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.

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

“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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is what I know about the Kevin Love situation, I think.

klovesad

JORDAN JOHNSON/GETTY IMAGES

In 2012, Minnesota Timberwolves Owner Glen Taylor and General Manager David Kahn agreed it would be best to sign Kevin Love to a four-year, $61 million dollar, contract, as opposed to a five-year deal worth a projected $80 million. He hadn’t performed well, nor often, enough to be considered an elite player worthy of a max-deal ala Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook, all members of the 2008 draft class. Rose and Westbrook received five-year deals with their respective teams, but the same was not true for Love with the Timberwolves.

Love has yet to lead the Wolves to the playoffs. However, the consequences of not securing one of the league’s top-10 players started to linger over the heads of fans over the weekend after Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News published a column over the weekend, stating the following.

“Kevin Love’s people reiterated to the Timberwolves this past week that they had better trade him or else he’ll leave via free agency when his contract is up after next season. With Love looking to exit, there’s your No. 1 reason the T-wolves have not been able to find a head coach to take over for Rick Adelman. Love wants to play for the Lakers but he’s also open to coming to the Knicks”

I don’t know how long Lawrence has covered the NBA, but I hadn’t known of his existence until reading this ‘report.’ Seeing how I was a little skeptical, I found Lawrence on Twitter and exposed his account for my followers to see. Turns out someone besides myself had a few questions.

“Love wants out”. Just another baseless claim made by a writer nobody has ever heard of that’s based in the largest media-market of them all, New York City.

AP Sports Guy is a moniker for Jon Krawczynski, an NBA writer for Associated Press based in Minneapolis.

Wojnarowski dropped on of his trademarked WojBombs around 3:00AM [CST], Sunday, that a rival executive told Yahoo Sports; “For the first time, [Flip Saunders] sounds like looking at deals for [Love] is an option.”

The gig is up. 

– Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, or “Woj,” is reputable, he’s definitely a high-profile journalist — in my opinion. At the very least, I take the work of Wojnarowski seriously — however — he’s been wrong with claims regarding Minnesota Timberwolves before.

Earlier this season, as trade-deadline loomed nearer, Wojnarowski reported the following.

As you’re probably aware, for reasons that remain unclear, no deal between the Wolves and Grizzlies occurred this season.

“We’re proceeding the same way, that Kevin is part of our team, that we have,” Saunders told WCCO, early Sunday morning, “You’re always trying to get your team better. There have been reports we’re actively trying to trade him, which isn’t true. What we’re actively trying to do is get our team better. When you do that, you look to see what’s out there no matter what it is or for anybody. We’re a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 10 years. We’ve got to get better.”

[this according to Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune]

Later that day.

Glen Taylor was confronted about the idea of trading Love if someone made a compelling enough offer, just before the Minnesota Lynx took the home floor for the first time this season. Taylor said he doesn’t expect a deal to be made by the draft, nor has he discussed the idea of trading Love, with Saunders. Taylor also states that Love has not asked for or told the team to trade him. Read the column from the Star Tribune by clicking this link.

Leaky Pipes.

In the relatively short time I’ve covered Flip Saunders, I’ve learned a few things about the way he describes himself, and the way he does business. ‘Flip’ gives the impression he’s a guy always on the phone, continually conjuring transactions and scenarios within his basketball mind that would make his team better.

It look very little time for the Wolves to trade Derrick Williams for Luc Mbah a Moute, earlier this season. A column from ESPN 1500 explains that the Wolves President of Basketball Operations believed it was time to move on — but it’s this quote from Saunders that seemed to illuminate a little on his mentality working in an NBA front-office.

“What you have to do is you to look at what is the value where you’re at?” Saunders said. “What’s the value going to be at in two months? What’s the value going to be at the trade deadline? What’s it going to be next year? I just didn’t foresee Derrick being able to play much, and if a guy isn’t playing, usually your value isn’t going to go up.”

A few months ago, Saunders spoke with ESPN’s Colin Cowherd. Cowherd, of course, poked the bear by asking about questions about Love’s future in Minnesota.

Cowherd: Do you feel more empowered, or powerless, with a star player that other [specifically big-market] teams are interested in.

Saunders: “Well, I laugh. One, having had, conversations with Kevin –maybe– every week. Having a pretty good relationship with him, you understand where he’s at. There are many things that have been said about the, “Glamour Situations,” but, whereas Kevin said (referring to his recent quote in GQ Magazine); it might not be so glamourous.

“You know good players are going to be wanted. That really comes with the business, so, when you have a player that’s wanted by people; people are going to talk about them because that’s what goes on.”

 

Over the weekend and into Monday, an abundance of rumors, potential trade sceneries, and all-sorts of discussion have has swirled around Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Until Wojnarowski’s report, there had been no serious indication that Love would be on the trading block this summer.

Who we can trust remains to be seen.

I’ll reiterate that Taylor said the Wolves would not trade Love ‘by the draft,’ and I’m inclined to believe him. I’m also led to believe Saunders wouldn’t allow his greatest asset to walk away without determining its value, first.

This could all change if the right offer lands on the table, something rumors usually tend to induce. If somebody makes an offer that’s impossible to refuse, sure, I expect the Wolves to take it. However, the way I believe those close to the situation go about their business — I don’t think Love leaves Minnesota for another team this summer.

[From the Star Tribune column linked earlier]

Glen Taylor was asked in April if he now considers the decision to offer Love only the contract the team did a big mistake. He paused for five seconds before answering.

“Let’s wait one more year to answer that question,” Taylor said then. “I think it’s a good question to ask at this point because Kevin has played as well as we hoped, and maybe even better. To have him tied up long-term probably would be better than not, but we still have one more year and we’ll see. My hope is it doesn’t make any difference.”

Offseason Update #1

The last time you heard from Timberpups, you were reading a recap of the final Minnesota Timberwolves game of the season. Remember? No? Ok, well they lost. It sent most of us into a dark place, mentally. Pair the post-season depression with other obligations and you’ll get an inactive blog. However, the show must go on.

There’s been a lot that’s happened since the end of the season, so the review will come over the next few weeks. Let’s do a quick rundown.

Record: 40-42. Third in the Northwest Division, 10th in the Western Conference — the second best team in the West that didn’t make the postseason [Phoenix Suns finished in the 9th spot out West].

Rick Adelman Retires. The moment many had been waiting for came into fruition just shortly after the season ended. Adelman leaves behind a legacy that will go somewhat unfulfilled. Although his motion-based offensive system has left remnants scattered about schemes all around the league, Adelman was never able to achieve the ultimate goal; he is not an NBA Champion, but don’t let that take away from any of Adelman’s achievements. And there are many.

I wrote some words about Adelman’s final season on an NBA sideline, and how the Wolves didn’t exactly give him a ride out of town on a horseback into the glorious sunset. Read them by clicking this link.

 

The Wolves need a new coach. Names such Fred Hoiberg, Kevin Ollie, Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan, among others, have all surfaced as potential candidates. Look for more coverage from Timberpups on the search and hiring process, soon.

It should be noted that Flip Saunders has been mentioned, in some circles, as someone that may coach the Wolves next season. It’s known that team owner Glen Taylor doesn’t want this to happen. I don’t believe it will, but as each day passes I worry more and more that Flip will ultimately be coaching the Wolves next season. I’d give those odds about 10 percent, right now.

 

More to come from Timberpups.

-zb