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Found 10 results

  1. “Aye, B-Good, after the game, how ‘bout we swap jerseys? Shorts, too!” “You’re a SNITCH!” Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap. “You’re a SNITCH!” The stands were empty on Monday afternoon. But don’t think the ghosts of State Farm Arena past weren’t haunting the soul of one D’Angelo Russell. The man is frustrated, and I’m a bit worried he could be hearing voices. And claps. There’s little wonder why Russell, the Snitch, resorted to playing The Snatch Game with Hawks forward De’Andre Hunter at the close of the Timberwolves’ 108-97 loss in Atlanta on Monday. On a Minnesota club sorely missing Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio and others, the team’s current top scorer is trying to show toughness and leadership. It just remains to be seen whether he knows exactly how. This wasn’t supposed to be his lot in life, not six seasons into a career that began as the NBA flagship Lakers’ #2 overall pick back in 2015. But then the kid discovered Snapchat, played around too much, and blew up roommate Swaggy P’s engagement with Iggy Azalea prematurely. Now, D’Angelo looks on with disgust, as the mantle of Point Guard of the Future to Play with Superstars in L.A. got passed on to Lonzo Ball and now to, of all people, Dennis Schröder. He made it worth his while in Brooklyn, earning an All-Star nod, although he couldn’t escape the wrath of the squawking Hawks faithful who jeered him into a 6-for-23 outing and a near-disastrous loss in March 2019. Today, it’s Kyrie standing in his place, as part of the newly formed Biggie 3. Golden State couldn’t wait to pair him up with Steph Curry while Klay Thompson healed up. Then, once Steph joined Klay on the shelf, the Warriors couldn’t wait to put out a flyer for Andrew Wiggins, who enjoys the occasional Curry dish still today. Playing with his buddy, Karl-Anthony Towns, in Minnesota was supposed to be fun. Alas, gloom has followed Russell here, too. Towns is fighting through a bout with COVID-19, a malady that has claimed a parent and multiple family members, while the duo plays for a head coach that has struggled to elude the shadow of his late father in the Twin Cities. 2020’s lottery luck brought them the #1 overall pick in Anthony Edwards, but coach Ryan Saunders and the Timberwolves have yet to show how the Ant-Man and Russell can mesh (minus-22.2 points per 100 possessions as a two-man combo, MIN’s second-lowest w/ 150+ minutes, as per bball-ref) without getting in each other’s way. With a single Jimmy Butler-inspired playoff appearance to show for the past 16 years (a series dominated, coincidentally, by Houston’s Clint Capela), and now one win to show for the past eleven games after a promising 2-0 start, the 2020-21 season already feels headed to that familiar sunken place for Wolves fans. Steady 20-plus-PPG scoring, with five-plus assists per game to boot, used to be enough to have major value and earn staying power in this league (Russell’s plus/minus of -11.8 per game is far-and-away the lowest of 24 NBA’ers meeting this threshold). Big multi-year extended contracts, like the one Timberwolves’ second-year GM Gersson Rosas inherited from Golden State by dumping Wiggins and possibly this year’s top-3-protected first-rounder for D’Angelo, used to be immobile, too. In 2021, Russell foresees himself, despite his soon-to-be $30 million annual deal, still getting passed around the league like a hot pierogi. He gets to watch other top scorers dictate precisely where they want to go, or, if they choose to stay, who they want coming to play with them. When they warn you repeatedly “Don’t Press Send!” on a stupid social media post, and you smash down the button anyway, your destiny as a professional is officially out of your hands. D’Angelo knows he must offer something else of positive value to change his career narrative. He’s not quite sure where that ray of sunshine is, which is why he’s out here grabbing at anything he can. That was much to the dismay of Hunter, who had to cling onto the final meaningless possession on Monday with D’Angelo draped on one arm, then jump-ball with a sore knee (like Cam Reddish, he’s still questionable to play today) while Russell’s shoes never bothered to lift from the floor, the guard whining about the quality of an unnecessary toss with the referee. The Hawks fans didn’t forget D’Angelo’s Snapchat misdeed, and he in turn couldn’t grow up enough to forget their taunts. He missed out on playing Atlanta at all last season, and he thought he’d offer up a touch of payback worth remembering, before the Hawks play their rematch tonight (8 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP), even though us fan-trolls are all now catcalling from the comforts of our Barcaloungers. If anything, Russell’s chicanery on Monday is already far less memorable than KAT giving our lowly Hawks shade, and then lots of buckets, following his late-night gaming escapade Gameboy Ben Simmons from that same month of 2018. For as infrequently as he faces the Hawks (nine games, fewest of any team he hasn’t already played for; 20.8 PPG w/ 43.8 FG%), D’Angelo would do well to make like Frozen and Let It Go. Trae Young is shooting the ball worst of anyone in the NBA’s current 20-and-5 Club (39.0 FG%, the only one lower than Russell’s 44.0%). But he’s maintained a franchise-face presence in Atlanta, a team that at least looks to have a play-in trajectory on paper, and I suspect that’s what really grinds D’Lo’s gears. That Young is getting to the line with ease and, aside from Wednesday, sinking them even easier, sticks in the craw of Russell (68.9 FT% on 3.5 attempts/game) almost as much. Trae’s Hawks do have 99 problems, but a Snitch, well, you know. In the decisive final seconds of regulation, as the shorthanded Hawks charged back from 17 points down in the second half to even things up with Detroit on Wednesday evening, Atlanta’s head coach Lloyd Pierce had Trae in the game. On defense. Young gave us his latest submittal as a DPOY nominee by staving off a hard-charging Jerami Grant under the rim, his help giving the recovering defender John Collins just enough time to erase the Piston star’s would-be game-winning layup attempt. The Hawks would go on to prevail, 123-115 in OT, and even their record to 7-7. In the decisive final seconds of regulation, after his team threatened to blow a 20-point home lead to the remnants of the Magic, and mere minutes after the Hawks’ victory, Russell was on the bench, a coaching decision made by Lil’ Flip just in case a swift defensive stop was needed. One was needed. Up by two with under five seconds to go, Jarred Vanderbilt clanked a pair of would-be game-clinching free throws, and Orlando’s Cole Anthony grabbed the long board and sprinted down the floor, delivering for his struggling Magic on a corner heave over Malik Beasley that had Greg Anthony looking like the proudest papa on NBATV’s Crunch Time. Instead of escaping with a sorely needed win, Minnesota fell to 3-10, still looking up at everyone in the Western Conference standings. Fortunately for Minnesota’s spirits, Rosas had just recently missed out on the opportunity to pass up on Cole Anthony. Almost one year ago, Atlanta’s PBO Travis Schlenk had handed him Brooklyn’s draft pick, the multi-team swap bringing the Hawks Capela (∞ points, ∞ boards vs. DET) while landing the T’wolves Beasley and, eventually, a reservation two spots behind Orlando in 2020’s Draft. (oooh, and speaking of suspected snitches, how about Evan Turner, as @NBASupes helpfully reminds us?) Rosas could have doubled up on top-20 first-rounders, much like Atlanta did in 2018 when they used Minny’s pick (wherever on Earth you are, blessings to you, Adreian Payne) to select Kevin Huerter (career-highs of 15.4 PPG, 50.7 2FG%, 84.6 FT%). With the #19 pick, perhaps the Wolves could have tried their luck with prospects like Precious Achiuwa, Saddiq Bey, or Tyrese Maxey. But Rosas wanted to bring back Ricky Rubio to the North Star State, a surefire fan draw in a season with no fans in the seats. Right now, Saunders and the T’wolves are up a creek, and neither Rubio (6.3 PPG, 38.1 FG% pre-quarantine) nor compadres Juan Hernangomez (health ‘n safety, likely out again today) and Towns, have been around lately to help Russell paddle. Minnesota’s maleficent malaise over the decades has involved a cycle of making the tough decisions to part with high-value talent, but not getting much more of value in return. From KG, to Al Jefferson, from K-Love, to