This is one of those times I wish we were the Knicks. Not for their world renowned Garden, rabidly entitled fan base or sensationalistic coverage, but for Clyde Frazier. Only his effortless effervescence could adequately capture the highs and lows of the Wolves recent play. Not that I’m unappreciative of our man Jim Petersen, who does a swell job in his stead, but Jim specializes in good ‘ol fashioned straight talk. We need a man like that. However, there’s also times we need to just chill and no one does chill like Clyde.
Luke Ridnour is far from a swirling dervish. There’s no wheeling and dealing, nor will his ubiquity leave anyone reeling. In fact, he’s perfectly average in every way. But he may be the most important player on this team. He doesn’t inhale rebounds like Kevin Love or have Beasleyesque scoring binges, however he’s the only Wolf who can provide some semblance of order amidst the chaos that is our offense. Occasionally I’ll check out the visiting locker room for a peek at the game plan on their whiteboard. Oftentimes, I can’t make much sense of the diagrams or terminology, but tonight I had no such problems. Numero uno, in bright red ink was “1st option=Dead”.
Apparently the Wolves got some of that much needed composure for Christmas. Either that or they should’ve asked the schedule makers for more games against the Cavs.
Of course this game started off as any other; Luke Ridnour continually sagged off of three point shooters, Michael Beasley mistook activity for achievement and a collective ineptitude was displayed in defending any Cavs possession that required more than one pass. Add these troubles to Kevin Love being lost amidst the forest that is Anderson Varejao’s unkempt mane and our boys were off to an early deficit which presumably would lead to their latest loss away from Target Center. Seventeen first quarter points certainly didn’t seem like the sign of good things to come.
“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.
Playing point guard in the NBA is hard. Each possession in a professional game is a fluid landscape, a field of constant, seemingly chaotic motion. Good point guards nearly instantaneously perceive patterns in that chaos and respond with decisive movements of their own, movements intended to complete the pattern, to give final meaning and shape to all that motion. This requires, obviously, outrageous skill and quickness, but also a capacity for a holistic, practically sub-cellular physical decision-making and creativity.
Kevin Durant’s arms are long. Comically long. No chest, no rib cage, just the gangly, awkward frame befitting a Tim Burton character. All arms. Upon taking the court amongst the chiseled chests and sculpted shoulders of his teammates, an uninformed observer would rightfully presume KD to be the team’s weakest link. “Look at him!” they’d exclaim, “It’s a wonder he can even move without tripping over himself!” Much laughter and mocking would ensue.
This of course would also be the scene where Kevin reveals the talent belied by his physique, carving masterpieces of the competition with an unnatural grace and precision. He’d score in bunches. He’d score from the perimeter, driving to the basket, from the line, fading away and on the occasional slam just for good measure. Having converted his tormentors, their mouths agape in awe, Durant would saunter out of the arena with the same humility with which he arrived, arms dragging behind him all the way.
The Minnesota Timberwolves today announced the team has waived guard Maurice Ager. Ager appeared in four games for the Wolves this season, averaging 3.8 points in 7.3 minutes. He was originally signed by the Wolves as a free agent on Sept. 24, 2010.
This is probably for the best. Ager seems like a good guy but he was in over his head. Seems like a prime candidate for some quality D-League burn. It’s not clear whether this means that Luke Ridnour will play this evening against New York, or that Sebastian Telfair will be flying solo, or that the Wolves are on the verge of signing one of the other point guards they worked out this week. If they go the latter route, my vote is for Sundiata Gaines, for no other reason than this awesome moment (sorry about the excess Reggie Miller):
Update: Gaines it is:
The Minnesota Timberwolves today announced the team has signed free-agent guard Sundiata Gaines. To make room on the roster, the Wolves last night requested waivers on guard Maurice Ager.
Gaines, a 6-1 point guard, appeared in 32 games for the Utah Jazz in 2009-10, averaging 3.3 points and 1.2 assists in 6.8 minutes per game. He is probably best known for hitting a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Jazz a 97-96 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 14, 2010. It was the first NBA three-pointer of his career. Gaines also appeared in five playoff games with Utah in 2010, averaging 2.2 ppg.
Say these words out loud: “the Wolves are 3-0 in the preseason.” What enters your mind? Do you maybe sense a faint welling of hope in your heart? Do you give a weary little chuckle, telling yourself, “hey relax bro, I’ve heard that song before”? Are you perhaps reminded again of the inherent emptiness of all language? Coach Kurt Rambis, can you help us out?
