Category Archives: Bucks v. Pups

Flip’s Preemptive Strike

It was announced in the Twittersphere last night that Wolves GM Flip Saunders has landed his first (and likely last) big get of the off-season: Kevin “Don’t Call Me Kenyon” Martin.

Martin represents a solid signing for Flip and the Wolves. He was someone the Wolves have targeted for years. Marc Stein of ESPN.com is reporting that the deal is for 4 years and $28 million.

Flip's first big move of the off season might be exactly what the Wolves needed.

Flip’s first big move of the off season might be exactly what the Wolves needed.

Flip’s decision to go get Martin is kind of like the back-up quarterback who, in September, decides to ask the gal in his league or the league below him if she will go to the prom with him. By being one the first guys to ask and going after a gal definitely in his league, there is a very good chance he gets his prom date. He also avoided the stress of going around and around with gals out of his league and who have no intentions on going with him.

And no, let me save you the e-mail, I was not the back-up quarterback in high school.

When you think about the best available, free agent choices at the two position, O.J. Helmann’s, Tyreke Evans, J.J. Reddick, Martin, and J.R. Smith, Martin is the gal the Wolves thought would say yes so Flip went and got his prom date.  Flip’s preemptive strike ensured that he avoided the run around that the Wolves may have been subjected to while chasing a J.R. Smith, J.J. Reddick, or O.J. Helmann’s, when none of those guys were coming to Minnesota.

So what does Martin bring to the Wolves:

Pros

Familiarity. Martin knows Rick Adelman’s system. Wait…what…the first thing we are talking about is familiarity with Adelman’s system?? You got that right!! Last year, the Wolves’ two guards looked lost. Both Barrea and Schved did not seem to understand where they were supposed to be. And I get that Schved was in his rookie season, but he seemed to get more lost as the season wore on. Ridnour knew the system, but lacked the ability to effectively play the position. Martin came into the league under Adelman’s tutelage, first in Sacramento and later in Houston. He gets it. Adelman’s system is complex and it takes a heady player to excel in it. Martin is that kind of player. He has a blazing quick release and a sneaky good left hand for finishing in the lane. He will have no problem utilizing those skills in Adelman’s motion offense.

Martin's signing also means Barrea can go back to coming off the bench, where he is most effective. Think a Puerto Rican Ben Gordon.

Martin’s signing also means Barrea can go back to coming off the bench, where he is most effective. Think a Puerto Rican Ben Gordon.

Shooting. Okay…here we go…the important stuff, right? The Wolves have not had a capable two guard since Troy “Never Met A Shot I Did Not Like” Hudson. As a team, the Wolves were the 2nd worst three point shooting team in the last ten years. Martin shoots nearly 39% from deep. To give you some sense of how good that is, the Wolves best shooter from deep last was Juan Jose Barrea, tipping the scales at nearly 35%. After that, it got considerable worse with Ridnour at 31% and Buddinger at 33%. Not great. Martin is a definite upgrade here.

Getting to the stripe. The Wolves were the 5th worst team in the league at getting to the stripe. For a little, waifish dude, Martin is surprisingly adept at earning trips to the line, averaging a tick more than 6 attempts a game throughout his career. And get this, he even converts when he gets there, shooting nearly 88%. Even though his aggressiveness dipped a bit while with OKC, he played a different role in that offense, acting as more of a spot up shooter. He should be a far more integral part of the Wolves offense.

Cons

Defense. Martin does not play defense. At all. Even a little. If this year’s playoffs taught us anything, teams that play defense (San Antonio, Indiana, Miami, and Memphis) are the league’s elite. The Wolves, as currently structured, are not a sound defensive squad. Martin will not help in that regard. Even a little. At all.

Injury history. From 2008 to 2010, Martin missed significant parts of each season. The good news is he did play a full season last year. So, perhaps his injury woes are behind him. Though, considering his build, the injury risks will likely always haunt him.

Overall, Flip did well. Martin is a great fit for the Wolves. The contract terms are not particularly unfriendly, though he is by no means a bargain. Martin can knock down open 3s and, with Rubio running point, he should get plenty of chances. Then, after he knocks a few down, he can pump fake and use he solid left hand to knock down shots in the lane. Flip did well to lock up his date, the mystery is what will happen when they get to the dance.

Forget the Billy Goat, the Joe Smith Curse is in Full Effect

 

There are a great many curses in all the major sports. The Cubs have the curse of the Billy Goat. The Red Sox had the Curse of the Great Bambino. Birmingham City Football suffered the 100 year curse. Hell, even individual players and competitors have suffered from curses ala the Madden and Taladega Curses.

Move over Billy Goat, Joe Smith is the newest curse on the block!!

Move over Billy Goat, Joe Smith is the newest curse on the block!!

Well, Minnesota Timberwolves’ fans might be in the middle of a brand new curse: the Joe Smith Curse.

For the unfamiliar — or for those who chose to forget — prior to the start of the 2000 season, Wolves GM Kevin McHale signs free agent big man Joe Smith to a contract that involves payments both above and below the table. This was an unbelievably stupid move. Like asking Todd Kincannon to speak at an NAACP rally stupid. How McHale was allowed to remain GM is, to this day, one of sports’ great mysteries. I would love to see the dirt he must have on Wolves owner Glen Taylor. It is either photos of ole Glen doing his best Marv Albert or he has the name and address of Taylor’s Marino-like love child.

