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.  

 

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

Snow Falls in Minneapolis, Wolves Fall to Jazz; 130-136

Well, it’s over now.

Last night, the Minnesota Timberwolves dropped the season finale to the Utah Jazz, at home, and it was possibly Rick Adelman’s last game as an NBA Head Coach. What you would think would be a passionate, emotional, send-off type of performance, honoring one of the league’s greatest coaches, turned out to be just-another, underwhelming performance that ended in disappointment.

It’s been openly suggested, myself included, that Adelman may have lost the proverbial coaches-spirit long ago. The type of passion, necessary to spark an inspired, second-half run into the postseason was just not something the 68 year old was capable of doing. There are other variables at play, like player-performance and things like luck, but ultimately I believe Adelman is going to be pegged with many of the things that went awry this season. I also believe we’re going to find out that last night’s game against the Jazz was, indeed, his last game as the Wolves coach. [Read more...]

Two Games, One Season, Many Outlooks

Spreak Break in Florida? 

Only fitting, the Minnesota Timberwolves ventured across the state of Florida — from South Beach to Orlando — shortly following last Friday’s thrilling, uplifting victory over the defending champion Miami Heat.

Yes, the Wolves had won a game against arguably basketballs greatest team. However, they were going to need another breakout performance from role players, such as Chase Budinger’s 24 point output in Miami, if they were going to take care of business against one of the league’s worst the following evening. Well, after Budinger went down in the first minute against the Magic, things went awry quickly and never went the way they were supposed to.

Just when it seemed the Wolves had attained some hope, rhythm, and excitement nearing the end of another disappointing season, the proverbial sky was getting darker and the light that shined on the team, via local media outlets, was glooming dark overhead, again. Timberpups did not report on the Daunt Cunningham arrests over the weekend because the legal process has a right to run it’s course, NBA players are apart of the union, and the Wolves did not suspend Cunningham after either arrest. Flip Saunders, in particular, receives the most heat for this decision. He could very easily de-activate Cunningham, but it would be a paid-leave as the team cannot take disciplinary action until he is convicted in a court of law.

He met the team in Orlando, but because the Wolves were without Kevin Martin, Kevin Love, Shabazz Muhammad, and Budinger, for all-but one minute of the game, the efforts of Cunningham and the active Wolves were performed in futility. The Magic avenged a loss from earlier this season, the Wolves opener — 100-92.

Tuesday, back at Target Center

The headlines focused on Cunningham up until Rick Adelman’s pregame presser, when it was announced that Cunningham would be dressed and available to play in Tuesday’s make-up game against the San Antonio Spurs. However, after tip-off, all of the negative light shed on the situation diminished, the Minnesota Wild were competing for their postseason lives across town, and a basketball game — that was never supposed to be played — started with very little looking-on from the seats at Target Center.

Nickola Pekovic, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, and Shabazz Muhammad were all out, albeit Martin was dressed to play whereas the others sported classy suits. Ricky Rubio, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love, Gorgui Dieng welcomed Robbie Hummel to the starting lineup for the first time since the season’s early goings. The Wolves, who had underachieved in the game following an inspirational victory of the prolific Heat (…), faced another one of the league’s best in the machine that is the San Antonio Spurs.

Tony Parker was sidelined, leaving Corey Joseph to start at point guard — he was accompanied by Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw. The Spurs machine usually just plugs-and-plays it’s components as necessary and rarely misses a beat, but Gregg Popovich may have elected to cut the power once they arrived in Minneapolis.

First Half

The Wolves took the lead and never looked back. Rubio led the way in scoring throughout the opening quarter with nine points, he also had two assists but those were negated by two-turnovers. Love, who, dare I say has struggled by his standards as of late, continued to clank the iron and shot only one for seven from the field during the opening frame. Despite the struggle to score, Love’s refined his passing throughout the year as a point of Adelman’s emphasis, and he tallied three assists passing out of the high post and Wolves led the Spurs, 27-19, after the first.

It was Rubio and Brewer that carried the offense throughout the first half, as they combined for 23 points on 9 of 13 shooting from the field. Brewer added three steals that contributed to easy buckets in transition. The Wolves had captured a 20 point lead on a virtually non-existent Spurs club that showed no interest in trying to win the game. Minnesota allowed just 34 first half points, the second-least points scored by a Wolves opponent in a half this season (Utah, 23 in 1st half on Jan. 18). On the night, the Spurs shot only 4-of-17 from three-point range, and they were 0-for-6 in the first half alone. This is a testament to the Wolves effort to contest shots, making everything as difficult as possible for the already lackadaisical visiting opponent.

Second Half 

The Wolves were outscored by the Spurs during the second half, but the margin was a single point and if you’re doing the math at home you’d know that it wasn’t enough to make a difference. San Antonio was flat, and the Wolves played with the same intensity that the State of Hockey’s team was doing across the way in St. Paul. The Pups weren’t performing in front of a very large audience, and the effort they played with on the court was reflective of a team that wanted to win in order to sustain their own moral moving forward.

Love and Rubio combined for 20 in the third, but dissipated bench failed to score. The Spurs, behind eight points in the frame provided by the short-statured Patty Mills, matched and surpassed the Wolves scoring output during the frame. Yet, the game looked emotionless as both teams were content just going through the motions. This inexplicably, and inspirationally, changed during the fourth as the bench could be season screaming, cheering, and applauding the effort of their brethren who were looking to put the hammer down on San Antonio before the game was over.

Ronnie Turiaf hammered home two, alley-oop dunks within the final five minutes, a heavy-hearted Cunningham seeked to score unruly baskets within the final minute, and Othyus Jeffers even entered the game on the same day as he was signed to, yet another, 10-day contract.

The Wolves defeated the Spurs by 19, and what was most impressive about the victory is that they did it for themselves. There was no sold-out stadium, no role of spoiler to fulfil, and no playoff hopes to sustain going forward. With nothing left to play for, the Wolves did everything they could to win — and with the uncertainty that is this team’s future — that’s the most illuminating thing to take away from the weekend, and into Wednesday.

Three Stars

  • Ricky Rubio — 23 points on 10 of 17 shooting. He’s progressed, and more importantly, stayed healthy, throughout the year and seems to be improving in certain areas, offensively. I don’t currently have the stats to back it up, but expect a post on it soon.
  • Luc Mbah a Moute — 11 points, 5 of 7 shooting from the field — nice to see him getting playing time against solid opponents like we saw against Miami and last night.
  • Ronnie Turiaf — LOVE his energy, but it’s been missing on-the-court for most of the season. If there’s anyone that can keep this locker room glued going forward, it’s this guy. Seeing him score 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting, including his emphatic reactions to slams during the final quarter.