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NBA PM: Timberwolves In A Better Position?

After six years of trips to the lottery with Kevin Love, the Timberwolves could end their 10-year playoff drought soon with his departure.

Yannis Koutroupis

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Are the Timberwolves Actually Better?

For a small-market franchise like the Minnesota Timberwolves, losing a star the magnitude of Kevin Love has been regarded as the worst-case scenario for some time because their options to find another star are limited. That’s partially due to the fact that they’re difficult to acquire in the first place, but mainly because the Timberwolves are not a desirable destination for top-tier free agents. The weather there is tough to endure and the franchise is in the midst of a decade-long playoff drought. Their lack of success in recent years seriously works against them. Even during Kevin Garnett’s dominant 12-year stint, they were only able to get out of the first round of the playoffs once.

Nobody lacked faith in the Timberwolves’ ability to compete more than Love, hence his eagerness to move on. The chances of him re-signing as an unrestricted free agent were basically non-existent, so the Timberwolves were really backed into a corner of having to trade him with little leverage or watch him walk away in the offseason while only receiving cap space that they were going to have trouble maximizing the potential of in return.

Yet, there’s more reason for optimism than ever before.

Yes, the Timberwolves have been down this road before with the aforementioned Garnett, where they load up on young guys in exchange for a proven superstar in hopes of taking a couple steps back in the present to take several steps in the future. That never happened, but look at the difference in the packages they received for Garnett in comparison for Love.

In the 2007 Kevin Garnett trade with the Boston Celtics, the Timberwolves received: Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair and two future first-round picks that turned into Jonny Flynn, Wayne Ellington and cash.

In the 2014 Kevin Love trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Timberwolves received: Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young and a $6 million trade exception.

It’s important to note that, as always, hindsight is 20-20. At the time, Green still had a lot of potential, Jefferson was capable of filling the No. 1 scoring role and if that draft pick is used on Stephen Curry instead of Jonny Flynn, Love is probably still committed to the Timberwolves. Love’s departure has a lot more to do with the decisions that were made by the previous regime, not anything that wasn’t done since Flip Saunders took over.

While facilitating this deal, Saunders did manage to muster some leverage in the form of the Golden State Warriors. There was a lot of leaked information and public denial over what the Warriors were willing to give up, but make no mistake about it: They wanted Kevin Love badly and likely would have done whatever it would have taken to acquire him short of trading Curry. A deal with the Warriors could have pushed the lottery-ridden Timberwolves closer to the top eight next year, but the deal with the Cavaliers was always more desirable for them.

The Timberwolves are very well aware of the limitations mentioned in the introduction. The two biggest stars they’ve had over the last 20 years were both acquired on draft night. They drafted Garnett, and traded O.J. Mayo for Kevin Love shortly after making the pick. That’s basically their only route to getting a star. As stated above, free agency isn’t a realistic option for them, nor is the trade market given that stars only become available when their deals are expiring and often control where they end up. The 2015 NBA Draft class and the 2016 high school class look to have serious star power, but rebuilding through the draft just isn’t a vision they can sell to a fan base that is 10 years removed from being able to cheer on a playoff team. They can’t embrace that kind of full-fledge rebuilding process right now, especially with an increase in the age limit coming and a possible change to the lottery system as well.

By acquiring Wiggins and Bennett in the trade, they bypass what would have been two brutal years – on par with what it took the Cavaliers to land them – to land two prospects with their potential. The trading of No. 1 overall selections is rare; two, even though one of them is coming off of a historically disappointing season, is unprecedented. And Young is a proven, versatile player who helps ensure that the dropoff from the Love era will not be that great – if there is one at all.

It’s unfair to put much of the blame on Love at all, because he did miss a significant amount of time due to injury and he did all he could when healthy, but the best record the team had during his six year tenure was last year’s 40-42 campaign. Outside of that, they went 31-51, 26-40, 17-65, 15-67 and 24-58 – hardly an un-clearable bar for the trio replacing him to surpass.

Keeping Love would have required giving him a maximum, five-year extension worth over $120 million. That’s a steep price to pay when there’s no guarantee things are going to be much better than they were the last two years and given that they are in a conference where .500 basketball sends you to the lottery, not the playoffs like in the East last year. Wiggins and Bennett are on rookie contracts for the next several years and Young, the second-highest paid player on the team now at $9.4 million, is someone they can realistically re-sign whenever he does hit free agency.