Taylor’s TMZ moment aside, the botched Joe Smith signing had an immediate impact (the league takes the Wolves’ 1st round draft pick for the next 5 years) and, even worse, it has been the beginning of a run of bad luck that would make even the most ardent Cubs fan blush.

Since the Joe Smith signing, Wolves fans have suffered the following mini-tragedies:

  1. McHale is allowed to return as GM. This cannot be said enough. He quite literally paid a player under the table, a direct violation of league policy — heck — a direct violation of the how dumb can you be policy, and he returned to his role with the team only a year later. We are not off to a good start.
  2. The Wolves capitalize on having no first round picks for the next two years and draft the great Loren Woods and Marcus Taylor. I would add more, but those picks are pretty self-explanatory. 
  3. Everything changes in 2003, Hall of Fame player and Hall of Infame GM Kevin McHale drafts Ndudi “DooDoo” Ebi. He is the Wolves first 1st round pick since the Smith debacle. He is currently averaging a double-double for S.S. Felice Scandone in something called Serie A.
  4. In 2004, the Wolves finally put together enough talent to support the Big Ticket and, all of sudden, the NBA championship is a very real possibility. After surviving the Kings in a seven game slugfest, the Lakers/NBA/referees dash any hopes the Wolves have of claiming their first NBA championship. In particular, the phantom foul call on Wally Szcerbiak playing “Wally” defense against Kobe.
  5. The following year, despite retaining the same supporting cast, the Wolves fall apart and miss the playoffs for the first time in the KG era. They have not been back since. That team was then dismantled, in part because of Sprew’s desire to feed his family and in part because the chemistry was so off from the year before.
  6. Roy was outstanding for the Blazers (after the Wolves traded him) -- he has played only minutes this season.

    Roy was outstanding for the Blazers (after the Wolves traded him) — he has played only minutes this season.

    To help replenish the talent level around KG, the Wolves draft Brandon Roy. They then inexplicably trade Roy for the great Randy Foy. Roy goes on to a terrific career with the Portland Trail Blazers, playing the role of closer in the 4th Quarter, the exact role the Wolves needed to fill. Foy does his best Troy Hudson-impression, jacking up inopportune 3s with frightening regularity.

  7. Aside from the Roy trade, management also locks up the services of Corey Brewer and Rashad McCants via the draft. Let me just say that again, Corey Brewer and Rashad McCants.
  8. The lack of playoff performances finally force management’s hand. The Kid gets traded to Boston for $.66 on the $1.00. He promptly wins an NBA Championship. The Wolves struggle to break 20 wins because Big Al fails to defend with the same effectiveness that he scores in the low post. Boston’s defense becomes one of the best in the league — anchored by KG.
  9. The Wolves draft one of the best power forwards in the league, Kevin Love, and all of sudden, things are finally looking up. Love averages 20+ points and 12+ rebounds for the first few years in the league.
  10. There is a huge opportunity to turn the corner but David Kahn does his best Kevin McHale, drafting Jonny Flynn (mind you Steph Curry is staring him in the grill and it is not like the Wolves have always needed a shooter), Ricky Rubio (who promptly signs a deal with FC Barcelona), and then approximately 16 other PGs (including Ty Lawson – who is traded to Denver). More misses in this draft than a Craig Ferguson monologue. Just brutal.
  11. Rubio looked like the Spanish Savior --- then the curse took effect. Now he is still trying to find his form following serious knee surgery.

    Rubio looked like the Spanish Savior — then the curse took effect. Now he is still trying to find his form following serious knee surgery.

    La Pistola finally decides he has had enough of Euro hoops and he makes his way across the pond. The Wolves squad is electrified. An annual bottom-feeder is immediately transformed into a contender.

  12. The Black Mamba destroys the Wolves franchise worse than he did the…in…Denv…well, you get the point. Rubio tears an ACL defending Kobe. Wolves fans start to wonder if they should start bathing with the toaster.

All of that brings us to this season.

The Wolves projected starters have played a total of zero games together this season. Butkus. Squat. Nada. So, rather than list all of the injuries — including Love’s freak knuckle push-up calamity — and depress you any further. I will just let that little stat sink in. As soon as you have come to grips with that, it is easy to understand that there is something bigger than all of us going on here. This curse is very real. Here is hoping we exorcise it sooner than later.     

Remember, if you need tickets to watch the Joe Smith Curse in action, skate on over to Ticket King. They have got all your ticket needs covered for local sporting events — especially the Timberwolves.

A Defense of David Kahn? Do I Have To?

Timberwolves star forward Kevin Love dished to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian  Wojnarowski about his feelings towards Timberwolves ownership and management.

Let me preface what I am about to say that there is no bigger fan of Kevin Love than me. Ever since watching him dominate in the NCAA tournament in 2008, I have been a fan. When the Wolves traded O.J. Helmann’s for him, I was thrilled. He is the second most fundamentally sound player in the game (sorry, Tim Duncan wears that crown until he retires) and he has continued to improve his game to the point where he is a Top 10 player at this point in his career. And he is just getting started. I am apologist, to be sure.

An old school Wes would certainly not approve of Love's recent interview.

An old school Wes would certainly not approve of Love’s recent interview.

That said, I do not like the way he handled the interview with Yahoo. If he has a problem with management or ownership, bring those issues up with them. For a guy as media-savvy as Love is, his Tweets are usually quite insightful, circulating the comments that he did is very out of character for him. Furthermore, when you look at how his contract situation played out, there is a very strong argument to support David “I am not stopping to ask for directions.” Kahn’s plan.

