Archives For Hubie Brown

Photo by Henti Smith

You’ll have to forgive me for jumping on the meme-wagon after just the first game. I certainly hesitate to add anything to the overheated squall this is likely to produce. But sometimes you just can’t pass it up. The barest facts: Kevin Love, the Wolves’ leading shooter, rebounder and best player by far in the preseason, exits the game with 8:39 remaining in the 4th quarter; the Wolves go on a small, but crucial 7-2 run to tie the game at 98; the run falters; Love does not return; the Wolves lose by one.

It had all the hallmarks of one of the more depressing stories of last season: Love (seemingly) inexplicably benched, sinking into a guilt/frustration cycle on his comfy seat, emotionally unable to cheer on his team as the Wolves get edged down the stretch and fans and media get apoplectic. I threw in that parenthetical “seemingly” because, despite the sheer stupefied disbelief of nearly everybody in attendance (myself included), there actually is a totally reasonable explanation for Love’s banishment. And it points to what I think is a really interesting clash of paradigms, of two different way of understanding the game.

Paradigm 1: Kevin Love is your best player. He has a gold medal that he can wear whenever he feels like it. He hit 14 of his 24 preseason threes and led the league in (at least one measure of) efficiency. He is one of the NBA’s finest, most ferocious rebounders. Ergo, he should play in the fourth quarter of a close game. This is the paradigm within which most of the discourse among fans, media and even coaches takes place.

Paradigm 2: For most of the game, the Wolves played defense more poorly than they had throughout the entire pre-season. They made mental errors; they rotated tepidly; they committed foolish fouls. Here’s Rambis on the team’s defensive failings:

The team defensive concepts weren’t there[…]Most of it had to do with our weakside defense not being in their proper help positions. Without boring you with all the details about where they’re supposed to be, but just our weakside, they weren’t active, they weren’t in their spots that they’re supposed to get based on where the ball is and what’s happening offensively. So we were very slow and indecisive in what we were doing there.

Oh, don’t worry Kurt, we’re not bored! When asked if defense was the cause of Anthony Tolliver snagging Love’s 4th quarter minutes, Rambis tersely replied, “Yes, I thought that he was moving his feet well. He challenged shots, he blocked shots. He did a good job defensively.”

This was true enough. During that key 4th quarter run, Tolliver was a model of defensive tenacity and awareness. First, he smartly trapped Donte Green in the quarter, entirely disrupting Sacramento’s offensive rhythm. Shortly thereafter, he was beaten on a basket cut by Carl Landry but quickly recovered for a majestic rejection at the rim (one of his four blocks on the game). On the next possession, Tolliver aggressively rotated to a driving Greene, forcing a pass to Jason Thompson, who missed jumper from far beyond his range.

When the point was raised that Love is “arguably the team’s best player overall” (this was Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, courageously voicing what we were all thinking and bringing Paradigm 1 squarely face-to-face with paradigm 2), Rambis interrupted, with a little edgily, “That’s your opinion…I thought Anthony Tolliver was doing the things defensively that we needed at that point and time in the ballgame.”

In other words, the team’s best player is whoever is playing the best on a given night, with defensive performance topping the list of criteria. Or, put more sharply: this is a 15-win team and 15-win teams have no “best player,” gold medals and preseason stats bedamned. This is really the essence of Paradigm 2: no matter who you are, you earn your minutes every night.

In this NBA, it takes some serious leather to bench your team’s most fan-favored, most media-gilded player simply because he didn’t play defense quite how you wanted him to. Now, I still think that Rambis ought to have reinserted Love once that Tolliver-fueled spurt had run its course. And because there is something chastening and amazing about the way he plays (not to mention that he really is the Wolves’ best player), I would ultimately like to see Love get more burn. But I must say that, despite myself, I find Rambis’ cussedly old-skool moral compass kind of charming. Very Dr. Jack; very Hubie.

