If you truly want to know what it feels like to root for the Minnesota Timberwolves, all you have to do is watch the NBA draft lottery. The lottery plays out the exact same way every year. The night starts off with a feeling of dread, as you recall the disappointing season that's led to this moment: all the errant passes, the fluke injuries, the missed dunks. Then the ceremony begins — those stupid ping-pong balls start bouncing around in that dumb plastic bin — and no matter how hard you try to fight it, you can't help but fantasize a little bit. You start to think maybe this is the year the Timberwolves' luck changes. Maybe this is the year they jump up in the draft and get that missing piece they need. Maybe this is the year they reach their true potential. Then suddenly all those stupid ping-pong balls are taken out of that dumb bin, Cleveland is handed the no. 1 pick, Minnesota hasn't moved up in the draft at all, and we're back to feeling that familiar sense of dread.
It's the five stages of lottery-related grief. Welcome to Minnesota.
Shortly after the Minnesota Timberwolves sent out a press release announcing that David Kahn’s contract as president of basketball operations was not being picked up for the 2013-14 season, Kahn appeared on KFAN FM 100.3 in the Twin Cities to talk about his tenure with the team. At the end, when host Dan Barreiro asked him what his immediate plans were, Kahn said, “I’ve got two Mad Men episodes backed up on my DVR. I’m going to watch Mad Men, maybe have a glass of wine.”
So here, of course, is David Kahn’s draft-board assessment of the characters of Mad Men.
This guy’s a go-getter: He reminds me of a young me. He plays with confidence, plays bigger than he is, looks very smooth out on the floor. Sure, he can come off as abrasive, slimy, and condescending, but I don’t necessarily see those as negative things. And the way he strings a situation along to the point where the result is less a decision than a sadly inevitable conclusion lacking any of the concrete benefits that more decisive action would have brought? Masterful.
We interrupt Part 2 of the NBA Trade Value column to explain the travesty known as the 2009 NBA draft. That night, Minnesota drafted two of our top-30 trade value guys (Ricky Rubio with the fifth pick, then Ty Lawson with the 18th pick) and passed up a third top-30 guy (Stephen Curry) to take Jonny Flynn. Trust me, this was just as ridiculous at the time. (Check out my thoughts at 5:10 of the '09 Draft Diary.)
That same night, Minnesota quickly traded Lawson to Denver for a future protected first-round pick that became the immortal Luke Babbitt (2010's 16th pick). What happened to Babbitt? It flipped his rights, along with Ryan Gomes, to Portland for Martell Webster, who had already been gift-wrapped a more-than-generous four-year, $20 million deal.
What happened to Webster? Turned out he was damaged goods — Webster needed two back surgeries to repair a bulging disc (including one before he ever played a T-Wolves game), struggled through two injury-plagued seasons before Minnesota released him, then became the centerpiece of a contentious compensation process that was only recently resolved (terms were not disclosed).
The NBA playoffs are upon us, with 16 teams competing for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. But what about the other guys? What about the teams we wish were in the playoffs? We may know, in our heads, that they didn't do enough to get into the postseason, but that doesn't change how we feel in our hearts. We'd like to see these teams competing in Bill Simmons's Entertaining as Hell Tournament, but until that day, we'll just have to write longingly about why we wish they had made it to the promised land.
Portland Trail Blazers
Sean Fennessey: This isn't exactly a song for the Blazers because the Blazers were hard to watch this year. Nic Batum was long and lean and aggressively French, J.J. Hickson played like an exploding can of soda, and Weber State's Damian Lillard was a revelation to those who enjoy tiny-man dunks but don't much care for consistency. (He is only the Rookie of the Year because Anthony Davis hasn't totally figured out how to play basketball yet. He will.) I won't miss those Blazers and I certainly won't miss their bench, mostly because their bench doesn't exist beyond the many terrified faces of Meyers Leonard.
In case you were busy recording your sophomore album, It's Hard Out There (On the Road), here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The Chicago Bulls used their strength and rebounding advantage to beat Miami, 101-97, snapping the Heat's 27-game winning streak. After the game, LeBron James complained about the Bulls' physicality and hard fouls: "I believe and I know that a lot of my fouls are not basketball plays." Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau responded, saying, "I'm soooooo sorry. Reeeeeeallly. I would never tell my guys to be physical in a big game. Especially a brute like Kirk Hinrich. My deeeeeepest apologies."
Despite the absence of Metta World Peace, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves for the 22nd straight time, 120-117. The game was not without controversy, however, as Ricky Rubio appeared to be fouled by Kobe Bryant on a game-tying 3-point attempt. After the game, Bryant was defiant when asked about the non-call, saying nothing as he pulled down a large map of the world from above his locker and blacked out Spain with a magic marker.
