With less than 60 days until NBA teams open training camps, things will start to settle down a bit, however there are some situations to watch that don’t involve Dwight Howard… A new Olympic team format is inevitable… Glen Taylor has a buyer for the Wolves… NBA chats at 11am and 3pm EST
Every NBA owner has a few black marks on their reputations. For Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, those include agreeing to pay Joe Smith under the table , lording over a franchise that managed just two playoff series wins with Kevin Garnett in his prime, hitting a dismal run of form thereafter, not having particularly kind words for Garnett and others following their departures, and, depending on whom you ask, hiring the erratic David Kahn as general manager.
All things considered, though, Taylor has a relatively good reputation compared to other owners (which says something about those owners), currently serving as chairman of the league’s Board of Governors and generally not doing anything especially embarrassing in public. There’s a sense that Taylor, a former state senator, conceives of a sports team as part of the fabric of the community rather than a mere business venture.
As reported by Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press , Taylor is now looking for, in his words, a successor. Except, in keeping with his approach, he’s not looking for the highest bidder or a regular change in ownership:
There was finally excitement around the Minnesota Timberwolves again this year. After several seasons of poor performance, Glen Taylor finally has a core group of upper echelon players to rebuild around, including Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Derrick Williams, and the greatly improved Nikola Pekovic. While the Timberwolves fell short of the playoffs, fans are clearly ready for the return of competitive basketball to the state.
NORTH MANKATO, Minn. (AP) Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is in the market for his eventual successor.
MINNEAPOLIS Just 12 hours after the conclusion of the Timberwolves’ final game, a 131-102 loss to Denver, perspectives had already shifted. As bad as that last night was, the fitting cap to a forgettable April, an element of calm had set in as David Kahn and Rick Adelman addressed the media Friday morning.
Their game-night suits were gone, players’ possessions and equipment wheeled out of the Target Center’s bowels. There was an element of finality to it, but in the NBA, nothing really ends. There’s evaluation and analysis of what’s gone on, but the season was the statement, and now Adelman, Kahn and team owner Glen Taylor must react. As the emotions continue to subside and regulate, the team’s plan will become clearer, but one thing is certain: after a season like this one, it’s hard not to call for change.
Thursday night, Adelman said that he hopes the team will turn itself around in six months, when the 2012-13 season begins. Kahn echoed that sentiment Friday, saying that the Timberwolves had been on the cusp of the playoffs this year and should be able to rediscover that momentum next season.
“I think we will be in the playoffs next year if we do the right things for the team and we stay healthy,” Kahn said.
Health is largely out of Kahn’s hands — players can work to get in peak shape and hope to prevent some injuries, but freak accidents happen — and he must focus on making informed roster moves if he wants to see the goal he set reached. It’s easy to say that behind a microphone, days and even weeks removed from when the real negotiations begin. It’s easy to assure that change is coming when the Timberwolves are at the forefront of the discussion, but as the season fades, Kahn needs to hold onto that message as strongly as he did Friday.
But even in the less than 40 minutes Kahn and Adelman talked, the former was reluctant to commit to that message. There were moments of certainty, of decisive critique, peppered with claims that it’s too early to name names and finalize decisions.
Decisive Kahn said two players will remain in Minnesota, no questions asked.
“No… proverbial stone will be left unturned,” he said. “No trade possibility will be turned down for any reason. You should assume that Ricky (Rubio) and Kevin (Love) of course will be here. They’re cornerstones of what we’re doing here, and my fervent hope is that each of them retires here.”
Wavering Kahn refused even to discuss the possibility that Darko Milicic might not return, despite the center not playing a minute of basketball since March 18. Wavering Kahn said it was too early to name names, that players should get a chance to prove themselves over the summer after many failed to do just that in the season’s final weeks.
There’s no reason to doubt any of those statements. Love and Rubio will be back, and they’ve warranted becoming the faces and core of this team. Kahn will give his other players one last shot to show what they’re worth to the team, perhaps out of a hesitance to make a decision too quickly, in part because of the conditions in which the team played all season.
