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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: Clippers Looking Forward to Teodosic Return

Clippers hanging on and looking forward to Teodosic return, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have had a season of twists and turns. While the season is still young, they’ve dealt with setbacks, mostly in the form of a multitude of injures. In fact, the team’s misfortunes began almost immediately. On Oct 21 (the NBA season started earlier this year), Clippers guard Milos Teodosic went down with a plantar fascia injury. This stands as the first bump in the road for the Clippers, who have seen a number of key players go down.

Following the loss of Chris Paul this past offseason, the Clippers appeared to have salvaged their immediate future through a number of offseason transactions. Under the direction of the front office, which includes Lawrence Frank, VP of Basketball Operations, and Jerry West, a Clippers consultant, the Clippers traded Paul, which helped to remake the roster. West spoke of his approval of the Paul trade before the season started.

“The Clippers feel comfortable that we made out really well. We could have lost him for nothing,” West stated of the Paul trade. “I think it was kind of a win myself.”

The Paul trade brought in Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and helped to eventually bring in Danilo Gallinari. A big part of the offseason makeover was the acquisition of European star Teodosic. Losing Paul meant that the Clippers were going to be without a highly talented, pass-first point guard for the first time since Paul’s acquisition during the 2011-2012 season.

Part of the strategy called for replacing Paul with both Beverley, who could match Paul’s defensive tenacity, and Teodosic, who could match Paul’s vision and passing. While neither player could match Paul’s overall brilliance (and Paul has been brilliant this season for the Rockets), the team hoped to create a winning environment around these two players.

Unfortunately, Teodosic went down quickly. Then Beverley experienced issues with his knee, culminating with season-ending microfracture surgery on his knee in late November. Combine this with Gallinari missing nearly a month with injuries and Blake Griffin going down for the next few months with an MCL sprain of his left knee recently, and the Clippers have struggled to stay competitive with lineups that have often included only one of the team’s opening day starters (center DeAndre Jordan). The franchise shouldn’t be completely surprised by the rash of injuries, as their offseason plan banked on players with questionable injury histories such as Griffin and Gallinari.

To fill in, the Clippers have also made use of a number of young, inexperienced players (not at all common in the Doc Rivers era), including playing 2017 second round pick, guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell has benefited from the opportunity as is averaging 16.2 minutes a game and has even started in seven games (of 24 played).  Thornwell confirmed the obvious regarding injuries.

“We’ve been playing without a lot of our core guys,” Thornwell stated.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers also made it clear that injuries have affected the team.

“It’s not just Blake [Griffin]. If it was just Blake, we’d be OK,” Rivers stated recently. “But you miss [Danillo] `Gallo,’ Milos [Teodosic], Patrick Beverley.”

Currently, the team is well below .500 with a 9-15 record, good enough for 11th in the Western Conference. And while the team is ahead of a number of teams destined for the NBA lottery such as the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, they aren’t too far removed from the eighth seed, currently held by the Utah Jazz, who are below .500 (13-14 record). It’s not reasonable for a team that has already suffered a nine-game losing streak and is only 4-6 in the last 10 games to expect another playoff berth, and the team has not yet signaled they have given up on the season.

The Clippers have stayed afloat by being extremely reliant on the individual offensive output of guards Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Give Williams credit, as he has been brilliant recently including a game winning shot against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 23.2 points on 62.7 true shooting percentage and 6.2 assists in 34.5 minutes per game, per nba.com. For reference, Williams has a career true shooting percentage average of 53.3 percent, per basketball-reference.com. However, this doesn’t scream long-term winning formula, nor should it — the team hasn’t recently had reliable offensive output outside of these guards who were originally expected to come off the bench for the Clippers.

Gallinari has since returned and played well in his second game back, an overtime win against the Wizards. Now the team has upgraded Teodosic’s condition to questionable and are hopeful that Teodosic makes his return Monday night against the Raptors.

“He’s ready. He’s close,” Rivers stated, speaking of Teodosic at a recent Clippers practice. “And that will help. In a big way.”

In addition to possibly helping their increasingly remote chances at making the playoffs, the Clippers have other goals. Teodosic is signed to a two-year deal, but the second-year is a player option allowing the European guard to leave after the season. Should Teodosic find that the Clippers are somehow not a good fit or a place where he can find success, he may opt out of the second year. If the team wants to ensure that the 30-year-old guard sees a bright future with the Clippers, they should hope that his return leads to the Clippers playing winning basketball.

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Q&A With Cavaliers Rookie Cedi Osman

Basketball Insiders caught up with Cavaliers rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Spencer Davies

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Monday afternoon, Basketball Insiders caught up with rookie Turkish swingman Cedi Osman to discuss a number of topics. 

Basketball Insiders: Your first experience in the NBA, making the transition from international play and Euroleague—has it been what you’ve expected?

Cedi Osman: I mean of course it’s different rules and stuff and a different type of basketball. In international, it’s like more slow, but here it’s like always up and down, a lot of fast breaks.

