Best NBA Trade Rumor Of The Day: Pau Gasol For Kevin Love And Minny’s #2 Pick

This makes LA instantly one of the youngest teams in basketball and would reshape them into a title contender for the long term.  Very interesting.  Would love to hear Lakers’ fans reactions to this one.  From SI’s The Point Forward blog:

We know that Brown has hired European coaching legend Ettore Messina as something of a consultant, and we learned late Sunday that Brown is on the verge of finalizing his staff with a bunch of interesting hires. Among the most notable names is Tim Grgurich, one of the most-well-respected assistants in the league, from the Mavericks’ bench. 

On the personnel front, sources over the weekend suggested there might actually be something to the notion that the Lakers could flip Pau Gasol to the Timberwolves in a deal involving Kevin Love, Minnesota’s No. 2 draft pick (if the Lakers have their druthers) and other pieces necessary to make the trade work. Any deal of this magnitude is unlikely, even if it makes some theoretical sense for both teams. The Wolves would get one of the league’s best all-around players and a potential mentor for Ricky Rubio, while the Lakers would add a foundational young piece who rebounds like a mad man, works the pick-and-roll and can stretch the floor better than almost any other big man in the league. The much-rumored (but still theoretical) Dwight Howard trade talks are a different story, since acquiring Howard is a no-brainer for any team.

Even though it’s unlikely it’s still fun to think about as the Lakers could draft Derrick Williams who instantly becomes one of the most exciting players in the league and has the potential to be a great counterpunch to KD and LeBron going forward.

We’ll follow it closely and update you if we hear anything else going forward.

[SI]

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Kevin Love Is On The Cusp Of Breaking An Impressive Franchise Record

The Mark? Kevin Garnett’s monstrous run of 37 consecutive double-doubles which Love easily matched last night in a 27-17 effort that helped the T-Wolves defeat a surprisingly good Hornets team 104-92. He’ll look to break the record Friday on the road against the Pacers.  From the Star-Tribune:

Missing two players to begin with and down two more by game’s end Monday night, the Timberwolves proved themselves both resilient and winners, two qualities they have lacked far too often this season.

Their 104-92 victory over the Hornets was their third on the road all season, and their first since Dec. 26.

It came on a night when Kevin Love reached his 37th consecutive double-double game and joined Kevin Garnett and John Stockton as the only NBA players in the past 25 years to do so.

It also came when the Wolves started without Luke Ridnour and Martell Webster, then lost Darko Milicic (hip flexor strain) early in the game and Michael Beasley (ankle) late.

He’s now put himself in the company of two no doubt about it Hall-Of-Famers with this remarkable run.  Impressive, to say the least, especially when you consider that guys like Steve Nash and Chris Paul haven’t approached this territory.  Like I wrote last week, the T-Wolves have all the makings of being the next up and coming team in the West.  Look for them to be a fringe playoff contender next year.

[Star-Tribune]

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Are The Minnesota Timberwolves The Next OKC Thunder?

I’m sure a lot of you probably scoffed when you first read that headline but it’s not as unrealistic as you’d think.  In a recent blog post for GQ, current Minnesota Timberwolves player Kevin Love was detailing the difficult emotions involved with losing close games multiple times throughout an NBA season.  (By the way, I give my stamp of approval on the blog.  It’s not all the politically correct BS you’d expect from a modern day professional athlete brought up in the Tiger Woods school of PR.  He cusses, he complains, he even lobbies for his own spot in the all-star game.  Check it out.)  Love writes the following:

These close losses are getting tough to take. When it’s a blowout, obviously that’s tough too, but it’s different. Those close ones—when you’re right there until the very end—and they keep stacking up and stacking up… It’s a very tough pill to swallow. Luke Ridnour, who sits to the left of me in the locker room—I can see it wearing on him, because he’s never been in a situation like this. He’s been on teams before that have lost games, but not as many as we’ve lost, and the way we’ve lost them. And he has to carry a lot of the load at the point guard position, and I can definitely see it bugging him. But he still keeps coming in every day, working hard. He’s a consummate professional. And that’s what you have to do. Keep your head up every day in practice, remind yourself that you’re living the dream right now playing in the NBA. Also, it’s a reminder that we are a very young team. We know that there’ll be changes to the lineup—maybe sooner, maybe later—but the cornerstones of this franchise are already here. And we’re only going to get better.

