Simons Says...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

There’s always next season:
On the final day of the Timberwolves season, there was a lot going on down along Block E. Thousands of fans had flocked downtown decked out in Twins and T’Wolves wear. For the media, the day actually started with Wolves basketball czar David Kahn holding court and discussing the season that’s ended (more on that in a moment). Later in the day, the Wolves would wrap with fan appreciation night against the Houston Rockets. The Twins were wrapping up the seasons first homestand against the Royals (KC winning in the end).

It’s a shame there won’t be playoff basketball in Minnesota. I’ve lamented the state of the game many times but mix hoops and baseball and you know, there’s nothing like spring in Minnesota. Unfortunately, we’re a long way from it. Fans know it and at the top of the basketball operations office @ T’Wolves HQ, so does Mr. Kahn.

Kahn had to feel like he was walking into a Lions Den of sorts Wednesday. There are plenty of long time media folks here and they have their minds made up. Their coverage map has no room for optimism. Kahn was barraged with questions and, all in all, I thought he handled ‘em well and best of all, from where I sit, I got it.

I’ve followed this team closely since my arrival from Seattle a decade ago. There have been lows and highs and for most fans, the past three seasons have been tough.

Kahn acknowledged that right off the bat in his “state of the team” discussion. The Wolves won 17 games this season, up two wins from a year ago. “All of this rests on me” is how Kahn summed it up. He’s the man putting the team together, making the trades, shuffling the roster and spending Owner Glen Taylor (and the co-owners) money.

Kahn painted a picture that shows a T’Wolves team, still in transition and building, but making progress.

>On Coach Rambis’ “job security”: Kahn won’t address until sometime after the seasons end. Calling their Boss-Coach relationship “professional”, Kahn did admit that all the losses this season have caused tension between the two.

>Kahn told the media that Mr. Taylor has indicated that his job is “safe”

I gotta’ give it to him. Kahn was peppered with questions left and right, high and low and he hit every single one. Kahn drew a few sneers when he exclaimed that “there is more talent on this team now than when I arrived”. I believe it and I’m with him on this. In fact, despite an under achieving season, I still maintain they are two to three veterans (solid contributing vets not over-the-hill players) and a top draft pick from being a playoff contender. In fact, Kahn is convinced the Wolves will be able to lure attractive free agents to play here despite what many fans hear from the skeptics. Kahn’s logic works with me on this one too. NBA players want money and minutes. In fact, few scenarios will resemble what played out in Miami last summer. Players will come. And if the offer is solid, just watch.

On the roster and Wolves players: >No more overhauls ahead, “those days are behind us” Kahn says.

>Kevin Love: Kahn has “no doubt” he’ll be a Wolves leader for years to come. Kahn calls Love’s growth this season “astonishing” and “a true all star”.

>Darko Milicic: Kahn says Darko needs to “play basketball all summer and to get in basketball shape with mind and body”. Kahn is convinced that once Darko becomes more durable and consistent, he will be a serious player.

There’s been plenty of talk about Darko’s durability and I had to laugh when Kahn brought up his old school days living in Portland during the Bill Walton era. I was out there too. I remember it well. Walton was one of the games greatest and perhaps is the BEST passing center of all time. But Walton was, er, “brittle” at best. We’re light years ahead in conditioning these days and all Kahn wants is Darko to give himself the best shot at being his best. That means REALLY working at his game with the games best during the summer. If I was his boss and he was making that kind of dough, I’d make the same call Kahn is.

>Michael Beasley: Just has to “harness” all that talent.

>Anthony Randolph: Kahn knows he “can be a significant player”.

>Jonny Flynn: Will the inconsistent point guard be back next season? Kahn says “I don’t know”. It’s clear his future in Minnesota is cloudy and potentially stormy.

>Martell Webster: Kahn says “he had a nice finish to the season…played the way we expected when we traded (Portland) for him”.

Kahn’s work is just shifting into overdrive. A decision is coming on the team’s head coach. There will be serious player evaluations and a draft coming up. Ready or not, there is also an NBA player/owner (called the CBA) discussion coming. As if the NFL’s wasn’t enough for one calendar year. And it’s as clear to Kahn as it was to the room that housed some of his skeptics. The Timberwolves have to improve significantly next season.

On fan appreciation night, the Wolves fell to their 15th straight loss, 121-102 to Houston. They end the season 17 and 65.

Kahn insisted that this can’t happen again. He said more than once that the “status quo is unacceptable”.

The faithful will be back but luring the majority sitting on the fence will make it a long hard summer for the staffers handling the heavy lifting at Wolves HQ.

I’m still a believer. Changes do have to come and significant veteran player additions have to be made. It’s going to take some work but turnarounds are common place in the NBA and why not have one (labor deal willing) here.

Hey, that third quarter against the Rockets in the final game of the season underscored my hope. And where I come from, a little hope goes a long way.

Playoff time:
Indiana vs. Chicago. Bulls.
Orlando vs. Atlanta. Magic.
Boston vs. NY Knicks. Celtics.
Miami vs. Philadelphia. Sixers. Kidding. Big 3.

San Antonio vs. Memphis. Spurs.
OKC vs. Denver. I’d love the upset here & the Nuggets have the horses but….
Portland vs. Dallas. Mavs most likely but I’m taking the U’dog, rip city!
LAL vs. New Orleans. Lakers even as badly as they coast into the playoffs.

Moving Time?
Twins fans know the feeling all too well. Remember all that contraction talk a few years ago?! It’s horrible and when your team moves, it’s a wound that never heals. The last team to jettison a city to another was in Seattle when the Sonics were, as fans still insist, “hijacked” by owner Clay Bennett and moved to Oklahoma City. Many many fans there have still not forgiven Starbucks chief and then Sonics owner Howard Schultz for selling the team to Bennett. Seattle was a great NBA city and hopefully will get a team there again some day. There too, it’s about the arena issues.

Which brings us to the team in topic right at this moment. Has the last season of basketball been played out in Sacramento? As the Wolves were finishing fan appreciation night, the Kings were hosting the rival Lakers. There, fans were weary and nervous. Is it the Sacramento Kings’ last home game in the state capital?

Today, NBA owners are meeting in New York to discuss the moving of the Kings to Anaheim. The two sides are clearly at odds. In Sacramento, they want the team to stay and politicians are scrambling to get a stadium deal in place. Meantime, down south in Orange County, there is excitement over the prospect of getting their own team to join the Angels and Ducks while attracting more tourists to Anaheim.

NBA owners will decide and a majority vote by the owners will send the Sacramento Kings to Anaheim in time for next season.

We’re thinking of you fans in Sac-town.

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, 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 redesigned show website (