There’s a lot riding on the development of Wiggins and Bennett. The two showed glimpses of how good they could be at the 2014 NBA Summer League; Wiggins can be flat out un-guardable when he wants to be and has great defensive potential, while Bennett is a true inside-outside threat whose conditioning has improved leaps and bounds after falling off last summer due to a shoulder injury. Everyone has been quick to jump on the Bennett is a bust bandwagon, but it’s far too early to write him off as a solid pro. He’s used all the criticism as motivation and will be out to prove everyone wrong in Minnesota. Wiggins is the kind of easy-going, laid back player who needed this jolt of motivation as well. Everyone has always wanted to see more aggression from him; after being given up by the Cavaliers without even playing a game and getting the cold shoulder from the league’s best player, LeBron James, he may have the chip on his shoulder to finally bring out the best in him consistently.

The West isn’t going to be any easier and losing someone who can give you 20 and 12 on a nightly basis is hardly something to celebrate, but believe it or not – this is the best position the Timberwolves have been in since they had a big three of Sam Cassell, Latrell Spreewell and Garnett.

Grizzlies Hire D-League Coach

The Memphis Grizzlies today announced Bob Donewald Jr. as head coach of its NBA Development League team, the Iowa Energy.  Per team policy, terms of the deal, which is pending NBA approval, are not disclosed.

“Bob has a proven track record of player development and shares in the collaborative vision of the Memphis Grizzlies and Iowa Energy,” said Grizzlies Head Coach Dave Joerger. “He is a tireless worker and effective communicator who will be important in helping our players reach their potential as we begin our new partnership with Iowa.”

“We are pleased to welcome Bob to our organization,” said Jed Kaplan, Managing Partner of the Iowa Energy. “Bob has a great passion for the game, and we are excited for him to become a member of the Iowa community.”

Donewald joins Iowa with over two decades of coaching experience with eight different organizations throughout the world, most recently serving as head coach of the Chinese National Team (2010-12) and spending three seasons in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) as head coach of the Shanghai Sharks (2009-11), owned by former NBA All-Star Yao Ming, and the Xinjiang Flying Tigers (2011).

In addition, Donewald has worked four NBA seasons, including three as an assistant coach under Paul Silas with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2003-04), New Orleans Hornets (2002-03) and Charlotte Hornets (2001-02). His NBA tenure also includes a stint with the New Jersey Nets (1993-94) as a scout and assistant to Vice President and General Manager Willis Reed.

Before coaching in the NBA, Donewald spent five seasons (1996-2001) as a head coach and general manager in the British Basketball League (BBL), leading his teams to the championship series on three occasions.

Donewald, the son of acclaimed NCAA coach Bob Donewald, began his coaching career as a student-assistant coach at Western Michigan University (1989-93) He has served as an assistant coach at Morehead State University (1994-96) and the University of Alabama-Birmingham (2007-08) and has additional international experience as a head coach in Brazil (2005-06) and Ukraine (2008-09).

The Memphis Grizzlies and Iowa Energy entered into a single-affiliation partnership, beginning with the 2014-15 season, on May 6, 2014.  Memphis became the 14th NBA team to have a one-on-one affiliation with an NBA D-League team.  The teams’ “hybrid affiliation,” at the time the sixth of its kind in the NBA D-League, allows the NBA team to control the NBA D-League team’s basketball operations, while the NBA D-League team’s ownership maintains primary responsibility for the team’s off-the-court business operations and community initiatives.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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NBA Daily: Larry Nance Jr. Is Ready To Move On

At All-Star Weekend, Larry Nance Jr. talked about moving on from being traded, Dr. J and the love that Los Angeles still has for him.

Ben Nadeau

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At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and Larry Nance Jr. found that out the hard way when the Los Angeles Lakers traded him and Jordan Clarkson for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2018 first-rounder just a few weeks ago.

Naturally, Nance was due back at the Staples Center nine days later to compete in the league’s annual slam dunk contest. Although he would finish second to the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Nance was frequently reminded just how many fans he still has out on the West Coast.

“It’s either one of two responses,” Nance said over the weekend. “Either people don’t understand how a trade works and they ask me why I left, or, you know: ‘Larry, we miss you, come back in free agency’ and stuff like that. So, either way, they’re kinda on my side — I mean, I’m still a little bit of purple and gold.”