Butler, and now Wiggins. Even though the Wolves are reluctant to pull the triggers, they make big, bold, blockbuster trades. They just can’t seem to win them. In Rosas’ turn at the wheel, it is beginning to appear as though that time is arriving again soon, with Russell and Atlanta-native Beasley in his sights as the league’s trade deadline nears. Just the slightest of winning runs puts their 2021 first-rounder in jeopardy (they gave up their own second-rounder, too, in the Wiggins deal), and at some point in the back end of this season, a healthy Towns and Rubio and a growing Edwards makes that risk very real. In the meantime, Rosas needs just what transpired this week. He needs Russell to ball out (31 points, 4 steals and 7 assists @ ATL, team-high 19 points, 6 assists and 2 blocks vs. ORL) enough to pump up his trade value, but not so much that he risks Minnesota losing out on a top-tier lottery pick. Same with Beasley, who threatens to join a 20-and-5 club of his own, too (career-highs of 19.2 PPG, 4.9 RPG). Ultimately, for Russell to improve the likelihood he winds up this summer with a bench-scoring-starved legitimate playoff contender, and not Sacramento, the hijinks are going to have to stop. No coach or GM, aside from maybe LeBron, is going to risk silliness sinking their championship voyages. D’Angelo is going to have to understand, every step he takes, every boneheaded play and/or video post he makes, some GM out there is secretly recording his every move. Should the Hawks fans he wants to Troll So Hard be the ones to break the news to him? Nah, we ought to keep it to ourselves, there's no need to risk stitches. Don’t press send, y’all! RIP, Hammerin’ Hank! Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  2. “HEY, PAL! RESPECT THE FLAG!” In the Capitol building in our District of Columbia, a United States Senator laid on the floor of the Senate chamber, unsure if this day would be his final one alive. He was swiftly losing consciousness, and his eyesight. He was being blinded by his own blood. The perpetrator of his assault: one Democratic congressman from the great state of South Carolina, armed with a thick, gold-tipped cane. Amidst an iconic, nearly 60-year-old Federal building constructed with incomparably cheap and skilled slave labor, in a new cameral wing built much the same, the Massachusetts Republican suffered blows from both the wood and the gold, all of which splintered onto the hallowed floor in a race with gobs of partisan bloodshed. Even as the cane broke apart across his head and body, he was unable to see from whence the next blows were coming. Stunned onlookers, members from both Houses of our Congress, rushed to intervene, only to be blocked by a Congressional ally of the assailant, one with a willfully violent reputation in the halls of Congress himself, and another Senator brandishing a cane… and a pistol… who demanded, “Let them be! Let them alone!” What unfurled here was no gentlemanly duel. The assailing Congressman, feeling publicly insulted by the Senator’s words towards a family member, sought to hunt down this man, in the Capitol, and deliver a taste of the irrepressible, irredeemable suffering felt through generations by untold numbers of slaves, individuals the colleague, ironically, hoped to one day free. Both inside and at all points south of the nation’s capital, there were Big Fans of the carnage Preston Brooks wrought upon Charles Sumner on that fine spring day in 1856. A Richmond newspaper editorial suggested Sen. Sumner, a self-styled “Radical” for advocating the end of slavery, should be “caned every morning.” “These vulgar abolitionists in the Senate,” the typography went on to insist, “have been suffered too long to run without collars. They must be lashed into submission.” Many non-witnesses believed Sumner and his fellow abolitionists were overselling the extent of his injuries in hopes of buying political sympathy. The golden splinters from Rep. Brooks’ cane were not collected as evidence in a trial. Rather, Southern lawmakers salvaged them, fashioned them into rings, and wore what Brooks would later describe as his “sacred relics” on neck chains, as a display of solidarity. Replacement canes from throughout the South arrived at his door, one in which was inscribed: “Hit him again.” When Sumner’s Massachusetts colleague dared to call Brooks’ brazen act, “brutal, murderous, and cowardly,” Brooks was again offended, this time challenging that Republican Senator to a duel (with pistols, not canes) that, thankfully, never materialized. He did face repercussions, eventually, for his actions. Arrested and brought to trial in a D.C. Court, Brooks was convicted, fined the equivalent of $8,500 for his assault on a fellow elected official, and was free to go without incarceration. In mid-July, mere months after the attack, he resigned from his post, thwarting House attempts at expulsion. By the first day of August, he was re-elected by South Carolinians in a special election, and deemed such a hero that a city in Florida, and a new county in neighboring Georgia, were quickly named that year in his honor (to this day, they still are). Brooks was back in the Capitol building by November. But he would live for only a couple months, done in by a nasty case of croup. The poor fellow. In his final days, he would see an empty Senate chair, left deliberately open by the Massachusetts delegation as a reminder of the effects of Southern American barbarism. One must note, his pistol-packing partner-in-crime, also from South Carolina, would not make it to the end of the Civil War, mortally wounded in battle on behalf of the Confederacy. But before his demise, two years after the cane assault, Lawrence Kiett would try to put hands on a colleague himself, in the Capitol. A Pennsylvania Republican was jeered by Kiett when he attempted to cross the aisle in the House of Representatives amid intense late-night debate in 1858. Kiett called his (White) political rival a “Black Republican puppy.” The gentleman from the Keystone State retorted: “No Negro-driver shall crack his whip over me.” Oh, NOW you’ve gone too far, sir. Mr. Kiett’s honor has been impugned! Kiett lunging at his fellow Congressman’s throat sparked a massive brawl of reportedly about 50 elected officials, ending only when a Mississippi rep’s hairpiece went flying as he dodged a punch, errantly placing it back upon his head upside down to uproarious laughter. Talk about flipping your wig! The Boys are back in town. Following Brooks’ lead, Kiett “resigned”, ran for his seat again as ratification for his conduct, and won re-election in South Carolina overwhelmingly. Back to Senator Sumner. What inexcusable, cane-invoking sin did he commit? African-Americans, and women of all races, lacked much of anything we would recognize as human rights today. But they were certainly easy fodder when politicos sought to rhetorically blast each other. Sumner and other abolitionists were mocked, particularly by Andrew Butler and Stephen Douglas (of Lincoln-Douglas Debates fame) with allusions that they found the Black woman alluring, thereby worthy of their heroism and, perish the thought, the prospect of interracial marriage. The slaveholder class were taking figurative jabs on the chin, too, as abolition advocates suggested their foes needed female slaves around to have someone around to satisfy their urge for non-consensual sex. Sumner was not so direct. As he argued fiercely on the Senate floor against permissible slaveholding in the bloody Kansas territories, Sumner invoked the invisible mistress of Don Quixote, the fictional hero who believed, as the tale goes, that he needed (the notion of) a female by his side, to be respected by his fellow male peers as one of chivalrous virtue. “Of course [Sen. Butler] has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him… I mean, the harlot, slavery.” Oh, snap! Rep. Brooks, Sen. Butler’s first cousin once removed and perhaps not as up on literary references as a distinguished gentleman might expect, indeed snapped. With some egging from Kiett, he set his plan for tilting at Sumner in motion. But for this heinous, bloody act, the Party of Lincoln might have become the Party of Sumner first. The Massachusetts senator suffered lingering effects from his injuries throughout the rest of his days, including what we now call PTSD. But he did see Messrs. Brooks and Kiett to their graves, as he returned, years later, to the Senate and became one of President Abraham Lincoln’s closest confidantes while their nation veered into