Photo by Tristan Tom

We’ve publicly touted our appreciation for Ryan Gomes in these very pages, so its nice to discover that somebody else shares the opinion. ESPNLA’s Kevin Arnovitz recently wrote a nice piece on Gomes and found the new Clipper to be just as thoughtful and open as advertised:

Ask him why the Timberwolves struggled in the triangle, and he’ll tell you the specific point in the sequence when defenses anticipated the action and clamped down on the offense. Ask him how his good friend Al Jefferson will fare in Utah’s flex offense, and he’ll speak in detail about how Jefferson will flourish and which reads will prove most difficult for the big man. Ask him about the particulars of his game as an NBA small forward, and Gomes is an open book.

True that. While I’m happy that Gomes has the chance to start for a team that could make some playoff noise, I must say I’m a little bummed that it had to be the Clips.

I know that, as Wolves fans, we get used to moaning about our sometimes bewildering front office. But always remember that it could be so, so much worse. You could be a Clippers fan. I know the Clippers have a talented group this year, but they also boast probably the worst owner in sports. When Donald Sterling speaks, you can just feel the doom descend. Here’s his most recent offering, this time touching on Gomes and another old acquaintance of ours (from TJ Simers of the LA Times via Mr. Arnovitz at Truehoop):

A couple of months ago this was going to be the summer of all summers for the Clippers, a fresh start, a chance to hire a new coach, $17 million in cap space to go after LeBron or other big names like him and make a huge splash. And so they signed Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes.

Or, as Sterling put it, “If I really called the shots we wouldn’t have signed Gomes and what’s the other guy’s name? You know, they told me if we built a new practice facility we’d attract all the top players in the game,” Sterling adds. “I guess I should have doubled the size of this place.”

He’s no different than most Clippers fans.

“I swear to you, I never heard of these guys,” Sterling says, “but what if the coach says he wants them?”

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve felt the need to defend Randy Foye’s honor. While I will admit that the Clippers apparent attempt to reconstruct the 2008 Timberwolves roster (along with Foye and Gomes, Craig Smith and Bassy Telfair have all been Clips in the past year) is pretty amusing, as Arnovitz points out, this Sterling quote is pure, ignorant poison.

How would you rate the job GM David Kahn has done so far with the Timberwolves?

KL: I was hoping Ricky Rubio comes over and play… We definitely upgraded our team this summer. We re-signed Darko Milicic, we got Michael Beasley, we got a bunch of other players like Luke Ridnour, Sebastian Telfair… So we’re definitely looking better. Last year was a very tough one. As far as the job that he did, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens the next couple of years with our team.

Even better:

Would you like to become a free agent or would you rather sign an extension and get that out of the way?

KL: I’d love to sign an extension and kind of get that out of the way. I’m very comfortable in Minnesota, I like the style that Kurt Rambis has and the coaching staff as well. I want to keep getting better and better and signing an extension would be a little more sweet rather than bitter sweet.

Few know this better than Tony Ronzone, the director of international player personnel for the United States team. His years of circling the globe as an N.B.A. scout and a coach in New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and China earned him a spot on the staff. Ronzone, also an assistant general manager for the Minnesota Timberwolves, will prepare the American players for the personnel on the court and the atmosphere off it. In Europe, Ronzone said, lighters and loose change are commonly confiscated at the gate because fans have been known to heat coins before throwing them.

They heat the coins!

  • Finally, this is not Wolves-related but I command you to read this  SI piece on Hubie Brown (thanks again to Kevin Arnovitz at Truehoop) from 1983, in which Hubie expands on the need to “make [your players] cry for mercy,” his own desire for “complete control” of his team, and the fact that “Bill Russell is a terrible human being.” Paranoia, homophobia and undiluted rage abound. Maybe I’m revealing my age here, but I had no idea that Hubie was such a reactionary maniac in his younger days. How did he turn into such a nice old granddad?