After we lost to the Thunder, their coach Scott Brooks said, “They are where we were two years ago.” And I think he’s right: there are a lot of similarities. That season they only won 23 games, but they had so much talent and they were one of the youngest teams in the NBA. And they had a lot of good-character guys who were willing to do what they had to in order to take that next step. That’s what I keep telling myself: that’s going to be us soon.

Love mentions that the similarities exist, but doesn’t get into them on any level besides implying that the T-Wolves record will be similar by the end of the season.  Sitting at 11-36 right now, Minnesota is on pace to be a little below (19 W’s by my calculation) the 23 wins the ‘08-‘09 Thunder team achieved.  However, if you’ve tuned in and watched them play this season, you realize they really do seem to be getting close to “turning the corner” and figuring out how to win. 

I was listening to Bill Simmons podcast last week in which his guest was of all people Kevin Love.  In that discussion, Love brought up that he was recently speaking with the coach of an opposing team who remarked that this T-Wolves squad is the best team through 3 ½ quarters in NBA history which is like praising Rick Pitino’s stamina at making love in restaurant booths.  It was a backhanded compliment hinting at the T-Wolves’ high talent level but also highlighting their inability to close out games in the fourth quarter (immaturity might be the better word).  This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this idea so let’s try to come up with a way to evaluate it. 

I don’t pretend to be a great statistician so let’s make a semi-reasonable assumption that the teams were “in” games where they lost by six points or less, next let’s sum the number of times that happened throughout the respective seasons, and finally let’s see how close the results are for both teams.  Remember that we are comparing the ‘08-‘09 Thunder team (not the current team) to the ‘10-‘11 Timberwolves.  I used the site www.basketball-reference.com (a fantastic place to spend hours of your life, by the way) to come up with this data and you can go there yourself to verify my results.  Here’s what I came up with:

                ’08-’09 Thunder losses decided by six or less: 17

                ’10-’11 T-Wolves losses decided by six or less: 16

Obviously the gaping hole in my argument right now is that the T-Wolves season isn’t over yet, but that counterpoint doesn’t totally blow my data out of the water.  The reason?  Consider that the Thunder squad only had four losses by six or less occur after the month of January all of which occurred in February that season.  This might suggest one of two things, 1) they were playing clearly superior competition later in the season (not as likely) or 2) they grew frustrated with the devastating nature of close losses and “threw in the towel” during games later that year in which they had even the slightest chance of losing (more likely).  I would hope that Minnesota wouldn’t stoop to that level, but like Love tells us in the blog, losing multiple games that close tends to grow on you.  You have two choices, you either accept the losing (think every Clippers team ever, save this year’s team) or you get pissed off and vow to prevent it from ever happening again (like Durant did).  It’s like Vinnie (or the whole male cast, for that matter) during season one of Jersey Shore and his inability to seal the deal with chicks at the club.  He had the charm, he had the looks, but at the end of the night he just didn’t know how to close it out.  He had to experience the frustration of consistently striking out and sleeping alone at night so that he might know what it was eventually going to take.  Obviously he learned his lessons and is now the leader in the clubhouse for random chicks taken home during season three.

Being the basketball junkie that I am, I can vouch that the one theme that surrounded the Thunder that year was their inability to close out games (sound familiar?).  The team had a ton of raw, unproven talent that experienced how much it sucks to lose.  It ultimately led them to seriously dedicate their efforts towards preventing it from ever happening again (just like how Vinnie got on the juice and beefed up his physique and his game) and obviously the results have been awesome (50+ wins last year and on pace to do so again this year for the Thunder, multiple chicks bedded by Vinnie). 

I’m not saying the T-Wolves are going to win 50+ games next year, but the similarities between the records of the two teams thus far exist.

