NBA PM: Déjà Vu For Brandon Roy
A collective groan could probably be heard emanating from Minneapolis today as the news came out that Minnesota Timberwolves guard Brandon Roy had scheduled a knee scope. The good news is that this time he’s only expected to miss a couple of weeks, and hopefully he will then be able to resume his solid play for the team.
“It’s been great,” Roy told HOOPSWORLD of being back on the court. “I put a lot of hard work into it this last summer, just working and trying to prepare my body to go through a long season. Everyday I’ve been coming into work; I just have a smile on my face, and just happy to be enjoying the game that I love to play.”
Roy, of course, is just one in a long line of key players missing for Minnesota. They have also been without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio since the start of the season and lost J.J. Barea, Chase Budinger, and Nikola Pekovic along the way.
“Yeah, you know, I don’t want to say it, but it’s almost like déjà vu,” Roy said. “We had some really good teams in Portland, especially on paper. We got into the season and started getting some injuries that set us back, but again, like we did there, we made the most of our opportunities, and we were able to continue to go on into the playoffs. We hope that’s the goal here: that guys step up and fill those voids, and we can make a playoff run.”
Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman is no stranger to injuries, having worked through a ridiculous number of them during his time as the Houston Rockets head coach. He understands what Roy is going through, but also recognizes the burden that was placed on Roy as more and more of his teammates went down.
“He knows how to play. He just knows how to play the game, both ends of the court,” Adelman said. “He’s learning how to play it the way it is right now. He’s trying to get his legs back. It’s not an easy thing to miss a whole year like that and have doubts about whether you’ll ever play again, so he’s just working himself in. When we signed him, we talked about it. We had some guys in mind who were going to be on the court with him to make the game a little easier for him. Now, with all these guys out, it puts more pressure on him to have to do more, which is sometimes unrealistic.”
The Timberwolves may be reeling from the injuries, but players have been stepping in to shoulder the extra load. Roy likes what he’s seen from one veteran, in particular.
“It’s a guy that people have forgot, but he’s been doing a great job of carrying this team during this young season. It’s Andrei Kirilenko,” Roy said. “He’s been an All-Star three or four times, so he’s a guy that is playing at a high level right now. I think Ricky definitely has that potential, you don’t want to put pressure on a guy, especially when he’s injured right now. We just want him to get back in and get healthy, but we have a lot of good, young players. I think Derrick Williams is continuing to come into his own. I was sorry to see Chase go down, but Chase was playing really good basketball. The biggest thing is the NBA is a league of opportunity. When your opportunity comes, you just have to make the most of it, and we’ll see who steps up and does that.”
In Portland, Roy was the default leader of the team, even though he is not one who is comfortable being a vocal leader. He feels no such pressure in Minnesota, where Love is as verbal a leader as you’ll find.
“The minute we came into training camp, we huddled up, and I just saw our group of guys, and we have a really, really good group of guys,” Roy said. “I think everybody in this locker room wants to win, and knows what it takes to win. I think our management and our owner did a great job of putting a really good team together, so I just continue to try to lead by example, and do what’s right on and off the court, and that’s just how everyone in this locker room has been. So it’s been really, really easy to be around this team and come to work every day.”
The hope is that once Roy gets this most recent knee issue taken care of he will be able to return to a more complete Timberwolves team and resume the role of complementary player, which he was originally brought in to fill. In that role, he can still be a very important part of a playoff team, even if his contributions on the court are much less dynamic than what he gave the Portland Trail Blazers earlier in his career.
Is It All About The Coaching?
When an NBA team falls short of expectations, the first one to go is usually the head coach. This NBA season is less than a month old and we’ve already seen our first head coach firing, and there is talk about others following in short order. Mike Brown is gone as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, and it remains to be seen whether or not Mike D’Antoni can do better, but what about the next round of coaches?
