Author Archives: Andy G

The Tense Disconnect Between Adelman and Rubio

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets

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“I thought he was really active, but… this group has, uh… How do I put it?

(sighs)

When we’re 28 or 25 points up, we don’t need to score quick. I mean, we don’t have to make HERO PLAYS. We threw the ball away in the third quarter and even the last possession with a minute to go, we steal it, and Ricky throws that pass out of bounds trying to get it to Kevin–WHY?

Sooner or later that’s gonna cost you the game! We have to have more discipline in what we do. I don’t care what the score is, and that’s what we have to learn. It’s hurt us in the past and it will hurt us again.”

A leading question about Ricky Rubio’s good performance was posed to Rick Adelman.

It was supposed to elicit praise.

Instead, he got worked up.

Adelman’s team had just beaten the Pistons in convincing fashion. His starters dominated almost every second they touched the floor. Rubio in particular played well, nearly compiling a triple double (11 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds) in just under 36 minutes of action. Ricky’s 3 turnovers were offset by the same number of steals.

Rather than focus on the positives (which he explicitly said that he was going to do, a moment earlier in response to a question about his bench’s struggles) Adelman went on this vague, critical rant about “this group” that seemed — in context — a lot more like a thinly veiled, direct shot at Ricky Rubio.

If you have been following this Timberwolves season with any interest, you’ve noticed a simmering tension between Ricky Rubio’s playing style and Rick Adelman’s offensive vision. The tension is manifested in three ways:

First is the offense itself.

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Wolves-Knicks Preview & Why Shabazz is more interesting (to write about) than K-Love

The Opponent

The New York Knickerbockers are in town.

That sounds cooler than it actually is. Despite their rich history and big-market glitz (and luxury-tax qualifying payroll), the Knicks are terrible this year.

New York’s record of 21-40 only tells part of the story. Mike Woodson’s squad went 2-11 in the month of February, when its playoff hopes in the anemic Eastern Conference were on the line. They’re off to an 0-2 start in March. They’ve lost their last 7 games. Three of their last four were blowouts and the other was a double-digit loss at Detroit.

Oh, and Carmelo Anthony — the ray of sunshine reflecting out of this dumpster fire of a roster — is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Oh, and the Knicks first-round draft pick, which promises to be a high one in a loaded draft, will go to Denver as part consideration for the same trade that brought Melo to Manhattan in the first place.

For the best summation of what it means to be a Knicks fan in 2014, see netw3rk’s, The New York Knicks: It’s the Hope That Kills You in the End, written for Grantland on Monday.

Of course nothing is taken for granted here in Minnesota, where the “longest playoffs drought” title belt proudly sits. Carmelo has torched the Timberwolves many times before and unless Adelman wants to dust off Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for some specialized isolation defense (and he very well might) Melo might just go off once again tonight.

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How to feel about a double-digit road win (Wolves 108, KINGS 97)

30" x 22" mixed media on paper painting by Holly Grimsrud

hollygrimsrudart.com

Timberwolves fan expectations are in a funny place. Heading into last night’s game in Sacramento, the team had a win/loss record of 28-29; under .500 and good for tenth place in the Western Conference. They are far removed from playoff contention. Minnesota’s road record was 12-18, which happened to be the exact same number of wins and losses that the Kings had on their home floor. With these facts taken under consideration, one would think that a victory — any victory — would generate some good feelings.

But when the Wolves did win — by 11 points, no less — it just didn’t seem all that impressive.

There are a few possible explanations for this:

One is that the Timberwolves have underachieved compared to expectations. Wins like last night’s over the Kings feel overdue. According to Basketball Reference, the Wolves have an “Expected W-L” of 37-21; a record that would have them in sixth place and in the thick of the playoff picture. Instead, here we are at 29-29 and most likely looking forward to another draft lottery.

