My interview with Kevin Love was another treasure trove that I couldn’t really find a place for. Picture: an insanely cold day. Me drinking tea at the Starbucks across from the Target Center. A very tall man sitting across from me at an embarrassingly small table answering my questions–about his role on the team, his relationship with Kurt Rambis and the entire controversy over his minutes–with candor and good humor. I appreciate that.
Archives For Kurt Rambis
In another addition of the “stuff I didn’t use for the Truehoop story” series, here’s my mildly edited interview with Kurt Rambis. I had been told that Rambis was so furious about the proposed content of my story that he nearly refused to talk to me. So by the time I got into his office, I was, just like the pro journalist I am, excruciatingly nervous. The barely-concealed irritation on his face as I entered certainly didn’t help matters. Don’t worry, it got easier.
It goes without saying that this team doesn’t enjoy much positive attention. So when the national spotlight turned to our neck of the woods last month, it was a time to bask in hopes of a bright future. For one glorious night, we’d let the numbers speak for themselves.
But now comes the responsibility to state things more plainly. 31 rebounds was a feat in itself, even for such a prodigy. Those 31 points however, well…they were the ugliest 31 points I’d seen in quite some time.
Which makes Kevin Love’s performance tonight even more satisfying.
This year’s Golden State Warriors are no longer be the spectral vision of chaos that once troubled the sleep of the NBA’s elite. The days of Baron Davis, Captain Jack, 6’7″ centers, wantonly careless defense and constant, brazen shooting may be over. But this team, with their skinny, pale duo of Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry can still cause deep panic in a defense, particularly one as inexperienced and undisciplined as our Wolves.
In the past three years, the Wolves haven’t had many opportunities to win basketball games of any kind. Thrilling endings and clutch buzzer-beaters have mostly been some enviable luxury, like when the rich kids at school used to show off their Girbauds and Valterra skateboards. My memory of potential game-winning shots includes: Randy Foye getting a three blocked by Dwyane Wade; lots of hurried, un-lovely, poorly executed plays; Damian Wilkins’ blind luck.
In any case, it’s been a really long time since we’ve seen any T-Wolf with the ability to do what Michael Beasley did in the Timberwolves’ Wednesday night 113-111 win against the Clippers. There he was, with the game tied and time running down, isolated against Ryan Gomes at the top of the key. He took two hard dribbles to his right, pulled up at the elbow, elevated over the double-team and hit the game winner. For the past week at least, and for the first time in years, the Wolves have had somebody who can salvage a bucket when the offense fails to produce an open look (which is often), who can create for himself when the wheels fall off the machine, who actually can hit a game-winner over a double-team. Its a strange feeling.
And it’s a good thing, too, because the Wolves went to extraordinary lengths to lose this game. Their previous seven possessions had been a carnival of horrors: hurried execution, careless passes, poorly chosen jumpers, missed layups. Only Corey Brewer’s utterly ridiculous flailing bank-shot to tie the game at 111 with 1:14 remaining salvaged this hideous stretch of play. The shot was vintage Brewer in that it was almost more troubling than heartening. It had no conceivable reason to go in the basket; it was a sign of an offense entirely out-of-sync.
Friends, the Wolves are 5-1. Attempts to plumb the depths of this strange statistic for hidden meanings and portents will probably be futile. When we look back on this season in June, after the Wolves have either won 45 games or 14, have either blossomed with promise or collapsed into a quivering husk, we’ll say we knew which way the wind was blowing back in October. But that will be a lie: at this moment, we have no idea what this means. Best to simply, calmly inhale, exhale and accept it. Onward:
- Here is a recap of the Wolves’ 99-88 comeback win over the Prince/Wallace/McGrady/Hamilton-less Pistons in Syracuse. Love that low angle:
- And here are some equally cinema verite highlights of their 114-109 win over the Bucks in South Dakota. Check Darko’s dream-shake early in the clip:
- In case you hadn’t noticed, in his past 53 minutes of play, Kevin Love has hit 21 of his 29 shots and pulled down 23 rebounds. That mythic 20/20 game is on the horizon.