Ole Kahnsie signed Love to a four year deal worth $64 million dollars, with the final year of that contract being a mutual option. That means Love could leave the Wolves after the 3rd season and be an unrestricted free agent. His annual salary under the terms of his current deal is $16 million. Love wanted a 5 year, max deal, worth $80 million. That also would have netted him an annual salary of $16 million. So on its face, the only difference in signing Love to his current deal is that the Wolves “only” had to commit to him for 4 years, versus 5. That said, considering his age, this last point is a complete non-starter. So there is no discernible difference between the two contracts except that the 5 year deal had an extra guaranteed year. But, there is more to the story.

Pow! this. Before his injury, Rubio and Love were on their way as the most dynamic duo in the league.

POW! this. Before the injury, Rubio and Love were on their way as the most dynamic duo in the league.

As a result of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), teams are only allowed to offer one max deal to a current player coming off his rookie contract. Enter Ricky Rubio. Prior to tearing up his knee against the 47th worst person on the planet, Kobe Bryant, Rubio had helped lead the Wolves back into the playoff picture and the team was playing inspired basketball. Rubio looked like the kind of basketball savant that only comes around once a decade. Together, he and Love showed they could be the league’s new dynamic duo. Unfortunately, because of how closely (in time) Love and Rubio entered the league, if Kahnsie had given Love the max deal he wanted, that same deal would not be available for Rubio in 2014 when his rookie contract expires. Remember, the CBA allows only one such deal. Love’s rookie contract expired last season. Under a 5 year max deal, he would still be under contract when Rubio’s rookie deal expires in 2014.

So put yourself in Kahn’s shoes.

You have a player, Love, who has professed he would love to stay in Minnesota for his whole career provided he is surrounded by the talent to make a championship run. Enter the basketball playing savant. Who, coincidentally, had real concerns about coming to play in Minnesota (unless he got max money). With Rubio, you have an opportunity to ensure your star player has that side kick for the next 8 years, all you have to do is convince him to take a  max deal for the next 3 years. At which point, because of Love’s vested Larry Bird rights, you will be able to offer him the max deal, 5 years for $80 million, that he wanted coming off his rookie contract. Provided that happens after the 3rd year of Love’s current deal, which I expect it will, you will have Love and Rubio locked up until 2019. That is the kind of foundation and stability that Love was pleading for and that Wolves fans would be thrilled about. If Love gets the max deal coming off his rookie contract, that scenario is no longer in play. So why is he spilling his guts to Adrian Wojnarowski?

My guess, and it is really no more than that, is that this winter of discontent has set in for two reasons.

First, because David Kahn has the personality of an actuary and, news flash, does not seem to have the best relationship with Wolves’ players (see Beasley, Michael). No one has ever accused Kahn of being a players’ GM. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to change any time soon.

The Wolves ought to think about sending a guy or two back to school for a little HR training.

The Wolves ought to think about sending a guy or two back to school for a little HR training.

The second, and perhaps more fixable reason, is more of an HR issue. Love spent the summer with his buddies (Westbrook & Co.) on the Olympic team hearing all about the max deals. Russell is definitely off my Christmas card list. Love knows he is an elite player. And after talking with his fellow elite players, I can see how he starts thinking, why shouldn’t I get paid like one?

But this is the big misconception. Love is essentially being paid EXACTLY like those guys. Someone should explain it to him. The money is the same. Yes, he is not signed for as many years, but that is to ensure that the Wolves can keep its core in place for the next 7 years. Prior to signing his contract, Love made multiple statements that he just wanted to win and that it was critical that he be surrounded with the talent to make multiple championship runs. So, which one is it? Win championships or get another guaranteed year? Furthermore, by signing him to the deal he took, he gave himself the opportunity to be paired with his version of Stockton for the next 7 years. There was no other way to accomplish this. Period. And for someone who appreciates basketball’s rich history, you would think Love would be more on board. He has the chance to be one of the all-time greats with Rubio at his side.

So, hammer Kahnsie all you want for being an aloof and even arrogant, former journalist who is on the ultimate power trip now that he is the “boss” to the guys he used to cover. That is fine. He clearly needs some help in the HR department. But blaming him for signing Love to the deal that will enable the Wolves to preserve Stockton/Malone 2.0? Well, that is not something that I am ready to defend.

All You Need Is Love

In the spirit of the season, the Wolves gave back to their fans the ultimate gift: a healthy Kevin Love. Out of nowhere (so it seemed), Love returned to the starting lineup tonight. And Love made up for lost time with a first half that had Wolves fans mapping out the parade route.

The return of Love has Wolves nation thinking big.

Love had 16 points and 6 boards in the first quarter on his way to 22 and 8 in the first half.  Those 16 first-quarter points accounted for 62% of the team’s scoring. Not bad for a guy that missed the first 9 games of the season.

Riding the emotion of Love’s unexpected return and his hot shooting, the Wolves took a commanding 14-point lead into the half. A victory seemed all but a formality. But the emotion was left in the locker room. Poor shooting from the field and line ultimately did in the Wolves as the Nuggets pulled out the win.

Putting aside the outcome, this was an exciting night for Wolves nation. Love was joined by Pek and JJ in returning to the floor. All of a sudden, a team that couldn’t field more than 9 players, had so many players that D. Will didn’t see the floor (a topic for another post). Wolves nation was finally starting to see what this team will look like when healthy. And the potential is promising.