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Simmons On Kevin Love Trade Ideas

My best guess: I think Love rides it out in Minnesota, then jumps to the Lakers in 2015. But I wouldn’t rule out the Celtics. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

–Bill Simmons dishes on Kevin Love trade possibilities over at Grantland. (http://grantland.com/the-triangle/the-nba-bag-volume-1/)

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by | February 26, 2014 · 2:30 PM

10 Questions & Answers About Shabazz (Wolves 110, SUNS 101)

Flea

Question 1: How’d Shabazz do tonight?
Answer 1: Bazz was unreal. Had his best game as a pro. 20 points and 6 boards. TOUGH boards. Crunch-time, sky-up-in-a-crowd boards. For shits and giggles, he also had an assist and 2 steals. By far his best game.

Question 2: Yeah, but did he help the team?
Answer 2: Yep. Wolves won at Phoenix, despite Martin and Pek sitting out. Shabazz’s plus/minus was +8 in 24:20 of action.

Question 3: What are Shabazz’s strengths?
Answer 3: Physicality, positioning, and touch around the basket. That spinning lefty hook.

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Instant Reactions (BLAZERS 108, Wolves 97)

The Wolves lost tonight. The end result isn’t as upsetting to fans as the manner in which it came to be. Since it’s late and tomorrow is Monday morning, I’m doing this rapid-fire style with a few key bullet points:

* The obvious storyline is that Ricky Rubio sat out the entire fourth quarter, despite three major factors suggesting this was a bad idea:

1) He was playing pretty well. He had 11 assists in just 23 minutes of action;

2) A growing body of stats shows that the Wolves play much worse with Barea than with Ricky during fourth quarters; and

3) J.J. Barea, his replacement, lost his cool in a chippy matchup with Blazers reserve guard, Mo Williams. Barea actually won that matchup in the first half, scoring 15 points in the first two periods. But Williams eventually got him fired up (in a bad way — REALLY bad way) and this led to offensive fouls and dumb shots. Long story short: Rick Adelman has fans and analysts perplexed as to why he prefers Barea over Rubio down the stretch of close games. Wolves brilliant color commentator Jim Petersen openly discussed this confusion after the game, and it’s a story that is not going away.

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K-Love’s Good Day, Rookies in Action, Blazers Preview

Kevin Love.

That’s the two-word synopsis of last night’s victory in Salt Lake City. The Wolves power forward continued his even-better-than-usual stretch of dominance against the Jazz. In less than 33 minutes of action, Love put together his first career triple-double stat line. He scored 37 points, rebounded 12 missed shots, and assisted 10 of his teammates baskets. For the third consecutive game, Love attempted at least 10 threes (10). For the third consecutive game, he made at least 5 of them (6). Love connected with Corey Brewer for a few of their patented outlet bombs. He was a game-best +23 and, by far, the biggest reason that the Wolves won easily for the third consecutive game despite the absences of Kevin Martin (thumb) and Nikola Pekovic (ankle).

Rookies

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Love for Three (WOLVES 104, Pacers 91)

The Wolves beat the Pacers last night. They didn’t just beat the Pacers, but they handled them from start to finish. They led by 20 at one point in the first half, and ended up winning by 13 points. It probably rivals the victory at Oracle as the season’s most impressive.

My subjective reaction is one I’ve had after many Timberwolves wins during the Ricky Rubio Era:

The Wolves are a better team when Kevin Love shoots a ton of threes.

Love played incredible last night, scoring 42 points and pulling down 16 rebounds. My favorite part of his performance was how he hunted three-point shot attempts, realizing how strong the Pacers defense is in the interior. He ended up shooting 10 of them, making 5. When he does that, it removes him from the high post where he is effective at initiating offense, but also serves as an obstacle to Ricky Rubio’s playmaking. Against the Pacers, a freed-up Rubio dished 17 assists, setting a personal record that matched the franchise’s best in history.