Over his first three seasons, Nance had become a familiar contributor for the Lakers, using his rim-rocking athleticism to carve out a steady role under two different head coaches. Before he was moved to the Cavaliers, Nance was on pace to set career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.8) and steals (1.4). This statistical rise also comes in the midst of his field goal percentage jumping all the way up to 59.3 percent — a mark that would rank him fifth-highest in the NBA if he qualified.* Given the noteworthy change of scenery, his current average of 3.6 field goals per game could grow as well.

But as the Lakers prepare for a potentially crucial offseason, the front office remained committed to shedding salary ahead of free agency, where they may or may not chase the likes of LeBron James, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. In just three short years, Nance had quickly become a fan favorite as a jaw-dropping in-game dunker and an improving prospect on a cheap rookie contract, so his involvement at the deadline may have come as a surprise to many as it was for him.

“It’s been a week, so, no, it’s still kinda like: ‘Jeez, I gotta pick up and move right now,’” Nance said. “So, no, I’m not fully adjusted, I’m not, for a lack of a better term, over it. But it’s still fresh in my mind, it’s something that is still kind of shocking.”

Nance, for his worries, is now a key member of the James-led Cavaliers, a franchise that has won 11 more games than the Lakers and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference. While the Cavaliers will likely have to go through the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors to reach their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, James himself has reached the championship series every year since the 2009-10 postseason. With the Cavaliers’ maniacal mid-season reboot — which also brought in Rodney Hood, George Hill and the aforementioned Clarkson — they could be poised for an encore performance.

Since he was acquired by Cleveland, Nance and the Cavaliers are 3-0 and, just like that, much of the lingering narrative has been reversed. As the Cavaliers look to further stabilize their season, Nance figures to play a large part down the stretch, particularly so as All-Star Kevin Love continues to rehab from a broken hand.

Still, Nance knows that the Cavaliers will certainly face some speed bumps along the way.

“It’s a learning process, obviously we started out super fast, but there will be a learning process,” Nance stated. “Just like there is with every team and every new group, so we’ll figure it out and we’ll get past it [for the] playoffs.”

But before he makes his first-ever postseason appearance, Nance returned to Los Angeles in an attempt to capture a slam dunk title, something his father — Larry Nance Sr. — did in the inaugural competition way back in 1984. In that contest, the older Nance famously upset Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins to take home the crown in a nine-person field. On Saturday, Nance paid homage by changing into a retro Phoenix Suns uniform to execute his father’s signature dunk — the rock-the-cradle throwdown that won it all 34 years ago.

“For me, [his highlights were] like normal kid Sesame Street or Barney or something. I was watching his clips when I was growing up, so, yeah, I see it all the time,” Nance recalled.

But when asked what he remembers the most about those distant memories, the second generation son decidedly kept it in the family.

“The fact that he beat Dr. J,” Nance said. “Dr. J is normally thought of as almost like the dunk inventor, kinda brought the dunk contest back — but, really, [I remember] my dad.”

Although Nance couldn’t replicate his father’s success in the contest, his emphatic, springy dunks indicated that the 6-foot-9 skywalker could be an event staple for years to come. In one of the best dunks all night, Nance pulled off the rare double tap — a jam so technically difficult, that he immediately told the judges to look at the jumbotron to make sure they understood what exactly he had just pulled off.

Nance, for his original acrobatics, earned a perfect score of 50.

Earlier that day, Nance discussed the difficulty in standing out amongst a field of explosive guards.

“I think the guys that are taller and longer have a different skill-set than smaller guys,” Nance said. “Obviously, if the smaller guys do something, it looks super impressive because they got to jump a little bit higher, or it looks like they got to jump higher.

“There are ways for bigger guys to look good and I think I’ve got that hammered out.”

For now, Nance doesn’t know if he’ll return to the dunk contest next season after his narrow two-point loss to Mitchell. Instead, Nance wants to focus on helping the Cavaliers in their hunt for the conference’s top seed and, of course, with James, anything is possible. But it’s fair to say that Nance, who nearly pulled down a double-double (13 points, nine rebounds) in his second game with Cleveland, has gone from a rebuild to a legitimate contender in a flash.

