Timberwolves Draft Recap 2014

Zach LaVine may or may not have reacted well to being drafted by the Timberwolves.  You can decide for yourselves.  (ESPN)

Zach LaVine may or may not have reacted well to being drafted by the Timberwolves. You can decide for yourselves. (ESPN)

Setting the stage:

I set expectations pretty low for Thursday night and still found myself disappointed with this franchise on yet another NBA Draft evening. Going into the draft we had heard a few rumors that Kevin Love was going to remain on the club beyond Thursday night and that there may have been a promise from the Wolves Front Office to another Bill Duffy client, Zach LaVine. I found neither of these rumors to be a positive for the franchise, yet, here we are post-draft and both have come to fruition.

Here are a few thoughts on the Timberwolves’ selections: [Read more…]

2014 NBA Mock Draft

The 2014 NBA draft is loaded with talent – arguably the most talented since the 2003 NBA Draft which we all remember very well. Because it is so talented and with NBA free agency and potential trades on the horizon, this draft was exceedingly difficult to predict. Teams at the top do not have to necessarily grab the best player, they can look at how they fit within the system because after the top two spots, it becomes a lot more wide-open. With the addition of LeBron James to the free agent market that already sports the likes of Carmelo Anthony (along with the Kevin Love trade rumors), there are a lot of possibilities. Many teams may attempt to trade back in the draft to save cap space, while others may try to trade up to grab a top-tier talent. Some teams will look to unload heavy contracts to free up cap space, while others might look to International talent to avoid up-front salary costs. In the top 10 alone, we should see 18-year olds as well as upperclassmen come off the board. It should be a wild ride as the draft approaches and through the rest of the off-season.

ROUND 1
  NO. TEAM PLAYER POS SCHOOL YEAR HT / WT
  1. Cleveland Andrew Wiggins SF Kansas Fr. 6-8 / 225

Analysis: Cleveland wanted Embiid despite being in more of a “win-now” mode than arguably all of the teams in the top 5 and that was a stretch with his given amount of necessary development. Now, he’s out of this spot, and they will turn Embiid’s teammate Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins has long been heralded as the prospect with the most potential and while there are critics worried he will not live up to that potential, he will be an athletic freak that a the very minimum can stretch offenses and play exceptional defense. This is enough of a sure-thing that the Cavaliers can take him as a much lower risk than Anthony Bennet was last year. He also looks to be a better fit alongside Irving & Waiters. If this goes well for the Cavaliers, it will do a considerable amount to keep Kyrie in a Cavs uniform and maybe bring in another star (insert Lebron James comment here).

  2. Milwaukee Jabari Parker SF/PF Duke Fr. 6-9 / 195

Analysis: This leaves the Milwaukee Bucks with no choice but to take Jabari Parker, and they are absolutely fine with that. Though Parker is not as gifted athletically as Wiggins or some of the other top players, he makes up for it with his competitiveness and basketball IQ. Parker will be an immediate go-to scoring option that can be paired with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brandon Knight. He can score within an offense as well as in isolation sets, which will make him very dangerous and hopefully make his teammates better as well. The concerns on defense are understanding, but with the length and size Milwaukee brings, there will be time for that to develop.

  3. Philadelphia Joel Embiid C Kansas Fr. 7-0 / 205

Analysis: Philadelphia was hoping for a Wiggins/Parker type when they came into the lottery with the 2nd best chances at the top spot. They still thought they would get one of them when Embiid owned the top spot from a player standpoint. Now that Embiid is hurt, it looks like they will have their chance to take the guy they did not necessarily want originally, but could end up really needing. The 76ers have little to no post presence other than Nerlens Noel who has yet to play a game. The 76ers are still a few years from making any noise in the league, so that fact Embiid will most likely be out for the 2014-2015 season is not going to affect them much.

  4. Orlando Dante Exum PG/SG Australia Intl. 6-6 / 240

Analysis: The Magic use their first pick in the draft to pick easily the most talented guard, Dante Exum. Though he has not had the toughest competition in his career thus far, the Magic have two first round picks so we can swing for the fences on this one. The Magic’s current roster has a good number of young guards on the team, but none have the tools or can distribute like Exum can. His size will help make up for their last draft pick, Oladipo, whose size has been questioned as a shooting guard but can still bring a lot to the table.

  5. Utah Aaron Gordon PF Arizona Fr. 6-9 / 215

Analysis: Aaron Gordon is on the top of the Jazz’s big board assuming the first four are all gone. The Jazz were the worst team defensively last year and a lot of that has to do with the offensive-mindedness of the players they have previously drafted. Aaron Gordon is an athletic freak who plays terrific defense and will learn to bring a lot to the table offensively. He has a great workout ethic and competitive drive that help him have a nose for the ball. He does not shy away from contact with his physical play – all of this leads to him sneaking into the top 5.

  6. Boston Marcus Smart PG Oklahoma State So. 6-4 / 190

Analysis: The Celtics are one of the teams trying to make moves for Kevin Love or put themselves in better position to get another heralded free-agent, but if they hold onto this pick, drafting Marcus Smart could greatly improve their team. Imagine a back-court comprised of Rondo & Smart, each player playing ferocious perimeter defense and slashing through the opposing defenses. Smart’s athleticism and poise make him a top prospect and months ago he was seen as a sure-thing top 5 pick. But with Exum’s rise and Smart’s trouble in his last year as a Cowboy, he fell out of that group. Still, his potential is not something the Celtics will pass-up if they are still in this spot on draft night.

  7. LA Lakers Julius Randle PF Kentucky Fr. 6-9 / 190

Analysis: Randle is another very NBA-ready prospect who proved himself as the go-to player in big-time situations for Kentucky last year. When the Wildcats needed a bucket, he would post-up and call for the ball, then finish strong in the paint with a basket, foul drawn, or three-point play the old-fashioned way. He has great intangibles and is consistently fighting for second and third chances under the basket. The Lakers are also in the hunt for some big free agent names and having a guy ready to help right now like Randle will only increase their chances at landing someone.

  8. Sacramento Elfrid Payton PG Louisiana-Lafayette Jr. 6-3 / 240

Analysis: Not a lot of stories or rumors have made their way out of the Kings front office, but one thing we do know is that they are very interested in the Ragin’ Cajun Elfrid Payton. Payton put up fantastic numbers in mid-major ball and has all of the physical tools to be a success in the NBA. Though this pick is a reach, Payton has shown that he is the next top PG prospect available in the draft. The Kings have a number of scorers on their team, but Payton is a guy who can slash through a defense and distribute, as well as hold his own at the other end of the court. This is definitely the type of player they should be targeting, it is just not known whether the 8th pick in the draft is worth it.

  9. Charlotte Doug McDermott SF Creighton Sr. 6-8 / 205

Analysis: Charlotte is very hot on Doug McDermott. They have players like Zeller and Kidd-Gilchrist who are still growing and finding their game. McDermott is a guy who can come in and help stretch defenses to free up some space for others to work. He can play multiple positions on the floor and score from almost anywhere. They need an NBA contributor now who can put up better scoring chances than the Hornet’s swingmen are doing now.

  10. Philadelphia Nik Stauskas SG Michigan So. 6-6 / 230

Analysis: The 76ers will see Stauskas as a guy that can play alongside of Michael Carter Williams right away. Together they can be a very solid, well-sized backcourt whose offensive styles complement one-another. Stauskas is one of the deadliest three point shooters in this draft and showed that at Michigan over the last two years. This year, however, Stauskas showed he was an even more complete player who can create his own shot as well as use that attention to create shots for others. He will be a great pick for the 76ers here.

  11. Denver Dario Saric SF/PF Croatia Intl. 6-10 / 255

Analysis: Dario Saric just re-signed with his international team, but I still do not think that will keep him from sliding too much. He knows that he can make it in the NBA, and there are plenty of teams still interested. He has all of the skills to be a great stretch-4. The Nuggets need better shooters, and with McDermott and Stauskas getting taken just ahead of them, they will wait a year or two for Saric. The Nuggets have a solid young core of players that they can keep around while they find more prospects to bring in.

  12. Orlando Noah Vonleh PF Indiana Fr. 6-9 / 235

Analysis: The Magic can make a huge splash here with Vonleh falling all the way to 12 – a guy some teams might have taken at 4. Vonleh has all the tools to be a great player, but through his year at Indiana, most spectators saw him not be assertive enough. Especially alongside Yogi Ferrell, one would thing that Vonleh would have thrived more. When he did step up and show his skills, the results were almost always positive. His size, range, and mobility are all great attributes for this power forward.

