Timberwolves hold 90-minute meeting to clear air, regroup
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The day after the Minnesota Timberwolves' most embarrassing performance of the season, the reeling group gathered at their practice facility ready to get back to work.
Only they didn't practice at all. Instead, interim coach Sam Mitchell brought the team together at center court for 90 minutes of talk and soul searching, giving each player the opportunity to offer his view on what wasn't working and what had to change going forward.
Such is life for a team that has lost seven of the last eight games and was run out of the gym in Philadelphia on Monday night by a 76ers team that had won just three times before then.
''I think it was good for us, for our young guys to hear what they think of each other and what they expect from each other,'' Mitchell said. ''It was all positive. But everybody was just honest with each other, with the expectations of each other, what we need to give, from each other, to make our team more complete.''
The Timberwolves were one of the surprise teams in the league early in the season, getting off to an 8-8 start with victories at Atlanta, Chicago and Miami. With Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio forming a promising young core buttressed by Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince and Andre Miller, the worst seemed to be over for a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since 2004.
The progress has been much harder to see lately, with lackluster efforts against struggling opponents like the 76ers, Bucks and Nuggets and a ghastly 5-13 record at Target Center.
They haven't scored 100 points in their last eight games, have seen their once-solid defense crumble and shoot 3-pointers like teams did 20 years ago. Most troubling, they have exhibited very little energy while Mitchell has lamented over and over again just how long it takes for young players to learn how to play and compete at the NBA level.
Now the Wolves have joined the Lakers, Suns and Kings - all franchises in some sort of turmoil or disrepair - on the list of teams who have lost to Philly.
''I think we've touched the bottom now,'' Rubio said. ''So we've got to find it somehow. Maybe because we're young and the rookie wall is on our minds or whatever. I don't want to say any excuses. It's us being aggressive going out there and wanting to win.''
Throughout the season, Garnett, Prince and Miller have been the most vocal in practices and in the locker room. But Tuesday's meeting gave the youngsters a chance to make their voices heard.
''They have a lot to say,'' Mitchell said. ''They have feelings, they have their perspective. They have things they feel like are fair, and things that are unfair. So you give them a chance - you give anyone a chance - to say what they're thinking.''
Mitchell tried to focus the conversation on sacrifice, setting aside concerns about stats or playing time for what is best for the team. He told the story of how he neared the end of his playing career and voluntarily gave up his starting spot to a young Garnett, a move that he said opened doors for his post-playing career as a coach.
''You can hear it in their voice. You can see it in their face. You can tell the sincerity of it and that it's coming from the heart,'' Mitchell said. ''The hardest thing in this league is to say to another player, `You've got more talent than me. I expect more out of you.'''
Whether the session will help solve some of the issues plaguing the team remains to be seen. They host the Nuggets on Wednesday night, Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night and the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.
''It's probably the best practice of the year, for us,'' Towns said. ''Especially more like a therapeutic session, allowing us even more to come together as a team and as a family.''
Mitchell said both Kevin Martin, who has not played for the last seven games while the Wolves try to trade him, and Nikola Pekovic, who has not played this year after having offseason surgery on his Achilles, could return to the lineup on Wednesday night.
That's a little bit of good news for a roster that sorely needs some right now.
''I would say we can beat anybody but we can lose to anybody because that's what young teams do,'' Mitchell said. ''Our thing for our young guys is being more consistent in our play, our focus and our concentration. And bring it to the table the best that you have every night.''