Even without Rubio early, Wolves talking playoffs

Even without Rubio early, Wolves talking playoffs

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Timberwolves spent the entire summer trying to prepare themselves for starting the season without star point guard Ricky Rubio.

Andrei Kirilenko. Brandon Roy. Dante Cunningham. Greg Stiemsma. Lou Amundson. The additions gave coach Rick Adelman a more versatile, better ball-handling, more experienced roster that could handle some adversity the way last year's young team could not.

Then Kevin Love broke his right hand and will miss at least the first month of the regular season. Now the Wolves' mission has changed from keeping themselves in contention to survival.

``Well, my first reaction is when I heard about it, you say `why us?''' owner Glen Taylor said. ``With Ricky out and Kevin of all people. And then I guess I thought about it and just my own personality I don't always look at the negative and I say, `How can we turn this into something positive?'''

They certainly weren't able to do that last season, and Adelman still has a hard time figuring out what the heck happened to his Timberwolves when Rubio went down.

An up-and-coming team that was in the playoff hunt in the Western Conference simply fell apart when their charismatic rookie point guard tore the ACL in his left knee. They lost 20 of their last 25 games, a young team tumbling and unable to pull out of a tailspin.

``He created an atmosphere around our team that gave everyone a belief that they had the chance to win, no matter who we played or where we played,'' Adelman said. ``When we lost him, it was almost like the balloon just deflated.''

Not just offensively, where Rubio made the seamless transition from Spain to the NBA and looked like he'd been playing here for 10 years. His unselfish approach, electric passing and infectious enthusiasm got the young Wolves rolling up and down the court.

But he was also a catalyst for remarkable improvement on defense, with fast hands, sharp instincts and tenacity at the point of attack setting the tone for the Wolves. When he went down, the effort and energy went with him, and the Wolves regressed once again to one of the worst defensive teams in the league.

While the Wolves were ecstatic at how quickly Rubio became an impact player in his rookie season, they were also troubled by how deeply it affected the team when he was injured. David Kahn, the president of basketball operations, set out in the offseason on yet another facelift, looking for experience and depth to help the team overcome Rubio's absence early this season.

The Spaniard has started running, but isn't scheduled to do agility drills until sometime in November. A date for his return hasn't been set, but those in the organization are hopeful he can return by mid-December. That means another six weeks or so without him, and the Wolves feel much better about the roster this time around.

Kahn signed Roy, who is making a comeback after sitting out last season because of chronic knee issues, and Kirilenko, who spent last season playing in his native Russia rather than dealing with the lockout-shortened NBA season. He also signed Stiemsma and Amundson, and traded for Cunningham to add some grit and maturity to a team lacking all three last season.

So even though they will begin the season without their two best players, the goal of achieving the franchise's first playoff berth since 2004 remains.

``I just feel like it's time,'' Love said. ``The players deserve it. The coaches deserve it. The organization deserves it. But most of all the fans deserve it. We sold out a lot of games last year. It was awesome. If we can do that, the Twin Cities, Minnesota, they're ready for a team to breakout and have someone to really cheer for. They're ready and I hope it's us.''

A lot of their success will hinge on three knees - Rubio's left and the two that turned Roy from one of the bright young stars in the game in Portland to a player the Blazers sent packing with the amnesty clause because he wasn't able to tolerate the bone-on-bone pain in both knees.

Roy had a procedure this summer to try to address the problem and said he experience immediate results. He's been practicing full speed and playing in preseason games with little or no discomfort. The Wolves will badly need his shooting and decision-making in the fourth quarter.

The new look has put the curmudgeonly Adelman in a lighter mood leading up to his second season on the Wolves bench. He's smiling more, joking with players before they run conditioning drills in practice and speaking positively about the increased ball-handling, shot-making and basketball I.Q. this group has in comparison to last season's team.

``There's a lot of potential in this group,'' he said. ``They play well together at both ends and it's going to be interesting to watch them go.''


Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

USA Today Sports

Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

The Ravens have reportedly agreed in principle to a new contract extension with head coach John Harbaugh, a move already being praised by national pundits everywhere. 

It was nearly a month ago that the Ravens announced Harbaugh would be returning as the team’s head coach in 2019, which was noteworthy considering his status as a potential lame duck head coach.

In the same release, the team announced they were working towards a contract extension with Harbaugh, whose current deal was set to expire next year.

Despite reports from national NFL insiders, including Jason La Canfora and Peter King, that Harbaugh might prefer to hit free agency as a highly sought-after head coach after the 2019 season, it appears the Ravens will keep him in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. 

This news comes on the heels of a busier-than-usual coaching carousel, with a quarter of the 32 NFL teams changing head coaches in the last month, including two AFC North rivals. Harbaugh almost certainly would have been the cream of the crop among coaching free agents no matter when he became available, so the Ravens were looking to lock him up long term.

After a tough November home loss to the Steelers that put the team at 4-5, Harbaugh was asked about his job security, and he remained steadfast and confident.

"I've never been someone who's worried about keeping a job," Harbaugh said. "It's always been, for me, [about] doing the job. I've got a bunch of great coaches and a bunch of great players that bust their tails every day to do the best job they can. I feel really good about the way this team has been coached for the last 11 years, and for the last number of weeks we've been in the season. So, there are no regrets. Never been any regrets here with me."

After that game, the Ravens rattled off six wins in seven games to make the playoffs, and many players credited Harbaugh with keeping the team together. It was prior to Week 16 when the front office announced Harbaugh would be returning no matter how the season ended, but the strong finish and AFC North title certainly made the decision easier.

A coach with a special teams background, Harbaugh is an anomaly in the current era of young, offensive-minded head coaches. He won Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, and holds a 104-72 career record in Baltimore.

The terms of the new deal have not yet been released, but it will be interesting how many years the team is committing to Harbaugh.


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Bradley Beal's agent says guard's not looking for a trade: 'He wants to win'

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Bradley Beal's agent says guard's not looking for a trade: 'He wants to win'

Bradley Beal, his agent Mark Bartlestein told Bleacher Report, would like to stay in Washington - even as he's a hot topic among front offices as the trade deadline approaches.

From Bleacher Report:

His agent, Mark Bartelstein, is not looking for a trade. "Brad wants to win, Bartelstein told B/R. "He wants to win at the highest level, and he wants to compete for championships. I think he's seeing progress, and he's going to do everything he can to lead this team. They got themselves into a huge hole, and he's going to do his best to get them out of it.

The Wizards are facing tough decisions when it comes to the future of the franchise as this season's trade deadline approaches. Beal, as NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig detailed this week, is among the most tradable assets they have, especially when it comes to their three major contracts. But owner Ted Leonsis took a firm stance against tanking while speaking to reporters in London, and Beal is integral to their playoff hopes with John Wall sidelined. 

This isn't the first time this season that Beal has denied wanting to be anywhere but DC. When drama swirled around the team earlier this season, Beal denied a report that he had requested a trade.

"That's nonsense," he said at the time. "I heard it earlier before the game and I was like, 'If it didn't come from the horse's mouth, it wasn't me.' I got this Washington jersey on and I come here and work everyday, you know, until otherwise. This is where I wanna be."

Earlier this season, it was reported that the Raptors were interested in Beal but couldn't afford what the Wizards were asking for him. According to the latest report on Beal from Bleacher Report, there are a number of teams who may still be interested. 

Again, from Bleacher Report:

There are so many teams in the mix trying to make that extra push that want Beal," a Western Conference executive told B/R.

But even if some fans are clamoring for a big trade at the deadline, the price tag for Beal - who had 26 points in the Wizards' comeback win over the Knicks this week - only seems to be rising.