  13. Minnesota Gary Harris SG Michigan State So. 6-4 / 185

Analysis: Minnesota grabs the other polished guard from the Big Ten in Gary Harris. Harris has an incredible knowledge of the game and can do it all on the court. He had to step up and play multiple positions and roles as a Spartan when teammates Appling and Dawson missed time. He can knock down threes or take the ball to the basket. He can distribute and play defense. There is nothing jaw-dropping about Harris, except that he brings some of everything to the game. The only knock that warrants any discussion is that he is not as tall as most scouts would like for a 2-guard, but hopefully the dynamic of his skill set makes up for this.

  14. Phoenix Rodney Hood SF Duke So. 6-7 / 170

Analysis: The Suns barely have a small forward on their roster, so with multiple first round picks, there’s no reason not to take the talented Rodney Hood. Hood played on two major teams in college basketball and did great at both of them. He shows great range on the offensive end of the floor and can score inside as well. He has a knack for getting the ball in the hoop. The Suns need another scorer, especially one that can shoot the ball well.

  15. Atlanta Kyle Anderson SF UCLA So. 6-9 / 225

Analysis: The Atlanta Hawks came on strong in the playoffs and were so close to defeating the no. 1 seed and Eastern conference runner-up Indiana Pacers. The Hawks are showing how talented of players their team has especially when they play together. This team has undergone a lot of changes in the past few years, so it was exciting to watch them mold. Adding a guy with the versatility of Kyle Anderson should help this process even more. Anderson is a point guard trapped in a forward’s body. He does a lot with his size and even more with the ball in his hands. He was often UCLA’s primary ball-handler which was a matchup nightmare. He can help shoulder the ball-handling load with Jeff Teague and distribute the ball to the talented scorers on the Hawks.

  16. Chicago Clint Capela PF/C Switzerland Intl. 6-9 / 170

Analysis: There are a lot of questions swirling around the Bulls future right now. When Rose comes back next year, who will the Bulls bring in to play beside him and help alleviate the scoring load? They already have a lot of solid pieces in place, but lack another star. By drafting Clint Capela, a talented big-man out of Switzerland, they keep plenty under the salary cap to make a splash in free agency while stashing a very solid international player for a few years. They also have a lot interest in moving up in the draft to get a bigger name that can help right away. This is evident in the players that they have worked out having a higher pick grade than 17. A lot could change for them between now and their pick on Thursday night.

  17. Boston James Young SG Kentucky Fr. 6-7 / 205

Analysis: Like Chicago, Boston is a team that is looking to make some moves to re-vamp their franchise back to what it was a few years back (as mentioned in pick 6). If they stay here at 18, James Young would be a great value pick for them. He has very good size for a 2/3 and would complement the Celtics back-court as well as their current swing man Jeff Green who has been forced into both a scoring and facilitating role with the Celtics’ injuries. Young was another huge part of Kentucky’s scoring as he was often the perimeter player that had to create when no one else was. Coupled with his measurables, this is would be a great pick for Boston.

  18. Phoenix Jusuf Nurkic C Bosnia & Herzegovina Intl. 6-11 / 190

Analysis: Despite all of their roster turnover in the last few years, the Suns were able to put together a very successful 2013-2014 campaign in most people’s eyes. That’s why after taking a small forward, NBA ready player with their first pick, they can draft a project like Nurkic who can stay out in Europe for a few years. The Suns could use one more big man presence inside, so when Nurkic is ready he will be welcomed in Phoenix.

  19. Chicago Adreian Payne PF Michigan State Sr. 6-10 / 200

Analysis: The Bulls situation was already discussed in their pick above, so now many think that they might go for a backup point guard as an insurance for Rose, but for this pick, the guy that they are most hot on is Adrien Payne. He would give the Bulls another inside-out option and bring great intensity (like most of their players already do). He will fit in nicely to their system and play within their offense.

  20. Toronto Tyler Ennis PG Syracuse Fr. 6-2 / 220

Analysis: Toronto has some scorers and finally solid big men inside, but they still lack a true point guard. Lowry may not stick around and even if he does, he is not the best distributor. Ennis benefitted from playing in a high intensity program like Syracuse where there have been several PG studs that have preceded him. He showed tremendous poise in lots of big matchups, hitting big shots and protecting the ball. Ennis will help them stay relevant in the Eastern conference even if they lose a guy like Lowry.

  21. Oklahoma City Zach LaVine PG/SG UCLA Fr. 6-5 / 240

Analysis: For third consecutive year, OKC can sit back and watch players come off the board ahead of them and find the best player available. Many would like to see OKC find another big man presence inside, but with Reggie Jackson most likely commanding a heavy contract, another combo guard could be the answer. Zach LaVine has tremendous tools and size. His shooting and ball skills are among the top in the draft, but he is still not ready to contribute immediately. That is the reason he slips outside of the top 20. He is a great value pick for OKC who still have more time to put together a championship run.

  22. Memphis PJ Hairston SG USA Jr. 6-5 / 200

Analysis: Memphis was near the bottom of the league in nearly every shooting category, injecting the team with a solid-sized SG will help greatly. They have a point guard, multiple solid big men, defensive specialists, but since losing Gay and Mayo, they have needed an additional scoring presence. Hairston has taken a tumultuous journey to get to the draft, but after dominating at UNC and a year of putting up good numbers in the NBADL, he’s ready to take on the NBA too.

  23. Utah KJ McDaniels SF Clemson Jr. 6-6 / 200

Analysis: Utah can add another great defensive piece with the addition of KJ McDaniels. Given his position and size, it is amazing he can defend players bigger than him and rebound as well as he does. Utah needs more defensive role players like him and with Gordon having such a high ceiling as their top pick, they can afford to take a safe role player pick like KJ McDaniels to help lock down the solid wing players of the West.

  24. Charlotte Jordan Clarkson PG/SG Missouri Jr. 6-5 / 235

Analysis: How great a story it would be for the Hornets to grab Shabazz Napier with this pick after he did the same thing Kemba Walker did 3 years before? But that’s not going to happen. Instead, the Hornets need to target another ball handler, except one with better size, who they can flex as a 1 and 2. Clarkson played in two college basketball systems and really started to excel at Missouri when he was given primary ball-handling responsibilities. He can slash through defenses and distribute, as well as shoot when he needs to. He will do nothing but improve Charlotte and can do so fairly quickly.

  25. Houston Jordan Adams SG UCLA So. 6-5 / 190

Analysis: Adams is a really intriguing prospect, because nothing about his athleticism jumps off the charts, yet he always finds ways to score and make defensive plays. His competitiveness and size are also great attributes. He improved greatly his sophomore year and with experience at Oak Hill Academy for high school, he has played against some of the best competition for years. As James Harden’s understudy, he will continue to progress his game in the NBA, adding another option to the Rockets offense and making pesky plays on defense.

  26. Miami Shabazz Napier PG Connecticut Sr. 6-0 / 230

Analysis: Shabazz does not have quite the same luxury as Kemba did when he carried his team to the national championship. This draft class is far more talented, but that might help Shabazz out in the long run. In this scenario, he falls to the Miami Heat who are in need of more consistent PG play to help shore up holes in their offense. Whether the Heat break up this year or next or never, with his talent, he can be someone who makes a difference.

  27. Phoenix TJ Warren SF NC State So. 6-8 / 197

Analysis: TJ Warren’s college career ended on a low-note with the loss to Saint Louis University in the first round after carrying his team into the NCAA tournament. But the reigning ACC player of the year will take the next step in the NBA and be able to help right away. With Phoenix’s third pick in the first round, they lock another consistent offensive threat with great scoring abilities. The obvious knock on Warren is his lack of athleticism and measurables, but that hasn’t stopped him especially after playing in a conference like the ACC. He can give the Suns an instant injection of talent and conceivably play multiple positions.

  28. LA Clippers Jarnell Stokes PF Tennessee Jr. 6-6 / 240

Analysis: The Clippers are lacking front court depth, but they can add to it and put themselves in position to make another postseason run by drafting a blue collar big man. Stokes banged with plenty of big guys in the SEC on his way to averaging a double-double. He plays unselfish basketball by taking good shots and doing a lot of things that do not show up on the stat sheet. He is one of the more NBA ready forwards and can help fill in for Griffin and Jordan in LA.

