2013-14 Season

Timberwolves 108, Kings 111: Since Feeling Is First


There’s an old maxim that says when infidelity becomes an issue in a relationship, it’s not actually the problem — it’s just a symptom of a more fundamental flaw. Don’t worry: The Timberwolves aren’t cheating, although at this point I think a good chunk of the fanbase would be all right with them giving that a shot. But what that adage gets at is how difficult it can be to tell what needs fixing when things aren’t right. Fix the symptom and it goes away, but the underlying problem remains. But how do you tell which is which?

Are the Wolves’ problems — and boy, do they have problems — mechanical? Does it really just come down to execution in close games? If they move the ball more crisply and often, if they take good shots, will they win these games? And not just win any given game, but create a deep-seated sense that they can control any given game? Anyone can see that in a game like last night’s loss to the Kings (which will get shuttled into that category of losses by four points or less, bringing their record in such games to 0-11) the team was completely flat and listless for nearly the entire game. So is it the energy? If they bring the energy, will it fix the execution? Or will good execution get their energy up?

After committing five of Minnesota’s 12 turnovers, Ricky Rubio said, “I couldn’t find my rhythm, couldn’t find my teammates either. Too many turnovers. That wasn’t me tonight,” then added, “I’m working to try to find myself again.” The signature thing that Rubio brought to the Wolves in his rookie season was that energy, that infectious joy that seemed inspiring to his teammates. It was like the way he dealt the ball around the court made players want to step up and make the most of it. Everyone remembers the 3-pointer that Love hit to sink the Clippers in Los Angeles in 2012, but Rubio also hit an important three late in that game after he had struggled early. At the time, it seemed like a sign that he was always going to keep coming, that he was unafraid of stepping up in a big moment, even if the role of clutch shooter was not one we associate with him.

That energy is completely gone. Any flash of his passing brilliance — a nutmeg between a defender’s legs, a deft and hard spinning entry pass off the tips of his fingers from the top of the arc — feels like lip service, like a well-worn inside joke deployed in the vain hope of kindling just a little of that feeling. It’s all well and good to hash out the numbers, to look at his shooting percentage and say he needs to get up above 40% from the field, or improve his finishing at the rim to at least a league average. We can look at red-, yellow- and green-tinted overlays of the court and weigh his yeoman’s work from beyond the arc against his finishing. But beyond (or maybe before) all that, it just doesn’t look like he — or anyone on the Wolves, really — is having any FUN out there.

Right from jump, coming off of two days rest and against a Sacramento Kings team that had lost to a very tough Pacers team the night before in Indianapolis, the Wolves looked like a compilation of Arrested Development’s “Charlie Brown” moments.

And what responsibility does Adelman bear for this? It sounds like he’s at the end of his rope. “I think when you get in the game you have to play physically and mentally,” he said after the game. “And we didn’t do that tonight. The ball has to move and you have to make the right play. Not everyone will make the home run pass and that’s what we were trying to do: the home run play and the home run pass. We have to make them defend us and we didn’t do that.”

He even addressed the team’s reluctance to commit fouls, a tendency that is often presented in a positive light — the Wolves get to the foul line a lot and don’t put the other team there. “We have to force the issue,” he said. “We are so hands-off defensively it almost takes an act of Congress for us to go out and foul somebody. You have to go after people in this league.”

But my first thought when he said “physically and mentally” was, “What about emotionally?” If the only emotions Adelman can tap into are frustration and exasperation — the two emotions that are most clearly on display while he’s on the sidelines and in postgame press conferences — I don’t know if that’s enough.

Obviously a big headline going into this game was the return of Derrick Williams to the Target Center for the first time. When he was subbed into the game with 4:19 to go in the first it was to a smattering of applause. Clearly intent on taking it to the Wolves, he did everything he seemed rarely to have been able to do as a Timberwolf: deftly Eurostepping to the rim and actually making a layup, spinning decisively into the lane on Alexey Shved for an emphatic dunk, catching an alley-oop from Jimmer Fredette and slamming it home authoritatively. (He did still manage to miss a free throw after an and-one, so not everything is different.)