internal war. Sumner specialized not merely on matters of abolition, but foreign affairs. He aided the President in negotiating tactics to keep the Brits and the French from meddling on behalf of what was by now the Confederate armed and naval forces. From the White House, Lincoln leaned on his Senatorial visitor, who he would come to describe as, “my idea of a bishop.” But Abe’s Congressional consultant would make clear that, for military and moral reasons, the POTUS could no longer cast illusions that emancipation for the slaves in states and territories, was not the central aim of the Union. But for Sen. Sumner, 1863’s Emancipation Proclamation, and the ensuing conclusion of civil conflict in 1865, might have been longer in coming, and to the credit of someone not rocking a beard and a top hat. A beneficiary of Sumner’s radical political activism (and survival), up to and over one century later, John Lewis wasn’t any more immune from a wooden stick. Or, a wooden crate. Beaten by random bone-breaking bigots as one of the original Freedom Riders in 1961 in Rock Hill, South Carolina, imprisoned in Mississippi’s notorious penitentiary for over a month, bashed with objects of wood, lead, steel, and stone throughout Alabama, law “enforcement” stood back and stood by, reluctant to intervene and eager to assist, not arrest, his and his party’s assailants. The spirit of Congressman Brooks lived on. There was nothing to suggest that a day might come where Lewis could enter the U.S. Capitol, not as an interloper making “trouble” for the forces of “order” of the day, but as a duly elected Congressperson, a United States Representative from the fine state of Georgia. It took a lot of slander and spite from his opposition to get there. But before any of that, Lewis had to personally overcome acts, and the omnipresent threat, of violence upon his person. The threats didn’t end once he reached the Capitol, either. But Rep. Lewis was inspired, propelled forward from his impressionable teens to his elderly grave, by something greater than the evil that men do. A fan of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. since he first heard him on the radio at age 15, Lewis would come to meet Rosa Parks and King in short order. After writing a letter to King about his being denied attendance at Alabama’s Troy University, Lewis’ hometown public college, he was invited to Montgomery to meet with King, warmly received as “The Boy from Troy.” Rather than risk the young man’s family coming under attack by suing the university system for discrimination (imagine weighing this public act at age 18), Lewis was advised by King to go to a Tennessee HBCU, to pursue his education, pursue his dreams of ministry, and bring forth King’s ideals of Non-violent Direct Action into being. Well before adopting his pastor father’s new Lutheran-inspired name in his twenties, a youthful Michael King spent his days hooping in a lot behind Fire Station No. 6 on Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue. Perfecting his set shot, the chances young Michael could grow up to make a living as a professional basketball player was up in the air. One thing that was out of the question – he could never aspire to work as a firefighter, not in this segregated station that sits mere yards down the street from his birth home. King would go on to change that narrative, not for himself, but for the new kids and young men like Lewis who looked up to him for guidance. What he came to espouse was the way of Non-violent Direct Action. But he would always urge his followers that a lot needs to occur, first, before conducting the sit-ins and boycotts that would seize the consciousness of this nation. The essential first step: by educating yourself, and questioning your sources of information, ensure that there is a legitimate issue worth addressing. Step 2: educate others about the issue at hand. Step 3: petition and negotiate with those likely to oppose you on the issue, seeking cooperation before making them out as arch enemies of your cause. Step 4: if those steps do not bring forth meaningful change, pursue Non-violent Direct Action. Our problem, learned through history and not just this month, is not just the preference to engage in Direct Action through violent means, but to simply hop right on over Step 1. What we love to do is to fanfic, LARP, and cosplay our way into crafting concerns out of thin air. Dressing up as the aggrieved and ingesting downside-up rhetoric (e.g., “George Wallace? David Duke? Pshh. John Lewis is The Real Racist!”), subversionary tactics trivialize the appeals by generations of people for whom “liberty”, “freedom”, and “justice” rarely apply equally. A full-throated industry today thrives by applying those patriotish labels to any manner of advocacy and defenses for policies and practices that objectively harm the disadvantaged, and against any measures remotely aiming to remedy them. For the privileged, the invocation and perpetuation of moral panic, futhering justification of violence, is a perfectly exhilarating way to pass the time. ‘Tis but a hobby, like macrame or cornhole, that one can share with their family and friends, only with symbols of intended intimidation and subjugation, rifles, ammo, bombs, and flowery shirts for a touch of fun. Onward, Boogaloo Soldiers! To “Freedom”! We will drive right past the re-purposed dead Walmart, with cages of adolescents cloaked under the guard of paid Federal agents and contractors, to insist that the real and present danger to the livelihood of children could be lurking in the new Super Walmart’s ladies room. Or, in a pizzeria basement in DC. Or, in a box from Wayfair that might’ve been disguised online as a $12,000 cabinet. Before we don our tricorne hats and shout through the bullhorn, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”, Step 1, people. “School choice!” we exclaim, while stripping publicly funded schools of the resources they need to be viable choices, while curling our lips when students who look like Anthony Edwards and De’Andre Hunter are offered seats in the private and charter schools we promoted after desegregation and conveniently “chose”. “Religious Freedom!”, we’ll insist, until a religious leader outside of the “Moral Majority” preaching about equality makes us fear conceding the fruits of privilege. “Respect the flag!”, until someone not fond of remedial busing policies (above) elects to use one to tenderize a Black passerby in the streets. “Honor the Troops! Back the Blue!”, we demand, until it’s time to back a retired military member and police officer up the Capitol steps in the hunt for politicians we’ve been told we must despise, until it’s time to bash an officer with a Back The Blue flag for standing in the way while we play our racist reindeer games. “Stop the Thugs!” we declare when it’s the shattered glass and looted property at the College Football Hall of Fame gift shop that gives us pause. Not so much when the shards fall from the many doors and windows of the nation’s legislative branch. Those thugs, we are assured, are instead divinely empowered patriots. The Subversive Word of the Month is “Unity”. After the failed Capitol coup ten days ago, the individuals who Capitol-ized their careers on fabrications over America’s voting and election processes, items never their concern when gerrymandering and “How Many Jelly Beans Are In The Jar?” was on the table, now want “unity” with colleagues targeted, by those the individuals ginned up by leaping over Step 1. “Hey, you election fraudster you, sorry we were within minutes of possibly getting zip-tied and hanged by folks wrapping their bigotry in red, white, and blue while reeking of AXE Body Spray and Skoal. Let’s come together and put this anger and division behind us!” If you brought anger and division to, and through, the front door, you don’t get to stand inside the house pleading for unity. Our Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves play this afternoon (2:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP, NBA TV) on what is billed as the first of four “Unity Nights”. Unlike those who would deem votes cast at State Farm Arena and throughout the Peach State as suspicious and illegal because they didn’t get the result they enjoyed four years before, these calls for “unity” are sincere and founded in facts, not fan fiction. “A Call for Unity” was exactly what ministers in Birmingham were pleading of Dr. King and civil rights leaders in a 1963 newspaper editorial, after boycotts, marches and picketing were well underway in the city center. Unity wasn’t sought to correct the systemic denial of employment and fair wages to Black citizens, not when the desegregation of a middle-class neighborhood led to bombings so frequent the place was nicknamed, “Dynamite Hill,” not when leaders responded to desegregation orders by closing parks and public facilities outright, not when leaders complaining of the violence would find their homes, businesses and houses of worship bombed in turn. Dr. King could not pick up a paper on the day of the editorial, because he was locked away in a Birmingham jail. It was here, from his cell, where he responded with, “Why We Can’t Wait,” a letter that began on the margins of the newspaper he was handed. Responding to claims of being the impatient outsider and agitator of the movement, King asserted that, in stepping to him but not their oppressive local leaders, the ministers had glossed over Step 1. His presence, as an American citizen invited to help the disenfranchised peacefully pursue purported ideals of justice and equality, in the face of decidedly non-peaceful government-endorsed and extra-judicial violence, was not the problem. Agitators convinced these ministers to errantly believe that King, and civil rights leaders, were The Real Agitators. