Last week I lost one two teammates and I gained one. As I scrolled through ESPN.com last week, I saw the breaking news that Justin Reed and Mike James were being traded to Houston for Juwan Howard. I guess this is the really hard part of the business of NBA basketball. When you go to battle with the same guys every day you get close to them. I’m going to miss Mike and Justin. Clearly, Houston loves Mike James and almost signed him last summer. I think that Justin Reed is only really lacking the right opportunity. It seems like he played really well here for us, especially when he got extended minutes.
Today, I was in Rochester Minnesota giving a “Life in the NBA” talk at Rochester Athletic Club. I can’t remember how many times people asked me if Kevin Garnett was going to get traded, but it was a lot. I really think that there is not going to be any trades involving Kevin Garnett. I sure hope not. I know for a fact that Kevin loves Minnesota and he likes the guys in the locker room. But I’m also aware the realities of professional sports and that from a business standpoint, anything can happen to anyone. The thing about Kevin is that he makes everyone around him better. Three years ago, Sam Cassell had an all-star season, Sprewell had a great year and many other guys on our roster had career years. When you have someone like Kevin Garnett on your team, everyone is going to benefit.
At our game this past weekend against Golden State, we had a pretty big name in the world of sports sitting courtside. Sugar Ray Leonard was in town to do a promotional spot with one of the team’s corporate sponsors. It was cool to see a boxing legend up close. He was a champion at five different weight classes during his 20-year career. That is pretty amazing to be that successful for that long in a very rugged profession. Two of the member’s of the dance team presented him with a personalized Wolves’ jersey during a timeout. He reciprocated by giving each of them a little peck on the cheek.
After the game, Sugar Ray came into our locker room to say hello to Kevin Garnett and the rest of the guys. He told KG that it was his second time he had visited the Twin Cities and said it seemed like a great area. Then Ricky Davis went over to say hello to him. KG introduced Ricky to Sugar Ray and said, “Ray, Ricky’s pretty good with his hands too.” Ray smiled and said, “Are you?” to Ricky and Ricky replied with a simple, “Yeah, I am.” Then Sugar Ray showed us that if he were to box against Ricky, (a taller opponent) he would try to attack his midsection with a series of jabs, rather than going for head shots. Sugar Ray really seemed like a fun guy who was friendly, outgoing and genuine.
When I was talking to Sugar Ray about boxing, he showed me a few moves and told me about how “champions are made.” He said the most important thing as a boxer to be able to take a punch. Then he asked me if it was okay for him to show me a few things to which I said, “Of course.” It was awesome to meet an athlete of that caliber and I think the entire team hopes to see him again down the road.
We have got to face Yao Ming again this week. I enjoy him as a person, as he is one of the real class acts in the NBA. Yao came into the league a few years ago and has really become a dominating force. He is 7’6”. I’m not sure that anyone can fully comprehend his height until you stand right next to him and realize that your neck is totally bent just to look up at him. In preparing for him you just try to tailor a plan to some of his strengths and try to find a way to keep him out of the post.
This season has been a little bit of a roller coaster, but in general I really believe that we are starting to come together. The players we acquired from Boston are really contributing, whether it be as starters or coming off the bench. Marcus Banks was inserted as the starting point guard and we are 3-1 with him in there. Ricky has been just phenomenal scoring 20 or more points every game. Mark Blount has been solid as the starting center and Justin Reed has given us great energy off the bench every night. I truly believe that we are going in the right direction and that we are going to make a push for the division championship and for the playoffs from here on out.
I’m not sure how many of your watched our recent home game against the Denver Nuggets, but it was a thriller. Sometimes I wish the fans could have a microphone implanted in our huddle, so that you can hear the emotion and involvement from all of the players. At a point very late in the game, when things looked the bleakest, newcomer, Justin Reed entered the huddle, and starting clapping and called out, “Keep believing that we can win this game!” I think Justin’s comments gave our team new life, because Trenton Hassell, Kevin Garnett and Ricky Davis all made huge plays in the ensuing seconds. Ricky came back to the huddle after his huge steal and jump shot and called out for everyone to hear, “All we have to do is believe!” In the end, we didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but I was proud of everyone on the team because of how hard we fought.
One of the things I like about Ricky is how hard he plays. I’m sure that you’ve noticed that he wears an undershirt when he is on the court. What you don’t know, is that Ricky is really wearing an assortment of pads on his hips and his back for protection. It’s almost like football pads, but just a lightweight version. He likes to fight through screens and drive the lane with so much momentum, that bigger players are constantly hitting him. Plus when you play above the rim like he does, it’s nice to have some protection for the occasional crash landing. Basketball players have hips that get beat up all the time. It seems like there’s always at least one player on the team with a bruised hip, a hip pointer, or some kind of bursitis.
I made the most of my All-Star break by making a quick trip to Utah to see my parents and some siblings. Then I flew out to Washington D.C., early (our team had a game against the Wizards the Tuesday after the break and we had the option to meet up there) to see my sister and her husband and five kids. It was a lot fun to see my twin nieces. They gave me a gift of some drawings with words that said, “I love my Mad Dog,” with a pink dog surrounded by pink flowers. I think I was supposed to be the pink dog. My sister and brother-in-law came to the game against the Wizards with some longtime friends. After the game, they all loved it when KG came by and took the time to shoot the breeze with them a little bit, even though we had just suffered a tough loss.