- Here in the Strib, Kurt Rambis reinforces our thought that depth and interchangeability in the lineup were major goals this past off-season:
“One of the things we wanted to have is a deep roster and the ability to change things around,” Rambis said. “I think we have enough flexibility with this team. With as many young players as we have, I don’t feel like I’ve got to lock myself into something, particularly at this stage of who we are as a ballclub.”
- As we did some weeks ago, Steve Aschburner indulges his sentimental side at NBA.com with a look back at KG’s daemonic Game 7 of the ’04 conference semis. Is this a cruel reminder of faded glory or an early sign of renewal? Only the oracle knows and she ain’t sayin’.
- Not specifically Wolves-related, but over at Fanhouse, Shoals and Ziller spin what is, to my mind, the definitive genealogy of the new technical rule and David Stern’s politically savvy paternalism. References to Obama’s rhetoric of hope and red-state electoral strategy abound (via our friend David Roth at the WSJ’s Daily Fix):
[Stern] generally comes out on top, or at least brings the league through unscathed at the end of the day. (Donaghy? Who?) He does so by making extreme overtures and overreactions that seek to nip public opinion in the bud. But down the road, almost all of these lunges prove to be just that: stunts to keep the heat off of this most vulnerable of pro sports leagues…It’s a game, one where blowhards get the hot air they so badly want, and players know that in the end, everything will even out.
ESPN’s panel of experts has been speaking for nearly two weeks now. So far, they think the Heat will win lots of basketball games, that Amare Stoudemire will be a disappointment and that Lebron James will be good. Nothing all that controversial there. Today, though, the panel pronounced that our Timberwolves would be the most tumultuous team in the NBA this year. The Pups narrowly beat out the Cavs and Hornets but still, I thought, our honor needed some defending. So over at the ESPN NBA page, I did just that. Here’s the nuts and bolts of the thing. As you can see, they caught me on an optimistic day:
I realize it seems questionable to brazenly flout the “best player available” maxim by drafting Wesley Johnson over DeMarcus Cousins, and then immediately duplicating Johnson’s skill set by trading the 16th pick for Martell Webster.
It’s strange to trade Al Jefferson, the team’s best player over the past three seasons, for two draft picks, and then bring in Michael Beasley to replace him as your go-to scorer. And even stranger to sign two Serbian centers for a grand total of $34 million over the next four seasons, especially when one of them is named Darko Milicic.
And maybe you’re also amused and/or exhausted by the knowledge that in the first year of Kahn’s tenure, the Wolves have acquired no fewer than seven point guards, some of them more than once (although, to his credit, not all at the same time).
And that teenage prodigy Ricky Rubio — the fifth pick in the ’09 draft and maybe the best player of all of those PGs — currently runs game in Barcelona with no guarantee of ever setting foot in Minnesota…
It’s fashionable at the moment to ridicule Kahn as an abrasive, unqualified hack. It’s clear the man has had some awfully low moments this summer and that he and Rambis haven’t yet found that transcendent player who will give meaning to their long-suffering franchise. And it’s equally clear that the Wolves are going to lose a lot of games this season.
But if you scan this lineup — Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Wes Johnson, Martell Webster, Corey Brewer, even Darko Milicic and Michael Beasley — you’ll find a lot of young, smart, athletic, hungry players. These are players who want to learn, who want to run, who want to move the ball and play defense. Aren’t these just the type of players who would seem to fit well into Rambis’ up-tempo-and-triangle offense? And when you consider the Wolves have roughly $10 million in cap space, doesn’t the picture look a lot less ridiculous than this chaotic offseason might have suggested?
Am I just being naïve? Is it wrong for Wolves fans to hold on to even these tiny shreds of optimism? Let me tell you a story.
For the three years beginning with their six-game Western Conference finals loss to the Lakers in 2004 and ending with the Kevin Garnett trade of 2007, the Wolves slowly melted down. With very few exceptions (KG among them), the team became a nightmare of ball-hogging, extravagant contract demands, intentionally careless defense and mediocre effort. As the front office hemorrhaged draft picks, this collection of aging jump-shooters and corrosive personalities contributed to the firing of both Flip Saunders and Dwane Casey and helped hasten the KG era’s sad, pathetic end. What I’m saying is: We’ve seen turmoil and this isn’t it.
Here are a few clarifying, explanatory, provocative notes from Friday’s media sessions with the Wolves new draftees, Wes Johnson, Lazar Haywood and Namanja Bjelcia, plus David Kahn and Kurt Rambis.