In the 71st game of your 17th season, in the midst of a “heated” playoff “race,” why are you still watching your own errant jump shot while your mark, Klay Thompson, beats you back in transition for an open 3-pointer? Thompson doesn’t exactly take off like Corey Brewer, either, and he still beats you down the floor by several steps.
Why is this still happening? It’s almost April, and Bryant and the Lakers still can’t figure out transition defense, or defense in general.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Ricky Rubio
Chris Ryan: This is not the most wonderful time of the year. And it shows. Most of the NBA stories you're going to be reading during the last few weeks of the season will concern knee drains, tanking, tightening up defense, shortening the rotation, getting into a postseason mind-set ... you know, "finding out who we really are" kind of stuff. It gets a little LOL-free around here. So when you see something like Ricky Rubio's performance against the Spurs last night, you have to savor the flavor because you know that tomorrow night (or the next night, or the next night), it's going to be you, Frank Vogel, and the harsh realities of this world.
In case you were busy singing John Philip Sousa tunes with your loved ones, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The New York Knicks overcame a 22-point deficit and a knee injury to Carmelo Anthony to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 102-97. Anthony, who's day-to-day with knee stiffness, said after the game, "I'm glad we won, but I'm really just glad Pablo Prigioni didn't put up a career night. I'm not at all ready for Prigloonacy."
One of the things about sports analytics these days is that, while combing through and analyzing massive amounts of performance data, you come across “findings” that are unexpected or surprising. Without ever watching a game or studying film, you discover things you never knew about a player or a team. Occasionally these findings are so unbelievable you are forced to somehow validate them. You say things like “That can’t be right” and look for opportunities to confirm.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Chris Paul
Because it was a light night of action, and it's a long day of piping-hot unique takes here on the Triangle, I'm not going to weigh you down with a ton of insight. I'm just going to rank players and then attach an appropriate Miami Heat "Harlem Shake" .GIF, because that's exactly what Thomas Jefferson was thinking about when he said, "Sure, I'll do it. As long as I get to dress up like Super Mario."
In case you were out drinking away the memories of all the birthday parties you didn't get to have as a child because you were born on February 29, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
College basketball's topsy-turvy season continued as Virginia beat Duke in Charlottesville, 73-68. While this might have appeared to be a massive upset based on the AP rankings, Las Vegas actually had the game as a virtual pick 'em, due to Virginia's recent form at home and the continued absence of Duke's Ryan Kelly. In unrelated news, this weekend's foam party at the Duke PIKE house has been canceled due to lack of funds after a "shockingly big loss on what should've been a sure thing," according to fraternity treasurer Charles 'Chip' Willoughby Jr.
In case you were busy celebrating your big Oscars win by drunk-dialing Matt Damon and yelling, "How ’bout dem apples!" here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
Georgetown and Syracuse played their penultimate rivalry game as members of the Big East, with Georgetown getting the win at the Carrier Dome, 57-46. While they won't be members of the same conference much longer, the two schools both suggested the possibility of future games against each other. But let's get real; we all know how this ends up. For a month or two, they'll call each other every night. But slowly, Georgetown will find itself getting very close with Marquette, as they share a faith and a set of values. Syracuse, meanwhile, will plan to come down for a game in D.C., but they won't be able to make it due to a prior commitment in New York with Duke. And as things will get serious with Georgetown and Marquette (they had been saving themselves, after all), Syracuse will drunk-dial Georgetown and say things they don't mean about Allen Iverson, and Georgetown will throw the whole Gerry McNamara thing in Syracuse's face. The two schools won't be on speaking terms for years, as Syracuse, abandoned again, will wind up in a co-dependent and destructive relationship with UConn.
In Russia, Andrei Kirilenko says, there’s an old maxim about changing jobs every six years. He’s not sure where it comes from, but since 2008, it’s applied to even the office of the Russian president. It doesn’t matter who you are — six years, and it’s time for something new.
Maybe it’s that idea that makes Kirilenko describe his time in Utah as an overachievement, perhaps even an overstaying of his welcome. Today, there are 49 active NBA players who debuted in or before Kirilenko’s first season (2001-02), and in that span, those players have played for an average of 4.7 teams. Kirilenko was permitted 10 seasons in Utah, 726 games in the same uniform, and 711 of them for the same boss, Jerry Sloan.
By the end of Kirilenko's days in Salt Lake City, his stay had spoiled. When he returned to the NBA after spending last year’s lockout-shortened season in Russia, it had to be somewhere new. The Jazz had moved on, and Kirilenko knew it was time for him to do the same.