“It means at some point it won’t mean anything.”
This isn’t working. Left to our own devices again. (That is an actual quote, by the way). Here are some things we can say:
Defend Brooklyn (Park, I mean Center)
It’s been observed by many that the Wolves are already more competitive defensively this pre-season than at any point last year. Many will tempt you to ascribe this to some kind of moral renewal, an inherent spiritual superiority over last year’s lackluster squad. I’m here to tell you not to give in to that temptation. Do you really think that Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Ramon Sessions, Damien Wilkins and the rest didn’t want to compete, that they just weren’t trying hard enough? Nope, not true. The difference is that these players are, as a group, simply quicker, more explosive, more energetic than last year’s crew.
Try this on. A Wolves second unit in the fall of ’09 may have looked something like this: Sessions, Wilkins, Ryan Hollins, Sasha Pavlovic, Kevin Love. On Tuesday it was more like: Luke Ridnour, Martell Webster, Wes Johnson, Nikola Pekovic, Anthony Tolliver. See, not everything is getting worse.
No matter the cause, against Denver there were long stretches of sustained, aware, active, NBA-ish defense. Big guys protected the rim. Players rotated to open shooters. They got their hands in passing lanes. They helped each other out. Did it help that for much of the game the Nugs trotted out Shelden Williams, Gary Powers and Eric Boateng? Yes it did.
While we’re discussing the topic of the newfound spring in the Wolves’ step, the team also looked much more comfortable and fluid in the open floor. Part of this has to do with the aforementioned influx of length and quickness. Part of this was that (tentatively, hopefully) revitalized defense. But part of this was also the presence of one Luke Ridnour.
Now, I remain skeptical of the de-facto exchange of Ridnour for Sessions. But Ridnour–who is very pale and very thin and yet has a lively little bounce to his step–seemed wholly fluent in the offense, comfortable and poised in the open court, willing to attack the defense as a means of opening up passing lanes (rather than, say, blindly and recklessly). Which reminds me: Jonny Flynn hasn’t even set foot on the court yet. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Against Denver, Beasley improved somewhat on his poor shooting night against New York, but a lot of that inconsistency was still in effect. He did manage to attack the basket from time to time, putting the defense on its heals and drawing contact. But he also spent some time eased back into the driveway mode that Pruiti leans on him for: the ball-stopping, contested flat-footed jumpers; the carelessness with the ball; the fading, off-balance shots.
Beasley, as has been oft-noted, is goofy. He likes a good laugh. He likes to shoot half-court shots during warm-ups. He likes to yell at the Gremlins on the rim when he misses. Does this mean that he’s destined to hoist up the occasional wrong-footed, floating behind the backboard jumper with 18 seconds left on the shot clock? I don’t know, it might.
Hey, Zach Harper, I think its time for a new bees-related Michael Beasley video. How about this one?
We may be through with ’80′s (and early-mid-’90′s) hip-hop, but it is not through with us.
Uh oh. Looks like Jonny Flynn and my grandma have something in common – a bad hip.
So Jonny is going to be sidelined for quite some time. If the early prognosis from Dr. Spears and his sources is correct then a surgery next week and a three to four-month recovery time would have Flynn missing the first month of the NBA season and maybe more.
While this bodes well for the playing time of newly signed Luke Ridnour, it puts a big question mark at the backup point guard position for the Wolves.
I’m more curious about what Bassy can bring back to this team after having a very underwhelming six seasons to start his NBA career. The curious thing about Telfair is he’s only 25 years old. If some Wolves fans are going to give Darko a pass all day because he’s still just 25 years old, I guess we have to give the benefit of the doubt to the kid from Coney Island who is just 11 days older than the Serbian Gangster.
When Bassy was repping ‘Sota, he actually wasn’t all that bad. He had his two best seasons of his career (assuming we don’t consider his four games with the Cavs last year as a complete entity… sorry, John Krolik) at the Target Center when he started the majority of the games he played as a Wolf and distributed the ball very well. The problem with Bassy is the lightning quickness with the ball that made him a YouTube and mixtape sensation doesn’t really work in the NBA. Watch this video:
Well how many times do you see listless defense with players in the wrong spot and not reacting properly to ball movement in the NBA? I mean other than what the Wolves did last season.