Let’s take the Sacramento Kings, for example. Some pundits are already calling for head coach Keith Smart’s head, despite the fact that he was handed a team with an extremely immature and socially challenged star in DeMarcus Cousins, a tweener who can’t find his shot in Tyreke Evans and a young point guard who can’t seem to run the offense in Jimmer Fredette. Exactly how much of that is Smart really accountable for? He won over Cousins immediately, but that doesn’t mean Cousins won’t go after the occasional broadcaster or media member. That’s not on Smart. Coach was handed an immature team without a significant veteran presence to help mature the group and as a result the Kings are competitive, but losing. The competitive part is due largely to Smart; the losing is due largely to a poorly constructed roster.
We’re also hearing Detroit Pistons head coach Lawrence Franks’ name come up in talks of coaches on the hot seat. The Pistons are miserably bad except when they play the Boston Celtics, but again, how much blame does Frank shoulder? The team has no legit starting point guard, and the one they’ve been using – Rodney Stuckey – says he is happy coming off the bench. In a league driven by point guard play, that’s not a great sign for the Pistons. More nights than not this season, the Pistons have looked like a D-League team, with Tayshaun Prince stuck in the middle as the one mature player among a sea of youthful question marks. The Pistons are a mess, to be sure, but Frank is hardly the reason why.
The other name we’re hearing quite a bit is Frank Vogel, head coach of the 4-7 Indiana Pacers. Fans in Indiana were expecting to see a championship-caliber team take the court to start the season, but right now they don’t even look like a playoff team. It’s tough to play without an All-Star franchise cornerstone, of course, and Danny Granger’s value seems to rise daily as fans who once took him for granted now see just how important he is to the success of the team, but injuries are part of the NBA and you have to find ways to keep winning. What’s been really tough to watch – and also completely out of Vogel’s control – is the uninspired play of Roy Hibbert. With one All-Star out of action and the other looking lost on the court, Vogel has his work cut out for him. It’s unlikely that anyone else could do better with the cards he’s been dealt.
It’s easy to fire a coach. He’s the face of the team when it loses, and the one who has to answer the tough questions postgame. Firing a coach, however, is not necessarily a fix-all. When a team has a troubled roster, like the three we’ve discussed here, they’re going to struggle no matter who is calling the plays.
Batum Coming Into His Own
When the Portland Trail Blazers matched the Minnesota Timberwolves’ offer sheet to forward Nicolas Batum, many wondered if the fifth-year pro was really worth $46 million over four years. Now, 10 games into the new contract, there is no question that Batum is proving his worth.
The second game of the season saw Batum go just 1-for-11 and score three points in a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, sending Rip City into panic mode and causing some fans to demand an immediate trade. Fortunately, Blazers management is not nearly as reactionary, and now, some eight games later, Batum looks like All-Star material. Over the last five games, he’s averaging 25 points per game, shooting 56 percent from the field and a hair under 50 percent from three-point range. He’s rebounding well, defending even better and he’s a huge part of the reason why Portland is now sporting a three-game winning streak.
As things stand, and yes, it’s early, Batum is ninth in the league in scoring at 20.8 points per game, fourth in steals and second in three-pointers made. Simply put, he’s showing he is worth every penny of that fresh, new contract he inked over the summer.
Batum’s value is especially clear when we look at a couple of other recent extensions similar to the one Batum signed with Portland. Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari signed a four-year, $42 million extension earlier this year, and to date he’s giving Denver just 14.0 points and shooting 34 percent from the field and 21 percent from three. Likewise, Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova signed a five-year, $40 million deal back in July, and he’s been dismal from the field, shooting 31 percent (28 percent from three) and managing just 6.9 points per contest.
In retrospect, maybe Batum is underpaid.
There’s a long way to go, and to label Batum an All-Star after 10 games would be no less insane than demanding he be traded after two, but what the Blazers are seeing from Batum to this point is very encouraging. It appears he will, indeed, be a franchise cornerstone for years to come.
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