The starting five is a work in progress until Rubio returns. But, you can see the makings of a strong starting lineup. Pek and Love are efficient scorers in the post that rebound with the best of them. AK47 is a jack-of-all-trades type player that scores, rebounds, defends, and hustles on every possession. He’s simply the perfect compliment to Pek and Love at the 3-position. The Wolves still don’t have a 2 so long as they keep Shved in his 6-the man and 4th quarter role. Though, that could change if Roy somehow returns from another knee operation – not counting on it at this point.

Once Rubio returns, the bench becomes 7 deep: Ridnour, JJ, Cunningham, Shved, Stiemsma, Howard, and D. Will. It’s a nice compliment of players too, each with a critical role to the team’s success. In JJ and Shved, you have two playmakers, capable of creating scoring chances for themselves and others. Howard, if his knees hold, plays a similar game to AK47, and can be a strong defender and outlet scorer. And my personal favorite: Cunningham. He’s battles for every rebound and loose ball, never gives up on a possession, and he has a strong mid-range game.

You saw these players’ potential while Love, Pek, JJ, and Budinger fell to injuries. These role players stepped up and played gritty, fighting to a winning record. Shved showed he belongs and isn’t afraid of the big-shot. Cunningham showed the tenacity that has quickly become his hallmark for this squad. And AK47 did a little bit of everything to lead this young team; the savvy veteran. Now when healthy, it’s a matter of finding that balance and settling into their respective roles.

Some may consider this next statement overblown hyperbole, but it hopefully proves not to be: tonight may be the start of a new era for Wolves nation. With a healthy Love surrounded by a roster that has quality talent and depth, this team can develop into a playoff team not only this year, but also in the years to come. Finally, a team we can all be thankful for this Thanksgiving season.

Your Mega-NBA Preview: Border Rivals Style

Before I get into the nuts and bolts, one quick thing on this week’s latest media-fueled blow-up.

The Star Tribune was certainly “tilting at windmills” in publishing the smear piece about the Pups’ front office’s master plan.

It is the year 2012. No, seriously. 2012. Someone should remind the editorial staff at the Star Tribune that, while racism certainly exists in this world, the idea that a for-profit business, like the Timberwolves, would purposefully sign white players to boost sales is beyond absurd. As a life long fan of Minnesota sports, I can tell you that we, the fans, do not care one iota about the color of a player’s skin. Remember, Kirby, The Kid, and Moss ran this town and were revered. Sure, it’s fluky that this year’s Pups squad has a higher percentage of white guys than an Augusta National board meeting. But, really?! It’s a master plan to put fans in the seats? Such a statement is even too preposterous for the 2013 PST.

Moving on, we have some hoops to preview. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Minnesota Timberwolves –

You cannot preview the Pups and not talk about the devastating injuries to Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. Not having Rubio and Love in the line-up is going to make the first month and a half a tough one to predict. The good news: the schedule sets up real nicely, with only @CHI and @BOS looming in November and the first part of December. No OKC. No Spurs. The bad news: this is the portion of the schedule where this young Pups team was supposed to get out to a strong start. With Rubio and Love, a 16-6 start was a real possibility. Now, 13-9 would probably be stealing.

From a personnel perspective, everyone is expecting Nikola Pekovic to make a jump. He has received probably the most buzz, both locally and nationally, to help carry the Pups. Before getting injured last year, Pekovic was putting up 20 and 10 on a regular basis. Because he will be relied on to produce more in Love’s absence, that 20 and 10 is critical to the Pups’ success. Unfortunately, I have to admit I am a little worried about whether or not he can do it without Love on the floor. Yes, he performed well when Love went down with an injury last spring. But last season was fluky because the lockout. I am not sure Pek has the skill set to be The Guy.

I think Pups fans should be more concerned with the play of newcomers Chase Budinger, Andrei Kirielinko, and Brandon Roy. Budinger averaged nearly 10 points a game last year and shot 45% from the floor while hitting at a better than 40% clip from downtown. His man-defense is brutal; but in Adelman’s system, he is smart enough to get to his spot. Kirilenko, on the other hand, is flat out wiley – no two ways about it. He plays great help defense. He can create his own shot (even if it is uglier than a Real Housewife of Any County/City sans make-up). He is an excellent passer (in the ’05-’06 season – he averaged more than 4 assists a game). And, he is bringing back Robin Gibb’s hairdo: here and here. Those two guys are both pretty safe in terms of what you are getting. The wild card is Roy.

As the floor general for the Blazers, Roy embarrassed the team that let him get away on an almost annual basis. Pups fans are hoping that he can rediscover that magic this season.

When the Pups drafted Roy in 2006 and then traded him immediately for Randy Foy (who graduated from the Troy Hudson school of shot taking), fans were confused. Yeah, Roy had knee problems (we will get back to this), but he was a dude. Over the next four years, he went out and proved it. Every time he eviscerated us with the Blazers, Pups fans got down about the one who got away. Well he is back.

Only a little more than a year removed from retirement, Roy is back to prove, yet again, that his knees are good enough for him to perform at a high level (thank you German steroi…errrrr…scientist guy) . And now, with Rubio and Love out to start the season, that unknown is the most critical question for the Pups. If the hoops Gods have any sense of poetic justice, Roy will average 15 and 6 in a veteran role, be available to take the shot in crunch time, and force defenses to loosen up a bit on Love. Without that kind of presence, the start of this season could be a rocky one for a young Pups squad.

