You live by the Dante Cunningham midrange jumper, you die by etc. With Pekovic out with calf contusion, this game—for as close as it seemed down the stretch—was yet another lesson in how a steady diet of pick and pop from Stiemsma and Cunningham in the early going doesn’t set the table the way a heart pick and roll from Pek does. It’s not rocket science; it’s just basic nutrition. Look: Continue Reading…
Archives For Al Jefferson
“Obviously,” said Kurt Rambis after this harsh game, “what plagues us as a ballclub is our composure in late game situations.” That it is indeed obvious makes the point no less salient and no less worth repeating. The Wolves are glaringly young and inexperienced; this resonates through nearly every game that the team has played this year. In past seasons, the Wolves were defined by a simple, bitter fact: they were much less talented than nearly every other team. Watching those teams play, one was rarely tempted into false optimism; the crushing runs just seemed inevitable.
But that’s not quite the case this year. I’m guessing no one would look at this team’s roster and confuse them with the Miami Heat, but this season the Wolves are able to do many of the things that actual basketball teams do: they build leads; they make runs; they pose matchup problems; they manage to entertainingly compete with other basketball teams. What aggravates is the way the small but glaring mistakes accrue throughout a game, taking on a sinister collective weight as the Wolves inch closer to another single digit loss.
It what will most likely be their most evenly contested game of the season, the Wolves matched up against themselves on Wednesday night in Mankato. In case you missed it and had money on the line, the Black team beat the White team 77-67. Whites all over Minnesota are reportedly inconsolable. (Check out some pretty dizzying highlights right here).
In any case, Kurt Rambis was pleased with the proceedings, reports Jerry Zgoda of the Star-Tribune:
“It was great…Guys got tired, but there were an awful lot of good things on both ends of the floor out there. They were focused. They were trying to run the offense.”
I guess the fact that they “were trying to run the offense” is a good sign? Wesley Johnson was, evidently, particularly impressive. Here’s Ray Richardson at the Pioneer Press:
Rookie forward Wes Johnson, battling back from a nagging hamstring injury, might have been at the top of Rambis’ list. Johnson, the No. 4 pick in the draft, displayed a smooth shooting touch, knocking down several outside shots within the framework of Rambis’ triangle offense.
“It felt really good to be out there competing,” Johnson said. “I hadn’t played in a game since July (rookie summer league in Las Vegas). I’m trying to learn this offense at a fast pace, but I’m getting it.”
Koufos sure looked as if he was trying to impress somebody. Little more than a salary dump when the Utah Jazz included him in the Al Jefferson trade, he was the most lively center in a group that also includes Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic.
It would be really funny if Koufos ended up stealing minutes from Darko this year. Its like when we spent more money than I’d like to admit on a garlic press and still wound up chopping the garlic the old fashioned way. Darko being the garlic press in the analogy, obviously.
Ok, get ready for some other news:
- Salt City Hoops reports (via Truehoop) that our old pal Al Jefferson has compared the Wolves to a Toyota:
I’ve never been more excited to start a training camp. Training camp is always been something that you want to skip but I’m so excited…I go from being in a Toyota to a Bentley. Its a beautiful thing.
That’s wonderful, Al, I’m simply thrilled for you. I’d like to point out that a) the Jazz are hardly a Bentley and b) Toyota’s are fine automobiles indeed. Seriously though, I’m glad Big Al is in a better place.
- The Timberwolves have reported a new “corporate partnership” with Sanford Health which will take the shape of, among other things, a huge billboard on the Target Center. Is it weird to anyone else that a giant regional HMO would want to spend a huge amount of money sponsoring the Wolves?
- Demarr Johnson has been waived. You’re safe for now, Maurice Ager and Jason Hart.
Its been more than a week since ESPN opened voting on (and we gave some rather capricious consideration to) the greatest Wolves teams of all time. The results, so far, are decisive enough that I think we can declare some winners:
Point Guard: Stephon Marbury (64.3%). This is not really surprising considering a) how much more fun to watch Stephon was than Terrell Brandon and b) my guy isn’t even on the ballot.
Shooting Guard: Isaiah “J.R.” Rider (82.2%). All the people that voted for both Stephon and J.R. should be punished by being forced to actually coach that terrifying team for a year. Call it the McHale treatment. Impossible to imagine without deep, healing meditation.