  29. Oklahoma City Mitch McGary C Michigan So. 6-10 / 180

Analysis: With Oklahoma City’s second pick of the draft, they can take Mitch McGary out of Michigan. McGary had off-court issues that sent him to the league earlier than he may have intended, but he has been destined for the first round of the NBA draft since he was a freshmen and had he not struggled through injury and off-court issues, he could have easily been a higher first round pick. He is another big man presence, one that OKC really needs when Perkins leaves and if Adams does not improve. He has an NBA ready body, he’ll just need to work on his offensive game to become a bigger asset to the team that drafts him.

  30. San Antonio Spencer Dinwiddie PG/SG Colorado Jr. 6-6 / 220

Analysis: San Antonio always seems to find talent and hit home runs with players in question. Dinwiddie could have well been a mid-first round to lottery pick had he not torn his ACL, instead because of his injury he almost fell out of the first round. He has great basketball skill and can rack numbers in all statistical categories. He is versatile with the positions he can play that make him a valuable tool. The Spurs are still winning but are another year older without replacements for Parker and Duncan. Dinwiddie can help them right now with the possible departure of Patty Mills and also in the future as he still has room to develop his game.

Potential Pups Targets in the 2014 NBA Draft

nba-draft

Let’s pretend for a second that the Timberwolves aren’t going to move up in the 2014 NBA Draft on Thursday and they will have the 13th selection in the first round.  There are a lot of moving pieces here, namely Kevin Love and his status on the team.  (Without hijacking this write-up, I don’t think Love will be on the roster by the time Friday rolls around.  In fact, at this point, I hope that he is not on the roster come Friday because I don’t want to hear about Love trade scenarios through February 2015.  Please spare us this scenario!)

Here are several prospects that have my attention and where I have netted out after browsing the web, looking through mock drafts, etc.  I’m not going to include any thoughts on the obvious big three at the top of the draft or those that continuously appeared in the top 8 or so (e.g. Exum, Smart, Randle, Vonleh, or Gordon).  Those players aren’t going to be around at #13 when Flip gets to make the selection for his coach and staff.  (See what I did there?) [Read more…]

A Kevin Love Roundtable – What Would You Trade For Love?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Rather than creating our own trade scenarios and proposals for Kevin Love’s (potential) departure, we have decided to reach out to the writers and fans of other teams and asked them to give their best offers for the Timberwolves All-Star. For each offer, we have provided our own thoughts and likelihood of acceptance and have picked the best one at the very end. I want to thank all of the bloggers and fans that have contributed to this roundtable. Enjoy!

Los Angeles Lakers

Johnny Navarrette (@JohnnyNav), Laker Nation
 
Timberwolves receive: Greg Monroe (Sign & Trade)
Lakers receive: Kevin Love
Pistons receive: 7th pick in NBA Draft (LA would select a player for Detroit)
 
Trade Description

The bad news for the Lakers is that they have limited resources this off-season outside of the #7 pick in the NBA draft and ample cap space.  The only players currently under contract are Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, and Robert Sacre.  The purple and gold will continue to make a push to acquire Love, but they will need to get creative.  While three-team deals are hard to make, that is the best option for the Lakers to get a deal done.

For the T-Wolves, losing Love will hurt, as you don’t replace a player like him.  With Greg Monroe, you are bringing in a 23-year old power forward that averages 14 points and 9 rebounds in four seasons.

After years of mediocrity and lottery appearances, it is not unreasonable to think that Minnesota hopes to bring a player in which helps the team move forward, instead of draft picks that could take a few seasons to develop.  With players like Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, and Kevin Martin in place, becoming a playoff team is not too far off.  Adding Monroe to the mix might be the best return in terms of  player quality and impact.

Our Reaction

John: I don’t hate this deal as part of the backbone of something a bit bigger, i.e. draft picks. The Wolves can’t get “just” Monroe in a deal for Love, there has to be something included for a future pick or two.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Charles Chaney (@ThunderObsessed), Thunder Obsessed
 
Timberwolves Receive: Serge Ibaka
Thunder Receive: Kevin Love and Timberwolves’ 2014 first-round pick
 
Trade Description

Throughout Oklahoma City’s history, Sam Presti has rarely made a trade where he didn’t think of the long term effect of the Thunder. For Oklahoma City to acquire Love, it would have to be something where Oklahoma City probably robbed the Wolves. Of course we would see power forwards swap spots. However, Oklahoma City would force the Wolves to give up their first round pick among maybe Alexey Shved to sure up the bench. Is Flip Saunders is that stupid, then I believe Oklahoma City would be Lovin’ it. GET IT.

Our Reaction

Alex: Having to part with both Love and their 2014 first-round pick would be too steep a price for the Wolves to pay, even for a player of Ibaka’s caliber. It would be awfully tough to get the better end of a trade with Sam Presti, as his conservative approach will likely keep the core of the Thunder together until Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook get closer to the ends of their respective contracts. And while the Thunder’s sense of urgency to win a title now could spark some interest in trading for Love, he would not be an ideal system fit and would likely compromise the current roster balance that has been carefully structured to get OKC to where they stand right now, which is a perennial Western Conference Finals contender.

Houston Rockets

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles), Crabdribbles
 
Timberwolves Receive: Chandler Parsons, Robert Covington, Jeremy Lin and Terrence Jones
Rockets Receive: Kevin Love
 
Trade Description

Parting ways with Love would inevitably set the Minnesota Timberwolves on a rebuilding track, so acquiring young assets is key for them, and that’s exactly what they’d get in this trade.

Robert Covington went undrafted in 2013, but he was named the Rookie of the Year in the D-League for the 2013-2014 season, and he flaunted his potential to be a nice spark plug off the bench along the way. Terrence Jones developed into a versatile defender in his sophomore campaign and made strides as a scorer, too. He’s far from a finished product, but his length next to Gorgui Dieng could be devastating defensively. And while Jeremy Lin coming on board for $15 million hurts financially, it would only be for one year, which takes the sting out of it. On the bright side, he could serve as a nice backup to Rubio and would be able to play the two in small ball line-ups.

Finally, seeing as the Rockets have declined Chandler Parsons‘ fourth-year team option, making him a restricted free agent, this trade assumes that he signs a long-term contract, probably in the vicinity of $8-$11 million a year. The Timberwolves would only have around $40 million committed to their roster in 2015-2016, so they could afford Parsons’ new contract — not to mention Rubio’s, too — and still have room to bring in someone else.

Our Reaction

Alex: Chandler Parsons would become arguably the best small forward Minnesota has ever had in the history of their franchise, and Terrence Jones displayed last year that he could become a very good player in this league. It is Wolves fans’ worst nightmare to give Love to a Western Conference rival, and putting Love in the same frontcourt as Dwight Howard would create one of the best scoring and rebounding pairings in recent memory. Nonetheless, the Rockets have talented young players to offer Minnesota who are ready to play right now, which is attractive to a franchise that has a long history of missing on their draft picks. I would love to see how a young core of Rubio, Parsons, Jones, Pekovic, Dieng and Muhammad would fit together.

Phoenix Suns

Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet), Hoops Habit
 
Timberwolves Receive: Eric Bledsoe, reacquire own 2015 first-round pick 
Suns Receive: Kevin Love
 
Trade Description

The Suns are one of the few teams in the NBA that can actually make “The Godfather” offer the Wolves are looking for. Phoenix would love to keep their hands on Goran Dragic AND Eric Bledsoe, it doesn’t seem like they’d be able to get away with it for a player like Love. This deal gives Minnesota and up-and-coming star and their 2015 first-rounder back. Giving up the Dragon seems heartless after being Phoenix’s best player the past two seasons, and Suns fans could tell themselves Bledsoe’s knees are a risk. The only caveat is Bledsoe would have to agree to a sign-and-trade and give him something close to a max deal to make the salaries work. Putting together a Gerald Green-Channing Frye-Markieff Morris-two first rounders offer would keep the Dragic-Love-Bledsoe dream trio intact, but it probably wouldn’t be enough for the Wolves. But by giving up Bledsoe, the Suns would need to think about whether or not they’d have enough left that Love would want to re-sign in 2015 and therefore, whether it’d be better to have Love and lost than to never have had Love at all.