After 66 games in 123 days, it’s hard to know what players would have done under normal conditions. Add in more injuries than anyone cares to count and the job becomes even more difficult, tough enough that some players might deserve a few more months of demonstrated effort. As a self-claimed patient person, that’s Kahn’s contention, and taking into account the first two-thirds of the season, that statement doesn’t seem as surprising as it might not even a day after the team lost 13 of its last 14 games.
So as grueling as the lack of practice time might have been, as painful as the injuries were to suffer and to watch, they may have bought some extra time for the players over whom management might be wavering. There are issues the team can’t excuse, Kahn added, most likely referring to everything from the truth of J.J. Barea’s “people don’t care” comments to the team’s lack of energy when adversity hit. There’s an element of complicity, but Kahn and Adelman would be wrong to ignore the factors that they and the players couldn’t control.
“You always forget about a bad start to the season if you finish strong,” Adelman said. “So that makes it hard. But I really enjoyed the players. I really enjoyed how they accepted it, how they came together. But it just didn’t last. We were just really snake-bitten.”
But in the evaluations that lie ahead, during workouts and summer league, both men stressed that they need to remember all of the season, not just the last 26 games that have come to define it. After Rubio’s season-ending ACL tear on March 9, injuries continued to mount, and players were shifted into roles they were both unaccustomed to playing and in some cases unprepared for. How, then, does a team evaluate those players’ performances? Should Martell Webster be judged as a lacking starter or a role player who was stretched beyond his means? Should Wes Johnson be considered as a former lottery pick who’s an automatic entry in the starting lineup, or should he rather be evaluated as someone who might need to transition into a lesser role?
“It put people in positions that they weren’t perhaps accustomed to, in larger roles, and we were allowed to evaluate people good, bad and ugly in terms of what they could or could not do,” Kahn said.
Although those questions will likely plague the team as it decides who stays and who goes, the circumstances also afforded the Timberwolves the opportunity to evaluate players under the widest range of pressures. Kahn may have a better picture of his players’ limits than he did in recent seasons, but with that comes a certain pressure to deliver.
The offseason shopping list could be long. The team needs a player who can shoot the ball effectively. It needs better ball handlers, Adelman has said many times in recent weeks, and it also needs veteran players who’ve proven they can be consistent. With Utah’s first-round pick in this year’s draft, which the team could use or trade, and a measure of cap flexibility — “We could free up a lot of room, or we could go in a different direction and just make trades, just move salary for salary,” Kahn said — the Timberwolves seem poised to make moves this summer.
Before Kahn introduced Adelman to the team at the beginning of this season, he told players that it was time to start winning. That’s what Adelman represented when he came to Minnesota, a chance for a redefinition of this franchise, and with the emergence of Love and Rubio, the team has a chance to make Kahn’s claim true.
But in order to do that, Kahn, Adelman and Taylor must work together. They must be completely honest about what happened this season, sifting through the positives and negatives to come to some sort of consensus as to what the team is capable of when healthy. They can take more time to evaluate, but as much as Kahn is giving players the summer to impress him, he said that he already knows which players are unlikely to return. It’s going to take quite the performance in summer workouts to override what he and Adelman witnessed this season.
So maybe Kahn wasn’t wavering. Instead, he’s offering one last window of opportunity, a measure of fairness in a season that’s been anything but fair.
Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
The Boston Celtics visit the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight, which usually makes for a touching homecoming for Kevin Garnett. After all, he played 12 years of transcendent basketball for a franchise that was always mired in itself. He left quietly, never dragging the local crowd through a Decision or anything resembling Melo-drama. His name should be the opposite of mud in those parts (ice? rocks?).
But KG angered people recently, when he tacitly ripped the Minnesota franchise while drawing a distinction between “true fans” and the often comically inept team management:
The semantics and alliances are a bit tricky here. Fans root for the team, but the team entity can be different from those running it. For instance, devoted Golden State Warriors fans recently booed GSW owner Joe Lacob and suffered for years with former owner Chris Cohan at the helm. Though they badly wanted the best for their franchise, they did not have a positive assessment of those running the operation.
Michael Rand of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has the anti-KG spiel:
“What, exactly, is KG angry about when it comes to this franchise?