Small Forward: Tony Campbell (55.8%). This is the closest of all the races, and it isn’t even that close–Wally Szczerbiak trails Campbell by more than 20 percentage points. That reminds me, didn’t Tom Gugliotta play more three than four? All things being equal, I might consider taking Googs over Campbell, Wally and even my original choice, Sam Mitchell (although it hurts me a little and doing so would immediately make this team significantly less good defensively. One to think on.)
Power Forward: The Pharoah (98.8%). At least one of you hilarious people voted for Christian Laettner.
Center: Al Jefferson (95.2%). On this squad, KG would have to guard all five positions simultaneously.
Incidentally, ESPN is also curating a little popularity contest/tournament between those greatest teams of all time. The Wolves drew the Jazz (featuring John Stockton, Karl Malone, Pete Maravich, Mehmet Okur and Adrian Dantley) in the first round and lost by an overwhelming 85 percentage points.
Now, I would agree that the above roster (the one featuring Steph, J.R., no defense and tons of terrible shot selection) would get handled by those all-time Jazz. But I just might give my bunch (KG, Billups, Mitchell, Big Al, West) a fighting chance. Ah, who am I kidding.
So the fellows over at ESPN are asking us all to choose the Timberwolves’ all-time starting five. Sounds like fun right? the kind of idle thought experiment that’s so good at whiling away those long workday afternoon, right? Wrong. Here’s my take:
On the face of things, it would seem that the only clear choices are: the very young, very confident, very skilled Stephon Marbury; Sam Cassell, who hit some seriously huge jumpers and then did the testicle dance; Terrell Brandon, who was actually really productive in his Minnesota years. Of course, Brandon’s career was prematurely ended by injuries (and anyway, he was never the dynamic backcourt player the Wolves needed during those years) and Sammy’s two ill-starred seasons are still killing the Pups (see: the Marko Jaric trade). As for Marbury: he got us really excited and then he broke our hearts; he gave some insane interviews, he ate vaseline on the internet, he went to China. It was all over so quickly.
So I could choose those guys, or I could choose the guy with the Finals MVP trophy and the World Championship gold medal, the guy who resurrects struggling teams upon arrival, the guy who is clearly (if you ask me) the best PG the Wolves have ever had on their roster. Do I care that Lord Chauncey Billups was only a backup for the Wolves and that his best years came after he went on his merry way? I do not.
And anyway, anytime we anthologize the Minnesota Timberwolves we should make some mention of one or more of their many terrible, terrible decisions. Letting Chauncey go was one of the worst.
Answer: Chauncey Billups
It’s ironic and appropriate that the little ESPN voting gizmo lists Randy Foye as a shooting guard. Foye actually manned the point for most of his time as a Wolf but you would never have known it from watching him play; the way he overdribbled and jacked contested threes, he certainly looked for all the world like a shooting guard. ‘Course he couldn’t defend the two or any other position for that matter.
As for Latrell Sprewell, I have always dearly loved the Professor for his utterly fearless, utterly brazen scoring as a Knick and Warrior, and for his role in the best season in Wolves history. But one year of fading glory and another of dead-legged jumpers and pure locker room poison just aren’t cutting it.
By the way, thank you ESPN for allowing me to see in my mind’s eye Isaiah “J.R.” Rider and his breathtaking skills and his stunning dunks and the ridiculous things he said and did.
Rashad McCants? Ricky Davis? Can I vote for Gerald Glass?
Answer: I dunno, Doug West I guess? See how hard this is?
The offensive stats tell me I should choose Wally Szczerbiak or Tony Campbell. Campbell scored 20.6 points per game as a Wolf and Wally hit more than 45% of his three pointers one year, but I’m not going to go with either of these guys. I’m going to go with Sam Mitchell because he gave the best years of his career to some godforsaken teams, because he defended and rebounded with passion on those unwatchably bad squads, because he played professional basketball in the Metrodome, because he mentored KG and countless others, because he was a completely righteous dude.
Answer: Sam Mitchell
Clearly, there is only one player who can fill this spot and that player is, of course, Joe Smith. I’m sorry, that wasn’t funny.