Our Reaction

Alex: This would be a very intriguing offer for the Wolves to mull as it offers a rising superstar in Bledsoe as well as a possible future rotation player in the 2015 first-round pick. Bledsoe proved for the Clippers that he can play just as well at shooting guard as he does running the offense, although he functions more comfortably as a point guard. With Rubio’s future in Minnesota slightly cloudy, Bledsoe would provide great insurance for the Timberwolves while making the Spaniard expendable. I ultimately see Rubio sticking around in Minnesota for a fair price, and having Bledsoe as a running mate in the backcourt would instantly improve Minnesota on both ends of the floor.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Wade Foley (@WFoleyNBA), More Than a Fan Cleveland
 
Timberwolves Receive: Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Grizzlies’ first-round pick, Heat first-round pick
Cavaliers Receive: Kevin Love
 
Trade Description

Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers seemed improbable until he told The Big Lead, a USA Today blog; on Wednesday that he doesn’t think the Cavs rumors are outlandish because they have a great young foundation.

I still think Love ending up in Cleveland is very unlikely seeing as he has stated that he’d like to play in a big market. Having a relationship with Kyrie Irving doesn’t hurt, however, and the two would make a nice scoring duo. If I were David Griffin, I wouldn’t consider relinquishing the number one overall pick for Love unless there was a guarantee he would re-sign with the Cavs, and it’s highly unlikely they would get this guarantee. My offer to the Timberwolves would be Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, The Memphis Grizzlies’ pick (1st round pick to Cleveland protected for selections 1-5 and 15-30 in 2015, 1-5 and 15-30 in 2016, 1-5 in 2017 or 1-5 in 2018 or unprotected in 2019) and the Miami Heat’s 2015 first (top 10 protected) OR replace Varejao with Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack. The Timberwolves could potentially be getting two role players that are still on their rookie contracts, a veteran guard or big off the bench, and two future firsts to rebuild with. Also, if Love truly decides he wants to play in Cleveland, it seems like he would push for a trade there while the Cavs refuse to budge on the number one pick. That way he could play alongside Irving and Joel Embiid/Andrew Wiggins. It’s doubtful this will be the Timberwolves best offer, but from the Cavs’ perspective, this should be as good as it gets without a guarantee.

Our Reaction

Alex: It is no secret that I am enamored at the prospect of swapping Love for the first overall pick and a few young assets, but it is unclear if the Cavs would be willing to offer as much. I am a firm believer that the 2014 NBA Draft will be the best since 2003 (which sported the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and others to the NBA) and I think that Wiggins, Parker and Embiid are all can’t-miss prospects. Minnesota must face the reality that their superstar will likely not be returning to the Twin Cities, but with this difficult predicament brings an opportunity to draft yet another once-in-a-generation type of talent.

It is no guarantee that the Cavs would be willing to offer the first pick, but they have done a good job of stock-piling first-rounders and would likely dangle multiple middle to late first-round picks before offering up the top selection. If I am Flip Saunders, I do not settle for anything but the first pick + Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. With LeBron’s future in Miami up in the air, the Cavs could make a power move by acquiring Love, thus offering LeBron a chance to reconcile with his former stomping grounds while forming a formidable big three consisting of himself, Irving, and Love (not to mention plenty of young talent surrounding them).

Milwaukee Bucks

Alex Skov (@AJSkov), Behind The Buck Pass
 
Timberwolves Receive: No. 2 pick in 2014 draft, Larry Sanders and O.J. Mayo
Bucks Receive: Kevin Love
 
Trade Description

With the No. 13 pick, the Wolves’ luck is to have done enough to get into the lottery, but just out of reach of any of the marquee names in the draft. There is no room for error if the franchise keeps Love, but that’s not the case if the Timberwolves deal him for a package built around the No. 2 overall pick, where a (theoretical) star will be ripe for the taking. This pick would give the front office breathing space to take the best player available or an immediate contributor/role player at no. 13.

Although O.J. Mayo is coming off an underwhelming season, he is still young (26) and averaged over 11 points per game in each of his six NBA seasons. Mayo could contend with Kevin Martin for the starting shooting guard spot, if the coaching staff so wishes, and allow the organization to figure out if Alexey Shved is a part of Minnesota’s basketball future. Larry Sanders would add an almost strictly defensive presence to the already center-heavy roster, though he could end up as one of the league’s premier shot-blockers if his focus returns to hoops. John Henson could be substituted for Sanders in this scenario, adding more of a scoring threat to the Wolves’ get, but Dieng is already the resident developing lanky big man in blue and white.

 Our Reaction

John: I’ve always been a fan of Mayo but the past two seasons have left a lot to be desired and I’m falling off the bandwagon.  I’ve never been a huge fan of Larry Sanders but he clearly has his backers.  Overall, this deal is pretty appealing with the #2 pick in this year’s draft plus those assets.

Flip Saunders and the Wolves have too many second round picks in the 2014 draft, I would start to throw one or two of those in the offer and see if we can get the Bucks to agree to a clause that would allow the teams to flip first round picks over the next few years (for the Wolves benefit of course).  With that clause thrown in there, I’m not sure you are going to find a better offer out there.

New York Knicks

Brandon Rushie (@AyoRush), The Knicks Wall
 
Timberwolves Receive: Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert
Knicks Receive: Kevin Love
 
Trade Description

Hate to be that guy, but I see no scenario in which Phil Jackson convinces Flip Saunders to ship his all-star forward to New York. The Knicks have nothing substantial to offer in return. Yes, Tyson Chandler is still a capable starter at the 5. Iman Shumpert, despite his offensive shortcomings, is an athletic wing defender who can hit the 3 at a decent clip off the catch. But the T-Wolves are already deep at both positions, and if the selling point is simply the cap relief of a few expiring contracts, how much good does that actually do them with their only marquee player on his way out? With the Suns, Bulls, and Lakers in the mix, there’s just too many better options out there for Minnesota.

Our Reaction

Alex: With so many other offers out there, I cannot see the Timberwolves settling on such a meager return. Shumpert, once a highly coveted swingman, has not progressed over the past few years and Chandler is no longer the player he once was.

 
 
In addition to the bloggers above, John wound up asking a few friends that are fans of a few teams on the east coast because, well you know, East Coast Bias.  Here are their offers:
 
David Corsaro (@DavidCorsaro) – Brooklyn Nets Fan
Timberwolves Receive: Brook Lopez
Nets Receive: Kevin Love
Reaction

John: I absolutely hate not getting future picks from the Nets, which actually could be worth something in the longer term, but not something I want to wait around for either with just Brook Lopez coming back.

Jeff Agress (@JeffAgress) – Philadelphia 76ers Fan
Timberwolves Receive: Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young, #10, #32, and #39 in 2014 draft
76ers Receive: Kevin Love
Reaction

John: Well, not receiving the #3 pick is a non-starter for me in discussions.  Aside from that, as mentioned earlier in the write-up, the Wolves already have too many second round picks, so there is no reason to accept those picks in this year’s draft.

MCW + #3 + salary filler might wind up being a decent deal for the Wolves two to three years from now.  While I don’t like the following at all, #3 + Thad Young + future picks and salary filler would be something for consideration … if, and only if, Flip knows Love is a goner.

Michael Pinto (@mpinto316) – Boston Celtics Fan
Timberwolves Receive: Kris Humphries, Joel Anthony, Phil Pressey, and #6 in 2014 draft
76ers Receive: Kevin Love and Ronny Turiaf
Reaction

He lost me when Jeff Green OR Kelly Olynyk were not included.  So I actually went to the trade machine and plugged in the following deal:

Timberwolves Receive: Kris Humphries, Jeff Green, Kelly Olynyk, and #6 in 2014 draft + the right to flip first round picks in 2016-2018 (or similar)

Celtics Receive: Kevin Love, JJ Barea, and #44 & #53 picks from 2014 draft

You knew I would find a way to trade JJ Barea before the end of this write-up, didn’t you?  What better way to send him off with Kevin Love so they can be teammates forever?

 

Best Offers

John: Well, I like the trade that I drew up with the Celtics, but that isn’t going to happen.  From the offers received directly from others, I like the Bucks offer the most.  That said, I doubt the Bucks would take a gamble on renting Love for a season because if he isn’t staying in Minnesota, I can’t imagine he’ll want to stay in Milwaukee.  (I hate this entire situation.)

 Alex: I want to see the Timberwolves make a trade that nets them established young players instead of acquiring several first-round draft picks, as the franchise has previously had so much trouble turning first-round picks into successful NBA players. The trade with Houston centered around Chandler Parsons and Terrence Jones strikes me as a handsome return as Parsons has established himself as one of the top young swingmen in the game and Jones proved last season that he has serious upside stretching the floor at both forward spots. However, if Cleveland is willing to offer up the first overall pick along with some complementary young talent (namely Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson) then I would be willing to take a chance on the number 1 pick which would end up being either Andrew Wiggins, Jabrari Parker or Joel Embiid. This would give the Timberwolves their best opportunity to grab a player who could potentially turn into a player of Love’s caliber or even greater.