Ultimately, the Pups success this season hinges on how well it can start without Rubio and Love. If the Pups have moderate success, they will push for the last playoff spot in a loaded Western Conference. Because we drink…okay…guzzle the Kool-Aid, we predict the Pups find a way to sneak in as an 8th seed and give the top-seeded OKC (yup, not buying the Lakers hype yet) everything it can handle in the first round, though, the series will be short (think OKC-Miami finals last year).

Milwaukee Bucks –

The Bucks enter the new season as the resident bridesmaid in the Eastern Conference, having finished 9th the last two seasons. To get back into the playoffs, the Bucks will have to rely upon newcomer, Monta Ellis, and Brandon Jennings to lead this team.

The Bucks will rely upon these dynamic scorers to reach the playoffs.

Calling Monta Ellis a volume shooter is like calling Sandy a thunderstorm. Ellis has never seen a shot he does not love. The Bucks 2012-2013 season is going to hinge on his co-existence with fellow volume shooter Brandon Jennings.

At the end of last season when Monta was moved from Golden State’s run and gun to Scotty Skiles’ more deliberate offensive scheme, there was definitely an adjustment period. Ellis showed flashes of his former self, but he was rarely the consistent scorer he was in Golden State. And there were times that he and Jennings almost seemed to clash in terms of who was running the show (for the record – Jennings should).

Coming into this season, more than anything else, Monta needs to find some balance with his scoring. When he scored 30 or more points last season, the Bucks were 3-6. When he had less than 20, the Bucks were 5-10. But, when he was taking a page from the 3 Little Bears, and he scored between 20 and 29, the Bucks were 9 -4. Talk about a dramatic difference.

From a bigs perspective, the Bucks are actually still fairly well-stocked, even after trading franchise center Andrew Bogut. Surprise standout Ersan Ilyasova showed real promise at the power forward position. Even if he regresses from the 45% he shot from deep last season, he is still in line to have another solid year.Veteran bigs Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden, and Joel Przybilla should provide the defensive presence that Skiles preaches. Even if it does mean that they use 16 of their allotted 18 fouls each game. Puppy bigs John Henson and Tobias Harris have both looked good in summer league and preseason games. Harris actually averaged nearly 21 points a game and earned the starting SF role. With that kind of promise — the kid definitely has skill— there is definite upside in this crew.

Landing a playoffs spot is a real possibility given the state of flux in the middling Eastern Conference. Ellis and Jennings will score, but the secondary talent will need to step up for this team to make the playoffs. Assuming the bigs bring the desired defensive presence and they spot the necessary points when needed, this team should find themselves in the playoffs. Though, like the Pups, a first round departure to a top seed is pretty likely.

We Still Talking Playoffs

With just a few weeks left in the regular season, our three (wait for it) favorite squads have divergent playoffs hopes. East of the St. Croix, the Bucks are in full Fear the Deer mode, battling hard for the 8th and final playoff spot. West of the St. Croix, the Wolves are battling injuries and riding the back of K. Love to a fighter’s chance at the playoffs. And, the third favorite team has nothing to do with a shared border; rather, our third favorite team has everything to do with our interest in the Utah Jazz making the playoffs, and thus, shipping over its first-round draft pick to the Wolves in what is shaping up to be a deep and talented draft.

Milwaukee Bucks –

Bucks fans rejoice... #85 Baron Davis is leading the Knicks now.

The Bucks are currently 9th in the Eastern Conference, 2.5 games behind the Knickerbockers. Although the Knicks’ season has been uglier than that (Here)WeGo dog from the Bud Light commercials, the Knicks have gone 8-2 in their last 10 games and have somehow come together under Mike Woodson after Mike D’Antoni resigned on March 14. But, news broke this weekend that Jeremy Lin (you may have heard of him) is out for the rest of the regular season with a knee injury. Out goes Lin, incomes B-Diddy… yup, #85 Baron Davis (anytime your point guards number is 85, you know your in trouble and that this guy must be a mental midget.) This is a severe blow to the Knicks and one the Bucks should be able to capitalize on.

The Bucks announced their intention to make a run at the playoffs this season on March 13 when they dealt the oft-injured Andrew Bogut and black-hole Steven Jackson for Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh, and Kwame “Worst Player in the History of the NBA” Brown. Since that trade, the Bucks have sported a 5-4 record. Unlike his jumper, Ellis’ transition to the Bucks has been anything but smooth. Ellis is a volume scorer – i.e. he takes a ton of shots to get a ton of points. He was supposed to form a fearsome backcourt with Jennings. But, Ellis appeared to be hesitant with his new squad – almost as if he wanted to please his new teammates by not taking the majority of shots. Despite the nearly .500 record, there are some encouraging signs the deal has improved the Bucks: they average 8 more points per game, shoot 4.5% better from the field, and have seen their opponents shoot just over 2% worse from the field.

The Bucks have 14 games remaining to make up the 2.5 games and claim that 8th spot from the Knicks. Working in their favor, the Bucks play 9 of those 14 games at home, while the Knicks play only 5 of their 13 remaining games at home. This last part is huge for the Bucks because the Knicks are terrific at home, winning 9 of their last 10 at the fabled MSG. The Bucks next three games are all winnable: @ Washington, vs. Cleveland, and vs. Charlotte. Meanwhile, the Knicks face (sans Lin remember): @ Indiana, @ Orlando, vs. Chicago, and @ Orlando. Needless to say, the 2.5 margin can be made up quickly. And, by the time the Bucks host the Knicks on April 11, the 8th spot could be on the line.