The day before the Washington game, I met up with some friends and we saw a lot of the museums in the area. One of my buddies out there has the last name of “Nader” and he is a distant relative of Ralph Nader. We had a good time talking about a few years back when I was with the Lakers and we beat Sacramento in a playoff series. Ralph Nader publicly stated that he wanted an independent commission to look into the officiating of Game 6 of that series which was played at the Staples Center. I guess that meant Ralph was a Kings fan. Phil Jackson, of course, felt differently about the officiating (as did our team and the rest of Los Angeles). It was fun to reminisce about those two personalities, and how for a couple of days, they exchanged friendly/pointed quotes with each other through the media about the issue. The sporting world is a lot of fun and I’m really grateful that I get to be part of it.
In the three years I’ve been on the Timberwolves, I have seen KG make a lot of game-winning shots, but tonight was extra special because he added a game saving block! I wish I had footage of our locker room after the game that I could post here too! KG was chest bumping teammates and everyone in the locker room was screaming. KG was so physically and emotionally spent that he could hardly walk and so he’d muster enough energy to chest bump people hard, then he’d go back to recovering energy. In the locker room Coach Casey basically said that we needed to take this win and build on it and gain some momentum. Then he went up to the dry-erase board and wrote the names of the guys of the board who had to come in tomorrow at 3pm to “get some extra conditioning and to run through plays.” (We are scheduled to touch down tonight in Minneapolis at about 2am so it will be a rest day for the guys who played heavy minutes)
As KG passed my locker to go to the shower he laughed and said something like, “Man, I’m so wound up right now, I forgot to drink my protein shakes.” Then he went back a few feet and threw down a couple of protein/carb shakes that our strength trainer Thomas McKinney makes after every game for the guys who expend a lot of energy. I’m amazed that KG can play so hard night after night. He has amazing stamina.
It’s no secret that we had struggled mightily in the last few games, but once again there were a lot of positives tonight. Struggling in the NBA happens for every team. Even on a few of the Laker championship teams we had times where we got blown out and lost big.
Marcus Banks came through in a huge way. Steve Nash was going under our screen and roll and Marcus just kept on rising up and hitting his smooth jump shot. Justin Reed played really well too. When you watch games at home, I want you to notice Justin Reed. Justin is so quick it’s incredible and he ALWAYS plays hard and scraps. Again, Justin Reed is one of the strongest basketball players in the NBA. The other day in the weight room, he threw 225 up on the bench press easily for a lot of repetitions. Rashad had a huge game and I can never adequately express how much Anothony Carter means to this team on and off the court.
Our coaches changed things up a little bit today by keeping our shoot-around extremely short. Sometimes change is just good. We went over to the Suns’ arena and coach Casey called out “Bigs at one end, littles at the other.” We all got some shots up, ran a few plays then went through the scouting report and then got on the bus back to the hotel for some rest.
Right now we’re on the plane (it seems like I end up writing a lot from here). Most of us have already reviewed the game on DVD to see where we could have done better and where we could have made different offensive and defensive reads. In our back section of the plane there are two players still going over film on the DVD, there are three players in a friendly card game, three guys are asleep and three or four are on the portable playstation playing golf or soccer. As for me, I’ve got my headphones plugged in to my computer and I’m about ready to settle into a little itunes.com relaxation with a few old favorites.
“Time after Time” – Cyndi Lauper (This reminds me of the Napolean Dynamite scene at the high school dance…
“We Built This City” – Starship
“Dream Big” – Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband (a great song from an up-and-coming group)
Wow!!! Last night I was sitting in my hotel room and the phone rang…….no one ever calls me in my hotel room unless it’s a tricky radio show just trying to see if anyone on our team will answer their hotel phone. All of us players use each others cell phones. It was Fred Hoiberg telling me that Wally, Dwayne Jones and Kandi-man just got traded to Boston! I was shocked. Any time you lose teammates and friends to a trade it’s hard. Today in Shoot-around KG looked at me and said, “Man, it’s a hard day today.” Kevin Garnett was close to both Wally and Michael and he is one person who really values friendships and relationships. I think Kevin is going to miss everybody who got traded.
I stopped by Wally’s hotel room and Michael’s room too. Mike had stepped out for a second to go down to the front desk so I sent him a text. When he texted me back he touched on the fact that our two careers had so many parallels. We both went to college in Northern California then ended up in Los Angeles for a number of years playing for the clippers and the Lakers respectively. Then we spent two plus years together in MN and became great friends. At the end of his text he said, something along the lines of “I’ll jump hook you when I see you next,” meaning, he was going to shoot his jump hook over me. Well if you look at the schedule, I’ll be seeing him really soon!
When I saw Wally in his hotel room he seemed kind of reflective. I know I am going to miss Wally a ton. Wally has given his heart and soul to the Wolves and to the state of Minnesota for almost 7 years. I think it’s hard for him to leave, but at the same time he acknowledged that in this game you can be traded at any time and that is one thing you can’t control. I said to Wally, “So do you and Mike jump on a plane tommorrow and fly to Boston?” Wally laughed and said, “I don’t know.” Wally talked about how he was going to miss everyone and how at the same time he was excited about a new challenge and a new opportunity. I think Wally’s wife Shannon is due to give birth to their second child on Monday!!!
Dwayne Jones is the other part of this equation. Dwayne is a GREAT player who is playing in the developmental league right now with whom I had a really close bond given that we spent a lot of time together in training camp. We lost Nikoloz Tshkosvili as well and I’m going to miss him a lot too. Nikoloz and I used to play a lot of one-on-one before games. I think Phoenix is the perfect fit for Nikoloz as he is very skilled and runs like a deer even though he is 7 feet tall.
When the dust settles I think this trade will be good for everyone involved. Ricky Davis is a great player who is emotional and very tough. I think the Target Center is going to like his style of play. Blount is long, skilled and a great shooter. Marcus Banks gives us yet another option at the point and Justin Reed is a tough, smart player who will be awesome off the bench. Watch for some Ricky Davis highlight reel dunks in the Target center!