My subjective feeling is barely supported by the numbers, this season. In wins, Love shoots 6.5 threes per 36 minutes versus the 5.9 per 36 that he shoots when the Wolves lose. But, to my eye, this season hasn’t properly tested this hypothesis because of the heavy reliance on high-post sets. Instead of Ricky Rubio wheeling around picks, looking to set up shooters and dunkers, we’ve seen much more emphasis on feeding Love behind the elbow to allow him to make a play. According to nba.com’s player-tracking data, Love touches the ball 86.9 times per game, which is more than Ricky Rubio’s 84.1 and much more than any non-point guard in the league.

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Wolves-Pacers Preview (& Ricky’s Shooting…)

Back to basketball tonight. The basketball that counts, I mean.

It’s been a while, as the Wolves last played one week ago; a home victory over the depleted Denver Nuggets. Tonight will be a far different test with the Indiana Pacers in town. Frank Vogel’s boys are 41-12; owners of the best record in the Eastern Conference. (Second best in the NBA, behind Oklahoma City.) Indiana’s recipe success is simple: long, athletic, aggressive, smart defenders working together as a cohesive unit. Together, they take away shots in the lane and behind the three-point line. Instead, the Pacers invite mid-range jumpers that are usually contested. Per nba.com/stats, the Pacers allow the most field goal attempts per game from 15-19 feet (just inside the three-point line) and the second-most per game from 10-14 feet. Taken together, it adds up to, BY FAR, the league’s top defense.

So that’s the challenge tonight. Figuring out ways to score. According to espn.com, the Pacers are 3-point favorites. It should be a competitive game. The playoffs are almost definitely out of the picture for this team, but it’s always fun to take on a challenge like this one against a title contender in front of the home crowd.

In other news, the trade deadline is tomorrow. There are multiple reports suggesting that J.J. Barea and Chase Budinger might be headed to Memphis in exchange for Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen. There are thousands of tweets suggesting that either Kevin Love will be a Laker or that Laker fans are stupid and don’t know what they’re talking about.

It’s just that time of year. Try to enjoy it.

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Lovely Ambivalence

lovelyambivalence

[Editor's Note: The trade deadline is next Thursday, February 20. What follows is a conversation that many Timberwolves fans are having with themselves, in their own minds. Or at least I am, anyway. Enjoy.]

Mr. Pessimist: K-Love is gone. Just like Simmons predicted. Six straight years and no playoffs? Are you kidding me? And that bullshit with Taylor and Kahn refusing to offer the max? Did you read the Woj interview? He’s gone. They have to trade him, and they will. Before next week’s deadline.

Mr. Optimist: Nah, they can’t. They won’t. He’s their best player. Their FRANCHISE player. Kahn’s gone, ain’t ya heard? Flip Saunders is back. He and Love are tight. They have lunch all the time. And that stuff with the new practice facility? And the Mayo Clinic? Did you miss the part where Love said he’s looking forward — FORWARD — to playing in it and attracting free agents here. He’s looking ahead to the future. Here in Minnesota. Whats’ so hard to understand about that? He took out a full page ad in the Star Trib. What else do you need to see?

Mr. P: Well, some wins would be nice. The most they’ve won in Love’s five years here is 31. That’s not even .500 ball. Not even close. And Love barely even played that season. Oh, you musta forgot when he smashed up his hand doing knuckle push-ups. Or the part where nobody (except you?) believed that he actually hurt himself doing knuckle push-ups. Yeah, that happened.

Look, the team is flat lining and this plateau isn’t even close to where All-NBA players in their primes become satisfied. HE HASN’T EVEN PLAYED IN A PLAYOFF GAME YET! Why am I even having this conversation. Trust me, he’s gone. They’re putting on a happy PR face to keep his trade value and reputation intact. It’s smart business, but face the facts: Love is gone. Early next week, at the latest. You’ll read about it this weekend. Trust me.

Mr. O: But what are they gonna do without him?

Mr. P: Uh, keep losing? Whaddayou mean?

Mr. O: I mean, even assuming you’re right — which I don’t — what could they get for him? If everyone knows he’s a free agent in a year and a half, why would a team pay big for him now?