Answer: the best defender and rebounder of the last decade, who is still the best reason, geography aside, to love the Wolves, who (along with Flip Saunders) was the only reason the Wolves ever won more than 40 games, whose throbbing heart still pounds inexorably under the Target Center parquet, I don’t care what his uniform says.
By the way, wasn’t Trent Tucker the best?
I have three observations about this:
1) I have a soft spot for Rasho Neterovic, don’t get me wrong. But the fact that Rasho and Michael Olowakandi are candidates for anyone’s list of the best of anything pro basketball related is hilarious.
2) Did the Wolves just trade the best center in their history, at age 25, for two first-round draft picks?
3) This is getting depressing.
Answer: Al Jefferson
This starting five–Chauncey, West, Mitchell, KG and Big Al–is pretty good. Throw in a solid crew of all time Wolves bench players–maybe like Kevin Love, Pooh Richardson and Trenton Hassell for example–and you just might have a contender (although I wouldn’t put any money on them beating last year’s Lakers). You heard me: the best team 20 years of Timberwolves history can produce, might conceivably have had a chance to win last season’s Western Conference. Sigh.
Some disquieting news out of the Team USA training camp. It appears that our own Kevin Love has discovered the green grass and deep blue skies of competent teammates and meaningful competition. John Schuhmann of NBA.com reports on Love’s epiphanic summer:
Love was asked Tuesday if he felt more appreciated with the U.S. Team than with the Timberwolves. “Yes,” he responded. “Just a solid yes.” But he was quick to clarify. “I don’t want to come off sounding like a prima donna or sound like I’m complaining or anything,” Love said. “I just feel like, since I’ve been here, it’s really been a great team atmosphere. We feel like we have a chance to win this whole thing. I think everybody is just coming in with a great attitude and appreciating everybody as a whole, and really becoming a family.”
“Just a solid yes.” That’s tough. First of all, I’m intrigued by the way that Kevin seems to have ditched the typical pro athlete non-speak. Want to know whether Rashad McCants is actually a terrible teammate? K-Love will let you know (he is). How about whether its more fun to get love for your national team than pull reserve minutes for your 15-win employer? Kevin will set you straight.
In his piece, Shuhmann helpfully point out that last season Love “averaged fewer minutes than Ryan Gomes and started fewer games than Ryan Hollins. This was a below average rebounding team, and they couldn’t find more than 29 minutes for the best per-minute rebounder in the league.” True on all counts. Without a doubt, it was painful to watch Love sit out entire quarters while Darko and Hollins wandered in the wilderness.
But lets also remember a few things. First, on last year’s Wolves, the playing time was relatively evenly distributed; only Al Jefferson (32.4) and Corey Brewer (30.3) averaged more than 30 minutes per game. So Love’s court time (28.6 mpg), while certainly a little low for a rebounder of his stature, was roughly comparable to that of the team’s other starters.
Second thing: Kahn and Rambis have been widely ridiculed for the belief that Love and Jefferson could not coexist. But the fact is that the Wolves got murdered on defense when the two not-so-big boys played together. You could argue that a) Rambis was wrong to favor Jefferson over Love in crunch time, or that b) Love’s and Al’s rebounding and offensive production were more important than any defensive gains brought by Darko and Hollins (I’m probably more in this camp), but there’s no arguing that, last season, Rambis faced a lot of terrible options in his frontcourt.
Third thing: this may have been lost among all of the other bummers and depressives of the 09-10 season, but let’s remember that for much of the second half of the year, Love was not his normal ferocious, energetic self. He seemed lost, distracted and lethargic. His numbers started to slip. Even reliable Wolves cheerleader Jim Peterson commented on the air that Love “looks to me like he’s checked out.” For sure, much of this was frustration at his uncertainty within the offense, with his “promotion” to the second unit and with the team’s awful fortunes. But consider that players like Damian Wilkins, Corey Brewer and even Jonny Flynn and Big Al mostly managed to carry on with their customary intensity even as things got bleak. As Rambis himself offered, “if he’s not playing hard, then things aren’t gonna work out for him.”
The Wolves’ frontcourt situation is no less muddled this year than last. Love, Darko, Michael Beasley, Nikola Pecovic and Anthony Tolliver will all be competing for the two big man spots. But, as this national team experience has plainly shown, now that Al Jefferson has moved on (and maybe even before that) Kevin Love is clearly the Wolves’ best player. Lineup experiments and lessons in professionalism aside, its time for the kid to see some sunshine.