Could it be the chance the Wolves gave a skinny high school kid to play pro basketball — a dream nurtured pretty well during those early years in Minnesota?”
First off, the Wolves didn’t give Garnett a “chance” so much as they lucked into his talent. If Minnesota had not drafted KG, somebody else would have. And the writer’s eliding how Wolves owner Glen Taylor sure did kick Garnett on the way out:
“It was more like KG tanked it. I think the other guys still wanted to play. But it sure changed the team and didn’t make us [as good].”
So Garnett certainly has cause to be angry. Wolves fans shouldn’t, though.
Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com
Allow me to start with this:
Phew! Okay, now where was I? Ah, yes!
What a difference a year makes. Last season, the T’Wolves were one of the laughing stocks of the NBA, a wayward franchise with a budding superstar in Kevin Love whose front office, led by Kahn, seemed to think that the best way to fill a hole in the roster is to fill the roster with draft picks and free agents who play the same position and hope that one of them pans out.
However, with Minny at 21-19 and looking like a dark horse to poke its way into the Western Conference playoff picture,
Principal Rooney Kahn and his curious approach to roster-building seem to be on the path to vindication now that the Wolves have escaped the pangs of perdition.
His patience with Ricky Rubio, in light of the Spaniard’s previous struggles overseas, has been rewarded by a Rookie of the Year-caliber campaign, and from his glut of wings has emerged at least one budding young star (Derrick Williams) and another valuable trade chip (Michael Beasley).
Not to mention the hiring of Rick Adelman as the new head coach, though that move had as much to do with the influence of team owner Glen Taylor (and the size of the paycheck) as it did with anything Kahn contributed to the cause. Adelman was reportedly hesitant to take the job in Minnesota on account of his contentious relationship with Kahn, dating back to Adelman’s days as the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers and Kahn’s as the team’s beat writer for the Oregonian.
That being said, there’s still plenty of reason to believe that the T’Wolves are finally succeeding in spite of Kahn, rather than because of him. He had nary a hand in drafting Love, but is responsible for withholding a fifth year from the All-Star forward’s new contract, from which Love can opt out after three years. Likewise, Kahn can’t exactly be credited for the emergence of Nikola Pekovic, whom Kevin McHale took in the second round of the 2008 NBA draft after picking up Love.
On the other hand, Kahn can take credit for giving Darko Milicic his four-year, $20 million deal, Luke Ridnour his four-year, $16 million deal, and JJ Barea his four-year, $19 million deal.
If you really want to give credit where credit is due, then save it for Adelman and his coaching wizardry, Love and his growth into the best power forward on the planet, and Rubio for delivering on the lofty comparisons to “Pistol” Pete Maravich.
In the meantime, Kahn (like you) will keep a close eye on the Wolves from here on out, hoping that the steady improvement continues, and that this whole project—brought together as much by blind luck as by McHale’s old moves—doesn’t collapse into chaos at some point down the line.
Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com
However, one thing is missing: a contract extension for All-Star Kevin Love.
The Wolves recently defeated playoff-contender teams in the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, and Love has been been key in each contest this season. The third-year forward out of UCLA shed more than 20 pounds during the extended offseason and is better than ever, averaging 25 points per game and cleaning the boards night after night.
So, what are owner Glen Taylor and GM David Kahn waiting for?
Below is an excerpt from Peter Vecsey, New York Post:
According to my source, if [an offer] isn’t submitted by Jan. 15, 10 days before the league deadline to enrich players in Love’s position (Russell Westbrook is another), then don’t bother.
Supposedly, the restricted free agent—back for season four in superior shape and with amplified area-code accuracy—then will refuse to re-sign this summer or, if things are prolonged, the one after.
My gut tells me this is a no-brainer—of course Minnesota will seek to maintain their star player. After all, this is the first season in years that Taylor has dealt out some pretty paychecks to build a contending roster.
However, the bruised Timberwolves fan inside me is a little nervous. They won’t screw this up, right?
Minnesota has added rookie sensations Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams as well as bringing in J.J. Barea from Dallas—all quality assets. However, they can’t do it alone. Love holds this team together.
As Vecsey put it, “Come on, this is easy.”
Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com