Mr. P: Because he’s an All-NBA forward and the best scorer-rebounder combination in the world. He could EASILY be the “2004 Sheed” that pushes a playoff team over the edge into a bowl of deep playoff runs and a championship.

Off the top of my head, the Bulls would definitely want him, and they’d send back Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and change. That’s 75 cents on the dollar, which ain’t bad. Chicago’s in an uncomfortable spot with all of these Derrick Rose injuries, but imagine if they could re-load with a Rose-Love-Joakim Noah core? That locks up Tom Thibodeau for the next half dozen seasons and they’ll probably win a championship. They’d certainly contend for a bunch of them. And Love wouldn’t leave Chicago.

Or the Thunder, where his college roommate Russell Westbrook plays. The Thunder are rolling now, but they couldn’t turn down a Love for Ibaka and Jeremy Lamb trade. Shit, they’d probably toss in a couple draft picks. Those are just two possibilities. I’m sure there are more, but you get the idea. The Wolves would take a step back, but what’s the difference? They’re not cracking this top eight in the West this year, or any other time soon.

Mr. O: Whatever man, I’m not buying it. We haven’t heard a peep about Love being shopped. He’s averaging 26, 13 & 4. Those are numbers from a different era. You don’t trade that for Serge Ibaka or Taj Gibson. You just don’t.

Mr. P: Believe what you want. Just don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

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Wolves lose at home by a lot of points.

That was a bad game. The final score was Houston 107, Minnesota 89.

It had some nice moments, but more bad ones that lasted much longer than the good. Rick Adelman wasn’t there tonight, due to personal reasons. Terry Porter took his place as chief decision maker on the sidelines.

In the opening minutes, the Wolves couldn’t defend. They started Corey Brewer and Chase Budinger at the wing spots. Corey couldn’t defend James Harden without fouling. Chase couldn’t rotate quickly enough to contest Rockets three-point shots. This theme continued all night as Brewer and Budinger posted defensive ratings for the game of 124.9 and 118.7, respectively.

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No Bruises, No Win

Wolves lost at Oklahoma City, 106-97.

Five points about the game:

* Kevin Love didn’t play. This meant a few things, but most significantly, it meant that the entire Bruise Brothers front line was missing. That’s 43.6 points, 22.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists, gone. The Wolves don’t have a good bench to begin with. A starting front line of Dante Cunningham and Ronny Turiaf — jokingly referred to by me as the Snooze Brothers, before the game — is not going to win against the Thunder. Earlier in the day I was surprised to see the Wolves set as 9.5-point underdogs. Maybe the gamblers knew that Love wouldn’t play.

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Wolves Report Card (WOLVES 109, Lakers 99)

We’re not really creatures of habit here and I try to mix up game wrap formats.

So I’ll borrow one from the excellent Knickerblogger site and do this one Report Card style.

Starters

Ricky Rubio: B+
Ricky had 13 assists and just 2 turnovers. Combine those stats with his 6 boards and +5 plus-minus and he deserves a positive grade even when he scored only 4 points on 1-4 shooting.

Coach Adelman yanked Rubio after an unnecessarily fancy pass in the 3rd Quarter, when the lead was shrinking. After the game, Britt Robson asked Coach if the flashy mistake was the reason for the immediate hook. Adelman replied, “We’ve been talking to him all the time about there’s a time and a place to attack the basket. And I think we were up 15 or 16 points up at that point, got the ball, and it’s one on five. And the chances are that nothing good’s gonna come out of that. Make them guard us for 20 seconds. Know the time. Know the score. And that’s just something he’s got to learn; when to pull it back. I was gonna take him out anyway for a blow, but that sealed it.”

It has become clear that Adelman and Rubio are not always on the same page. Ricky handles his late-game benchings with class, which comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed his career. And tonight, I should add, Ricky played down the stretch over Barea. But there are both stylistic and substantive reasons for the times Adelman chooses JJ in crucial situations and the quick hook after the turnover tonight was yet another message, even if a more subtle one.

