Raptors 105, Timberwolves 100: Lorenzo (Sisyphus) Brown

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The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

– Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Lorenzo Brown was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the 52nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. He played with their summer league team in Las Vegas before coming to training camp in Mankato, then Minneapolis, MN. Brown was cut just before the season started, however, and found himself with the Brooklyn Nets’ D-League affiliate in Springfield, MA. Three weeks later, the Philadelphia 76ers came calling, and Lorenzo made his NBA debut with them on November 20th, 2013. Over the next three months, he was jettisoned between the Sixers and their own D-League team in Newark, DE a total of six times before being waived in mid-March, at which point decided to go back to Springfield for the rest of the season.

He spent all of July waiting around for a contract offer but never received one to his liking, so at the end of the month, he signed with a professional team in Venice, Italy. When he showed up there in early September, he failed a physical and his contract was voided. Three weeks after that, he signed with the Detroit Pistons, but didn’t make it out of training camp with them, either. On November 1st, 2014, he signed with the Grand Rapids Drive, the Pistons’ D-League squad. On January 28th, with the Minnesota Timberwolves desperate for help at point guard after injuries to both Mo Williams and Zach LaVine, Flip Saunders brought his former draft pick back to the team. Lorenzo Brown was back in The Show.

Nothing is easy about being a guy on the fringe of NBA rosters. Brown has shuttled around the entire northeast and most of the midwestern United States, with a quick trip to the Mediterranean in the middle, and yet he has no guaranteed deal for next season and probably less than $1 million in the bank to show for all that travel and trouble. The real bitch of it all is that he’s probably better at his job (playing point guard) than Zach LaVine, but it doesn’t mean a damn thing.

Plus-minus isn’t the be-all, end-all, but sometimes it tells an accurate, succinct story. Sunday night against the Spurs, Brown was a minus-1 in 16 minutes, and Zach LaVine was a minus-24 in 42 minutes. Monday night, the Wolves lost to Brooklyn by 16; Brown was a plus-7 in his 18 minutes, and LaVine was a minus-23 in his 30 minutes. Last night against the Raptors, both players happened to be a plus-3, but this was one of those times when plus-minus was misleading. LaVine was doing his usual things, failing to stay in front of his man (especially on pick and rolls), turning the ball over and leading fastbreaks into weird, ineffective conclusions. Brown, on the other hand, held his own defensively against the Raptors’ bevy of large wing players and had his best statistical night since coming to the Wolves, scoring 8 points, dishing out 5 assists and collecting 3 steals in 20 minutes of action.

The Wolves are tanking, so LaVine will get minutes down the stretch, and while Brown is enjoying a nice little run of playing time at the moment, there’s a chance it’ll evaporate, much like it did between February 4th and March 8th, when he logged a total of 4:14 of floor time. Brown played three years in college and has a season and a half of professional basketball under his belt. He knows what the hell he’s doing and competes on every possession. If the team wanted to win games, they’d play Brown more and LaVine less, but they don’t, so they won’t. Lorenzo Brown’s competence doesn’t mean a damn thing for his future with the Minnesota Timberwolves; it seems very unlikely he’ll be on the team for opening night next season.

There’s a reason some people cheer for the Lorenzo Browns of the world. Here he is, in the best basketball league on the planet, with a chance to play, and while most of us know how this is going to end (with the Sisyphean point guard unemployed at the bottom of the mountain, trying to find a path to heave the stone back up again), he refuses to believe that. He has to. And there’s something noble about that type of labor. The struggle toward the heights itself has to be enough to fill his heart (for now, anyway). One must imagine Lorenzo Brown happy.

A few other odds and ends from this one:

– Nowadays, it’d almost be easier for the team to announce who is available for games rather than who is not. Kevin Garnett hasn’t played a road game since he came back to the Wolves and is currently dealing with a sore left knee. Shabazz Muhammad is done for the season, and it appears that Robbie Hummel and Anthony Bennett are headed that direction as well. Gary Neal’s ankle is still giving him problems, Nikola Pekovic’s ankle will always give him problems, and Justin Hamilton sat out last night to deal with a nasty headache.

That left Minnesota with eight players:

PG Ricky Rubio

PG Zach LaVine

PG Lorenzo Brown

SG Kevin Martin

SF Andrew Wiggins

SF Chase Budinger

PF Adreian Payne

C Gorgui Dieng

That’s right. Two big men for a 48-minute NBA game.

– Due to the limited number of bodies available, there were some truly bizarre lineups on the floor for the Wolves. My personal favorite was the Rubio-Brown-LaVine-Martin-Dieng bit (they held their own for two solid minutes!) with the Brown-LaVine-Martin-Budinger-Payne lineup (plus-7.7 Net Rating in 4 minutes! WOO-HOO!) coming in a close second.

– Don’t look now, but Chase Budinger is averaging 11 points and 4 rebounds on 58% shooting over his past five games! Do you think trading him away this offseason for a second-round pick would be fair, or should Flip hold out for a first? (But seriously, it’s nice to see any signs of life from the guy. His off-ball cutting has been one of the few highlights for the tragedy that has been the Wolves’ offense as of late; hopefully it continues.)

– Kevin Martin was pretty good, going into heat check mode in the first quarter, scoring 18 points on 7 shots (including 4 three pointers), but came back to earth the rest of the way (19 points on 21 shots from the 2nd quarter on). Still, the opening frame was fun as hell. He was waving away picks to shoot over defenders on his own, and everything was going in.

– The Raptors are in trouble. They were 37-17 on February 20th but are just 4-10 since. The Wolves had eight players available. EIGHT. Adreian Payne, one of the Wolves’ TWO big men, drew his third whistle early in the second quarter, as did Andrew Wiggins. Both had to sit down for awhile. So… How in the hell were the Wolves in this game? How does a playoff team allow something like that to happen?

– If it hadn’t been for a late Kevin Martin miss and a back-breaking Ricky Rubio turnover with just under 1:00 to go, Minnesota would’ve been in position to steal this one. Which would’ve been kind of fun, especially considering the Raptors’ scheming, borderline-tampering ways.

– The Wolves go to New York to face the Knicks tomorrow night. Combined records: 28-106.

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