It was tough to watch Al Jefferson last season. He was a bit tentative, a step slow and what was once a scowl of determination looked more and more like sulking. But it was understandable. He was trudging about on one knee, surrounded by new faces and learning a new system. The writing was on the wall and he knew he never had a chance.
There were flashes of brilliance in Jefferson’s first two Minnesota winters. In the age of the uber-athletic forward, Al was a throwback: an earthbound player with a skill set that aged gracefully. His intuitive footwork, soft hands and endless array of pump fakes established him as one of the league’s best postmen. He worked to extend his range, improved his passing and became even more dangerous. Of course he wasn’t without his faults; for such a fundamentally sound offensive force, he was a woefully inept defender and the aforementioned improvement in court vision was from absolute blindness to mere nearsightedness.
Make no mistake though, Al was much more than a bottom feeder hoarding stats and losses, in the eyes of many he was an All Star. Unfortunately, in the eyes of those who mattered he wasn’t a winner like David West. It was quite ironic. Kevin Garnett was an All Star the previous two seasons on teams that struggled to win 30 games. But that’s just the way things work: prominent veterans on losing teams and tertiary players on winning teams get the benefit of the doubt while the new guy gets the shaft.
He was so much more than the new guy. He was the new face of the franchise. He was the faint hope that a struggling team could recover from losing a Hall of Famer. He was the one who had to rally his teammates. He was the one left to face the media every night. He was a hard worker who made no excuses and believed in accountability, not lip service. He was the leader. He never had a chance.
In his first days on the job, David Kahn provided a refreshing dose of honesty that drew the respect of many Wolves fans. Al Jefferson wasn’t going to be the best player on a championship team, but he could be a dependable second option. Unfortunately, he’ll have to do so in Utah.
Questionable as the circumstances may be, I’m happy to see him go. Too often players aren’t given the time or conditions to develop. They’re treated as commodities instead of projects. Al suffered through some of Boston’s darkest days, only to be discarded in a deal for their salvation. He emerged as a legitimate force in Minnesota, hindered more by injury and instability than any defense. Now he finds himself in the steady and capable hands of Jerry Sloan, who will appreciate his no nonsense attitude, cater to his strengths and bang out those deficiencies.
Hopefully he’s found a home.
Hopefully we won’t regret it.
Things are happening to Al Jefferson. Last night Marc Stein reported that the Wolves were still haggling with Dallas over a possible trade of Big Al for Erick Dampier, or more accurately, Dampier’s huge, non-guaranteed contract.
But because of Dallas’s desire to unload Deshawn Stevenson, Matt Carroll and their significantly less amenable contracts on whomever takes Dampier, this thing is apparently old news.
Today, all the kids are talking about Utah. Here’s what Jerry Zgoda has to say:
A league source told the Star Tribune the Wolves were approaching a deal with the Jazz that would send the remaining three years and $42 million on Jefferson’s contract to Utah for a protected first-round pick from Memphis and another unspecified piece or pieces. The Jazz would use a trade exception from losing free agent Carlos Boozer to Chicago to absorb Jefferson’s salary…That trade also could clear cap room for the team to make additional trades or signings such as that of Ridnour, the former Milwaukee Bucks combo guard who visited the Timberwolves and Target Center last week.
Friends, this is sounding just like a salary dump. Are the Wolves really looking to move Al for next to nothing in order to make room for Luke Ridnour? Is that really the best we can do? I can already envision four games of Al utterly devouring Kevin Love or Michael Beasley or Darko or whoever else the Wolves use to defend him. I realize that its shrewd to enter the season with cap room (as Oklahoma City seems to do every year), but this still feels like an ignoble end for Big Al. I’m feeling kind of depressed.
On the subject of Beasley, ESPN says that the deal is now official:
“There should be still a tremendous amount of upside there,” Kahn said of Beasley. “We like his versatility and his athleticism. If we do trade Al, he provides some comfort there is some scoring punch in case that occurs.”
Or they could, y’know, try to trade Al for an actual player with a little “scoring punch,” but whatever.
