I didn’t expect to be writing this post.
At the beginning of the game, the Wolves were undermanned and completely overmatched. This Nets team is healthy and a lot better than what the Wolves are able to run out there. That much was evident in the early minutes of the game. I was going to write about Starbursts — you know, the candy? I was formulating my thoughts about Starbursts while hoping to catch a glimpse of a great pass by Rubio to placate my necessity to see him light up the Target Center.
But that didn’t get to happen. The blowout loss fell by the wayside and instead the Wolves lost another winnable game. The Starbursts thoughts will have to wait for a 20-point loss later in the season. Instead, I’m left scratching my head at everything going on with this Wolves team. Personally, I’ve given up hope on this season. It’s not that this team isn’t good enough; it’s that they’re simply not healthy enough to continue to compete. Throw in Rick Adelman dealing with a serious family issue right now and there’s not much more you can ask of this team.
Instead, I end up defending Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea against people who don’t seem to realize they’re being asked to play this way on offense because they don’t have their ideal offensive options and system in place, due to injuries. Some see them taking less than ideal shots off the dribble and say, “these guys are shooting us out of games! Let’s get rid of them!” I end up responding with, “what is your plan to replace guys who are asked to take these shots because they’re the only ones left on the roster who can create a shot off the dribble?”
People don’t like thinking about context. They just want results. That’s the sports society we live in. They’re not right and I’m not right. The solution is probably somewhere in the middle. But unless you have a contingency plan for replacing guys like Luke and Barea — guys who have been forced to play outside of their roles while catching hell for it from fans that just want precious victories — it’s hard to really take those claims seriously.
Here’s the problem I had with last night’s game:
I don’t value wins in an upmountain battle over building up the franchise point guard. And apparently Terry Porter does.
Terry Porter has a pretty unenviable job right now. Fill in for Rick Adelman with a multitude of injuries. Use your coaching abilities to make up for five rotation guys, including your two leading offensive options, being out with injuries right now. You don’t get Pek, Love, Shved, Chase, and Brandon right now. You do get Stiemsma, Chris Johnson, Gelabale, Luke at the shooting guard, and Ricky Rubio on a minutes restriction. Now go out there and be somebody!
Porter seems like a nice guy. He seems like a solid assistant coach. Guys around the team seem to like him. I’ve never been overly impressed with his head coaching ability. He may have been screwed out of a job in a bad Milwaukee situation where his second best player was Desmond Mason and he was asked to win a lot of games. He was given a horrendous transitional situation in Phoenix, asked to win, and then fired after a 28-23 record to start out.
Those aren’t coaching situations in which you can be asked to develop as a head coach. You’re basically a paperweight on a desk while someone waits for a filing cabinet to be delivered.
With about four minutes left in the game and the Wolves down eight points, Ricky Rubio was set to check back into the game. Rubio had only played 24 minutes and was primed to get his final allotted time on the court. Then he was pulled back by Porter and never saw a second of fourth quarter action. The next dead ball was a timeout and that’s when Rubio was pulled back and informed he wouldn’t be checking into the game. As he put on his shooting shirt, he looked visibly upset and mouthed words I can’t repeat on this site.
What was the reasoning for sticking with Barea over Rubio getting some much needed building time on the court?
“JJ hit a shot,” Porter said after the game. “He hit a three. At first I was taking him out because I thought he was hurt and then he was fine, he made a shot, and I just rolled with him because he was hot. Made a shot. That was the only difference. Wasn’t anything Ricky did. It’s tough decisions, in regards to personnel at the end of games, who’s hot, who’s not hot. We just talked about it, just decided to go with JJ.”
Let’s talk about Barea being hot in the fourth quarter when it was time for Ricky to check back in.
J.J. Barea was “hot” at the time Rubio was available to check back in (2:19 was the next dead ball). Barea had just made a 3-point shot to cut the deficit to five points. Before that, he had made a layup. He had made two straight shots. The problem is there were over three minutes between those shots. To say one shot makes a guy “hot” while shooting the ball seems incredibly generous with the temperature assessment.
Barea made a layup at 5:31 left in the fourth and a 3-pointer with 2:36 left. He was hot. Before that layup, Barea had missed his previous three shots and turned the ball over once. He hadn’t made a shot since the 11:37 mark of the fourth quarter. Again, he was hot though.
That can’t be the reasoning for trying to win an unlikely victory and punting on giving Rubio a chance to get more experience and more strength-building with his leg. You can see that Rubio still isn’t strong on his leg. He’s planting funny on drives to the basket, he’s planting funny on defensive efforts, and his legs aren’t there on his jumper.
Every moment on the court is him learning to adjust his game while building strength. You can build strength in the weight room but it’s not the same as getting NBA resistance during NBA minutes. Practice isn’t the same. There isn’t any training that is as valuable to Rubio as being on the court within the allotted time. Unless he’s hurt or injured, there is no reason for him to reach his allowed minutes on the court, especially not for a guy that is “hot” by hitting one 3-pointer.
Was Rubio upset?
“Yeah,” Ricky admitted after the game. “But, it is what it is. TP thought that, I mean, he preferred to play the players that were playing and … I don’t know what to say.”
Is Ricky going to talk to Porter about the decision?
“Yeah,” Rubio confirmed. “I didn’t like it. I think he thinks it was best for the team. I want to know what happened, and we’re gonna talk.”
Rubio wants to be out there for a couple of reasons: 1) he loves to play basketball, and 2) he needs to play basketball. Rubio’s love for the game is unquestioned. Ask him about being out there after a win and his eyes light up. This kid wants nothing more than to play a winning basketball game while humming the Lion King soundtrack in his head. Ask him about a loss and he’s crestfallen, searching for answers on how to get this team back into the win column. It isn’t about keeping him happy; it’s about getting him physically healthy and back to 100%.
He needs to be out there because that’s the only way he can get better. This team is simply in the playoff hunt as much as they are right now because other teams aren’t as good as they had been projected. The Mavericks and Lakers are dealing with their own issues and it’s keeping them behind a Portland team that isn’t that good (because they have no bench) and a Rockets team that is kind of reeling this month (they’re also the third youngest team in the NBA).
Because of these four occurrences, the Wolves are technically there for the playoff push right now. But so much has gone wrong this month for the team, how can we honestly expect them to keep pushing forward on a consistent basis? We want them to. It would be incredible of they managed to maintain until Love and Chase are back with a healthy Pek, Shved, and Rubio back to playing without a minute restriction the final month of the season. Then we could see what’s what and watch them inspire this fan base with what we were hoping to expect in the preseason.
However, that should all be secondary because it’s a far-fetched fairytale at the moment. Possible? Technically, yes. Realistic? Unlikely.
Instead, I’d like to see Chris Johnson signed for the rest of the season, Derrick Williams trusted as much as he has been on offense to allow his game to grow, and Rubio given the precious minutes he’s given by the training staff to help his rehabilitation continue so we’re looking at a brand new player next season. I don’t envy the task Porter has right now. He’s filling in for one of the top coaches in the league with a roster so beat up the league had to give them an extra player right now.
Decisions like playing a “hot” Barea and keeping Ricky out of the final couple minutes of the game just don’t make sense to me.