“At the same time, I can’t wait for all this to be done with so I can just get back to learning how to gel and mesh with my new team,” Nance said.

From the West Coast to the Midwest, Nance is clearly ready to make some waves once again.

* * * * * *

*To qualify, a player must be on pace for 300 made field goals. As of today, Nance is on pace for 252.6.

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Updating the Buyout Market: Who Could Still Become Available?

Shanes Rhodes examines the buyout market to see which players could soon be joining playoff contenders.

Shane Rhodes

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While it may not be as exciting as the NBA Trade Deadline, another important date is approaching for NBA teams: the Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline.

March 1 is the final day players can be bought out or waived and still be eligible to play in the postseason should they sign with another team. As teams continue to fine-tune their rosters, plenty of eyes will be on the waiver wire and buyout market looking for players that can make an impact.

So who could still become available?

Joakim Noah, New York Knicks

This seems almost too obvious.

The relationship between Joakim Noah and the New York Knicks hasn’t been a pleasant one. Noah, who signed a four-year, $72 million contract in 2016, has done next to nothing this season after an underwhelming debut season in New York and has averaged just 5.7 minutes per game.

After an altercation between himself and Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek at practice, Noah isn’t expected to return to the team. At this point, the best thing for both sides seems likely a clean break; there is no reason to keep that cloud over the Knicks locker room for the remainder of the season.

Noah may not help a playoff contender, but he should certainly be available come the end of the season.

Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

Arron Afflalo isn’t the player he once was. But he can still help any contender in need of some shooting.

Afflalo is averaging a career-low 12.9 minutes per game with the Orlando Magic this season. He is playing for just over $2 million so a buyout wouldn’t be hard to come by if he went asking and he can still shoot the basketball. A career 38.6 percent shooter from long distance, Afflalo can certainly get it done beyond the arc for a team looking to add some shooting or some depth on the wing. He doesn’t add the perimeter defense he could earlier in his career, but he could contribute in certain situations.

Vince Carter, Sacramento Kings

Vince Carter was signed by the Sacramento Kings last offseason to play limited minutes off the bench while providing a mentor for the Sacramento Kings up-and-coming players. And Carter may very well enjoy that role.

But, to a degree, the old man can still ball — certainly enough to help a contender.

Carter is 41-years-old, there is no getting around his age, but he can still provide some solid minutes off the bench. Playing 17.1 minutes per night across 38 games this season, Carter has averaged five points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 35.3 percent from three-point range. Combining all of that with his playoff experience and the quality of leadership he brings to the table, Carter may be an ideal addition for a contender looking to make a deep playoff run.

Zach Randolph, Sacramento Kings

Like Carter, Zach Randolph was brought in by the Kings to contribute solid minutes off the bench while also filling in as a mentor to the young roster. Unlike Carter, however, Randolph has played much of the season in a starting role — something that is likely to change as the season winds down.

Randolph has averaged 14.6 points, seven rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25.6 minutes per game; quality numbers that any team would be happy to take on. But, in the midst of a rebuild, the Kings should not be taking minutes away from Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and (eventually) Harry Giles in order to keep Randolph on the floor.

As he proved last season, Randolph can excel in a sixth-man role and would likely occupy a top bench spot with a team looking to add rebounding, scoring or just a big to their rotation down the stretch.

Wesley Matthews, Dallas Mavericks

Wesley Matthews remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He provides positional versatility on the floor and is a solid player on both sides of the ball.

So, with Mark Cuban all but saying the Mavericks will not be trying to win for the remainder of the season, Matthews is likely poised for a minutes dip and seems like an obvious buyout candidate. Matthews, who has a player option for next season, has averaged 12.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals this season across 34.1 minutes per game this season.

If Cuban is true to his word, both parties would be better served parting ways; the Mavericks can attempt to lose as many games as possible while Matthews can latch on to a team looking to win a title. It’s a win-win.

Isaiah Thomas, Los Angeles Lakers

Isaiah Thomas’ three-game stint with the Los Angeles Lakers before the All-Star break looked much like his short tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers: up-and-down. Thomas shined in his Laker debut, putting up 25 points and six assists in just over 30 minutes.

He then followed that up with three points and two assists, and seven points along with five assists in his second and third games with the team, respectively.

Thomas needs time to get himself right before he can start playing his best basketball. Re-establishing his value is likely his top priority.

