, but a healthy dose of reality mixed in is the key to true success.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Heavy Mettle

1. courage and fortitude: a man of mettle.
2. disposition or temperament: a man of fine mettle.
3. on one's mettle, in the position of being incited to do one's best. Example: The loss of the first round put him on his mettle to win the match.

So, as pointed out by my good friends at Canis Hoopus, we have games against Miami and Phoenix this week, a heavier test of the club's basketball mettle. We have, of course, the obligatory MSM story about another in a series of players who got away from the Wolves, one Mario Chalmers, drafted in the second round and traded to the Heat almost immediately. The "explanation" is that we had too many guards around, the team would have had to cut him.

Huh? With an entire offseason to make roster moves, and issues still at point guard regardless of Telfair's signing, they couldn't have held onto him longer? Ah well...there's been plenty of bile expressed about this trade already, so I'm not going to rant, but it's one more reason why McHale had better be a superior head coach--his personnel skills are mediocre at best. And, he's extremely G.W. Bush-like in his refusal to acknowledge his mistakes:

"I really like Mario, we liked him a lot," McHale said, shrugging when asked if he regrets the trade and its timing. "We said we'd trade that pick, and then everything changed. That's the way it is in this business sometimes." - StarTribune.

Enough about the Iron Ranger, let's talk about Miami for a second. At 19-17, the Heat are currently 6th in the Eastern Conference. With a rehabilitated Dwayne Wade at off-guard, pared with Chalmers at the point, this team will be a tougher test for the Wolves, especially considering Randy Foye will be primarily shadowing the gold medalist. Michael Redd ripped the lad on Saturday night; a more athletic Wade will be slashing his way to the basket if Foye can't find a way to stay in front of him.

First round (2nd overall) draft pick Beasley--as mentioned by this morning's Trib story--has yet to find his groove. He's averaging 13.6 PPG, in around 25 minutes per game, shooting nearly 46% from the field. Not game changing by any means, but not "bust" territory either. With other front court members Shawn Marion, Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem and Jamaal Magloire--not to mention the artist formerly known as the second best center in the Western Conference, Mark Blount--the Heat are serviceable, but underwhelming. Our former starting center is not playing much at all with Miami; I'm assuming the only "paint" he patrols are the brightly colored outdoor bar patios of South Beach. Big Al should be able to make a dent against this crew.

It may come down to whether the Wolves can control Wade at all, and make sure their bench perimeter shooters like Chris Quinn and Daequan Cook don't get off easily against Minnesota's defense. The Heat have more athletes than the Wolves; this would also be a perfect game to for Beasley to find himself and blister the Wolves.

A better indication of Minnesota's progress starts tonight. This is where the team's mettle gets tested.