What Sam Mitchell’s Past can Tell Us about His Present as an Assistant Coach with the Wolves

Long-time NBA assistant coach and one-time NBA head coach Sam Mitchell has officially joined Flip Saunders’ staff as an assistant coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves, as was confirmed by Mitchell himself.

After spending just four full seasons as the Toronto Raptors head coach, from 2004-2008, before being fired midway through the fifth season of his tenure, it is difficult to get a feel for what Mitchell’s coaching philosophy is or what he might bring to the Wolves’ staff given the small sample size of games he spent at the helm in Toronto.

Of course, the responsibilities that come with being an assistant coach are far different than those of a head coach, but Mitchell will still try to bring his philosophy and ideas to the staff, so it is important to try to understand both the way he thinks about the game he has been a part of for so long in myriad capacities.

Although we don’t know much, here are some questions that we have general answers to from Mitchell’s reign as the Raptors head coach.

What did his offense look like?

The easiest answer here is a jumbled, chaotic mess. In his four, full seasons as an NBA head coach, Mitchell never ironed out a clear-cut offensive game plan, and that was ultimately a big reason why he did not last long. Toronto’s offense trended in an interesting direction over the course of Mitchell’s tenure. That is towards more mid-range jumpers, leaving less shots to be taken at the rim and behind the arc.

With mid-range jumpers generally one of the least efficient shots on the court for a player to take, Mitchell’s team trending that way as his time with the team progressed was at best odd and at worst downright stupid. There is no way to know if Mitchell was telling his team to take more mid-range jumpers, but part of being a coach is, at some point, telling your guys to stop taking bad, low-percentage shots or finding a way to put them in situations to get better, more efficient looks at the basket. Mitchell seemingly did neither, which is a sign of poor coaching.

To get a better feel for which direction Mitchell’s Toronto teams trended offensively, one must notice how the spots on the court where shots were being taken changed from the time he got there up until his termination.

Field Goal Attempts Restricted Area Mid-Range Three
2004-05 23.9 27.6 20.5
2005-06 23.3 28.0 19.8
2006-07 22.8 30.7 17.9
2007-08 22.9 33.9 17.8

In the table above, it’s easy to see that Mitchell’s teams began to settle for more mid-range jumpers as opposed to putting their heads down and getting to the rim or pulling up for more efficient three-pointers. As a result, Mitchell’s teams shot far fewer free throws in his last season as head coach than they did in his first. In the 2004-05 season, the Raptors were 18th in the league in free throw attempts. In the 2007-08 campaign, the Raptors had dropped down considerably to rank 30th, or dead last in the NBA, in free throw attempts.

Free Throws Free Throw Attempts
2004-05 25.6
2005-06 25.5
2006-07 24.2
2007-08 20.2

What did his defense look like?

We know little about what Mitchell’s actual plan on offense was as a head coach, but we know even less about what his defensive scheme entailed. Looking at the numbers below, it’s easy to see that the Raptors’ defense improved under Mitchell’s guidance, which is really impressive given how few players he had on his roster that made their name as defensive stoppers.

Defense Defensive Rating League Rank
2004-05 105.9 24th
2005-06 109.7 29th
2006-07 103.2 12th
2007-08 104.3 14th

Was he a player’s coach or an X’s and O’s guy?

Mitchell was never known to be an X’s and O’s guy. He liked to have his team work out of the horns set on offense, but it didn’t seem to work for the Raptors under Mitchell like it is supposed to given the increasingly poor looks his teams got offensively. Horns is an extremely versatile set, and it’s hard to argue that Mitchell’s teams should not have been able to do a lot more offensively by leaning on that set as much as people say he did. Admittedly, it is difficult to tell just how much his Raptors teams utilized horns given the lack of film from his time as a head coach. Mitchell is also not known as someone that could draw up a jaw-dropping play out of a timeout, which is an assignment that is not uncommon for NBA assistant coaches to draw.

There is no unanimous feeling coming from Mitchell’s former players about him. Several guys, i.e. Vince Carter, Rafer Alston, Charlie Villanueva, and Morris Peterson have all either said something negative about Mitchell or been thought to have had a run in with him at some point while he was in Toronto. However, it also speaks well of Mitchell that he got so much out of players that left a lot to be desired on the court. He was always able to get guys to buy into his “system” for the most part, which was play tough and give great effort. Getting guys to do those two things, not X’s and O’s, won Mitchell his one coach of the year award after his team had a major turnaround from a 27-55 record in 2005-06 to a 47-35 record in 2006-07. He was able to milk the most out of the likes of Anthony Parker, T.J. Ford, Jorge Garbajosa, Rasho Nesterovic, etc. That’s no small feat, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. Maybe that will be Mitchell’s role as a Timberwolves assistant – player mentor, confidant, talent developer, and team morale builder. Those skills, while unmeasurable, are important nevertheless.

How did the front office affect his relative success or failure as a head coach?

From 2004-2006, the first two seasons with Mitchell in charge, the Raptors general manager was Rob Babcock. Interestingly enough, Babcock is now Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Timberwolves. That might give those two some connection, and that could mean something. Maybe not though. After all, Babcock did not do Mitchell any favors roster-wise in Toronto. In 2004, Babcock drafted Rafael Aurajo, who turned out to be a complete bust, with the 8th overall pick in the first round. The very next draft, Babcock took a flyer on another guy, Charlie Villanueva, who turned out to be another colossal disappointment.

The bleeding to Mitchell’s roster didn’t stop there. Early on in the coach’s tenure, Vince Carter was traded for what turned out to be nothing useful in return. Of course, Mitchell might be partially to blame for Carter’s departure. The two were rumored to get into a fight not long after Mitchell arrived north of the border. Additionally, temperamental guard Rafer Alston was signed to a five year deal in 2004, and he and Mitchell reportedly never saw eye to eye.

With all these poor roster moves and decisions made by management, it’s easy to see how Mitchell’s teams stagnated and piddled around the mediocrity line, a state with which the Wolves are far too familiar. Yes, he deserves a fair share of the blame, but at least part of his squad’s offensive woes and mediocre defense should be attributed to the hand he was dealt in his four full seasons. A coach can only get so much out of a limited roster. It will be really interesting to see what, if anything, Mitchell can do for the development of a guy with great talent such as Ricky Rubio. In four years under Mitchell, rare talent Chris Bosh didn’t improve as much as he probably could have under different circumstances. Bosh was already really good when he started with Mitchell, but his best two seasons in Toronto were admittedly his last two, once Mitchell was out of the picture. Maybe under different circumstances, with a better roster surrounding his star, Mitchell could have done more for Bosh’s development. As a former NBA small forward himself, maybe Mitchell is just who the Wolves need to get through to Shabazz Muhammad to help him reach his potential. Certainly, it seems like player development might be one reason Saunders added Mitchell to his staff. Remember, he does have a knack for getting a lot out of very little. He’s proved that.

Overall, Mitchell might bring just enough to the table with his big personality and motivational skills to justify his addition to Minnesota’s coaching staff. He has shown a general lack of expertise when it comes to offensive and defensive schemes, but that is not all his fault. His rosters in Toronto tended to be chock-full of either bad, overrated, or aging players.

After Mitchell’s name swirled around as a potential candidate for the Timberwolves’ head coaching gig before Saunders appointed himself to the position, Saunders will surely be keeping a close eye on him to develop a better feel for his basketball philosophy and what he brings to the table. Maybe this is an audition of sorts for Mitchell where Saunders is trying to see if he is capable of being the head coach down the line. Who knows? Right now, we hardly know anything substantial about Mitchell and what he brings to the table as a coach because we have limited information to go on, so we’ll just have to wait and see how this plays out.

Changes in the Twolves Staff, Again

Last year, John wrote about the changes made within the Minnesota Timberwolves front-office. Below is an excerpt from that post. I’m showing you this because I plan to ultimately use the same format as John did last summer.

Since the return of Flip, the news hasn’t really slowed down.  Days after being hired in May, Flip fired Pete Philo, the Wolves international scouting coordinator, along with Curtis Crawford and Will Conroy.  Conroy, of course, was Brandon Roy’s best friend that David Kahn gave a contract to prior to last season.  Crawford was an actual scout for the team.