But will he be willing to come off the bench for a team that won’t be making the postseason?

With Lonzo Ball close to returning, Thomas will likely move to the Laker bench. Adamant in recent years that he is a starting guard in the NBA, Thomas may be more inclined to take on that role for a team poised to make a deep playoff run — there is no shortage of teams that would be willing to add Thomas’ potential scoring prowess while simultaneously setting himself up for a contract and, potentially, a starting role somewhere next season.

Other Names to Look Out For: Channing Frye, Shabazz Muhammed, Kosta Koufos

There are still plenty of players that can make an impact for playoff-bound teams should they reach a buyout with their current squads. And, as the Postseason Eligibility Waiver Deadline approaches, plenty of teams out of the running will move quickly in order to provide their guys an opportunity to find their way to a contender.

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NBA Daily: Eric Gordon, The Houston Rockets’ Ex-Factor

James Harden and Chris Paul are stars that have faltered in the playoffs. Eric Gordon could be their ex-factor

Lang Greene

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The 2017-18 Houston Rockets are shaping up to be one of the league’s best regular-season teams over the past decade. The squad features a fan-friendly and fun to watch style, two legitimate superstar talents and a seemingly well-rounded contingent of role players willing to do whatever it takes to help the team get to the next level.

But as strong of a force as the Rockets appear to be developing into, there are still major question marks about how this team will perform in the playoffs when the game gets tighter, bench rotations are reduced and the spotlight glares the brightest.

All-Star guard James Harden has played in 88 career playoff games over the course of his career – 45 with the Rockets where he’s averaging 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists. The statistics look good in the aggregate, however, Harden has noticeably faded down the stretch during pivotal playoff moments in the team’s recent runs. The most recent example being Game 5 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs where Harden finished with just 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting from the floor.

The Rockets other superstar, Chris Paul, has never reached the Western Conference Finals in a career dating back to the 2005-06 season. Paul’s most memorable playoff collapse came when he was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers. His team surrendered a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals to the Harden’s Rockets back in 2015.

While there are undoubtedly questions at the top, their bench unit is anchored by 2017 Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon, once considered one of the rising shooting guards in the league while he was a member of the Clippers.

Gordon, was traded as part of a package by Los Angeles to acquire Paul from New Orleans. Since then, a combination of injuries and reported frustration in New Orleans seemingly derailed Gordon from the once promising ascent and trajectory he was projected to achieve. But Gordon has gotten his career on track. Once injury prone, Gordon suited up for 75 games in 2017 and is on pace to play 73 games this season.

“It’s almost like it is consistent to be here now,” Gordon said during All-Star weekend. “It’s been great. When I’ve been healthy, I’ve always had that chance to do some good things.

When you’re winning things come easier. You’re scoring easier [and] it’s easier to come into work and play well every single practice and game.”

Gordon believes there’s something special about this Rockets team because of how quickly they have gained cohesion since training camp. Gordon is averaging 18.5 points in 32 minutes per contest on the season. The guard will play an integral role off the Rockets’ bench and will play heavy minutes in any playoff series involving the Western Conference elite teams – namely Golden State and San Antonio. In three games versus the Warriors this season, Gordon is averaging 20 points on 43 percent shooting from the field.

“We definitely have to figure things out but we just clicked so quickly and early in the season,” Gordon said. “We just knew we had a chance to maybe win it. I’d say at this point we know what we need to do and it’s all about being consistent enough on both sides of the ball for us to have a chance.”

Golden State, as defending champs, have to be respected as the better team until proven otherwise. Many do believe the Rockets have at the very least a puncher’s chance because of how they can score the ball in bunches. The Warriors, for all of their past defensive prowess, have slipped on that side of the floor this season with declining efficiency numbers. But is that slippage enough for the Rockets to gain ground or are the Warriors’ defensive struggles a combination of regular season boredom and a lack of enthusiasm.

In a seven-game playoff series, the cream rises to the top. Are the Rockets legit? Or are they a team best suited for the regular season as in seasons past? They currently lead the season series against the Warriors 2-1 and are 2-0 versus the Spurs to date. We have witnessed regular-season dominance from Paul and Harden in the past. Is this the year both guys put it all together and finally get over the hump? Time will tell and Eric Gordon figures to play a big role in determining the outcome.

The Rockets resume play on Friday versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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