That’s the problem with Sebastian Telfair. He’s great against mediocre competition. Put him in the league with guys that are as quick as him (or quick enough to use their size advantage to neutralize his first step) and he’s all of a sudden at a big disadvantage. The way you can change this and open up the floor for him is by putting Bassy in an up-tempo system that allows him to get into big spaces and get creative with the basketball.
Telfair has never really played for a fast team before. The fastest paced team he’s ever really played for was the ’06-’07 Boston Celtics. That tanking Celtics team was 12th in the league in pace at 92 possessions per game (last year’s Clippers team averaged 92.6 possessions per game but he never really got consistent minutes with them). Last year’s Wolves were third in the NBA in pace with a staggering 96.1 possessions per. That’s something that should be somewhat alluring for this current situation.
The Wolves aren’t going to need his services consistently for the majority of the season if Flynn can come back healthy. They just need him to be a steady hand that creates for his teammates during the initial months of the regular season. They need him to back up Ridnour (there’s something I never thought I’d say about this team) for roughly 20-25 minutes per game and not screw things up worse than they already are.
Yes, it would be nice to have Ramon Sessions as the backup to Luke Ridnour to start the season but that trade to send him and Hollins packing for Telfair and 1/9 of Delonte West’s unguaranteed contract was something that needed to get done. Instead, the Wolves get to be a little thinner in the backcourt to start the season but set up better for the future.
For now let’s start making Get Well Soon cards for Jonny Flynn and hope his hip heals better than my grandma’s did.
A lot of people are not going to believe this but David Kahn did something I like.
Meat And Potatoes Of The Trade
T’Wolves trade Ramon Sessions (3 years, $12.7m), Ryan Hollins (2 years, $4.8 m) and a future second round pick.
Cavaliers trade Sebastian Telfair (1 year, $2.7m) and Delonte West (1 year, $4.5m)
Ryan Hollins and Ramon Sessions both have player options for the final years of their contracts while Delonte West’s contract is only guaranteed for $500,000 if he’s waived by August 5th. According to Yahoo! Sports, the Wolves will waive Delonte West and save themselves the $4 million this year.
So what does this mean for Minnesota?
When Luke Ridnour signed with the Wolves for the exact same contract Ramon Sessions autographed last summer, the writing was on the wall that Sessions would be moved to a new team. I never understood the Sessions signing last summer. I had no problem with him joining the Wolves. But considering Minnesota had just drafted Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, signing another point guard for four years just didn’t make a lot of sense.
Fast forward a year and they’ve signed another point guard to a four-year contract that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me if they have the intention of having Rubio and Flynn running the point for the future of this franchise. Luke Ridnour is the newest floor general signed by David Kahn in what has been a running joke of him trying to acquire all of the point guards in the league. But for once, the running joke against Kahn is a little unfair.
Ridnour is possibly a better point guard than Ramon Sessions in the traditional sense. Sessions is a fantasy basketball legend. He does a nice job of distributing the ball at a high level in the final weeks of the season when the effort is gone in meaningless games. That’s not to belittle what Sessions can do on a basketball court. He is a willing passer and that’s something that can be overlooked in today’s NBA. He doesn’t take a lot of bad shots and rarely will hijack a possession.
But Ramon Sessions was such a liability on defense last year that it’s hard to truly know if he could fit in with this team. Ramon was bad at closing out on shooters and defending guys when isolated. He didn’t fight through screens well or make sure to rotate properly in help. He also doesn’t have great vision for a point guard despite being good at racking up assists. He can miss the obvious play far too much for my liking and with a pass-first point, that’s sort of a problem.
Instead, the Wolves bring in a more veteran and steady presence with Ridnour while bolstering the depth with this trade. Ridnour will be better in the triangle system with a whole lot of tempo than Sessions could have been and a lot of that has to do with his three-point shooting. It’s hard to believe a career 34.7% shooter (career-high 38.1% last season) from long range can be a huge upgrade. However, Ridnour does make the defense have to account for him on the perimeter. Sessions and his 10 career three-point makes do accomplish that whatsoever.
With West already gone, it’s essentially a swap of Sessions and Hollins for Sebastian Telfair. Is this a little one-sided? Absolutely. But is this trade good for the franchise? I believe it is.