The Bucks season can be summed up as follows: they are the best of the worst and worst of the best. They have thrived off beating teams under .500 and been equally ineffective (6-21) against teams above .500. With 7 games apiece against teams above or below .500, the Bucks have a chance to finish the season strong and grab that 8th spot in the playoffs.

Minnesota Timberwolves –

The moment the Wolves' playoff run ended. Damn you, Black Mamba!

Meanwhile, the Wolves’ playoffs hopes are currently recovering from ACL surgery. The Wolves currently sit in 11th place in the conference, 3 games back of the 8th spot. That may not sound like a lot to make up. But, when players are more fragile than Al Czervik, the playoff run will have to wait for another year. With the likes of El Pistola, Nikola “The Godfather” Pekovic (can anyone explain where that nickname came from??), J.J., and even SuperCool Beas sidelined with injuries, its pretty much over. The Wolves’ 3-7 record the past 10 games bears this out.

In what’s becoming a nasty trend in the Twin Cities, injuries are rampant (deep breath now: Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Scott Baker, Adrian Peterson, Antoine Winfield, Pierre Marc-Brouchard, Mikko Koivu…) and have derailed the season. Right after the all-star break, the Wolves were flying high and closing in on the 8th playoff spot. But, with the bench players now assuming starting roles, the Wolves only shot at making the playoffs is riding the back of Kevin Love and hoping his insane March numbers (30 ppg, 14 rbg, 46% shooting, and 3 treys per game) continue during the home stretch. Even with Love’s MVP type effort, the Wolves simply do not have enough fire-power to fight for that final playoff spot. The four teams ahead of them vying for the 8th spot – Houston, Utah, Phoenix, and Portland – have all been playing .500 ball or better the last 10 games. Which leads me to what should be Wolves fans second favorite team: Utah Jazz.

Utah Jazz –

To explain why we care about Al Jefferson again, back in 2009 there was a trade involving Darius Songalia, Bobby Brown (not that one), and Antonio Daniels. As part of that deal, somehow the Wolves ended up with the Jazz’s first-round draft pick this year – lottery protected. Needless to say, I like that deal right now from the Wolves perspective. So, if the Jazz makes the playoffs, the Wolves get their first-round pick (likely late teens b/c there is not a chance in hell the Jazz knock off the OKC Thunder). If the Jazz miss the playoffs, the Wolves get their pick in 2013 provided the Jazz don’t get a pick higher than the 12th. So Wolves fans, let’s take a look at how our second-favorite squad is looking coming down the home-stretch.

The Jazz are currently 9th in the conference, only 1.5 games back of Houston. With three of their last four at home, Utah is positioned well to make a run at Houston and the Stork (if there is any Karma in basketball, it requires the Jazz surpass the Stork, thereby making him miss the playoffs and ensuring the Wolves have a nice pick in a deep and talented draft!). Both teams have 13 games remaining. Utah has the extra game at home, while Houston goes on the road. Houston has a few games remaining against Chicago, LAL, and The LeBrons. Utah, on the other hand, plays a majority of their remaining games against the likes of Portland and Phoenix, with a crucial matchup at Houston on April 11. As Lloyd Christmas would say, “So you saying there’s a chance!”

Jazz playoffs = Terrance Ross at shooting guard for the 2012-2013 Timberwolves. Terrance Ross at shooting guard for the 2012-2013 Timberwolves = Playoffs. So, Let’s Go Jazz! Let’s Go Jazz! Let’s Go Jazz!

All Is Quiet On The Midwestern Front

For the years following the Vikings collapse in the 2009 NFC Championship game, there has been little to get excited about in terms of the Minnesota sports scene.  The Lynx won the WNBA Championship last year and got a few pulses racing, but that has been about it.

Minnesota fans battled through bi-lateral leg weakness and concussion like symptoms, both on the diamond (Morneau) and the ice (PMB).  Then, in a seemingly meaningless game against the Washington Redskins, All-Pro/All-World running back Adrian Peterson suffered a serious knee injury.  The Vikes somehow ended up winning that game and ultimately costing themselves  the 2nd overall pick.  That 2nd overall pick was recently turned into a bounty of quality draft picks.

Ricky never looked back after leaving Europe and he made a lot of people look silly along the way.

Despite all that, the arrival of Ricky Rubio changed everything.  Suddenly there was something to pay attention to night in and night out.  The Wolves were regular contributors to ESPN’s Top 10 because of Rubio’s artistry with a basketball.

Not only was Rubio fun to watch, but, with time, the Wolves made a push for the Western Conference playoffs.  They strung together wins, both at home and on the road, against quality opponents.  Then, while attempting to make the fundamental basketball play we have come to expect from him, Ricky blew out his knee trying to take a charge against the Black Mamba.  Like we needed another reason to hate Kobe.  As Rubio limped around the court, you could just feel the season’s momentum evaporating.

A savvy local team could have filled this void.  A few teams had a chance to bring some excitement to their respective fan bases.  The Vikings were in the middle of free agency.  The Twins were wrapping up free agency and about to begin spring training.  And lastly, the Wolves were nearing the NBA trade deadline with pieces to move.

The Vikings have actually done less than nothing when it comes to free agency.  Let me explain.  They cut veteran influences like Steve Hutchinson and failed to replace that talent with anything resembling a sought-after talent.  In fact, not only were the Vikings not signing anyone to get the pulse racing (apologies to John Carlson’s mom — an average NFL TE coming off an injury does not count), but, they actually refrained from being involved in the discussion.  Seemingly all the big name free agents that would have excited fans and improved the squad, never seemed to be courted by the Winter Park brain trust.  This is even more peculiar considering the fact that said brain trust is holding the people of Minnesota hostage for a new stadium to the tune of $550 million.