Opinion: Given the lack of overall success in the franchise’s draft history and ability to find many hidden gems overseas, this was a good starting point for the team.  Hopefully, Glen Taylor and Flip use the appropriate amount of resources to maximize the potential of hitting a home run in the future through the appropriate scouting channels.

The Wolves roster is frozen until June 30th, the team cannot make personnel changes until the 2013-2014 season has officially ended. Kevin Love remains with the team albeit the vast amount of rumors swirling regarding his inevitable departure. It’s difficult to interpret appropriate expectations for a coaching staff if the roster isn’t firm, which for the Wolves — it’s not — so there’s a bit of uncertainty to take into account. That said, I’ll do my worst.

By now you’ve heard that Flip Saunders appointed himself as the new head coach. From what I understand to be the consensus, it’s not Flip the coach that concerns fans, but rather, the process in which Glen Taylor sat by, begrudgedly, while Saunders interviewed lesser-qualified candidates to make himself look like the best man for the job.

Opinion: Flip the hire bugs me, too, but in his defense — it remains to be seen how long Saunders intends to coach the Wolves. Will this be a temporary gig? Is Flip’s plan to pocket a few million dollars, that would have gone to someone like George Karl, Lionel Hollins, or Vinny Del Negro [who rank ‘meh,’ ‘eh,’ and ick, respectfully], or is it Flip’s intention to become a Gregg Popovich type presence among the Wolves organization? Popovich — with a little help from General Manager R.C. Buford — is the law, law-enforcement, judge, and prison guard of the San Antonio Spurs organization. 

Perhaps a more appropriate comparison for Flip and the Wolves front-office would be Stan Van Gundy, who was recently hired by the Detroit Pistons to become the head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Although, admittedly, as bad as things are believed to be in Minnesota, the Pistons former President of B-Ball Ops., Joe Dumars, left Van Gundy in an ugly situation after signing unproven talents pretentious wannabe-superstars Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to egregious contracts.

The following is from the Wolves press release, announcing the addition of Sidney Lowe as an assistant coach on Flip’s staff.

The Minnesota Timberwolves today announced Sidney Lowe as an assistant coach on head coach Flip Saunders staff. This will be Lowe’s fourth time coaching alongside Saunders, previously serving as an assistant under him in Minnesota both from 1999-2000 and 2003-05, and in Detroit from 2005-06. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not announced.

“We are excited to add Sid Lowe to our coaching staff,” said head coach Flip Saunders. “I have great respect for Sid. He has a great basketball mind and an extensive coaching background as a head and assistant coach in both the NBA and collegiate levels, which will be extremely valuable on our staff. Sid relates well with players and will play an important role in the development of talent on our roster.”

Last year, in John’s article titled Changes in the TWolves Staff, alluded to Glen Taylor and Flip staying within their comfort zone after they hired Milt Newton to become General Manager. John was being nice, as it’s no secret the local media refers to this comfort zone as the proverbial Country Club, and, thus far this summer, that zone, or club, is only growing in numbers.

 

Mitchell spent four-full seasons as head coach of the Toronto Raptors from 2004-2008. Two years after being crowned NBA Coach of the Year, Mitchell was fired 17 games into the ’08-’09 season. The Raptors were 8-9 at the time of his termination, and Mitchell was replaced by his assistant coach, Jay Triano. Toronto finished the ’08-’09 season 25-40.

Opinion: Admittedly, I didn’t find Mitchell’s work as an analyst with TNT this season all too admirable, but I am a mere blogger and wouldn’t dare compare my basketball mind to a former NBA Coach of the Year. My only fear is that Mitchell may someday want to become a head coach again, henceforth, how he plans to deal with potential disagreements between himself and Coach Flip is a concern I have with Mitchell on the staff. Also, I don’t believe Mitchell is too keen on his teams attempting copious amounts of three-pointers– which could be death sentence when trying to compete in today’s NBA.

Let’s not forget, Flip isn’t the most vocal advocate of three-pointers, either, as the Wolves consistently dwelled on the bottom of the 3PT Attempt category during his previous tenure as head coach.  

I’ll parallel the potential loss of Sikma, who worked closely with Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng as an assistant, to the departure of Bill Bayno– Bayno was free to find another job at the end of last season, and ultimately joined Dwane Casey with the Raptors organization. To stress the significance Sikma’s departure may mean for the Wolves, I’ll refer back to John’s post.

Opinion: Bayno seemed to have a real strong rapport with the roster the past two years and was always well regarded by others online and in the media.  While it is being reported that this had nothing to do with money, I wish the Wolves would have countered with … something.  I would feel much better with Bill Bayno waiting behind Rick Adelman (more on this in a bit) vs. Terry Porter and others.

As a reminder, the Wolves didn’t seem to be lacking any chemistry issues within the locker room– perhaps if Bayno had been retained said issues, conflicts amongst teammates, may have been prevented.

Also expected to join Flip’s staff is his son, Ryan Saunders. The following is from NBA.com.

Saunders is instrumental in assisting with the preparation for upcoming opponents with extensive scouting reports and statistical analysis. Saunders came to the Wizards after spending a year coaching under Tubby Smith at the University of Minnesota, where he helped the Golden Gophers to an NCAA Tournament appearance. In addition to his on-court work, he helped players with their academic and social development off the court.

Before moving to the sidelines, Saunders played four seasons at Minnesota, where he was a two-time team captain, four-time scholar athlete award winner and 2006 Big Ten All-Academic selection. He earned his bachelor’s degree in sport management and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in applied kinesiology.

Although most work-type environments in which the son/daughter of The Boss usually result in resentful scenarios among the employees, [Ryan] Saunders deploys a new-age role that’s important in today’s NBA. [Ryan] Saunders and his statistical expertise will provide an analytical perspective to the Wolves front-office. If there is anyone on the staff that can talk Flip and Sam Mitchell out of feebly attempting vast amounts of mid-range jumpers [considered to be the least-effective attempt to score from an efficiency standpoint] it’s going to be Ryan Saunders.

Look for an emphasis on coaching philosophy and/or tendencies from some of the new members of the Wolves coaching staff in a future post, sometime over the next few days.

-zb.

On the Air and On the Trail: The Man Behind the Microphone

MN Timberwolves & Lynx’s John Focke on Radio & Running

For Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx fans, the name—and voice—of John Focke is fondly familiar. Currently serving as Executive Producer & Studio Host for the Timberwolves/Lynx radio network, Focke has been a voice of the organization for just over seven years.

Focke has always been passionate about basketball, knowing from an early age that he wanted to be a play-by-play announcer for the NBA. He remembers being eight or nine years old, watching the Pistons and Bulls compete in the Eastern Conference Finals, and one thing stood out to him – watching Marv Albert open the show and interact on television. Every big game, every highlight play, Marv was there. “I was young enough that you still think you could play in the NBA,” laughed Focke, “but that was the moment I remember thinking, ‘That is what I want to do.’”

At only 13 years old, Focke’s natural “on-air” voice was noticed. He tried his hand at acting when he auditioned for a Gatorade commercial. The acting part didn’t pan out – but when he was given the script, he read it like he heard TV and radio announcers speak. The talent agency affirmed his speaking skills, and the rest is history.

From that point on, Focke seized every opportunity he could – hosting high school events, announcing baseball games, and eventually majoring in video production at Ohio University. “Every chance I got, I was in front of a microphone.”

Focke nabbed an internship with KFAN in 2001-2002, and it was that position that finalized his career goal. Although previously considering a television sportscaster, he much preferred the challenge and on-air time of a radio personality.

“I [worked] on the PA Show or the PowerTrip when it first got started, and we had three hours of content we had to fill,” explained Focke. “That was way more enticing than spending all day for two minutes of television time.”

Focke landed his first job in Albert Lea, where he covered high school sports and gathered additional experience. Following that gig, he went to Northern Michigan University, where he covered play-by-play for the Division I hockey team.

It was from NMU that Focke moved directly into the Timberwolves & Lynx job in 2007. In addition to his duties as studio host for both the Wolves and Lynx, Focke serves as the radio play-by-play voice for the Lynx during road games. Fans will also recognize him as the voice of the popular “Wolves Minute” audio bits during the NBA season.

Alan Horton, Timberolves play-by-play announcer, weighed in: “[Focke]’s been an integral part of everything we’ve done over the last 7 seasons. His ability to handle all the things that go on behind-the-scenes as well as focus on his studio hosting and play-by-play roles is what makes him so valuable, and he is a big reason why I think we have one of the best broadcasts in the NBA & WNBA.”