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” “Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds,” and “justice too long delayed is justice denied,” were among King’s scribbled responses that struck at the heart of the true matter. Another of his Greatest Hits: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Having spent decades studying the issues on religious, academic, political and social grounds, King stood firmly on Step 1. He educated others on the issue, and he and his followers advocated through peaceful pleas. No shortcuts allowed. No one of sound mind and heart in Birmingham budged, not until after King, Fred Shuttlesworth, Ralph David Abernathy and others had reached Step 4. By 1963, the Civil Rights Movement had ample reason to Stand Their Ground, employing Non-Violent Direct Action to foster the “tension,” among the otherwise comfortable, needed to bring meaningful negotiation to the fore. 58 years later, a Texas leader who took cover just hours before returning to the Capitol grounds, in the wee small hours of the morning, had come across a new issue worth literally fighting for: the folks we cast as fraudsters stealing our election our calling us out as liars! Oh, snap! How dare they? It was fitting that as he charged at his accuser, he was stopped cold in his tracks by a former NFL player named Colin. This African-American footballer decided long ago he could not simply, “Stick to Sports!”, and ran successfully for Congress. From Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, and Jim Brown, to the athletic heroes of the present day, sportsmen have long been entwined, sometimes wittingly, usually not, in the aspirations of politicians. Sometimes as the lightning rod, other times as the chastening rod. The very night before Election Day, on a bitter cold night in a swing state, the Commander-in-Chief was out of ideas to energize the crowd and boost his deflating poll numbers. With no prompting, no rationale, he thought he had his finger on the problem. A no-good, do-gooder athlete from the swing state next door. “How about basketball? How about LeBron? I felt very bad for LeBron, very badly, down 71 percent,” espoused dear leader, assuming his shivering crowd was as up to speed on Nielsen ratings as his own approval ratings. “I didn’t watch one shot… you know why? When they don’t respect our country, when they don’t respect our flag, nobody wants to watch!” This was his best effort at a closing argument to keep his job. He got the “LeBron James Sucks!” balloon inflated among the rally-goers. But he lost the swing state, and lost the election. Mr. President slipped past Step 1, on many fronts; now, he cannot fathom stepping aside, especially to a political rival he tormented, and to the African-American who will serve next in line. He pivoted quickly to Pied Piper-ing his followers to the next “issue”: people who look more like LeBron than him, casting the decisive ballots in that state and others, like Georgia. On the eve of runoff Senate elections this month, he made his last stand alongside a gubernatorially-handpicked Senator who alienated her WNBA employees by publicly criticizing their demonstrations over police brutality in hopes of political gain. She lost, too. “How about basketball?” We will lean on, and prop up the likes of Jim Bunning, Herschel Walker, Reggie White, David Tyree, John Rocker, Curt Schilling, Josh Hader, and stand for their First Amendment rights if they espouse views we wholeheartedly agree with. Otherwise, the rest are ordered to Shut Up and Dribble, unless we absolutely need them to quell unrest or further our own political aims. We’re told votes for folks like Colin Allred, the former Tennessee Titan who upended a 22-year congressman in Texas, might be illegal and must be investigated with the highest of scrutiny. The system wasn’t designed or jiggered for folks like him to be our representatives; clearly, there’s some “issue” here! There is an issue, it’s just not the ones we craft to make our bigotry comfortable. In the early hours of January 7th, Rep. Allred’s most pressing issue was the exposed colleague from the other side of the aisle who, rather than deal with his own exposure, tried in vain to pull a Rep. Brooks on the Pennsylvania colleague who impugned his character. At least this time, unlike 1856, a duly elected Black citizen could stand in the way, rather than being castigated to the margins of society, as privileged noblesse dueled over his family’s fates. “Haven’t you had enough violence today?”, Allred asked of the would-be assailant. Indeed. Amid the cane-rattling, Rep. Brooks likely didn’t care to notice how the Capitol of his day was under expansion. Above him and his victimized subject, Sen. Sumner, with the assistance of slave labor, a new ellipsoidal dome was underway. The iconic structure would soon be topped by The Statue of Freedom. One highly skilled slave, Philip Reid, was paid $1.25 per day over the course of nearly a year to cast and plan the transport of the statue. Reid would be emancipated in 1862, shortly before the statue that stands tall today was placed in its permanent spot. Under that statue-topped dome, a man who John Lewis gave his first internship as a teenager will soon be checking in for work. Georgia’s first Jewish senator will be joined on that day by a reverend who would come to caretake the Ebenezer Baptist congregation the late Rev. Dr. King left behind. Their pending introductions as United States Senators will be more than poetic. She was one of 15 protestors rousted up and zip-tied under Georgia’s state capitol rotunda in 2018, back when voter suppression was simply the way to play the game, and when “Every Vote Counts!” chants while standing peacefully in the building was an illegal obstruction worthy of detention. Then a Georgia state senator, Nikema Williams will be awaiting Jon Ossoff’s and Raphael Warnock’s arrival from the other chamber of Congress, having won the late Rep. Lewis’ House seat. Those who will propel our society and this nation forward, and not into a descension of interpersonal violence and brooding despair, are those who don’t sit idly by, those who speak truth to power, but who are also are well-versed on true issues, not scare tactics, misinformation, nor threats and acts of violence for the sake of sustaining imbalanced order in one’s own favor. When you’re armed with truth, no canes, gallows, flag poles or fists are necessary. Like Sen. Sumner, Dr. King and Congressman Lewis, some of Georgia’s newest entrants headed to work beneath our Statue of Freedom understood that to reach solid ground, and to stand genuinely and heroically for us all, you must first work your way through Step 1. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  3. “Not quite fishes ‘n loaves, but maybe I can feed the masses with slices!” Ryan Cameron was saving the best for last. The Hawks’ hype-man announcer cycled through all the usual names at the player intros for the Atlanta Hawks’ Tip-Off 2011 fan event – Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachuuuuuliaaaaa, J-Smoove, J-J-J-J-Joe Johnson. Some familiar faces in new places – Tracy McGrady, Jerry Stackhouse. The odd ones, too – Vladimir Radmanovic, Magnum Rolle, Ivan Johnson, Donald Sloan. Fans clapped politely, but Cameron knew, they were saving their energies. Due to the Lockout, fans had waited seven months to celebrate their newest savior. “Hawks fans, here he is,” Cameron piped up, as fans stood up on their feet without any need for prompting, “your breakout star from the 2011 Playoffs… JEFF TEAGUE!” Josh Smith’s three-point block to end the Hawks’ first-round hex, back in April of that year, had Atlanta’s playoff crowd in a frenzy, and Joe certainly had his moments of tricky-dribble, big-shot grandeur. But the Pop level inside Philips Arena, even at half-capacity, hadn’t been this loud for anyone in years, not since a young Zaza and Al were running the bloviating Celtics out of town on a rail. Certainly, not at the outset of a new season. “Jeff Teague will do.” That was the lukewarm sentiment for the 21-year-old rookie a decade ago, whenever Mike Woodson needed to spell a well-worn Mike Bibby during one-sided affairs. Also, from fans who really wanted a Jrue Holiday or a Ty Lawson to fall to the Hawks in 2009’s Draft, or for the team to boldly trade up for international teen dream Ricky Rubio, or Brandon Jennings, that Curry kid, or a real sure-shot, like Tyreke Evans. Teague’s no Jonny Flynn, many draftniks thought. But he’ll do. Mike Bibby got traded away so Kirk Hinrich could guide Larry Drew’s Hawks into the postseason. It worked, in the first round upset of the Magic. But then, Hinrich got hurt, so… I suppose, we’ll just make-do with Jeff Teague. No one, least of all the top-seeded Bulls, was ready for the stretches where Teague was going bucket-for-bucket with the league’s MVP, Derrick Rose. Jeff never led the Hawks in scoring, but it was his fearlessness on the court that grabbed all the attention during the six-game series. His valiance earned him the praise of critics and fans alike, as well as a permanent starting spot on a playoff-caliber roster that seemed unfathomable months before. We don’t tank enough to get our hands on the D-Roses of the world, so pulling for Jeff will have to do. It would be several years, and several seasons of first-round exits, before Teague would draw audible adulation at the scale he received on that wintry 2011 day. At the height of the very, merry month of January 2015, he stripped an emerging MVP candidate point guard, Russell Westbrook, at mid-court and raced to the cup to seal the win during a rare nationally televised game at Philips Arena. His latest Hawks coach, Mike Budenholzer, and the staff had Teague’s bug eyes lighting up like Ember Moon’s, and the guard’s stewardship during Atlanta’s legendary, month-long undefeated campaign made his credentials, and those of three teammates, impossible for All-Star-voting coaches to ignore. Alas, it would not be much longer before Hawks fans would say, “Jeff Teague will have to do, until Dennis Schröder is ready to take over.” Teague never could elevate his performance, or his team, to coast above the landmines laid by LeBron over the years. But he was good enough to get his teams into postseasons. For teams like the Indiana Pacers, who were doing all they could to cling to superstar Paul George, and for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who needed a veteran presence on a palatable deal to caddy for their young upstarts, Playoff Teague would do, just fine. “He’s no Rubio,” Wolves fans would mutter upon his arrival in the Twin Cities. “But he’ll do.” In the nine NBA seasons, and eight years of postseason appearances, that began with him Wally Pipp’ing Captain Kirk in the 2009 Playoffs, Jeff has started in all but six games. The only player on the Timberwolves that was born before that franchise’s first-ever NBA game, Teague graces his old court tonight, facing his old fans and his old team (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP), with the clear knowledge that this is his final season as a full-time starter in the league. New Wolves exec Gersson Rosas understands that, to his fanbase, Jeff Teague in the starting lineup for 2020-21 won’t do, not any longer. Teague will be a free agent, anyhow, as the flat three-year, $19 million annual deal he signed with his hometown Pacers in 2017 is set to expire this summer. But going forward, Teague will enter 2020’s free agent market as a 32-year-old whose best value is as a handsomely-paid reserve and emergency valve. Teams that would consider wheeling and dealing with Rosas, beginning in mid-December as the trade market expands, wouldn’t plan on acquiring Teague, as a starter, to eke them into the postseason. Particularly, given the downturn in Jeff’s production and reliability over the past season plus. Injuries beleaguered Teague into missing half of last season with Minnesota (36-46, 11th in the West), while his 52.8 TS% and .085 WS/48, 12.1 PPG and 1.0 SPG were the lowest values since his second year biding his time on Atlanta’s bench. Still, whenever Ryan Saunders could have turned to Rose, Jeff’s fateful teammate last season, as a starter at the 1-spot, Minnesota’s head coach decided that Teague, when healthy, would do just fine. And Teague remains a steady source for assists, as exhibited by his 7.7 APG this season (t-8th in NBA). His 35.4 assists per 100 possessions currently ranks 5th among PGs, a shade behind Rubio’s 35.7. He still has his moments of prominence, like the season-high 21-point, 11-assist effort last Monday to help Minnesota top their division rivals in Utah. A trio of his dimes for three-point buckets, two to Wolves All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns (career-highs of 26.4 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 59.0 2FG%, 44.9 3FG%), plus six points of his own in the closing seven minutes, helped the Wolves pull away in the clutch. But the “Teague-over” flashes are fewer and farther apart, the victory in SLC being the sole win for Minnesota (8-8, 8th in NBA West) in their past five games. Ignoring his middle name of Demarco, frustrated T-Wolf fans have taken to initializing their starting ballhandler as “JFT”, and the F doesn’t stand for “Flash.” They’d love for Jeff to go to town(s) feeding Karl-Anthony even more, especially inside (9.8 paint points per-48 for Towns, less than Trae Young’s 10.0 and Damian Jones’ 10.2; 20.0 Roll-Man possession percentage, lowest among bigs with at least 4 such possessions per game). In fairness to them both, it’s tough to get Minnesota’s offense flowing (105.7 O-Rating, 24th in NBA, one spot ahead of Atlanta’s 105.4) when they’ve got Andrew wiggin’ out. There have been few high-usage, low-efficiency, low-production players more notorious than Andrew Wiggins, but the good news is that last season’s play (career-lows of 49.3 TS% and 12.4 PER), so far, looks like the nadir. Wiggins’ current 28.6 usage% is insanely high, but he is pouring in a career-high 25.2 PPG (14th in NBA), taking jumpers closer to the basket (19% of shots being 2FGAs beyond 10 feet, down from 30% last year and 39% in 2016-17), while threatening to exceed a 2-to-1 assist-turnover ratio. Saunders has encouraged Wiggins to take better shots and make wiser decisions with the basketball in his hands. But the trade-off has been Teague (2-for-9 FGs and 6 assists in the Jazz-Wolves rematch at Target Center just two days later, an 8-point loss) resorting to reticence, and the 6-foot-11 Towns (9.1 3FGAs/game, 8.4 2FGAs/game) parking at the 3-point arc. Injuries have sapped Minnesota’s depth lately, although they will be glad to have Robert Covington (missed Saturday’s 100-98 home loss to Phoenix due to bereavement) back in the starting lineup. Forward Jake Layman has been out with a toe injury, and guard Shabazz Napier (hammy) is doubtful to return to action tonight, while Josh Okogie (knee) and Treveon Graham (forearm) are listed as questionable. You’d be forgiven if you saw the shooting splits of 36.7/28.1/34.5 (yes, the latter is free throws) and concluded that Cam Reddish’s offense was already a lost cause. Those are the present numbers for a highly hyped lottery pick from last year’s Draft. Only those belong not to Reddish, but to Jarrett Culver, the shooting guard taken four picks earlier by Phoenix to send to Minnesota in a Draft-night trade deal. Hawks fans already know it would be premature for anyone to look at Cameron Johnson’s early sweet-shooting exploits with the Suns and brand the Culver deal as some huge, franchise-defining draft mistake. Not that anyone would resort to such things. In a rematch of sorts from the National Championship game, Culver will get to see, from the Hawks’ De’Andre Hunter (last 