While we’re talking about Beasley, this here’s a nice piece from a few days ago by Oceanary of Canis Hoopus about the whole power forward/small forward debate. As we briefly mentioned the other day, Beasley’s stats are significantly better when he plays the four. Oceanary elaborates on just why that is:
First, Beasley can create some absolutely nightmarish mismatches for other teams as a 4. The kind that….well, that the Timberwolves fell victim to on seemingly a nightly basis last season. Beasley’s a strong shooter with range, with the potential to get even better in that department. He’s also quick and athletic in a way few power forwards in the league are, and can handle the ball well enough to exploit that without needing to run of screens and make constant backdoor cuts. And he’s a master at creating space for himself in isolation situations, whether it be with a first step, a step back, or something more crafty. He is a shouthpaw after all….a lot of people don’t realize how much that can be exploited.
This time of year is always tough for me as a Wolves follower. The past few summers have led me to become more of a spectator than a speculator. I’ve found it easier-and far less frustrating-to analyze the developments at hand rather than agonize over the possibilities. There are simply too many loose ends to commit to any particular line of thinking. At the risk of a Simmonsesque analogy, watching the Wolves off season calendar is much like watching Lost, another pastime of mine that ultimately ended in disappointment. Far too often I’ve rationalized story arcs and envisioned positive developments, only to realize that I’m not in control, just subject to the whims of another. Alas, Locke is never redeemed, Ben never receives his comeuppance and Kate never learns a goddamn thing.
Spoiler alert: This summer could be disastrous for the Minnesota Timberwolves. But here I am, speculating anyway, with the faint hope that my imagination aligns with the script. As Ben noted in the previous post, Ricky Rubio has become more comfortable with the idea of Wolfdom, but is also well aware of the teams developmental needs. What lies between the lines of his apparent change of heart is essentially an ultimatum: You have one year left to get your sh*t together. While some may scoff at the hubris of an unproven teenager, I fully support management’s relentless pursuit of Rubio. I don’t consider him a franchise player, however I do consider him a franchise changing player. Given the right pieces of course, which is why I’ve changed my mind completely about the Wolves pursuit of Rudy Gay.
I like Minnesota. The winters are harsh, but the summers are grand, the arts/music scene is robust and the people are…um,”nice”. It’s perfect for a poor and angsty person like myself who enjoys his days outside. But if I were a millionaire with my choice of locales, I probably wouldn’t be here. Apparently this is a sentiment I share with much of the league’s vaunted crop of free agents, which is why Gay is probably the Wolves best shot; a talented, yet middling player looking for a big payday. This is normally the type of scenario that submarines rebuilding franchises, but the fact of the matter is that such moves are made by GM’s who must do something to establish a foundation and appease a dwindling fan base. It’s the lesser of two evils, the other being the use of cap space to absorb another team’s blunder, specifically Elton Brand. Given the increasing possibility that Evan Turner-much like Rubio-may fall into our lap and allow us to keep Al Jefferson, Gay may be the final piece to a respectable basketball team.
There’s been talk of trading our stalwart post presence bceause he and Kevin Love can’t coexist, but maybe this tandem deserves another chance. Maybe they couldn’t work together because of a barren perimeter that didn’t keep opposing defenses honest. Perhaps the floor would open up with the acquisition of two quality wingmen and a prodigious point guard. The 2011-12 Minnesota Timberwolves could consist of Ricky Rubio, Evan Turner, Rudy Gay, Kevin Love & Al Jefferson. It could return Corey Brewer, Ramon Sessions, Ryan Gomes and Ryan Hollins to their natural roles of contributing bench players who can provide an effective 15 minutes rather than be exposed over the course of 35. It could turn us into a playoff team. It really could happen.
Or this could be like the time I thought the skeletons in the cave were Jack & Kate, who sacrificed themselves to save the island from imminent peril. I was wrong.
(Quick introduction: My name is Zach Harper and I’ll be contributing here frequently at AWAW. Some people may know me from my work at HardwoodParoxysm.com, CowbellKingdom.com, RaptorsRepublic.com and/or Talkhoops.net. As a life long Wolves fan, I feel very honored to be on this site and to be working with Ben and Myles.)
DeMarcus Cousins is looked at as a very volatile and yet talented young man who is set to unleash a fury of punishment and bewilderment on the NBA.
The problem is that nobody quite knows which direction those things will be directed.