But let’s delve further into Scott Brooks assessment that the T-Wolves are where the Thunder were two years ago and figure out whether this really is the next up and coming team in the West.  Now that we know the records are remarkably similar, let’s next evaluate the rosters.  Every above average team in NBA history has had at least one certifiable alpha dog/best player (think: Kobe, Duncan, Bird, Magic, etc), thus both teams must have one player qualify at this elite level before we can consider them seriously.  Both teams meet this criterion with Kevin Durant for OKC and Kevin Love for Minnesota.  Teams then must have a great number two player, a guy talented enough to be a number one player on any team, but who has taken a reduced role (however small) on the current team to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts (think: Pippen, McHale, Ginobli, etc).  Both teams qualify in this respect with Russell Westbrook for OKC and, believe it or not, Michael Beasley for Minnesota.  When you’ve got two players that talented, the rest isn’t as difficult as you’d think to figure out.  Teams need great role players and savvy veterans, all of which are easily attainable through trades and free agency.  The T-Wolves have some great pieces already in place with Ridnour, Brewer, and even (gasp!) Darko, but you never know what could happen.  I could draw more similarities between the rosters, but for the sake of this article and your attention span, let’s move on.

A common theme with young teams struggling to break through is that they turn the ball over way too much as well as a failure to play good team defense.  Based off of this let’s evaluate some team statistics involved with these behaviors: turnovers, opponent’s FG%, and opponent’s PPG.  Here’s each team’s ranking in those categories as opposed to the rest of the NBA:

  Turnovers Opponent FG % Oppenents PPG
’08-’09 Thunder 30th 27th 23rd
’10-’11 T-Wolves 30th 18th 30th

 

As you can see the team’s were/are both among the league’s worst in TO while also being mediocre at one of the measures of team defense and horrible at the other.  Team defense isn’t easy to learn but I can tell you the best possible way to ensure its success is to keep core players intact for multiple years so that players can grow to trust one another and learn each other’s tendencies.  The Thunder achieved this and the T-Wolves have made it known through the media that this is their intention as well.  Whether this year’s disappointing results will break up Minnesota remains to be seen though.  Their GM is David Kahn after all.

I know this whole argument probably fails to meet every step of the scientific method.  That doesn’t bother me.  I really do believe the Minnesota freaking Timberwolves might be the next up and coming team in the Western Conference.  With aging talent in the elite teams (LA, Dallas, San Antonio) and tons of talent migrating to the East (Stoudemire, Boozer, likely Carmelo), we might be seeing the genesis of a huge paradigm shift out West that eventually sees the emergence of teams like Minnesota and maybe even the Sacramentos of the world.

Being a Nuggets my whole life (and most attentively during the Carmelo era), I can tell you the best thing Minnesota has going for it right now is Kevin Love’s commitment to being a leader (“the guy”).  The past seven seasons I’ve watched a player ten times more physically gifted/talented than Love in Carmelo Anthony.  Unfortunately for me he has no commitment whatsoever towards being the guy.  He’s basically the Sammie of the NBA.  Yeah she’s attractive, yeah she’s got killer legs, but how often do you find yourself wishing she’d never shown her face in Seaside two seasons ago?  It’s why the Nuggets consistently are bounced out in the first round of the playoffs every year while teams like the Thunder, and maybe eventually the Timberwolves, are about to make the leap into the NBA’s elite.  Durant made the commitment to his teammates and himself and Love has done the same. 

Carmelo has only ever made the commitment to Worldwide Wes and the guys at CAA.

Despite all the great memories with Anthony, I’ve learned that I’d take a guy like Love over him any day.  Denver is so clearly superior in athleticism and talent to most teams in the NBA but they regularly take nights off and refuse to take the necessary steps towards being elite.  It’s almost like they’re scared of getting better.  They’re ever content with being good, never great.  It gets old and it’s what is separating this younger generation of stars (Rose, Love, Durant, possibly Blake Griffin, etc) from their elder peers (LeBron, Carmelo, Dwight, Bosh, etc) and making them more appealing to fans. 

As an example, think about how much more celebrated the World Championship team was this past summer than the Olympic squad from 2008.  They definitely weren’t as talented, but the classical approach they took towards winning and the brilliant way they executed added a romantic quality reminiscent of the renaissance days of 1980s basketball so many older fans grew up and fell in love with.  There is something incredibly “old school” about these new talents and if the LeBrons and Carmelos of the world don’t watch out, they’re going to get outworked by these young guns for multiple titles during the next decade.

Kevin Love, keep doing the damn thing.

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