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The Return (TIMBERWOLVES 97, Wizards 77)

Where to begin?

The game itself, I guess.

The game

The Wolves opened up the game with some predictable nerves. And as nerves often do in basketball, they seemed to help on defense and hurt on offense. Washington built a 13-1 lead and the Wolves did not make a field goal until a Pekovic layup with 5:27 to go in the first. While that technically broke the seal, the offensive struggles persisted through the end of the opening period. Adreian Payne committed three turnovers in short sequence, and the score was 20-11 Wizards after one.

Things turned around in the second, for two main reasons: (1) the Wolves defensive motor continued to run hot, and with appropriate rotations and discipline; and (2) Kevin Martin got hot. He had 16 points in that quarter alone (he ended with 28), mixing his crafty foul drawing skills with jumpers off the move, and an open corner three for good measure. Rubio made some uncharacteristically poor decisions, botching a contested layup on a 2-on-1 next to Wiggins, and then throwing the ball into the stands on the next possession. I did like one play he made with Garnett that was a little bit reminiscent of Celtics KG action – Garnett set a down screen like he used to for Ray Allen (I think this one was for Martin, but cannot recall specifically) and when both defenders hedged toward the cutter, he pivoted for position, and Rubio slid a bounce pass through traffic to him. He was then fouled on the layup attempt. KG’s a great screener — often accused of an illegal screener — and that action will be there with a heady point guard like Rubio surveying the floor.

The defensive effort and focus continued throughout the second quarter, and by the time Martin’s scoring work was done, the score was tied at 42s at the break.

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Some Thoughts on What the Kevin Garnett Trade Might Mean to Kevin Garnett

Prelude: Garnett’s Homecoming

What will Kevin Garnett’s return to Minnesota bring to the Wolves and the state of basketball in Minnesota? The trade still has everyone excited. Some of it is sentimentality about “The Kid” who grew up in front of our eyes. He became the franchise’s best player ever, brought the Wolves to the playoffs eight straight times and to the brink of the Finals once. He was our team’s only league MVP. A lot of the best (and a few of the worst) moments in team history are tied up in Kevin Garnett, and his time spent in a Timberwolves uniform. There’s going to be a buzz when The Kid returns to the place it all began.

There’s been some discussion of Garnett’s likely impact on the team, but little about what Garnett might be thinking about coming back to Minnesota. How does he see this affecting his legacy? What does he want to accomplish. It sounds like he wants to become an owner of this team, but why ownership? And why own the Wolves? You know he’s a student of NBA history and that he thinks about this stuff—and takes it seriously.

Garnett himself has been mum about what his end game is in Minnesota. I delve into some possible angles below the fold.

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Saturday Jottings: Wolves Beat Suns, Anthony Bennett’s Future, Late-Game Offense

Last night’s win over the Suns was one of the season’s most fun games, for a few different reasons.

First and most obvious: It was a close game, involving a whole bunch of fourth quarter lead changes, and the home team pulled it out in the final minute. Specifically, the Wolves’ biggest basket came on a Rubio-to-Wiggins pick and roll where the next Rookie of the Year showed off his athleticism and poise by absorbing contact and finishing in traffic. Anytime the Wolves beat a decent team on a big play involving Rubio and Wiggins, the vibes will be positive.

Second, the fans came out and the arena had new energy. This was presumably, in large part, due to the Garnett-trade news. There was a period of time between when the trade was announced and the confirmation of when KG will debut here (next Wednesday, not last night) and I can only imagine that a lot of fans bought tickets for the Friday night game hoping it might be the first one with The Big Ticket back in the lineup. Garnett is not yet back in Minnesota, but the team made sure to play a bunch of promo videos on the big screen which was the crowd’s consolation prize (well, along with the big win). But there was a bigger-than-usual turnout last night, and the fans clearly enjoyed the show that Ricky and Wiggins put on. This team is 12-42 right now, mind you. This sort of win/loss record, which is unfortunately common, has traditionally not led to good crowds in the second half of the season. Last night was an exception.

Third, and most perhaps most under-the-radar, Ricky Rubio’s minutes restriction has been lifted and he’s back in full duty. Rubio played 37 minutes of really good basketball, last night. He had the Jason Kidd-style stat line, approaching a triple double with 10 points, 14 assists and 8 rebounds. Ricky had so much control over this game. Kevin Martin was hot early, so Ricky got him the ball. When Wiggins was feeling left out, Ricky chucked a 50-foot pass up the floor, forcing the youngster to chase it down and reward himself with a layup. Later in the game, again after some Martin shots went up, Ricky made a concerted effort to get the new guy, Gary Neal, some touches. He even looked off Martin to make sure this happened. He’s got that “pure point guard” brain that calculates the flow of the game in real time and understands where the ball needs to go to keep everyone happy and — more importantly — to keep the points coming. Ricky’s plus-minus of +14 was the game’s best by a 6-point margin.

All in all, it was a good win against an undermanned, but plenty competitive Suns team.

Some other Timberwolves issues, looking ahead:

* Anthony Bennett is about to enter a two-front battle for his Timberwolves future.

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KG Returns: Initial Reaction

kg

You already know the news: Kevin Garnett is coming back to Minnesota to play for the Timberwolves. In a trade-deadline deal that required Garnett’s signature to be official (he had a “no trade” clause that needed waiving) the Wolves are sending Thaddeus Young to Brooklyn for KG.

On pure basketball merits, I don’t find the trade to be particularly interesting or controversial. Young is, well, younger. He’s 26, with a future career ahead of him that could be brighter than his already-accomplished resume’ to date. But he struggled mightily for long stretches this year, and only came alive recently when his veteran teammates returned from injury. It would be disingenuous at best to say that the Wolves gave up an important long-term asset in this deal.