Williams finished with 16 points on 7-11 shooting and it felt like an indictment of Adelman. After all, the express reason for moving Williams was that Adelman couldn’t find space for him in the rotation. At the time, it seemed like even though Mbah a Moute did not have as much raw talent as Williams, he would fit better into the rotation as a defensive-minded stopper off the bench. But last night, in a game where the Kings shot 55%, Mbah a Moute didn’t get a minute of playing time.

I can’t tell you how Adelman should be running this team, nor would I presume to. But it’s not working. Against a Sacramento team that’s a jumble of talent and headcases, at once astounding in their potential, yet hardly built to contend or with any semblance of a clear plan for how they’re put together, this carefully orchestrated team that’s supposed to beautifully interlock Rubio’s passing with Love’s shooting and rebounding with Pekovic’s post play with Martin’s scoring with Brewer’s defense and speed looked like a pile of Legos dumped on the floor. Do they need to play better to feel better to play better? Or do they need to feel better to play better to feel better?

I’m genuinely sorry this post can’t offer more insights. I’m sorry that it doesn’t have more clips of plays demonstrating where things are going wrong or how they could improve. Your frustration, my frustration: they don’t mean anything. I don’t even know if the Wolves’ frustration means anything. Standing in the locker room as assorted media attempted to figure out new ways to ask the players what’s wrong, I couldn’t figure out what the point was. As the press crushed around Corey Brewer and one writer asked, “Can you put your finger on what you need to do to turn this around?”, Pekovic — who was sitting opposite and putting his shoes on — chuffed and said wearily, “Win games.”

It’s as simple and stupid and impossible as that.

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18 thoughts on “Timberwolves 108, Kings 111: Since Feeling Is First

  1. I aid the last time out that we need to start questioning RA, still do. Look, you wasted your highest draft pick because you did not develop him, did not like him, he does not fit your system. But you traded him for another player that is not seeing the floor! I really do not understand these decisions! I am not saying Williams is great, yet, but he has been more than ok with them, look at his last few games after re-adjusting to his new role off the bench after the Gay trade, he is putting up good numbers! And now Shappaz is having the same issue, don’t draft these guys and waste them.

  2. I think *my* frustration *does* mean something. We put up with 500% ticket price increases as the TWolves recovered the discounts they offered during the “lean” years. We’re at the point in the season where the push for renewals is about to start. They lost 4 or 5000 season ticket holders over the last year and the ones who stayed — aside from the ones who’ll stay because they’re like Richard Gere and have nowhere else to go — did so on the promise and the hope that a young team represented.

    Like Rubio’s joy, that hope is gone, and the team is about to drive away the very thing it needs if it’s ever going to be a respectable and resourced franchise.

    I don’t expect the players to understand this – they’re obviously a collection of “I got mine” individuals — but I gotta believe the organization gets it.

    They’re driving hope away; they’re driving their fan base away.

  3. I’m not so happy with the coaching lately. Last night Marting started to hit his shots in the 3rd and then he was subbed out and i don’t even think he saw the floor again. Rubio was horrible so it was right to bench him, and i totally agree with you in what you said about his energy. I’ve been thinking about what is going on with him and you hit the nail on the head there. There is very little ball movement and when there is it’s like in slow motion. Whoever gets the pass slows down the tempo.

  4. Adelman needs to go. He’s a great coach, but he’s not the right coach for this team, anymore — if he ever was. Like mentioned in this piece, Rubio’s brilliance from his rookie season is nowhere to be seen, and it’s Adelman who’s handcuffing him. Rubio’s strengths don’t fit Adelman’s system. And I also agree with Sean ^^ about playing players like Williams and Shabazz. I was a big fan of Williams, not so much Shabazz, but after the numbers he put up in the Dleague, he deserves some minutes, or at least deserves a few shots to prove he deserves minutes. Adelman doesn’t seem to be holding his players accountable. I think a change would do the team some good.

