Simons Says...




Thursday, January 13, 2010

There is no other way to paint it. Like the players, I left (with thousands of other fans) the Spurs loss the other day more than just a tad bit bummed. I was grumbling about another one (win) that got away. And as I was, as my grandpa used to call it, belly-aching, it was a hoop hangover didn’t last long. It ended as quickly as I got in the car, turned it on and the radio blared a reminder. A reality check, if you will.

We’re reminded every day of how good we got it. Wins or losses. We are so blessed to have games that give us a break from the crazy world we live in. The world that we leave when we enter the arena. I had an old boss tell me a long time ago, “When you work in broadcast sports and around sports teams, you work in the “candy store” of life.

The reminders are all around us, they are there every day and they are unavoidable. It’s been a year since Haiti was shattered by a monster Earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands. On our soil and just days ago, the senseless killing and mass wounding of Arizona residents who just showed up to support their Congressional representative. A half world away, much of Australia is under water, major cities are flooding and people are dying. Many people don’t have a roof over their heads and we have Minnesota men and women fighting to end hunger each and every day of the year, not just during the holiday season. So, as I was leaving Target Center after a disappointing loss, I was pulled out of that funk at that one moment to put it all in perspective.

So, all that considered, off the court or on it, real life events and work events all considered, it’s proved to be long days at the office for these Timberwolves. Never more apparent than following their road and home losses to San Antonio. On Thursday, a shot at some redemption as Washington makes its only visit to Minnesota. For local fans, it’s always good to see former coach Flip Saunders. Many fans will delight in seeing how the Wolves defend the player they coveted in the past NBA draft, #1 pick John Wall. He’s fifth in the NBA in assists at just under 9 a game and has missed a few games to injury. The Wizards will be a nice test for the Wolves. Remember, Gilbert Arenas is gone, traded to Orlando, so you’ll see big forward Rashard Lewis in the lineup. See you at the game!

RESTLESS RAMBIS:
No one is taking these tough few weeks (and the stubborn season) harder than the Coach. Kurt Rambis is not use to losing like this. He was a winner in high school, in college at Santa Clara and after a few NBA rough spots; he found rings, titles and a coaching philosophy in Los Angeles.

When you go to a game (TV just doesn’t serve it justice), take a gander over at the bench. Chances are, winning or losing, Coach is fidgeting, he’s tugging at his coat and he’s up and down, barking at his team. Rambis knows there’s SO much more in the tank of this team. From Darko to Flynn and every Wolve in between, plenty is being left, as they say, on the floor every night by his team. Certainly, it’s not intentional. But Rambis knows. He’s played on crappy teams, he’s started on NBA Championship teams. The Zen-master’s understudy can see a player, watch him work and he knows just what he can do. Been there done that is the phrase used and it works here.

So listening to him in practice, it all kinda’ made sense. Rambis believes his team should be frustrated with losing and tired of close losses. They should be mad at themselves and even, at their teammates (respectfully) and expect more from everyone. Rambis is convinced that his guys need to make their move now. They have the pieces and the players to be far more respectable than they are now. They should beat the Cleveland’s of the NBA and, for that matter, the Spurs on back to back games. When they lead Utah with two minutes to play, they need to finish. Play hard and aggressively early, do the same down the stretch.

Rambis knows it and now he needs to get that key turned on this team. His buddy and Championship partner Magic Johnson helped light the fire earlier in the season and now the Coach has to come calling to get this season of optimism back on track. No one can blame Rambis for being surly after an ejection during the Spurs loss at Target Center. His very businesslike mood set the tone at the team’s workout the day after losing to the NBA’s best team. And Coach was direct.

> Regarding Darko Milicic, Rambis called on his big center to be more assertive and aggressive from the get-go. There are a lot of basketball watchers who see the big 7-footer as a tad “soft” but Rambis won’t go there. Rambis understands the value of a talented center like Darko (see Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and he wants Darko to get busy from the game’s opening tip. Rambis says Darko “can do SO much more” and it’s something “we talk about all the time”. It’s Rambis NOT being critical as much as he is coaxing. Big fella, take that ball to the hole and instead of being sweet with the shot, finish with a fury. Slam it instead of sliding it up.