Any time Ryan Doumit is one of your squad's major off-season acquisitions, you are rebuilding, not reloading.

Going into spring training, the Twins were reporting with recent signees Jamey Carrol, Ryan Doumit, and Jason Marquis.  Is there even any need to explain how much of snoozer it must be down in Fort Meyers right now?  Through the first week of spring training games, the whole roster, including minor leaguers, beer vendors, and ardent white-haired super fans, had one, no, seriously, one, extra base hit.  The only thing marquee about the Twins free agent signings is the fact that one of guys’ last names is a punny play on words.  After 99 losses last season and with all this stadium generated revenue, punny is not going to it.  Aren’t we past trying to dress up average major leaguers as these diamond-in-the-rough finds?

Making your way east a few blocks to the Target Center, you will find Wolves GM David Kahn working furiously on finishing his first Level 2 sudoku puzzle.  Other teams are calling the Wolves about their multiple trade pieces: Michael Beasley and Luke Ridnour.  But, don’t worry, Kahn is not going to take the bait.  Full fairness in savagery, the Wolves were at least mentioned in trying to flip Ridnour or Beasley into Jamal Crawford (who, by the way, would have been a great fit on this squad).  Though, considering both the principals in that deal, Portland and L.A., made moves for players who were not as good as the Wolves pieces, you have to think the sudoku got in the way.

Ultimately, it has been eerily quiet since Rubio’s anterior cruciate ligament decided to take a vacation.  One can only hope that both he and AP are able to fully recover and return to inspire their respective squads.  Considering the current state of affairs, we should hope for good weather this summer, at least then we can take advantage Minnesota’s remaining recreational gems: the golf courses.

Playoffs?! Playoffs?! We Talking Playoffs!

Playoffs?! Indeed.

Yes, Mr. Mora, we talking playoffs! At the halfway point of this shortened season, both local squads – the Pups and Bucks – are talking playoffs. Of course, talking playoffs doesn’t mean both or either of the teams will actually make the playoffs. In fact, if either team makes the playoffs, it’d be a bigger surprise than Darko resembling an actual NBA player.

Simply talking playoffs is an accomplishment for the Timberwolves. A franchise  mired in terribleness since gifting an NBA Championship to the Celtics in the infamous KG trade, the Pups have risen from the abyss on the shoulders of both K. Love and Rubio. With the emergence of Pekovic and the promise of D. Will., the Pups have the building blocks in place to be annual playoffs contenders in years to come – assuming Kahn doesn’t screw it up. Here’s hoping the Utah Jazz are not lottery bound and, thus, sending their first-round pick to the Pups. A shooting guard that can actually shoot would go a long ways for this squad.

K. Love is going to need to be as clutch during the second half of the season.

But, as far as this year is concerned, talking playoffs is the only accomplishment members of the Team of 1707 can expect. At 17-17 at the midpoint of the season, the Pups stand in 10th place in the conference, one game back from the 8th spot – Portland Trailblazers. The reason for pessimism is the Wolves schedule coming out of the break does not set up well with a back-to-back-to-back gauntlet against both LA teams and Phoenix, before getting one day off to travel to a critical game at Portland. Following this road stretch, the Wolves experience deja vu (and not the fun kind off Washington Ave.) when they play host to Lob City, Portland, and the Lake Show in a five day stretch. This stretch will test the mettle of the young squad and ultimately decide whether we will still be talking playoffs two weeks from now.

The moment the Bucks playoffs chances limped away.

As for the Bucks, a 13-20 record at midway point doesn’t show much hope for a playoffs spot. But, in the Eastern Conference, they are still only 2.5 games back of the aging Boston Celtics, who currently man the 8th spot. With rumors rampant that the Celtics may be breaking up the Big (read: Old) Three, the eighth spot is up for grabs in the East. Two years removed from a playoffs battle with the Hawks, the Bucks season outlook was promising on the premise Jennings would continue his growth and Bogut was healthy. Unfortunately, when Bogut went down, so too did the Bucks season. The Bucks were 7-7 at the time of the injury, and have since gone 6-13.

To have any shot at claiming that 8th spot, the Bucks need to start quick in the second half. Unfortunately, like the Pups, the schedule does not set up well. An easy home game against the Wizards/Bullets/Mental Midgets only serves as a pre-season warmup game to a gauntlet of playoff teams: Celtics, Hawks, Magic, 76ers, Bulls, and Knicks. Jim Mora might be correct that playoffs is absurd to mention with this squad, but crazier things of happened. I mean, a twice cut, Harvard grad, Asian-American is leading the New York Knickerbockers towards the playoffs. Who knows, maybe Ersan Ilyasova’s 29/25 evening last week is the start to his massive run. Ok, never mind, but when you have Brandon Jennings, every game is winnable if he gets that lefty stroke going like Mick at Pebble (yup, I just compared a kid Straight Outta Compton to a 40 y.o. chubby, perma-smile golfer).

We talking playoffs, just not making the playoffs. The Fear the Deer and Rubionation campaigns will have to wait until 2013.

