AUBURN HILLS, MICH. — Honestly, I haven’t watched a lot of NBA games this season, whether in person or on television. Maybe it went way too fast. Or I’m subconsciously boycotting it, or buying time until the WNBA season begins next month.
Nevertheless, when I learned that the Minnesota Timberwolves were scheduled last week to play the hometown team I grew up watching, which now plays at least an hour outside Detroit near Pontiac, this columnist took a break from his “secret government mission” and watched the Wolves’ final road game of the year.
It was a contest that Detroit News columnist Terry Foster calls a “Who cares?” (WC) game between two competing non-playoff teams. The Timberwolves have found themselves in WC games each April since 2004.
“It wasn’t that long ago we were .500,” noted Wolves Coach Rick Adelman.
Actually, Minnesota was 21-19 on March 7, but they went 4-19 before the team snapped its season-high (or low) 11-game losing streak here last Wednesday at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
“I thought we would have more guys step up — that surprised me,” Adelman said to me last week. “We have injuries and all that, but I was just really surprised on how [the players] just gave in to the situation. You got to compete and got to play.”
There shouldn’t be any such thing as WC games in the pros, believes Pistons Television Analyst Greg Kelser, a former NBA player himself. Players “are being paid to play the whole schedule, no matter how long it is,” he points out. “Every time you’re out there, you are proving yourself. Every time you go out there, you’re auditioning. This in a lot of ways says more about the person than if you were heading for the playoffs or having your greatest season ever.”
Playing WC games “is an important time — how you play in adverse situations,” says Kelser.
“Every game matters to us,” says Wolves guard Wayne Ellington. “We are trying to build and grow.”
Nonetheless, even if Minnesota does win their season finale Thursday at home against Denver, the Wolves still post a sub-winning record for the seventh straight season.
However, two former Wolves, Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye, aren’t playing WC games. The Los Angeles Clippers, who once were annual masters in such games, are in the playoffs this year.
“This is the first team that at the start had a chance to do well,” Gomes told me earlier this year. The 6-7 Clippers forward played three non-playoff seasons in Minnesota. “I’m happy to be on a team that’s competitive.”
“You are competing every night and [you’ve] got a chance to win every single night, no matter who we are playing against,” adds Foye, a 2007 Wolves draft pick who also saw his share of WC games during his two-year Minnesota stint. “It feels great” to be on a contender “that’s favored to win,” admits the 6-4 Clippers guard.
Adelman believes Minnesota’s Wolves “have a very nice core group,” which includes third-year forwards Kevin Love and Anthony Randolph and rookie guard Ricky Rubio. Rookie forward Derrick Williams also could be in this group, but according to the coach, the 6-8, 240-pounder must get stronger, especially around the basket. “We need him to take giant strides” in the off-season, “as well as some other guys,” notes Adelman.
Will forward Michael Beasley, who was frequently rumored to be traded, be back in a Wolves uniform next season? He wants to be, but he warned me last week, “It’s out of my hands.”
“Obviously they need to continue to build their roster, but I love this team,” observes Kelser, who calls Love, Rubio and Williams “strong building blocks” for a contending club. He predicts Minnesota will be in the playoffs next season, “but it’s tougher in the West than in the East. But they should be able to contend.”
“If you can’t do it in free agency, and you can’t do it in trades, then you have to do it with the guys you have,” concludes Adelman on his team’s impending off-season. “This summer is going to be huge.”
Did you know…?
Name the NBA and WNBA teams who have never hired a Black head coach. (Answers in next week’s “View.”)
Answer to last week’s question: Michael Cooper was the first (and only) Black coach to win a WNBA title when he won consecutive titles in 2001 and 2002 in Los Angeles. Bill Russell was the first NBA Black coach to win a championship in Boston in his first year as player-coach (1966), and would win the next two seasons as well, thus becoming the only Black coach to ever win three consecutive league titles.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.