A team in the process of rebuilding doesn’t need four potential point guards. Let’s play Make Believe and trick ourselves into thinking Rubio will willingly come to this franchise in the 2011-12 season. Then you’ve got Rubio signed for four years, Flynn signed to two more years (assuming the Wolves pick up his two team options), Sessions signed for two more years (assuming he picks up his player option) and Luke Ridnour to three more seasons. That is way too much salary and time wrapped up into the same one-dimensional position.
Cutting bait with Sessions before the contract became an albatross was the way to go. And at the same time, they got rid of a horrible big man option by jettisoning Ryan Hollins. Hollins was another big man in this league that owed a big portion of his contract to Jason Kidd. He played with Kidd in Dallas for a portion of the ’08-’09 season and he looked much better than he actually is because of it. He wasn’t given a ridiculous three-year contract like Mikki Moore got with the Kings a couple of years ago after playing with Kidd but he still got a three-year contract that didn’t make any sense.
But now? The Wolves no longer have to worry about that.
They’ve been able to rid themselves of two contracts that don’t fit and don’t make sense. This is a key when rebuilding with some sense of fiscal responsibility. Being able to get rid of superfluous and unnecessary contracts before they become a burden is huge. It allows contracts like Darko’s signing and Luke Ridnour’s signing to be much easier to digest as a bitter fan base.
The Wolves have carved out even more cap space without sacrificing legitimate building blocks to do so. Even though I’m a firm believer that Kahn should be criticized for the majority of the decisions he’s made in his 14 months on the job, for once he’s making a move that makes short and long-term sense.
Here in Minnesota, we love ourselves some point guards. In the last two years, Jonny Flynn, Ricky Rubio, Nick Calathes, Ty Lawson, Mario Chalmers, Kevin Ollie, Sebastian Telfair, Randy Foye and Ramon Sessions have all, at least momentarily, sported the hometown blue-ish and green-ish (and black, plus a little silver).
And now, Luke Ridnour is officially a member of that distinguished group. Welcome, Luke. I recommend swimming in lakes for a third of the year and wearing long underwear for the rest. So what’s this all about? Are we moving Ramon Sessions as has been reported and widely assumed? Are we, uh, actually hanging on to all three of these guys? Here’s what Kent Youngblood has to say about it:
Jonny Flynn, last year’s starter as a rookie, has a sore left hip. David Kahn, the Wolves’ president of basketball operations, said it’s the same injury that kept Flynn out of last season’s regular-season finale and out of summer league ball. Kahn said the team will hold onto all its point guards until Flynn’s immediate future is clear.
“We have three point guards on our roster this season, and yet another one [Ricky Rubio] overseas,” Kahn said Wednesday. “It’s not my intent, in any way, shape or form, to have three healthy point guards on the roster this year. That wouldn’t be fair to any of them. … [But] I’m not certain, as we speak today, about Jonny’s condition.”
On a different, although somewhat related note, jianfu of Canis wonders aloud whether a mid-market team like the Wolves can afford the talent necessary to run the triangle offense:
It would appear that running this style of offense demands versatility out of all its players: your bigs need to be creative passers, your wings need to be versatile, do-it-all types. Is this sustainable for a smaller-market team wishing to avoid the luxury tax? Wouldn’t it seem, assuming you found enough players that could make this thing sing, this is a less-cost-efficient strategy given these players are skilled to the point that they’re going to be awfully expensive? The Lakers have Lamar Odom coming off the bench and he’s paid 3X the Wolves’ highest-paid player, after all. Is a Utah- or Phoenix-style offense–built almost entirely around a 2-man pick-and-roll game, supplemented with role players that are more specific (as opposed to diverse) in their skillsets a more viable alternative?
This is an interesting point, I think. My personal feeling is that you don’t necessarily need a team full of spectacularly talented players to make this offense work–although it would probably be helpful to have at least one guy of Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol or Kobe Bryant’s skill level. Rather, you need smart players who are willing and able to get open and move the ball. Its also nice if they can run the floor and shoot and feel like playing defense.
Utah doesn’t run the triangle, but Jerry Sloan’s offense relies on some similar skills: overall basketball knowledge; crafty passing; smart off-the-ball movement and screen setting. The Jazz’s great talent has been to surround their stars–Stockton and Malone, Williams and Boozer–with smart, willing, modestly paid role players; there’s no reason that the Wolves can’t do this too (and in some ways, they’re already on the right track). So when do we get our Deron Williams (or Kobe or Pau)…?