3 games: 23.7 PPG, 55.6 3FG%), that it won’t take much to turn a corner. He can also look to Reddish himself. Much maligned for being lost on the offensive end of the floor, Reddish has scored in double digits in his past three games (14.0 PPG, a less-scary 39.5 FG%), and went 3-for-3 on triples against the Bucks. Probable to play after a sprained wrist caused him to miss a couple games, Cam, like Culver, stays on the floor because of his defensive utility. Rosas bid adieu to the likes of Rose and Dario Saric, then acquired Napier and Culver to join a returning Covington and Josh Okogie, in hopes of strengthening the defense around Towns and Wiggins (career-high 1.2 BPG). The results are increasingly promising as the Wolves held the Jazz and Suns below 105 points and 41 percent shooting (a season-low 34.4 FG% for Phoenix, who won anyway) in each of the past three games. With Covington back in the fold, it may just be a matter of somebody properly commandeering the offense. Jeffrey? The New Breed of floor leaders that teams prefer running the show are either zippy and splashy, a la Trae (4-for-11 3FGs in his triple-double vs. MIL, after a 7-for-33 run the prior 5 games), strong and aggressive, crafty and creative, or, in many cases, hardly a traditionally trained guard at all. Jeff doesn’t fall neatly into any of those boxes. But what he can be, either next year or by this winter’s Trade Deadline, is an upgrade over the league’s current class of backup veteran ballhandlers. Teague’s current salary is a bit too steep for a backup PG, but that would also be the case for Atlanta’s current stopgap, Evan Turner, an opponent Teague delightfully toyed with in the 2015 Playoff series with the Pacers, who presently gets paid under a million dollars less while doing nearly a million things less. Young has been, and will continue to be, fantastic on many occasions in Atlanta. But for the Hawks (4-12) to eventually get out from under the NBA’s doormat, in the years to come, they’ll need a veteran backup for Trae who is not a defensive sieve, and/or for whom risk aversion is a positive asset. If Jeff Teague saves his next contract for his last one, you know what? He just might do. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3
  4. Looks like SOMEBODY got everything they wanted! Still on the road, so nothing fancy for tonight’s contest between the Atlanta Hawks and the Minnesota Timberwolves (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP). No Dwight (back), but Junior (groin) is probable, upgraded from earlier today. Atlanta (15-15) hopes to stretch their ref-aided road winning streak to five, and get a measure of payback in Minnesota (9-21). The Wolves dropped to 5-10 on the road with a 112-100 Christmas Night loss in OKC, but their record at the Target Center has been even more off-target (4-11). Hopefully, the Hawks play with more energy than they showed (also without Dwight) during their 92-84 loss at Philips Arena last Wednesday, especially in the opening half (Wolves 49-44) and the final quarter (Wolves 25-15). Kris Humphries could be key for the Hawks to avoid getting thoroughly outrebounded by Minnesota as they were last week (52-35) in Atlanta. Coach Tom Thibodeau only played eight Wolves last week, and expect a short roster again tonight, after 11 players saw action last night. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  5. …and starring Danny McBride in, “TOM THIBODEAU: The Wonder Years!” No, the Suns are not terrorizing opponents. But lately, they have been tenderizing them, in advance of upcoming games versus the Atlanta Hawks. Phoenix was the warm-up act for Oklahoma City over the past weekend, ahead of Atlanta’s Monday night thriller. As the Hawks were hanging on for dear life in OKC, the Suns had Minnesota Timberwolves fans biting their nails with the Suns, just days before their team headed south to visit Atlanta (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP). Will the Hawks offer themselves up as the entrée, following Minnesota’s appetizer? Or will Atlanta finally treat the fans who bothered to show up to a holiday feast? Despite winning four of their last six overall, the Hawks (14-14) continue giving increasingly skeptical fans at the Strobelight Factory less and less reason to desire a return visit. Despite the halftime entertainment on tap at the end of this month, since mid-November Atlanta has performed at home exactly the way you might expect of a battle rapper named “Juzt 1 Chain”… half-baked efforts versus semi-serious competition, leading to one lonely W among the last six games in their own building. It’s hard enough to get amped about heading downtown to see the Hawks during these wintry eves. It’s even harder when one considers the prospect that they might get shown up on their own floor by the likes of low-draw teams like New Orleans, Detroit, Orlando, and Charlotte. This is literally the Ish Smith Phase of the home schedule, yet the Hawks have been falling woefully short. Never mind 2 Chainz. Keep losing at home to teams like Minnesota in mid-week, and it’ll take 2Pac crawling out from his grave just to fill up Philips’ lower bowl. Atlanta’s not the only NBA team struggling to keep their own fans enlivened and engaged, though. The Wolves have the past two Rookies of the Year in Karl-Anthony Towns (22.3 PPG, 11.1 RPG; 28&15 vs. PHX) and Andrew Wiggins (22.0 PPG, 38.4 3FG%). They can boast of a highlight-reel-making dunkster who is just beginning to round out his offensive game in Zach LaVine (20.8 PPG, 38.1 3FG%, 86.2 FT%). They have a still fresh-faced point guard in Ricky Rubio (3.5 assist/turnover ratio) with an even fresher-faced backup, lotto rookie Kris Dunn, waiting in the wings. On top of all that, they’ve got a new head coach in Tom Thibodeau, who won at least 45 games during all five seasons in his last NBA stop. None of that brimming potential has translated into win streaks (a win tonight would give them two in a row for the first time this season), or turnstiles turning, for Minnesota. Sorry, Hawks fans, but it’s not looking too hot for that extra first-round draft pick in 2017, the one that cost us (“cost” may not be the proper word here) forward Adreian Payne. With the Wolves sitting at 8-19 (3.5 games behind division rival Portland; 1.5 games above the basement) and the Western Conference playoff picture calcifying by the day, it’s likely the lotto-protection on Minnesota’s first-rounder will simply carry over to 2018. As often suggested previously, if the Wolves (zero playoff games since 2004) aren’t handing over this pick by 2020, the NBA franchise with the worst home-percentage attendance (outside of cavernous Auburn Hills) may have to relocate to Fargo, or perhaps the Corn Palace. It’s not like Atlanta needs to help them relinquish the pick, though, with losses tonight and next Monday in Minneapolis. And it isn’t like they’re not trying earnestly to get it to us. In order, here are your top seven NBA teams in Net Rating efficiency during the FIRST halves of their games: Warriors, Clippers, Cavs, Raptors, Timberwolves, Rockets, Spurs… wait, the Timberwolves? One of these things is not like the other! Why are all the other teams ranging from 12-to-21 games above-.500, while Minnesota sticks out like a sore thumb, at 11 games below a break-even mark? Pulling that off literally requires the league’s worst SECOND half rating and, indeed, the Wolves have been achieving that (minus-13.4 2nd-half net rating). That includes a 112.1 D-Rating (worst in NBA, not counting OTs) in back halves of games. In Houston over the weekend, they were enjoying a nine-point lead in the last minute of regulation before D’Antoniball happened, the Wolves done in by James Harden’s 10 points in OT. Minnesota’s opponents are treated to 15.3 free throw shots per game (2nd-most in NBA, ahead of just the aforementioned Suns) in the third and fourth quarters, while shooting 38.7% on threes (2nd-highest in NBA, barely ahead of Dallas’ 38.8 opponent 3FG%). You’d be waning, too, if your ears had to endure the dulcet tones of Coach Thibs for 48 minutes per night, plus locker room banter, plus practice runs. [WARNING: Unwavering Sam Mitchell Apologist talking!] Thibodeau was brought on to immerse this youthful bunch in the Dark Arts of Pick-and-Roll NBA defense. The Wolves are impressionable, and it’s impossible for their coach to ever be tuned out (believe me, I’ve tried; the mute button is overrated). But his team, by design, is not yet instinctive. He hollers “BLUE!”, and they start looking around for