Michael Beasley – The 6th Man

SuperCool Beas... umm... yeah

Michael Beasley, the player formally known as the Wolves starting SF, may have finally found a niche that suits his game, and most importantly fills a Wolves need perfectly – The 6th Man. No one can question B-Ez’s talent. The guy is uber athletic and is really the only Wolf that can create his own shot. But, he’s also a Randy Moss clone in that he plays when he wants (just ask Cris Carter). Add in that he doesn’t contribute much defensively, and is often a black-hole on the offensive end. And, well,  that’s the enigma of B-Ez ,or SuperCool Beas as he had scribed across his back  (real quick – take a look at the lower right background… he must be Snoop’s nephew).

B-Ez started at SF for the Wolves’ first seven games before going down with an injury. The injury was a blessing in disguise. Averaging 31 minutes per game as a starter, SuperCool Beas (I’m pretty sure a junior high girls basketball player could come up with a better nickname than this… like, that’s SUPER cool) put up 12.9 ppg on 39% shooting. Additionally, the numbers don’t begin to tell the story of how poorly B-Ez’s game initially gelled with El Pistola. Any flow that El Pistola brought to the floor was quickly erased when B-Ez got his mitts on the ball and looked to take his man off the bounce. Simply put, B-Ez and El Pistola were a worse pair than Nicki Minaj and the Grammy’s.  The offense stagnated, and the team fell to 2-5.

After sitting 11 games with an injury, B-Ez has returned to the lineup in his new 6th Man role. The results have been much more positive for both B-Ez and the squad. The starting five have a certain rhythm without B-Ez on the floor. K. Love and El Pistola are becoming a force pick-and-roll duo. True, the Wolves still don’t have a strong starting SF (Wes Johnson – the first knuckleball shooter in the NBA). But, B-Ez brings exactly what the second string needs – a go-to scorer who can create his shot. The second group does not have the maestro at point to create open shots for others. B-Ez can go to work off the bounce and still create production for the second group. Since taking over in this new role, B-Ez has better numbers – 14.3 ppg on 45% shooting. And when he’s on, like the night he dropped 34 at Houston, he stays on the floor during crunch time.

Time will tell whether SuperCool Beas accepts and thrives in this role. If he accepts it, he could carve out a nice career as 6th Man scorer. Look at the best 6th Men in the league – James Harden and Jason Terry. They accept their role, provide instant offense, and play hard when they get in. B-Ez is obviously a mental midget (evidenced by tweeting a pic of an awful tattoo with some sticky icky in the background); but even he has to realize that this is a good role for his game. And if he does, ladies of the Twin Cities need to watch out. As Yeezy said: “I’m pulling girls off the bench like a sixth man.”

Bucks’ Jennings – The Looming Free Agency Problem

Is he, too, taking his talents elsewhere?

Brandon Jennings, the undisputed star for the Milwaukee Bucks, may not be residing on the shore of Lake Michigan for too long. Reports recently surfaced that Jennings is doing his homework on big-market teams (shocking that he knows how to do his homework in the first part, considering he skipped college to play abroad and attended high “school” at Oak Hill Academy.)

Jennings is eligible to sign a lucrative contract extension with the Bucks this summer. Remember, part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows the Bucks to offer the most money to Jennings. But, it’s expected he will sign a one-year tender with the Bucks, and hit the unrestricted free agent market in the Summer of 2014. It’s an ominous sign for the Bucks, who can ill-afford to lose the one player on the team that keeps them exciting and fighting for the playoffs on a yearly basis (it also doesn’t hurt the Bucks play in the Eastern Conference where the half-trying Atlanta Hawks seem to find the playoffs yearly.)

Jennings is claiming it has nothing to do with the City of Milwaukee itself – of course it’s not; what doesn’t Milwaukee have to offer a kid Straight Outta Compton?! It’s purely business. Taking Jennings at his word, the decision to spurn the Bucks comes down to the direction of the squad. With Bogut spending more time on the training table than Ice Cube selling out to Coors Light (sense a theme here?) and Stephen Jackson never seeing a terrible shot he didn’t like, Jennings may have a point about the Bucks’ direction. Since drafting Jennings in 2009, the Bucks have drafted Larry Sanders, Tobias Harris, and Jon Leuer. It’s usually best not to emulate the KAAAAAAAAAAHN when drafting. Again stealing a book from the KAAAAAAAAAHN, the Bucks filled in the rest of the roster with a bunch of players that have bounced around the league – Shaun Livingston, S. Jackson, Drew Gooden, and Mike Dunleavy. Frankly, I can’t blame Jennings for wanting to do his homework.

It’s important to keep in mind that if Jennings does sign elsewhere, he will take less money to do so. The new CBA was designed to give small- to mid-market teams an advantage in signing their own players to maintain parity. But there is not much a franchise like Milwaukee can do when a player is willing to accept less money to play elsewhere. Just ask Cleveland – but I’m pretty sure anyone would take less money to live on South Beach instead of next to this.

Right now, Milwaukee is 12-14 after it’s thrilling win against Cleveland and are hanging on to the 8th seed for the playoffs. Brandon Jennings is their catalyst. But, for how long? A point-guard with his natural scoring ability will be a sought after commodity if he were to hit the open market. And it doesn’t take long to consider how good he’d look at the point for the Spike Lee Knicks (yes, this is assuming the Linsanity phenomena is as short-lived as the Tebowing phenomena.) Don’t be surprised, Milwaukee, if you hear this refrain in the Summer of 2014:

“As I Leave, Believe I’m Stompin
But When I Come Back, Boy, I’m Comin Straight Outta Compton”