But all things considered, Ricky played well tonight in his 31 minutes of action. Continue reading

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A Great Comeback & A Bad Coaching Job (Grizzlies 94, WOLVES 90)

A lot of things happened in last night’s game that led to the Grizzlies winning by 4 at Target Center: Memphis played its patented Grit & Grind defense, smothering many Timberwolves possessions and holding them to just 90 points. Zach Randolph, aka Z-Bo, commanded double teams on the low block, and put up an easy 26, 12 and 4. Courtney Lee made shots.

On the Wolves end, Kevin Love played a great game; particularly in the third quarter with Ricky Rubio. Dante Cunningham broke out of his Elbow Jumpers Only shell to crash the offensive boards and and had a big two-hand flush off the dribble, in traffic. The Wolves also struggled for long stretches of this game. Especially in the first half. Chase Budinger shot just 1-5 from the field and missed a pair of wide open threes down the stretch. Alexey Shved was ineffective and played just 6 minutes. Gorgui Dieng was disruptive on defense, but was out of control just about every time the ball was passed to him.

But the big takeaway from the game was Rick Adelman’s decision to play J.J. Barea instead of Ricky Rubio for the entire fourth quarter.

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Five Friday Questions

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 12.10.22 AM

1. Is Gorgui Dieng an exaggerated plus on defense, and exaggerated minus on offense?

After learning the nature and extent of the Pekovic injury, I wrote a little bit about Gorgui Dieng. Specifically, I wrote about the question marks surrounding the Timberwolves offense when Gorgui takes the floor, and also the fact that he blocks a lot of shots and crashes the boards.

Well, in 6.4 meaningful minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans, he continued his reputation. With Gorgui on the floor, the defense was really good and the offense was really bad. In a game like tomorrow’s versus Memphis, maybe he will fit right in?

I wonder how Adelman feels about muddying the game up in the paint and trying to win in the low 90s. Gorgui seems like a one-way player in the extreme sense.

2. Now that he’s finally playing well, why is Alexey Shved removed from the rotation?

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Pek Goes Too

All-Star reserves are announced tonight on TNT.

The Timberwolves made a super funny video to promote Nikola Pekovic, a candidate for one of the slots.

They get extra points for including some Punch-Drunk Wolves art at the 0:25 mark.

Great stuff, and good luck to Pek.

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A note about the Pekovic injury

Just a quick note about the unfortunate news that Nikola Pekovic has right ankle bursitis and will miss at least 7 to 10 days before he is re-evaluated. (Given the nature of this injury — apparently a gradual onset of symptoms rather than a simple sprain — he’ll probably be out at least a couple of weeks.)

Pek will obviously be missed. Continue reading

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Finding Defense in Chicago (Wolves 95, BULLS 86)

chicagostyle

That was an unusual Timberwolves game.

They won, but that’s not the weird part. It happens half the time, after all. The strange thing about tonight’s win over the Chicago Bulls was how the Wolves won.

They scored 95 points, which doesn’t seem so odd until you consider that the Wolves average 114.1 points per game in wins (a stat that includes tonight’s game bringing it down). They won by 9, which is just a titch more than half of their average victory margin of 17.0 (again, including this game). The Wolves are one of the league’s best offensive rebounding and second-chance points teams, but tonight they pulled down only 5 boards on their own end.

Most importantly, the game’s outcome seemed to turn when the Wolves upped their defensive intensity.

That never happens.

Let’s quickly rewind to the beginning of the game.

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A Meaningful Win (Wolves 121, WARRIORS 120)

There was a game a couple of years ago against the Spurs. It was at home. It was early in the lockout-shortened season on a Friday night. I remember watching it at a sports bar after work, with some friends. We were excited about Ricky Rubio. He was just a rookie and the most popular new player in the league. The Wolves began the season surprisingly competitive, playing almost-.500 ball that stood in stark contrast to the seasons of losing that we had grown accustomed to. But it was too early, and there were too many question marks to know if it was just a lucky start, or whether these winning ways had actual lasting power.