  5. Great post Steve.

    What do you make of the comments Flip and Rick have been making towards one another recently? In an interview with Britt, Flip seemed to hint that his teams did certain things better than the Wolves are this year (e.g. contesting shots). In return, Rick has recently been lamenting that the roster Flip built (which Adelman had input on) lacks any two-way players. Just interwebs babble, or is there a rift forming?

    The Wolves are in a tough situation in that they need to convince Love it is worth staying, and only winning can do that. If Rick is part of the issue, interim coaches rarely help much. No training camp and few quality coaches are willing to step in mid-season. Flip probably wants to step in, but I’m not looking forward to a return to no free throws and lots of mid-range jump shots. That model has gone by the wayside and never worked well in the playoffs even with a HOFer in his prime.

    Something needs changing though. There have been way too many games this year & other years where the Wolves have shown very little passion/energy/defense. It typically happens against teams that the Wolves should have a good chance to beat. Not sure if that is on the head coach, best players, or if it just fan preception/nonsense.

  6. I agree. Went to the Wolves game against the 76ers where they killed them and sat the row behind the Wolves bench. Even though they won by 30, it seemed like Pek and Brewer were the only two players I saw smile the whole entire game. Is there that much pressure on these guys? Rubio looks lost. My favorite thing about Ricky was how much passion and fun he brought to the court during his first two years and it is completely gone, you guys are all correct in that. Is it a behind the scenes thing with Ricky? Is it because he can’t hit shots consistently? Who knows, but they need to try something to shake this team up. There’s no reason a team should have the most wins in the league by 20 or more points and be below .500. Something is off.

  7. It was nice to see Williams play “free” and getting some points even though I have a feeling the way he played last night was the best he will look in any team’s uniform. Bottom line is something needs to be blown up on the Wolves’ end. I was on the Adelman bandwagon since he’s been here and I realize he’s forgotten more basketball than I could possibly know in my lifetime but it’s obvious something is missing between him and the players. I mean, there’s a reason Houston got rid of him and it’s possible they saw the writing on the wall even before our desparate eyes were fixated on an even competent coach being hired to replace Rambis. I feel very much like the video you posted above typing this paragraph out but it seems to be emanating out regarding the situation. I’m fairly positive that Adelman sounds like a Charlie Brown teacher at this point to the players as well. Who knows what is said behind closed doors/practice/meetings, but the players aren’t responding to anything he is pointing to in his post-game press conferences.

  8. It was pretty disgusting to watch, though let’s not go overboard with Williams, whose success had as much to do with bad halfcourt and transition D as any offensive scheme. As for Adelman, every NBA team takes its cues on strategy from the coach and on focus and effort from its best players, veterans, and point guards. Most of them have no need to respond to the fear-based motivational tactics that might have worked at lower levels. I’ve watched enough games to see 5-10 times more problems with focus and effort than with strategy, and while it’s been disappointing to see how the culture of losing seems to have stunted their ascent more than it did for the Warriors in a similar situation last year, some lessons are learned the hard way or not at all.

    With that said, I’d like to focus on the fans. The fans who try to maximize the homecourt advantage have a right to be disappointed. Other fans don’t show up on nights like last night or at all (only applies to those living in the metro area), watch the game like it’s a movie, vocalize complaints much more than praise, sell their tickets to fans of other teams, and otherwise undermine any chance at a homecourt advantage. As a season-ticket holder, I’m mildly disappointed, but when I’m there, I want to see them win, and if that means creating a better environment for the home team and a worse one for the opponent, I’m going to focus on that.

    Whatever price increases in the last few years still have the Wolves as one of the 8 most-affordable tickets in the league, far below some pretty bad products yet at a similar level as better products like the Pacers. Either way, owning season tickets is voluntary, and while there’s room for complaint, it seems like a waste of time if it’s not specifically written to the franchise or made known to one’s account rep. The only right a ticket provides is the opportunity to help shape the environment of a particular game or games without breaking any rules.