They didn’t. If they were in the hunt for a playoff spot this year, or had reasonable expectations for a playoff run next year, I might feel differently. But that’s not where this team is right now, with its best player in the middle of jump-shot reconstruction and its best prospect only 19 years of age.

More on Young: not only is he a “tweener” whose most natural position of small forward (and the one he was playing recently, with better results) is the same as Andrew Wiggins’, but he has the option of becoming a free agent at the end of this season and the Wolves certainly had a better understanding of his intentions in that regard than the fans do. For all we know, Young was planning on leaving the team this summer and signing somewhere else.

So the cost was not very significant, in my view.

The return, on the merits, was also fairly insignificant.

Don’t get me wrong, Garnett is one of the greatest forwards to ever play. He’s an MVP, a champion, and a future first-ballot hall of famer. If this franchise EVER has a better player than KG we’ll be seeing a short-list “Greatest of All Time” candidate.

But KG isn’t The Big Ticket anymore. He’s 38. He turns 39 in May. He can still play a little bit — he’s posting very close to league averages in advanced stats like PER and win shares — but his potential value to this T-Wolves team is not in his statistics or his in-game production. We don’t think “league averages” when we think of KG, and especially not in the 20 minutes he is playing, per game this year. He’s not going to make an impact in games, on the floor. Not anymore.

So yeah, the boring side of this trade is the basketball part. Thad wasn’t a particularly important piece of the Flip Saunders puzzle, and neither will Garnett be.

I like the trade for two basic reasons, and I dislike it for one. I’ll start with the part I don’t like, and keep it short.

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The Ascent of Wiggins & Thinking Back to Good Times

It is often said that the Timberwolves playoff run to the Western Conference Finals in 2004 was the franchise’s apex, and the moment listed by most fans as their favorite in team history. While technically true that it was the most successful season in history and the closest – in a direct sense – the team came to a championship, I personally disagree with the notion that this was the best time to be a Timberwolves fan.

To me, the best times were in the two seasons when Kevin Garnett was paired with Stephon Marbury to form the most exciting young core in basketball. In the 1996-97 season (Marbury’s first and Garnett’s second) the Wolves won 40 games and made the playoffs for the first time ever.

KG was just two years removed from high school. So was Steph. Along with Tom Gugliotta, they were the best players on the team.

In the franchise’s first seven years of existence leading up to this, the Timberwolves hadn’t ever won even 30 games. This marked a 14-win improvement from the season prior — KG’s rookie year — and it was immediately obvious that the explosive playmaker guard was a perfect match for the do-it-all seven footer. The following year the Wolves won 45 games, Garnett became a perennial All-Star, and the Wolves took the Payton-and-Kemp Supersonics to a fifth game in their best-of-five opening playoff series.

Watching Marbury and Garnett for those couple of years was not unlike what Thunder fans probably experienced when Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant blossomed and quickly became a playoff powerhouse. When you consider just how rapidly the Wolves young core was developing — these guys were barely removed from high school — it was fair to wonder if they might win multiple championships as they led the Timberwolves for the next dozen years.

If you need a reminder of how crazy-exciting they were, just check out the highlights on this weird music video I found on Youtube:

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Why Kevin Garnett should finish his career in Minnesota

After a more-than-week-long roller coaster of reports involving Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the LA Clippers, it seems that a deal has finally been struck.  Rivers will coach the Clippers next season.  Assuming he isn’t fired or doesn’t force another trade (!) he’ll also coach the Clips for the two seasons after that.  The Celtics receive a first-round pick in 2015 and the financial relief of paying a cheaper coach to lead what looks to be a rebuilding team.

Perhaps more interesting is the part of the deal that has not — and probably will not — happen: Kevin Garnett won’t be joining his coach, as was originally hoped for and expected.  Howard Beck reported in Friday’s Times that David Stern was skeptical that the teams could arrange transactions including both coach and players that pass muster under the collective bargaining agreement.  Today, after the Rivers announcement, Paul Flannery reiterates that the league views the Rivers/KG situation as “either/or” for the Clippers, and that in light of today’s news, Garnett for DeAndre Jordan is off the table.  Flannery notes Garnett’s no-trade clause and finds it likely that KG will remain a Celtic.

In the internet spirit of KNEE-JERK REACTION I thought I’d pay a quick visit to espn.com — specifically, the Trade Machine — and come up with an unlikely plausible trade proposal that brings Garnett back home to Minneapolis, where he spent his prime seasons as the greatest ever Timberwolf.

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Why the Wolves do it:

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Garnett [still] Got Game (CELTICS 104, Wolves 94)

KG played like his prime years tonight, albeit in fewer minutes.

I feel bad for the fans that only tuned in for the second half.  After a couple competitive quarters of basketball that left the Wolves leading by 4 points, everything came unraveled for Rick Adelman’s team.  Boston turned the halftime deficit into a 7-point lead after three.  The third quarter was largely dominated by large Celtic power forward, Brandon Bass, who scored 10 points on 5-5 shooting in the period.  The Wolves second unit, that played quite well in the first half, continued the struggles in the early fourth, seeing the Celtic lead extend to 9 points when Love and Pekovic came back in.  Those subs didn’t help and the bleeding continued.  Profusely.  Boston’s lead ballooned to 15.  In the first 6:08 of the final period the Wolves managed just 3 points, blending a toxic mix of bricked jumpers, botched layups, offensive fouls and turnovers, and above all else, missed free throws.  Despite getting enough defensive stops to hold out a shred of hope through the 6-minute mark, the game was never again a close one.

Rather than harp on everything negative, I’ll start with some praise:

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