And a strange thing happened.

The Timberwolves won.

They beat the Spurs.

It wasn’t a fluke or anything. And that was the weird part. The Wolves just played well and — for one night — looked like a better team than the world-class San Antonio Spurs.

Fans of other teams — normal teams — wouldn’t understand. The Wolves don’t do that. Not when KG doesn’t play, anyway. Sure, they might beat a good team every now and then, but they never look like the better team. It never feels that legitimate.

It never feels that good.

I was thinking about that game yesterday afternoon, and how it probably marks the highest point of confidence I’ve had in the Timberwolves since Kevin Garnett was traded. Last season’s Thursday TNT win over the Thunder was great, but something about having Ricky Rubio hobbling off the bench made it seem a little bit less meaningful. When Rubio and Kevin Love led their new team to a win over Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, it felt like an arrival; the beginning of something incredible.

My thought was that a road win over the Warriors — a team that some smart people consider a title contender — might evoke feelings similar to the ones that followed that Spurs victory; a moment that feels like an eternity ago when you think about everything that’s happened since:

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The Love-Saunders Friendship: How much does it matter?

“[Michael] Jordan was skilled at verbal blood sport; no one in the league was better at zinging other people. He seemed to know how much to bait [Bulls general manager Jerry] Krause and, when there were danger signals, just when to back off. Jordan might have his own raging emotions, but he was a master at controlling them. He was mature and very tough mentally, and he had a certain high, professional coldness that allowed him to turn on his emotions as he so chose and to use his rage as an instrument. If anything, no one in the league was more skilled at creating artificial rage when needed.

Pippen was different. His emotions were always more raw and closer to the surface, and he had far less control over them. When he got into a situation like this, especially when he had been drinking, he was not nearly as good as Jordan at knowing when to let go. As Jordan began the baiting on the bus, Pippen took it over, berating Krause–When are you going to stop taking credit for drafting me and for my career?–then loudly and angrily demanding that the Bulls either sign him to a new contact or trade him. None of it was being done lightly, and Pippen became louder and angrier on the ride. It was the voice of anger and alcohol. Finally, [Phil] Jackson held up a bottle of beer, as if to tell him that he had been drinking too much and to stop.”

–Playing for Keeps, David Halberstam

Just about everybody was happy when David Kahn was fired was not retained as Timberwolves President of Basketball Operations. Kahn made a lot of mistakes. He blew draft choices. He prioritized potential ahead of realized talent (to an unusually high degree). He didn’t know when to shut up to the press (which was awesome for fans, but bad for his team’s reputation, particularly in light of its win/loss record and standing in the league).

But when Kahn was let go, his flaw that fans focused most on was his cancerous relationship with Timberwolves star, Kevin Love. The two got off on a rocky start when Kahn would tell people that Love was the third or fourth best player on a championship team. There are rumors that Kahn was considering trading Love. And most famously, the Timberwolves refused to offer Love a five-year maximum contract; the decision which affects the team now as it might be forced into trading Love at this coming deadline, if the playoffs don’t seem realistic and a message is sent — whether by Love, his agent, or someone else in the know — that he is not going to re-sign with the Timberwolves in 2015. Even though Glen Taylor was apparently the maker of that decision, Kahn was the basketball boss and it seems highly unlikely that his input was not a key factor. When Kahn handed Love a four-year contract — literally, handed it to him — Love crumpled it up and threw it in the trash.

So with that background, Flip Saunders was to be a savior. Saunders is a good old boy in a state that treasures Good Old Boys. He might not value advanced stats — they are just “information confirmation,” after all — but the one thing we knew he would get right is Kevin Love.

And to his credit, Saunders seems to be having success in making friends with Love. In his interview with Britt Robson of MinnPost, he lauded Love’s commitment to the organization. He said that they have lunch all the time. He said that Love really does like it here.

I threw out a question on Twitter last night to gauge fan opinions on this issue: Continue reading

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