  9. Another tough loss to watch. It seems there are far too many opposing players who manage to have a great night against the Wolves. Oh well, I’ll just try to remember that beautiful moment when Pek runs in the direction of the sideline to chase down a loose ball and the Kings’ bench empties to give Pek all the room he needed.

  10. Great post Steve. Finally something that truly captures the feelings of fans of this team. Every night the Timberwolves play, I wonder what’s going to cause the game to go downhill quicker: execution or energy. When I look at the other teams in the league, the ones who are successful with a young roster, I see loads of energy that not even Minnesota could damper. I think if the Wolves want to start getting better, they have to go out and get a player’s coach that can get these guys excited to play in the NBA again, because they look so disheartened that at some point the players just give up. Adelman is a good coach, just not the right fit for this team. He needs to be the coach of a veteran team that doesn’t need to be pushed to be excited, but these young guys like Ricky and Kevin Love need to find what made them excited to play basketball in the first place.

    At some point, Minnesota can’t keep accepting the losses and chalking it up to injury, talent, or market. Minnesota can win just like all the rest of these franchises and they finally have a talented roster with which to do so. I hope things get better in Minneapolis! We’re pulling for you over here in South Dakota!

  11. The loss yesterday was bad, but the frustration on Ricky and Love’s faces were even worst. Probably the staff told Ricky to stop trying fancy passes, that result in less turnovers, but the joy is totally gone, no behind the back or between the legs passes over this season.
    Its like the team is so sticked to the system that they aren’t allowed to be themselves on the floor.

  12. At the beginning of the season, all I wanted from the Timberwolves was for them to get bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Right now all I want is for them to display some toughness. I know that as individual players, many of them have it in them:

    Kevin Love banging around for rebounds – tough.
    Pek bullying his way to the rim – tough.
    I’ve seen Brewer play defense so tough it actually gets the rest of the team out of their mopey state.
    When JJ Barea fearlessly went to the rim when he was wiith the Mavs and got knocked on his head by Andrew Bynum, I thought he was so tough.

    Which is why it baffles me to see the wolves jump out of the way and give up layups when they could make guys earn it at the free throw line. They have lost so many games by 4 points or less… how many of those could have been won if we sent the other team to the free throw line on half of those layups? I’m not even asking for stops, I just don’t want them to win that all-time free throw disparity record. At this point, I don’t see that as a positive. I want to see our guys in foul trouble for committing smart fouls that prevent easy baskets.

    The Warriors had lost some games a while back and somehow Mark Jackson got it in their heads that they can’t feel up or down based on makes or misses. The ups and downs need to be felt on the defensive end. The team got tough and rattled off 10 straight wins. I can’t condone Andrew Bogut’s tactics against the Clippers, but I think the Wolves could use a little fight right now. They can’t “Charlie Brown” their way back into the playoff picture.

  13. Something significant needs to change 0-11 in close game is clearly a collection of issues but the most significant is the players belief that they can get the W. Multiple posts preseason across all the different wolves blogs saying this is our most talented/deepest roster ever and we have worse records than the significantly less talented (and more injured) nuggets, suns, Memphis and mavs.

    What to the 4 above mentioned teams have? Identity, hunger and coaches who seem to be squeezing the maximum out of their players.

    ***George Karl is unemployed***

  14. Adelman needs to go – I’ve thought that since early in the season. The Wolves have the talent but not he leadership. Adelman has been a coach for 23 years and has won 0 titles and only twice been to the Finals and that was over 20 years ago. His Portland teams underachieved, his Kings teams underachieved, I can give him a pass on Houston since he took that team over just as McGrady and Ming fell apart, but then again he did nothing special there either. He lost Williams and essentially forced a trade for cents on the dollar since he refused to play him. This team has arguably the best 4 in the league (& one of the best players), one of the top 5-10 5s in the league, quality players at PG, SG, SF and bench. . . . .and they can’t get over .500.

    At some point, you gotta look at the coach.

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