I’m not so much concerned with the player that DeMarcus will become. He’s an absolute barbarian when it comes to his play on the court. He’s usually the biggest and strongest guy out there and knows how to use this to his advantage. This seems like a very simple concept but it’s one that not many players know how to do. Cousins is clearly comfortable with his size. He doesn’t feel overgrown or too fat for these jeans in any way. He’s a powerful guy that enjoys throwing that power around.
His weaknesses are more mental than anything else. He’s a headcase and a bad apple but not in the conventional sense. He doesn’t really get into off the court problems. During his one year at Kentucky, he was a model citizen when it came to life away from Rupp Arena. However, when he was on the court and more importantly walking towards the sidelines, you could routinely see him disagreeing and arguing with his head coach in a way not representative of a gentleman.
I don’t want to say it’s a sense of entitlement with Cousins because that doesn’t seem to be the issue. I think he’s a very strong-willed individual who can butt heads with other strong-willed individuals. Put him in a program with a more easy-going head coach and you’d probably never know that Cousins was considered somewhat of a problem child. Sure, he’d throw the occasional elbow to an opponent’s head and he’d probably get a technical foul for screaming at the referee. But overall, you wouldn’t see him screaming at his coach to go intercourse himself.
I want to you to take a few minutes and review the following two videos. If you have the time, watch both of them in their entirety. However, it’s not necessary to do so. Just watch a couple minutes of each to see the fascinating psyche on display.
DeMarcus Cousins is seemingly brilliant if you ask me. I think he’s probably the most self-aware prospect I’ve ever seen come into the NBA. He knows what he is. He knows what he has been and he knows what he will be. There is no façade with him. There is no image he’s trying to portray. Cousins dances with reporters until he grows agitated by such tomfoolery. And yet, he’s toeing the line of letting his frustration get the better of him or keeping a cool head. It’s a fascinating look into a young man figuring out his professional obligations in real time.
However, in the paraphrased words of Dave Chappelle he’s pretty much delaying the inevitable of seeing what happens when keeping it real goes bad.
DeMarcus isn’t going to pull punches or sugarcoat anything. He has an opinion of how things are and he doesn’t fill the need to filter much. He’s too intelligent to just come out and say what’s on his mind when he can sense it will be twisted or used against him at a later date. If anything, he’s constantly reminding himself of his own Miranda Rights. He’s going to try to not say anything that will be used against him in a court of public opinion later on.
I don’t know that any of this is a problem either. But I also can’t say it won’t be a problem. With DeMarcus Cousins you’ll get a demonstrative entity capable of ruling the NBA paint. It’s not so much a question of how good is he? It’s more of a question of how good will he allow himself to be?
Throwing him into a frontcourt with Al Jefferson, Kevin Love and Darko Milicic (assuming he re-signs) is a potential path of destruction and a Batman utility belt full of interior options.
If you need to go all offense, you can run Jefferson and Love together. Yes, it’s defensive equivalent of interior saloon doors but at the same time, no one can theoretically stop their post scoring as they continue to mature next to each other.
If you want more of a balance, you can throw out the combination of Cousins and Jefferson or Cousins and Love together. Both work in amazing ways. Cousins can account for any defensive liabilities Love or Jefferson might pose. He can guard the strongest post player on the floor or allow Jefferson and/or Love to guard them and provide stellar weak side help. On offense, you can put both Jefferson and Cousins in the post and let them take turns pulverizing the interior. Or you can play the high-low game with Love and Cousins and watch opposing big men weep in frustration.
And on those possessions in which you need to go all defense for big stops, you can run Cousins and Darko out there together and watch them bully opposing offenses.
DeMarcus Cousins is a once in a generation level talent on the inside with a perennial bust level attitude. Rarely do we ever see guys possess both of these traits. He’s a roll of the dice in many ways because you don’t know if he’s going to be an All-Star player for your team or the next team he plays for. He’s definitely not a guy you see sticking with one organization for the majority of his career. He’s likely to be a floater in this league in the mold of a Rasheed Wallace or Zach Randolph. He would have fit in perfectly with those early millennium Blazers team.
What David Kahn will have to decipher is whether they can risk being the team he unleashes his inevitable path of destruction upon.
Because one way (opposing team) or the other (his team), it’s going to happen.