Actually that’s the kind of basketball that I like. When I was playing overseas, I was also running a lot, up and down. I was that guy who was bringing the energy, so it was not hard for me to adjust to this basketball.

BI: With Euros in this league, it’s a growing amount. What does that tell you about the talent pool over there?

Osman: There’s a lot of talented players overseas—like really, a lot. Like you said, when you look around the NBA there’s a lot of European players. Starting with Dirk Nowitzki, he’s a big legend. He was the one who chose to do Europe [to show] what he can do. I can give you the example of two Turkish basketball players—Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur, he won one championship. I mean, there’s a lot of European players.

BI: Definitely. So how well do you know Hedo and Mehmet?

Osman: With Mehmet Okur, I was talking a couple times. I saw him one time in summer league this year. I talk to Hedo also because he’s president of Turkish Basketball Federation, so I was talking to him also.

BI: You’ve gotten some crucial minutes with the bench in the last couple of games. The same thing can be said when you played in New York and against the Hawks, too. What’s allowed you and that group to click together?

Osman: I always try to think positive. When I’m getting there on the court with the second unit, I’m trying to bring the energy because I’m the youngest one with Big Z [Ante Zizic] together.

Whenever I get on the court I’m trying to bring the energy on both sides of the court—on defense and offense—and I’m trying to run the floor the fastest that I can. Trying to guard players that are really good. And that also just improves my basketball [skills] a lot. I’m really happy that I am a part of this team and it’s also really important for me that I’m getting these crucial minutes.

BI: In a recent interview, you said that you don’t have a reason to be scared. You’re “cold-blooded.” Why do you feel that way?

Osman: I was playing overseas professionally since I was 16 years old…actually, I started getting paid when I was 12. [I’ve been] playing professionally for a long time. I played with a lot of good players. I’ve played also [with] former NBA players like Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic who was on the same team.

I know, yeah this is the best league in the world, but I don’t have a reason why to be scared because I was working for this—to come here, to give my best and to be stable to stay for long, long years. That’s why I said I don’t have a reason to be scared, because I know that I can play here.

BI: When you’re on the floor, what do you expect out of yourself? You said you want to get up and down the floor and give it to both ends, but is there anything outside of that, maybe mentality wise?

Osman: Of course. Not just as a rookie, but every time I get on the court like I said, I want to be always that guy who brings the energy. Also like, when we’re going bad or when we have a bad game, I want to change the momentum of the game. That’s what I’m working for a lot. We have great players and I have a lot of things to learn from them.

That’s why I said I’m really happy to be a part of this team, because we’re one of the best teams in the world. I hope that we’re going to win a championship in my first year. That would be a big thing for me.

BI: What kind of things have the coaching staff tried to help you improve in practice?

Osman: There’s a couple defensive plays that’ll be different. There’s also defensive three seconds. That was a bit of adjusting for me because in Europe you can always stay in the paint no matter what. There’s no defensive three seconds. Here it’s different, so it was a little bit hard for me to adjust in the beginning, but now I don’t have any problems and coaches are really helping me a lot.

BI: This team isn’t fully healthy yet, obviously with Isaiah Thomas coming back, Tristan Thompson coming back and Iman Shumpert down the road. That might affect playing time for some. You’ve gone to the G-League and played with the Canton Charge once before. You had a lot of minutes in that one game and did a really good job there. Is that something that you’re prepared for? Would you mind playing there again if that’s the case for you?

Osman: I was the one who asked for Canton, to go there, because before Shump got injured I didn’t have a lot of playing time. I said that I want to play whenever we have an off day, whenever I can go to play there, to run a lot, to try to do my thing. See that I’m working here before practices. That’s why I asked to go there. I talked to [Cavaliers general manager] Koby [Altman] and he said he supported me about that and that would be good for me.

BI: You have your own hashtag—#TheFirstCedi—can you explain the inspiration behind that and what it means?

Osman: So I’m working with one agency in Turkey and they’re doing a really good job about myself, my profile, my brand (laughs). They’re doing a really good job. “The First Cedi” is because my first name is Cedi and a lot of people are calling me Jedi, so that’s from Star Wars. The First Cedi—because in Turkey, ‘C’ reads as a ‘J’ so Jedi. First Jedi, that’s why.

BI: That’s pretty funny. Are you a Star Wars fan?

Osman: Yeah. I watch. But because it’s like old movies and that kind of stuff, but now new movies are better.

BI: It’s a locker room full of veterans here in Cleveland. Do you feel comfortable with everyone?

Osman: Definitely. I feel really comfortable. We have—I don’t want to say veteran players—but they are so good and they are big, big professionals. I have a lot of fun with them—locker room, when we go on the road, team dinners and that kind of stuff. It’s pretty cool.

The thing is, like it’s my first appearance. Overseas I’m coming to America and I was thinking the adjustment would be a little bit hard for me, but it was actually the opposite. From the first day that I met those guys, they helped me a lot.