Mr. Edwards. Thibodeau was a raving success at his prior locales, in Boston (as an assistant) and Chicago (as the head honcho). But young pupils like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Kevin Garnett literally walked in the door with some defensive aptitude. Not so with these young pups; Gorgui Dieng and Cole Aldrich are the closest thing to experienced defensive savants Minnesota has to offer. A defensive mindset has to be hammered home, and Thibs brings the vocal sledgehammer to every opponent possession. On the floor, Minnesota’s not looking to Rubio, or KAT, or Dunn, to quarterback the defense. They’re receiving and interpreting instructions like a first-time IKEA furniture purchaser. The anticipation of what their coach is about to bark, and the reaction times needed for processing the directives, leaves them a step too slow against opposing pro offenses, especially when the game shifts to the final quarters. [/WARNING] Tonight’s game will be a test to see how much the Hawks have learned about their own resiliency, specifically when opponents go on runs in their house. Against visitors like the Pelicans (66 first-half points), Magic (72 first-half points) and Pistons (58 first-half points), Hawks players abandoned many of Coach Mike Budenholzer’s gameplans, resigned to tipping their caps while pumping up personal stats with iso-ball, in attempts to scurry behind boxscores after the games. The Wolves are going to sprint and leap and play their tender hearts out in the first half. Will we see a different response from Atlanta during, and after, Minnesota’s attempts to string buckets together? Dwight Howard (back) remains questionable for tonight’s contest, and his ability to contain Towns from putting up mouthpiece-spewing numbers would be beneficial to Atlanta’s cause. Only 21, Towns has deft footwork in and around the paint, reminding yours truly [WARNING: Exaggerated Equivalency Ahead!] of peak Al Jefferson. But unlike Big Al, this young Wolf is blessed with superior range and hops, and less of an affinity for Popeye’s. [/WARNING]. Towns will likely switch off with Dieng to defend whichever is the cooler Hawk among Howard and Paul Millsap (30 points, 11 boards at OKC on Monday), in hopes of averting foul trouble. Along with Dieng, the league’s third-best offensive rebounding team (NBA-high 16.0 second-chance PPG) is likely to crash the glass when Howard isn’t patrolling, and Towns will try his wares at three-point shooting (34.0 3FG%, 36.4% on the road) when Hawk defenders don’t properly account for him. Wiggins’ improving jumpshot (also 40.0 2FG% from 16 feet out) has added a second dimension to his contributions (scoring, and not much else) on the floor. The long-distance shooting comes at the expense of his ability to post up fellow wings, something Maple Jordan (then-career-best 33 points in his last visit to Atlanta, in November 2015) could exploit against Kent Bazemore or backup guard Kyle Korver. Wiggins is, however, likely to stray off his assignments when on defense, while LaVine often gets caught anticipating his next highlight-reel offensive play. Baze needs to exploit that by continuing to attack the paint and make plays, as he did in OKC (4-for-7 2FGs, 6 assists) on Monday. It’s a similar deal for Kyle (6 assists, including the game-winning dime to Paul Millsap; 2-for-4 3FGs vs. OKC), who continues to look for other open shooters even as he strains to find daylight along the three-point line. Dennis Schröder (31 points, 10-for-10 FTs, 8 assists vs. OKC) must execute plays quickly and force the pace of play at both ends, disallowing the Wolves from getting comfortable in halfcourt battles. He needs to be ready to attack just as Minnesota defenders adjust to the siren song of their head coach’s demands, but avoid the crafty hands of Rubio, whose team-high 1.5 SPG is currently a career-low. Turnovers are never so much a problem when you’re averaging 20.6 PPG and 7.7 APG with shooting splits of 53.8/50.0/88.2 in a calendar month, values Schröder has been producing in December. But the Hawks will want to ensure his turnovers (3.1 TOs/game this month, down from 3.3 in prior games) do not translate into easy offense for Minnesota at the other end. Forwards Thabo Sefolosha and Millsap have to run the floor to keep Wiggins, Towns and LaVine from making quick transition sprints to the other hoop. Atlanta’s beleaguered bench must step things up several notches, and there’s no better outfit to show improvements against than the underutilized Timberwolves (league-low 13.9 minutes per game by reserves). Especially when pitted against the likes of Shabazz Muhammad, Aldrich and Nemanja Bjelica, plus-performances by Tim Hardaway, Jr., Korver, and Mike Muscala are essential to take pressure off the Atlanta starters. Right now, Bob Rathbun could be a better option than Mike Manbun (last 5 games: 86 minutes, 1.6 D-Rebs per game) when it comes to securing boards. The 6-foot-11 Muscala has only two more defensive rebounds on the season than Dennis, and that stat needs to change, stat. Whether it’s Lou or Marvin Williams, Hawks fans have had enough of the ex-Hawk Makes Good tour routinely coming through Philips Arena. If anybody is talking about Adreian Payne’s evening by game’s end, it’s going to be just another long night at the Factory. Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  6. “Olivia is OURS, KG! No, you can’t have her back!” The scene: Sacramento, California. The Minnesota Timberwolves are kicking off yet another horrific season on the wrong foot. This was after becoming the first NBA team to have lost 60 or more games in its past four seasons. Tom Gugliotta and Sam Mitchell, in particular, are having terrible shooting nights at raucous ARCO Arena. The long face on head coach Bill Blair was evident to assistant Randy Wittman. It’s only Game 1, but enough was enough. Trying to keeping the deficit close, Blair (replaced, a few weeks later, by Kevin McHale’s former college teammate and handpicked general manager, Flip Saunders) has the presence of mind to turn to his newest player off the bench: a raw, wiry lottery talent fresh from a Chicago high school named Kevin Garnett, who makes all four of his shots and keeps the T’wolves in contention. On that day, Teen Wolf was officially introduced to the NBA world. The date: November 3, 1995. Twelve days later in New Jersey, Karl-Anthony Towns was officially introduced to the entire world. As a newborn. Fast forward, to November 9, 2015. Tom Gugliotta is a part-time TV analyst for one of the hottest teams in the NBA, the Atlanta Hawks. Due to the unfortunate passing of Flip Saunders, Sam Mitchell is elevated from assistant coach to head coach, full time. And Kevin Garnett and Karl-Anthony Towns share the frontcourt in the starting lineup for the Timberwolves (3-2), who are in Philips Arena (8:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports South) looking to improve to 4-0 on the road this season, while stopping the Hawks (7-1) from enjoying an eighth consecutive NBA victory. Much like their silver-and-black two-tone wolf-head logo, the contrast between youth and experience on the Minnesota roster is striking. At one end of the spectrum, there’s Garnett, the 39-year-old former league MVP, who has yet, intentionally, to score more than four points in a game. There’s 35-year-old Tayshaun Prince, who starts at small forward and hasn’t scored much more than KG. There’s the 32-year-old Kevin Martin, who leads the team in scoring (18.8 PPG) despite getting relegated to the reserves unit by Mitchell in the preseason. He’s likely to play tonight after missing Minnesota’s last contest, a win over the Bulls, on personal leave. The perpetually injured 300-pounder Nikola Pekovic is on the verge of 30 years of age. In case of a point guard emergency, you can always break the glass for Andre Methuselah Miller, two months older than the cagey KG. At the other end, you’ve got Towns, the Wolves’ second-straight rookie to be drafted first overall in the NBA Draft. A Teen Wolf himself for just six more days, the center (3.0 BPG, 4th in NBA; 9.6 RPG) is already making a strong impression out of the gate. Six months his senior is Andrew Wiggins, the reigning NBA rookie of the year, who joins Towns as part of the future class of NBA mega-stars. The spotlight has waned on Ricky Rubio (9.2 APG, 2nd in NBA, 2.2 SPG), once a hyped teen prospect himself from his Euro exploits. But the Timberwolves’ floor leader is only 25 in his fifth NBA campaign. Rubio joins Gorgui Dieng (a disciple of Team Africa