NBA AM: Playoff Talk Heating Up For T’Wolves
In recent years once the NBA trade deadline passes and discussions turn toward the postseason, Minnesota Timberwolves fans haven’t had much to contribute to the conversation.
The Timberwolves are in the midst of a seven season playoff drought.
To put the recent futility in Minnesota in the proper perspective, the team won a total of only 56 contests from 2009-11, while the franchise’s 2004 Western Conference Finals club tallied 58 victories that season alone.
However as we head into the second half of the 2012 campaign, the T’Wolves not only have a stake in the discussion but find themselves a legitimate candidate to secure a playoff berth in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
The recent progress has made a believer out of their owner Glen Taylor, who credits sound coaching as the sparkplug in the team’s latest surge.
“Interestingly enough, I think (head coach Rick Adelman) has put them into a place now that we will be striving to try to get into the playoffs,” Taylor told Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press. “Even though we’re 10th, we’re just (one game) out of eighth. So that’s certainly all achievable if things go well. There’s no reason for them not to try that and work hard for it. It’s going to be tough because there are so many other teams that are so close. But I can’t believe that the guys, now that they’ve seen what they can do in the first half of the season, won’t put that as part of their goal.”
As it stands currently, the T’Wolves are 17-17 and trail the struggling Portland Trail Blazers for the eighth and final playoff spot by one game. The club trails the ninth place Denver Nuggets in the standings by just a half game.
Taylor believes a taste of the postseason would do wonders for the psyche of his young team, improve their confidence and make them even hungrier to improve as they gain more experience.
A recent example of a young team who gained playoff experience earlier than expected and then came out playing at a higher level the following season can be found in the Eastern Conference.
The upstart Indiana Pacers finished the 2011 season eight games under .500 but earned a trip to the playoffs as an eighth seed where they gave a spirited effort before being bounced in the first round by the top-seeded Chicago Bulls who were the league’s best team (record wise).
After adding a veteran presence (former All-Star David West) to their young core in the offseason, the Pacers continue to improve and now hold the East’s third best record heading into the All-Star break.
Taylor hopes his young Wolves team can follow the same upward trajectory.
“It would mean we’ve stepped a little bit faster than we anticipated,” Taylor said. “We wanted to make a step forward to prepare us for the future, but if somehow we could already get into the playoffs so that we get that type of experience with this young team, I think that sets them up in future years to understand the different dynamics of playoff play.”
Once considered a laughingstock not too long ago, the T’Wolves are poised to continue their rise in the Western Conference hierarchy behind the coaching of Adelman, the performance of their All-Star forward Kevin Love and the leadership of their floor general Ricky Rubio.
Antawn Jamison Doesn’t Want To Be Traded: The Cleveland Cavaliers are surprisingly positioned to make a playoff run this season much quicker than anyone expected from a team supposed to be in the midst of a long rebuilding process – post LeBron James.
Rookie point guard Kyrie Irving’s stellar play has been a driving force, but veteran forward Antawn Jamison leads the team in minutes per game and is the club’s second leading scorer.
The Cavs are still quite a long way away from being considered an upper echelon team and rebuilding clubs typically seek to trade away higher salaried veteran talent in the hopes of securing younger players with upside, salary cap space or draft picks.
Jamison is currently on the books for $15 million and his deal expires at the end of the season. This keeps the veteran’s name constantly in the trade rumor circuit.
However if it were up to Jamison he wouldn’t have to change addresses this season.
“Honestly, deep down inside, I don’t want to go anywhere, and I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere,” Jamison told Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer. “I enjoy playing with these guys. These guys are very receptive to what I tell them and what I do on the court.”
But if Jamison keeps playing the way he has this month, averaging 22 points and 9 rebounds in February, teams looking for the final piece in their respective playoff puzzles will come calling as the trade deadline approaches.
For head coach Byron Scott the fourteenth year forward has been the model of consistency this season.
“The way he has played the past couple of weeks has been fantastic,” Scott said. “I have played him a bunch because I’m looking down the bench and saying, ‘I don’t have another guy who can do what he does.’ ”
Jamison has career averages of 19.6 points and 7.9 rebounds and is just a little over 300 points away from surpassing the 19,000 mark.
While Jamison is expressing the desire to remain in Cleveland in order to play out his current contract he also told the Charlotte Observer back in January that returning to North Carolina (Bobcats) has “always been a dream” of his as he concludes his playing career.
Andre Iguodala: Underachiever or Underrated? The Philadelphia 76ers continue prove an elite superstar isn’t needed on the roster to rack up regular season victories at a high clip (jury still out on playoff success).
The team’s lone All-Star, forward Andre Iguodala, is considered by most Sixers fans to be overpaid based on the six year $80 million deal he signed with the club in 2008.
Iguodala’s name is also routinely mentioned in trade talk every season and the Sixers’ front office continually refute any reports he’s on the trading block.
Iguodala understands some of the fans’ criticism but ultimately believes the majority of negativity surrounding his game is the fact he’s not a high volume scorer.
What the eighth year veteran does hangs his hat on is leadership, intangibles and defense.
“I just try to fill the void, I try to do that every night,” Iguodala told Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News. “Watching the guys I watched growing up, the Pennys [Hardaway], the Pippens [Scottie] and Kidds [Jason] . . . Jason Kidd never averaged 20 in a year and Magic Johnson was a guy who [wasn't known for his scoring]. They had a big impact on their team. I try to have the same impact. I think it’s showing a little bit this year.”
The man who signed Iguodala to the lucrative deal in question by Sixers fans, Toronto general manager Ed Stefanski, says if you’re judging Iguodala on the amount of points scored alone you’re missing the point – big time.
“He is just an all-around basketball player, a stat stuffer,” Stefanski said. “He puts up numbers across the board, plays hard and plays at the defensive end. Is he a superstar? No, but he’s a very good player, much underappreciated for what he does. He’s not outgoing and not expressive, which has hurt him with the fans. But I will tell you, he is very well respected throughout the league and with coaches. Before the contract was signed, the fans wanted more from Andre. We gave him a very nice contract, not a maximum contract. I think that’s part of why he’s never really hit it off with the fans. But what he does on the basketball court, I will tell you that other teams would die for.”
The Sixers currently enjoy a 3.5 game lead for the Atlantic Division title. The unheralded and selfless play of Iguodala has been the primary season for the success.
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