- Its become clear that the Timberwolves have made re-signing Darko Milicic (and, to a lesser extent, Nikola Pecovic) a condition of trading Al Jefferson. “It’s the right time finally for us to explore this,” Kahn said. “I’ve met with Al and discussed this. If Darko comes back, there could be a need to create some playing time. We really need to get our front line settled.” This is slightly unsettling because it suggests that Kahn and Rambis have calibrated their concept of “team need” around Darko’s presence. One wonders: did this factor into their decision to pass on Demarcus Cousins? I am now squirming in my chair.
- Kahn predicted that sign-and-trades, rather than straight free-agent signings would dominate the landscape this summer. But, as Myles rightly points out, now that Rudy Gay seems to be off the table it’s not clear which free agents the Wolves might be pursuing. They could certainly attempt use Al to work a Chris Bosh sign-and-trade although I would think that Bosh’s first desire would be to just go wherever Lebron goes. After that, what’s left? Joe Johnson? Carlos Boozer? Amar’e Stoudemire? David Lee? Tyrus Thomas? Amir Johnson? Does any of this make sense?
- Or might the Wolves simply save their cap room for next summer, when the Miamis, Chicagos and New Jerseys of the world have already chased their dreams and Carmelo, Joakim Noah, Kendrick Perkins, Al Horford and Nene can all become free agents? The mind boggles.
- Kahn adamantly rejected the premise that the Wolves needed to make dramatic changes in order to attract Ricky Rubio. “He’d like us to improve, but we all would,” Kahn said. “I think that what’s important to him is that he feels that he’s ready to play. And he feels that in a year he’ll be more ready to play. Anything else is just fluff.” Ok, then.
- This from Kurt Rambis (a sentiment later endorsed by Kahn): “Last year was just what we had to do, business-wise. Now we’re starting to build a team. I’ve always considered this our first year. Last year was just a business year.” I guess we all kind of knew that already. Not sure how much business got done but it sure wasn’t much fun.
- Also from Rambis: “Smart players don’t have a problem picking up any offense.” That’s a bold statement. But I feel like it explains a lot of what the Wolves are doing here. They clearly have put a premium on athletic players, like Johnson and Martell Webster, who also happen to be pretty sharp fellas. They may not be the ultimate in terms of pure individual skill but, I’m guessing this thinking goes, they’ll be able to find roles within the offense. They’ll be willing and able to move the ball and move without the ball, to be in position to make plays and then to actually make them.
- But still, commenter Mac makes a great point. Last season, the Wolves suffered from a desperate lack of shooting, athleticism and creativity on the wing. Johnson and and Webster take care of the first two but not the third. The team still badly needs a perimeter player who can (intelligently) create his own shot.
- I was totally charmed by Johnson’s and Haywood’s giddiness and earnest enthusiasm. They seem like good dudes. I really hope they’re good basketball players.
- Bjelica does not speak English well at all. We can only imagine how arduous an entire day spent in the company of strangers, in a country you’ve never before visited, answering questions in a language you barely speak must have been–particularly if those foreign strangers are your future employers. The kid looked sad-eyed and shell-shocked.
Phil Miller of the Star-Tribune reports, right here, on David Kahn’s and Kurt Rambis’s attempts to sweet-talk Ricky Rubio and family in Barcelona. And although Rubio’s buyout and voyage to the NBA is still more than a year away, everybody is apparently smitten:
“Rubio was impressed with Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis when they met for the first time last week, and the 19-year-old point guard told friends that ‘he can envision playing for Kurt’…Rubio, taken fifth overall in last June’s draft, had dinner with Rambis, Kahn and Rubio’s father, Esteve, in Barcelona late last week, and ‘Kurt and Ricky hit it off right away,’ Kahn said.”
Is anyone else feeling a “Millionaire Matchmaker” vibe? Here’s the best part:
“Asked to describe himself as a player, Rubio said, ‘A player who wants to make people happy with his play on the court … a colorful, attractive, spectacular basketball player.'”
Wow, that sounds great. When asked to describe myself as a blogger, I often think for a moment and then reply, “you know, I think of myself a colorful, attractive, spectacular blogger.” Just want to make people happy.