assistant Mike Budenholzer over the summer), former Hawk rookie Adreian Payne, Shabazz Muhammad, Zach LaVine, and Towns’ fellow first-rounder Tyus Jones as members of Minnesota’s 25-and-under youth corps. Straddling the fence, there are middle-aged newcomers in the mix. Croatian 29-year-old Damjan Rudez (DAH-moe RAH-desh, just like it looks) returns for his second NBA season after getting thrown to the small-w wolves as a member of the Paul George-less Pacers in 2014-15. Serbian 27-year-old Nemanja Bjelica (NEH-mahn-ya BYELL-ett-sah, phonetically similar to “booyikah booyikah”) finally comes across the pond after winning Euroleague MVP for Turkish power Fenerbahce. This team was carefully crafted by Saunders, who guided a gravity-defying Garnett and the T’wolves through eight consecutive playoff-bound seasons from 1997 through 2004 (Minnesota has had none since). Flip returned in 2013 to lead the team, first from the front office as GM, and then back along the sidelines a year later. Pekovic and Rubio are the only holdovers preceding the second regime of Saunders, who handed both players contract extensions in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Saunders built this racecar, but after succumbing to cancer in October, it’s been left to GM Milt Newton and Mitchell to steer it to long-awaited success. Outside of maybe Salt Lake City, you’ll find no existing NBA head coach more reverent of what Mike Budenholzer is accomplishing in Atlanta than Mitchell. Sam was a radio commentator for the Hawks Radio Network and an NBATV analyst during Budenholzer’s maiden campaign in 2013-14, and was effusive in praise throughout the downs and ups of that season. An assistant gig in Atlanta never materialized for the Columbus, Georgia native and former Mercer star. But in the summer of 2014, the 2007 NBA Coach of the Year got the call from Saunders to head north and join him (plus ex-Wolves coach and Flip confidant Sidney Lowe, and Flip’s son, assistant coach Ryan Saunders) on the sideline. It’s a tall order for anyone tasked with mixing youth and inexperience into an NBA rotation and producing instant success on the floor. Yet Mitchell happily turns to his cadre of codgers to guide and instruct the youngsters in the starting unit, among the reserves, on the bench and in the locker room. None more so than the man who remains the franchise face. "He tells them everyday, at this point in his career, it's about them, not him," Mitchell said, as reported by USA Today. "I wouldn't trade him off this team for nothing in the world." "They're just so encouraging for the young guys. They just give so much knowledge," Smitch said of his vets. "It's one thing as coaches, we can say it all the time, but when those guys who are out there have actually done it and won championships, when they say it, it just means a lot more." Wiggins (17.2 PPG, 32.4 2FG%) has struggled with his offense this season, but on Saturday in Garnett’s old stomping grounds of Chicago, Professor Garnett took Wiggins aside in timeouts and, using other players as props, demonstrated how to use pump fakes and spin moves to his advantage. The pupil put Garnett’s tutelage to good use. Wiggins, whose dad was a rookie for Chicago in ’84, cut to the paint off a feed from Rubio, and put the Bulls’ Taj Gibson on spin cycle for his 30th and 31st points, a game-tying jam with one minute to go. In the ensuing overtime, Minnesota’s stifling defense – yes, you heard that right (93.1 opponent points per 100 possessions, 3rd in NBA) – shut out the Bulls (35.5 FG% on Saturday) for a stunning 102-93 victory that lifts their spirits ahead of tonight’s contest in Atlanta. A bit later that night, Atlanta found themselves down at home, 92-90 to Washington with just over six minutes left to play. Then, the Hawks turned on the heat lamps on John Wall, Bradley Beal, and the latest “At Least You Tried” career-high award winner, Otto Porter. A 24-7 close to the game began with a big three-pointer from the returning Mike Muscala, continued with big plays on both ends by Kent Bazemore (career-high 25 points, two fourth-quarter steals) and Atlanta’s second unit versus the flummoxed Wizard starters, and finished with clutch free throw shooting and point-guard-assisted threes that sent the Philips Arena crowd into a Saturday Night frenzy. While Garnett and Prince helping with defense and rebounding for Minnesota, they’re instructing their teammates not to let opponents get away with open shots. Wolves’ opponents are hitting just 39.4 percent of defended shots, second-lowest only to Quin Snyder’s Jazz (37.6 opponent FG%). Rather than merely accepting getting beaten off the dribble or off a cut, the Wolves would rather hack (NBA-high 24.4 personal fouls per game) before shots go up, and make opponents take the ball back out. Despite leading the league in foul calls, Minnesota’s opponents have only averaged 24.6 free throw attempts (14th in NBA). The Hawks have done well with the free throw trips they’ve made, hitting 81.5 FT% (4th in NBA) in their games, including 83.1% in fourth quarters. Atlanta won’t want to leave points off the board tonight the way Chicago (70 FT%) did at home on Saturday. The Wolves also want to force the action on offense and rely on contact, drawing 25.6 fouls per game (2nd in NBA) and granted a league-high 33.2 free throw attempts. Martin is particularly notorious for driving into contact if a jumper isn’t open. As Minnesota turns up the physical play, and while Garnett is busy telling Muscala his mammy tastes like Mueslix, or something, composure will be critical to Atlanta executing their gameplan. After flustering Wall and Beal into 15 combined turnovers, the Hawks will have a tougher time with Rubio, whose 4.6 assist-turnover ratio ranks 3rd among NBA guards logging at least 25 minutes per game. Atlanta defenders will have to work to seal off Timberwolf teammates, compelling Rubio (39.2 FG%, 22.2 3FG%) to call his own number. Perhaps in memoriam of Flip, the Wolves still love to shoot from mid-range (29.4 FGAs per game, 2nd in NBA; 30.6 FG%, last in NBA). They don’t take many shots above-the-break (10.4 3FGAs per game, 29th in NBA; 26.9 3FG%, 28th in NBA) while the next three-pointer they make from the right corner (0.6 3FGAs per game, last in NBA) will be their first on the young season. Enjoying consecutive home games for the first time this season, Jeff Teague and the Hawks take more efficient shots than Minnesota, but must be focused and precise with their halfcourt execution. If Atlanta outperforms their listless 2-for-16 shooting start versus Washington, they’ll be hard to catch at the back end of the game. Only Golden State has a better net rating than Atlanta in the first quarter (+14.8 points per 100 possessions), and only Detroit and Miami have a superior net rating to the Hawks in the fourth quarter (+14.3 points per 100 possessions). Let’s Go Hawks! ~lw3 View full record
  7. http://sports.yahoo.com/news/nba--timberwolves-to-trade-derrick-williams-to-kings--pending-physical-for-luc-mbah-a-moute-011252258.html ~lw3
  8. The Minnesota Timberwolves signed Brandon Roy to a two-year, $10.4 million dollar contract yesterday. The 27 year old 6'6" shooting guard was a former Rookie of the Year and 3-time NBA All-Star with the Portland Trail Blazers, yet he announced his retirement following the Blazers' elimination from the NBA Playoffs at the hands of the eventual-champion Dallas Mavericks in 2011, due to ailing knees. He did, however, drop 18 points in the fourth quarter of a Game 4 Blazers comeback in that series. Now, he will get a new start in his NBA career, with the team that initially drafted him in 2007, the Timberwolves. He will join a team that features rookie point guard sensation Ricky Rubio and All-Star forward/center Kevin Love. What kind of impact will the signing of this former All-Star guard have on a team that has been a Western Conference bottom-feeder ever since they lost Kevin Garnett? I think if Roy can stay healthy, he will help lead the Timberwolves to the playoffs. The story of his return kind of reminds me of when Michael Redd returned to basketball with the Phoenix Suns. It will be interesting to see him in the same backcourt as Ricky Rubio. When he was in Portland, he never had a young point guard like he does now in Minnesota (veteran Andre Miller was the starting PG on the 2011 Timberwolves team). Also, I think he will compliment Kevin Love. When Love gets double-teamed in the low post, he can dish it out to Roy on the perimeter. What does everyone else think?