***

Most Timberwolves fans are well-acquainted with Focke’s colorful commentary and deep knowledge of basketball. What many may not know, however, is the man behind the microphone.

Meet John Focke, the runner.

And when I say runner, I mean runner. Not only has Focke competed in numerous marathons, but he is now an avid ultra runner. The standard definition of an “ultra run” is anything past the marathon, or 26.2 miles. However, the shortest standard distance that is considered an ultra is the 50 kilometer distance, or 31.07 miles. Ultra courses Focke has completed over the past couple years include the Voyageur 50, the Mount Hood 50-mile race in Oregon (twice!), a self-supported run around the Grand Canyon,[1] and the Patagonia 63K.

How did he get here? Eight years ago, Focke ran his first marathon.

And although he had always been an athlete, a lover of sports, it wasn’t until 2006 that Focke took up endurance running.

“I always said I could [run a marathon],” he said. “Even when there was no way I could even run a mile […] and then one day, I decided to do it.”

Focke planned to run the 2006 Twin Cities Marathon, but landing the job in Michigan changed those plans and extended his training period—something that, in hindsight, proved beneficial. “It was almost a blessing in disguise. I had never run like that before, and I didn’t know what I was doing.” Focke laughs now at his rudimentary attempt at preparing for the race, training inconsistently and eating loaves of crazy bread from Little Caesar’s on his way up to Duluth – “you know, carb loading.”

Focke ran Grandma’s Marathon with his brother Alex; according to John, the race went terribly. He said the following:

“We killed the first 18 miles. We were flying. And then the wheels came off. For both of us. We weren’t running together when they came off, but they came off […] it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. You can read all the books, read all the training stuff, but there’s no way you can actually wrap your mind around it.”

Whereas many people might have found the experience overwhelming and called it their first and last marathon, Focke had other ideas. “I made the decision that I could do it, and it was through the failure that caused me to wonder what I did wrong.” Determined, he continued to train and improve, all the while learning to enjoy the running experience as a whole. Focke enjoyed having an outlet to both exercise and enjoy time to himself after a busy work schedule that often began at 4 a.m. but allowed him a whole afternoon free.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s a break in the day. My job is listening to people talk and talking myself, so for me it’s time to put on music or just be silent and go out for an hour, two hours, three hours—and just be.”

Focke’s original motivation was to increase speed, get the numbers. “I thought I could run fast. I thought if I trained right I would be able to qualify for Boston [Marathon].” Soon, however, running  became less of a goal and more of a passion.

And although he enjoyed completing marathons, it was the trail running and ultra running that truly proved rewarding for Focke:

“I love the woods. I love running. Now I can do them both together,” he said. “It pushes that line even farther to see what you’re actually capable of. There’s a physical side to it; there’s a mental side to it. It becomes a lifestyle … an holistic thing.”

Focke Pic 2

Thus far, the Patagonia 63K—in which he competed in September 2013—proves one of the most memorable races for Focke. The international competition took place in Chile, and it was Focke’s first time out of the country. “The biggest challenge was that I didn’t speak Spanish,” he acknowledged. Focke traveled on his own, and he fortunately connected with three young runners who spoke English and were able to translate all of the details and race information for Focke prior to the run. He explained both the challenge and rewarding experience of preparing for the event:

“My alarm went off at 3:30 a.m., but we didn’t start running until 8:00. It was an hour-and-a-half drive, and because they were shutting down the road [for the race], the bus had to get us there two hours early. We get there – it’s dark, and we’ve already been up for several hours. We just had to sit and wait around, and it was freezing […]. But when the sun came up and we saw where we were, it was absolutely unbelievable.”

The Patagonia event is unique in that it is completely waste free. Typically in marathons or ultra runs, aid stations will be set up along the route to provide runners with cups of water. Because this area of Chile is known to be one of the windiest places in the world, however, the organizers of the event are intentional to keep the beautiful landscape and park free from trash.

The experience was certainly a new one for Focke, but one he found entirely rewarding. An excerpt from his blog reads, “the first 20K was relatively flat, and the views were breathtaking.  We headed out away from Lago Grey only to wrap around and see the mountain range that helped contribute to that glacial runoff; the snow-covered peaks seemed to just go on and on and on, no end in sight.”[2]

Focke Pic 3

For Focke, there is also no end in sight to running and the new challenges it brings with it. His next planned run is the Voyageur Half, a marathon that will take place in Duluth in July.

And after that?

“My goal is to run a 103-mile race up on the Superior Hiking Trail,” said Focke.

The task seems impossible to most people. But for an ultra-runner, it’s just another stop on the map.

 


 

[1] The Grand Canyon run was not a race, but Focke and two friends completed the “rim to rim to rim” trek as a self-supported run – meaning there were no aid stations, and they carried everything on their back.

[2] To read more about the Patagonia 63K and Focke’s other running adventures, follow his blog at http://talesfromthefoke.blogspot.com/2013/10/patagonia.html

 

*all photos used with permission

Per Sources: Flip Saunders to Serve as Timberwolves Head Coach

Sources told the Associated Press Thursday morning that Flip Saunders will be serving as the next head coach for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Saunders was hired as President of Basketball Operations prior to the 2013-2014 season.

As Timberwolves fans are well-familiar with, Saunders holds extensive history in Minnesota. He coached the Wolves for 10 years: from 1995 through the end of the 2005 season. During his time with Minnesota, Saunders led the Wolves to eight playoff appearances, including the Western Conference finals in 2004. Those times during Saunders’ coaching stint proved Minny’s only postseason appearances in franchise history.

Overall, Saunders holds a career record of 638-526 in 16 years as an NBA coach—411 of those wins belonged to the Timberwolves.

(photo credit: Star Tribune)

(photo credit: Star Tribune)

A hunt for a head coach has been in place since Rick Adelman retired at the end of the season. It’s no secret that a large part of the coaching search is also affected by All-Star forward Kevin Love’s uncertain future in a Wolves jersey.

Possible candidates swirled, with names such as Tom Izzo and Fred Hoiberg dropping around the Internet, but nothing came to fruition. Minnesota held conversations with Memphis coach Dave Joerger a couple weeks ago, but Joerger eventually turned the offer down.

With Love vocalizing a desire to leave the Wolves and trade rumors persisting, it’s possible that head coach candidates see a red flag in Minnesota.

Saunders is expected to maintain final say over all personnel decisions while continuing to share that charge with general manager Milt Newton.

According to the Star Tribune, Saunders may add assistants to his coaching staff who would potentially take over down the road. Former Timberwolves player Sam Mitchell is one such option. Mitchell played for Saunders from 1995-2002.

For now, Timberwolves fans will welcome a familiar face back to the sidelines and see where the season takes us.

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves will host a press conference on Friday to introduce the team’s new head coach. The press conference will take place at the Target Center and will start at 1 p.m. It will be streamed live on Timberwolves.com. This story will be updated with press conference content at a later time.  

 

Flip It Over

Yesterday, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski dropped some insight on the Minnesota Timberwolves, with specific indications of what the team intends to do with Kevin Love. Love has one year remaining on his contract, and he will be a free agent at the end of the 2014-2015 season.

On April 21st, Saunders addressed the media after Rick Adelman announced his retirement as head coach. “Flip” was faced with questions in regards to how he planned to execute a search for a replacement. When listening to this video from the Timberwolves webpage, a voice clearly states, to Saunders, “Surly by the draft…”

“Ideally you’d like to [have a coach in place by the draft] but a lot just depends. You don’t know what’s going to happen with playoff situations,” Saunders replied, “and with what people you might have interest in; I’m not going to put a date on that [hiring a new coach]. I believe we’ll have people that will be able to start working with players. Those that we have in development. Having been a coach myself, I believe we can lead through this transition period.”

Saunders would go on to mention that two assistants, David and R.J. Adelman, son of former head coach Rick Adelman, would remain on-staff for the final season of their contract.

“I do have a vision on how I believe a team needs to be successful.” Saunders told media,” It’s matter of having someone with that same vision.”

Dave Joerger, who spent time at Timberwolves practices during the time Saunders was head coach, was an obvious candidate the moment word broke the Memphis Grizzly’s would make Joerger available. The Wolves were granted permission to interview Joerger, but Robert Pera, who owns the Grizzly’s, held the leverage in the negotiations that preceded the interview.

Pera, who had yet to fire Joerger, formulated an offer with the Wolves front-office. If Saunders wished to hire Joerger, Minnesota would need to swap first round selections with the Grizzly’s in the upcoming draft, in addition to giving up a future-second round selection.