BI: Is there anyone that you’ve gotten especially close to? You mentioned Big Z earlier.

Osman: Me and Z are pretty close. We’re speaking the same language. We played in the same league in Turkey. But like, I’m close with everybody. With Channing [Frye], we are always talking about the games and that stuff.

BI: Playing with LeBron—can you put that into words?

Osman: Look, it’s…(pauses), it’s something crazy. Because I was playing a game—obviously 2K—before when I was younger, I was playing with him and that stuff. Of course, it was my dream to be an NBA player, to play in the NBA. But when you’re playing on the same team with [Derrick] Rose, LeBron James, [Dwyane] Wade, Kevin Love, [Isaiah Thomas], it’s crazy.

I didn’t imagine that I would play with those players. And then, I just realize when I’m playing with them, the only thing that I can do is just work a lot and learn from them.

BI: When you hear these guys talk about you in a good light and coach Lue gives you praise, how does that make you feel?

Osman: That’s something really incredible. I mean… from the first day, from the media day when LeBron was in a press conference, he talked about everybody. But he talked also about me and he knew about Euroleague and that kind of stuff, so I was really happy. I was really proud and I was really happy about it. From the first day, he was so close to me. Not just him, but everybody.

BI: What do you think people need to know about your personality? Is there anything that hasn’t been said?

Osman: Actually, nothing special (laughs). I’m the guy who always smiles and with a lot of energy, always being positive talking to everybody, making a lot of jokes, trying to be friendly with everyone and the most important—I’m trying to be a good character.

BI: Last one—based off of this conversation alone, you’ve picked up the English language so easily. Who’s helped you on that side of things?

Osman: I actually had a lot of American players overseas on my previous team—it was Jordan Farmar, Jamon Gordon, Derrick Brown, he also played here, there was Bryant Dunston, Jayson Granger. I played a lot with Dario Saric, too, Furkan Korkmaz. Those were guys that were always talking English.

Just talking to them all the time. When they talked, I would just listen to them. I wasn’t listening to what they talked [about], but just for what kind of words they were using and what kind of sentences, the way they were talking. That’s how I learned English.

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James Johnson: The Latest Product of Miami’s Culture

James Johnson speaks to Michael Scotto about his success within Miami’s culture.

Michael Scotto

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James Johnson went from an NBA nomad to financially set for life.

Over the summer, Johnson signed a four-year, $60 million deal with Miami, as first reported by Basketball Insiders. The deal included a fourth-year player option.

“It really meant everything to me,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “To be in a situation in my life to overcome so much, and to finally get something like that where it’s long-term, where it’s somewhere I really want to be too, it was just all-in-all the best scenario.”

Johnson was drafted No. 16 overall in 2009 and spent time with four different teams, including two stints in Toronto, before his career year in Miami last season. During that span, Johnson also spent time in the G-League for the Iowa Energy (2011) and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (2013).

Despite being nomadic through the first eight years of his career, Johnson never doubted his talent nor the hope that he’d find the right organizational fit.

“No, I never doubted myself,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “I never doubted the Lord neither. I’m a big firm believer of that. Every team I was on I always enjoyed my teammate’s success. I always was a real part of practice players and being a scout guy. My whole journey is just to figure out and experience all the other aspects of this game that we play. It says a lot where I can start helping other guys out like the rookies now and guys that are not getting any minutes right now, things like that. I’m a big testament to just staying ready, so you don’t have to get ready.”

After playing for the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Sacramento Kings, and Memphis Grizzlies, what set Miami’s culture apart?

“Just their want-to, they’re no excuses, act like a champion on and off the court, and just that mental stability of always teaching you, not just drills, not just coaching just because they’re called coaches,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “They really inspire, they really help out, and it makes you want to be in that work environment.”

Johnson credits his relationship with President Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra for helping him fulfill his potential.

“It’s great, its nothing like I’ve ever experienced before,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a little new still, but the freedom to be able to go into their office and just talk about normal things, you know, is one of the big reasons why I never want to leave this place.”

While playing on a one-year, $4 million deal, Johnson averaged a career-high 12.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in 27.4 minutes per game. Johnson also shot a career-high 34 percent from beyond the arc.

Looking ahead, can Johnson continue to improve at age 30 and beyond coming off his best year as a pro?

“I got paid, so there’s no pressure of playing for the money,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s really playing for the wins, playing for your teammates, and playing with a pure heart, not going out there with any agendas, not going out there looking to live up to something that everybody else wants you to live up to. For me, it’s just gelling with our team and making sure our locker room is great like I was mentioning. Go out there and compete and trust each other.”

Johnson has put up nearly identical numbers through the first quarter of this season, averaging 11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in 27.6 minutes per game. Johnson is also shooting a career-high 36 percent from beyond the arc.

“It’s my ninth year, and I’m just happy to be able to be part of the NBA for that long,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders.

Looking ahead, Johnson hopes to maximize years 10-12 in Miami during the rest of his contract and the remaining prime of his career.

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