I’ve been on the Darko bus from the moment he arrived in the Twin Cities. I remember telling my buddy at the pre-Lebron Miami game last April that Darko would be a force if he stayed. I have the clippings and know who jumps on the bandwagon and who remains critical (and will be reminded of their basketball mistake one day). But it’s true. Darko needs to add that fire to his game. He can dominate the middle and I mean more than blocking shots. He has a great shooting touch, he’s a remarkable passer and until he unlocks a fury that controls the middle, the Wolves might not be able to turn it up a notch. That is how important guys in the middle are. Hakeem in Houston, Wilt, Willis, Russell, Kareem and even the modern day big fellas, including Shaq, Duncan and D-Howard in Orlando. Darko knows where the bar is and he needs to be one of the Wolves to get it done.

LOVE LETDOWN
I enjoyed sitting down with Kevin Love for a few minutes for an interview to air on GameON! You could see his frustration for sure. This kid (just like Rambis and all his teammates) is not use to losing as they have and it’s bugging him, big time.

Asked if he’s thinking about a potential invitation to the NBA all star game, Love simply says, “If I’m asked, I’d certainly love to play. Yes it would be an honor but I don’t sit around thinking about it. We have to get this turned around here. That’s my main goal right now but if I get a chance to play in the All-Star game, Yes, I’d do it”.

Wolves record or not, he deserves it. Love is sitting next to teammate Michael Beasley in NBA scoring at just over 21 per game and Love leads the NBA in rebounding at an average of nearly 16 a night.

And by the way, in his third year, Love’s community outreach has been memorable. The Love coat drive brought in more than 1,700 coats. Now, The Salvation Army and the Wolves forward drove a truck-full of coats to the Harbor Light Center after a recent Timberwolves' practice.

Love is one of seven NBA players teaming up to raise funds for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (one of the world's premier pediatric cancer research centers) during "Hoops for St. Jude" Week (March 4-11). K-Love is joining Steve Blake, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard and David Lee to donate for each point they score throughout the season, with a season-end minimum total donation of $20,000. Love has served as a spokesman for St. Jude and helped in fundraising efforts during each of the past two seasons.

Love makes it clear when you talk to him that this side of his professional outreach is important. "I'm pleased to once again be involved in supporting St. Jude," Love said. "I've had the privilege touring St. Jude and visit with patients during the last two years. I'm excited to continue my support and encourage basketball fans to join our Hoops for St. Jude team and donate to St. Jude."

Just like you did during the coat drive, if you want to pitch in, you can. Fans are encouraged to help by joining Love and the Hoops team during the week-long celebration by logging on to hoopsforstjude.org and donating to St. Jude. All funds raised will help children battle cancer and other deadly diseases. While visiting hoopsforstjude.org, fans can also bid on exclusive autographed items donated by the Hoops team members and other NBA stars.

FEEDBACK:
Nice to hear from you via e-mail regarding the Wolves and SimonsSays. Here’s a long time reader checking back in.
Josh in Morgan writes:
I think fans may already be looking ahead to the draft this year. So far there hasn't been much improvement as far as win-loss record shows, but I feel like this team is much better than last year's. We could end up with another decent draft pick and also the possibility of finally getting Rubio in the off season. If both those things happen and we keep Brewer, Beasley, and Love, we'd have to be contenders again. It's been fun to watch this team forming - I just hope there are no silly setbacks.

AND WATCH FOR: Just announced that Lynx and WNBA star Candice Wiggins will be joining me for a live taping of GameON! on FOX9 Tuesday January 25th! Come and meet her, get autographs and have a good time in Anoka. Thanks for the e-mails and the uptick in communication from you out there. I very much enjoy getting those and next week, we’ll share some more of your FAN thoughts in our SimonsSays mailbag. Until then, belated Happy New Year to you all, keep your chin up and see you Sunday on GameON! I’d love to have you out to one of our live GameON! Tapings this next Tuesday at Courtside Bar and Grill in Anoka on Jackson Street. More details and guest listings on our show website (www.GameOnTvMn.com)