Saunders scoffed at the idea, and Joerger returned to Memphis where he was rightfully greeted with a contract extension. After utilizing his head coach as a bargaining chip. Pera may have had leverage over the Wolves, but it came at the price of Joerger’s two-million dollar contract extension.

Today, back in Minnesota, Saunders appointed himself as the Wolves new head coach.

George Karl has stated that he would be willing to take Wolves job, although he was never interviewed for the position. Some fans in Minnesota may have coveted Karl as their new head coach, but not all would have been open to the idea. Karl, 62, has a history of health problems. Considering the recent experience Minnesota had with Adelman, hiring another well seasoned guy may not seem so appealing.

The Wolves also interviewed Lionel Hollins, Vinny Del Negro, and Scott Skiles for the the position.

Now what?

Clearly, none of the aforementioned candidates shared the same vision as Saunders has for Minnesota going forward.

Saunders quote, “I believe we can lead through this transition period,” albeit in a broad statement made in a different context, indicates that this isn’t a long-term assignment for him. There is no timetable for how long Saunders intends to coach the team. According to Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, Saunders’ staff is expected to include former Wolves players Sam Mitchell and Sidney Lowe, although it’s not certain yet if either is a coach-in-waiting to take the job next.

“There’s no question that there’s a lot of work ahead with this team. And what I mean by that is that when a team has been to the lottery for eight straight years and won 31 games, you have work to do.” Saunders told media after being introduced as the Wolves President of Basketball Operations. “So we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and do that, but that’s what Minnesota people do.”

Since joining the Wolves last Summer, Saunders implemented capable roll players surrounding Love; appeasing Minnesota’s superstar. Now, after appointing himself as the team’s head coach; If the Wolves are unable to trade Love, or elect not to, they’ll have one more season with a top-five NBA player to show they can become a contender in a Western Conference loaded with talented teams.

In that instance, Love would likely walk away from Minnesota and sign with another team when he becomes a free agent at the end of next season.

We’ll just keep waiting to see what happens, but from what we can tell, Saunders is rolling up his sleeves and getting to work. What he envisions going forward remains to be seen. Look for the introductory press conference tomorrow.

 

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“Life After Love”

Well, here we are. Life without Kevin Love is a growing possibility, although, despite all the same rumors from the same sources, he remains with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Cast Love aside for a minute, let’s look at what’s been built around him. The Timberwolves are fighting to refrain from encroaching the Luxury Tax.

From www.cbafaq.com, question #21; The luxury tax is a mechanism that helps control team spending. While it is commonly referred to as a “luxury tax,” the CBA simply calls it a “tax” or a “team payment.” It is paid by high spending teams — those with a team salary exceeding a predetermined tax level. These teams pay a penalty for each dollar their team salary (with a few exceptions) exceeds the tax level. The tax level is determined prior to the season.

On June 30th, 2014, which the current [13-14] season technically ends, these changes are certain.

  • Dante Cunningham becomes an unrestricted free-agent, unless he is resigned [unlikely], his time with the Wolves has ended.
  • Robbie Hummel‘s contract turns into a team option, he’ll have to make the 15-man roster to earn $1,016,482 throughout next season.

Current pieces

  • Nikola Pekovic will make $12,100,000 through the 2015-2016 season, and is due $11,600,00 in 2017-2018.
  • Kevin Martin is owed $6,792,500 for his services next season, $7,085,000 during ’15-’16, and $7,377,500 through the end of ’16-’17, before his contract expires.
  • Corey Brewer is due $4,702,500 this season, and $4,905,000 through ’15-’16.

Expiring Contracts that will become Unrestricted Free Agents, after the 2014-2015 season, and what they’ll be earning this year. These contracts are tradeable, for the recipient would only retain the player[s] for the upcoming season before they become free agents. However, Mbah a Moute is a one-way player, Barea, well — he’s Barea — and Turiaf struggled to stay healthy and is entering his 10th NBA season. Old, or overpaid, these players aren’t coveted by many other teams. 

  • J.J. Barea – $4,519,500
  • Luc Mbah a Moute – $4,382,576
  • Ronny Turiaf – $1,500,000

Rookies Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng will enter the second year of their rookie contracts. [[Shabazz — $1,971,960, and Dieng — $1,413,480]] Terms of rookie deals are dependent on when each player is drafted, in addition to the position as they are listed.

Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved will enter the final season of each of their first, NBA contracts, and will be dependent on the Wolves extended offers to keep them with the team beyond that. Rubio — $4,660,479, and Shved — $3,282,056.

Chase Budinger is contracted for the ’14-’15 season [$5,000,000] and can sign for an additional year at the same rate, next season, if he so chooses. He and Love have the same decision to make, assuming Love is with the Wolves for another year, at the end of next season.

Keeping things short-term, the Wolves will retain 11 players from last season — 12 including Love. Those 11 are due ~~ $50,325,051, collectively, through the ’14-’15 season. Throw Love’s $15,719,062 salary in there and you’ve got $66,044,113 in player-payouts. This leaves ~$5,703,887 to fill three roster slots and pay rookies acquired by way of the 2014 NBA Draft. So, assume those are fulfilled by Hummel [1,016,482] and two-draft selections.

The Wolves have the 13th overall selection, along with three, second round picks in the upcoming draft. Muhammad was selected at 14th overall, last season, and Dieng followed behind him in the opening round at 22. Together, those two were worth, a combined, 3,239,760 in their first year as NBA players. Because I can’t account for who the Wolves will elect in the draft, or future trades, signing Hummel and two draft selections for the noted prices would cost the team $4,256,242 next season — $1,447,645 under the Luxury Tax.

What if Kevin Love remains for the 2014-2015 season, only to sign somewhere else next Summer? There are a lot of variables involved here, so a lot of assuming is done when determining what the roster will look liking moving forward in the future. Love would be walking away from his one-year player option worth $16,744,218

  • Barea, Mbah a Moute, Turiaf all become unrestricted free agents. The Wolves drop $10,402,076 in salary
  • Budinger is retained, assuming he accepts his player-option [likely, very likely] +$5,000,000
  • Brewer, Martin and Pekovic are owed a collective $24,090,000 in ’15-’16
  • Assume Rubio is retained, but Shved is not offered a deal. The net of these two contracts in this scenario ~ +$2,621,160
  • Sign Shabazz and Dieng on rookie extensions + $3,531,360

We must account for the second year of the two, hypothetical rookies that have not been drafted — nor signed — to contracts as of yet. We determined their worth at $3,239,760 during year one. These contracts would pay each player more in their second season, but I’ll refrain from doing the math as the increase in their contracts will equal-out the salary cap expected increase.

If Love were to leave the Wolves next summer, he’d be leaving seven players worth ~$35,242,520. This number is $36,505,480 less than the current $71,748,000 Luxury Tax threshold. In this situation, Flip Saunders would need evaluate his remaining pieces and determine whether the plan is to structure around them — or go into rebuilding mode.

Assessing Assets. Let’s create a roster with the seven remaining players and determine needs.

PG – Rubio

SG – Kevin Martin

SF – Brewer, Muhammad

PF –

C – Pekovic, Dieng

With this $35,242,520, the Wolves may attempt to rebuild if free agency can provide competent pieces. Is this a potential core, assuming the Wolves are able to obtain a starting power-forward? For the sake of this hypothetical situation, looking at those who would be available (Current Age); Zach Randolph (32), LaMarcus Aldridge (28), Carlos Boozer (32) all pass the eye-test, but as mentioned earlier — a lot of assuming is involved. Yet, I’ll continue.

Realistically; Randolph is the most viable option of the three. Aldridge likely remains in Portland as a Blazer and Boozer will be amnestied by the Chicago Bulls this summer. Henceforth, he will likely be signed by a different team and will not be available. Randolph’s current contract is considered a $16,938,333 ‘Cap Hit’. That leaves $18,304,187 to bolster the roster with a backup SG and PG, and the 11th and 12th roster slots.

Considering the circumstances, it’d be unfair to speculate beyond where I’ve gone thus far. It’s also fair to assume that Flip Saunders has an abundance of things to consider moving forward, but the most significant decision will be the first shoe that drops. First, Saunders must determine the fate of Kevin Love.

There are 29-days until the NBA Draft, and Glen Taylor was quoted saying the Timberwolves wouldn’t trade Love before the draft — but much, much more has been said — so we’ll have to see where things land.