All mediocre things must come to an end

Categories: Timberwolves

mccants.jpg

To: Benjamin Polk
From: Jonathan Kaminsky
Date: 4/16/08
Subject: Randy recognize Randy

Hey Benjamin,

Say what you will about me, but throughout this trying season, I have remained a die-hard supporter of our (and by 'our' I mean 'Glen Taylor's') Timberwolves.

And yet the season finale left me feeling unexpectedly conflicted. I've always reflexively been against tanking. And yet, it was really hard for me to appreciate the Wolves' undeniable effort during their comeback down the stretch against the Bucks.

The Wolves were one game ahead of the Grizzlies in the loss column, and the Grizzlies were getting trounced by Dallas. Why not keep the extra ping pong balls (156 instead of the 137/8 a tie for 3rd worst earn you, out of a possible 1,000) in the draft lottery?

Just before Brewer readied to shoot the potential game-tying free-throw with 27 seconds left, I remarked that his making it wouldn't be worth the team losing one of the top two draft picks. Silly to think about, and impossible to truly gauge, but a thought difficult to shake. I don't recall you disagreeing with me.

Anyway, enough deep thoughts about tanking. To Wittman's final post-game press conference of the season: It sure seemed like he's pretty high on Foye. Like, how Foye's emergence has been connected to the team's winning games over the past couple weeks (that
six-game losing streak notwithstanding).

Or how "he's a confident kid," and how that "rubs off on people."

Or how he took over the Bucks game in the fourth quarter.

It seems Wittman's sending a strong message that his beacon of hope alongside Al Jefferson (who one almost takes for granted, so essential is he to the Wolves' chances) is none other than Randy Foye.

The implied flipside of this, of course, is that Rashad McCants doesn't have a lot of options with this team. If Foye is the stud of the Wolves' backcourt, given his proven on-court incompatibility with McCants (Foye looking for his shot, McCants waiting for the ball so he can shoot), it seems likely that Rashad's gonna be the sixth man. Is that a role that McCants, at his age, with his temperament and ego, should be playing? Have we seen enough of Foye to be
confident that he's the better bet of the two? If we ship one of them off, who/what should we be looking for in return? Does it make sense for Israel to unilaterally disengage from portions of the West Bank, or should it wait until an accord can be reached with at least one faction of the Palestinians?

Please strike the last question.

Yours,
Jonathan


To: Jonathan Kaminsky
From: Benjamin Polk
Date: 4/17/08
Subject: You are a bad person.

Hi Jonathan,

First a note on tanking and the lottery. I admit that I was right with you and your mixed feelings last night (although the reason I didn't disagree with you about Corey's free throws was that I was still feeling bad for him about drawing front-iron on that tragic and amazing 1-on-0 dunk attempt earlier on). Certainly, I was pleased and heartened--as I have been all the last month--that they weren't tanking and I was happy that the fans and players got to be enthusiastic about something on the season's last day. At the very least, though, it would have been kind of nice if Memphis had put in a better showing against Denver.

That said, those 18 or 19 lost ping-pong balls notwithstanding, I'm not sure it even makes a difference. As both the Celtics (before Danny Ainge wove that magical web of trades that brought us Al Jefferson oh, and also turned the Celts into title faves) and the Wolves discovered last year, the lottery is a total crapshoot. Even once you get past the nearly blind luck of landing a top pick, almost nobody knows which college player is going to be good and which isn't. Its true that Lebron and Dwight Howard were both taken first, but so were Kwame Brown, Andrea Bargnani and Andrew Bogut. And though it seems likely that Greg Oden will be pretty good, nobody really knows for sure; and things only get dicier once you get past the first pick. When you throw in McHale's awesome post-KG draft track record...bottom line, I know that Michael Beasley and Derrick Rose are really good but I would much rather win a game any day than trade one for a minutely less slim chance in, y'know, a lottery.

One more thing about tanking. I've been on teams at levels so far below the NBA that its barely reasonable to use the word "sports" to describe both. But I cannot imagine something more destructive to team morale than tanking a game. So.

As for your your good questions about the Wolves' guard situation. I go back and forth about Foye all the time. Last night's win is a good example. Seen through almost any lens, Foye was pretty dominant offensively. He shot 11-18, scored 32 points and hit some seriously clutch threes in overtime. But again, the offense did not exactly run smoothly with him on the floor (much of this can also be attributed to the clearly fatigued Al Jefferson's problems inside). And watching him get burned all over the floor by, ah, Ramon Sessions was a nice reminder that he has a long, long way to go to grasping NBA defense.

Still, my sense is that Foye has better potential than McCants. For one thing, though he does seem a little stubborn at times, he doesn't really display Shaddy's petulance. I could easily see that stubbornness and pride morph into a kind of leadership as it has for Lord Chauncey (for the record, Foye mentioned after the game that Mr. Billups is one of the players he loves to watch and learn from--a good sign, I think) And whereas Foye shows signs of climbing the steep learning curve of running a team (and Wittman made the good point that, after his injury, Foye was playing major catch-up in learning the offense), I'm not sure Rashad is ever going to get much better than he is right now. Will McCants ever be ok with the sixth-man tag the team seems intent on pegging on him? I'd be surprised.

As for the West Bank, didn't we fix that little problem when we helped ignite a civil war between Hamas and Fatah? And by "we" I obviously mean the Wolves.

love,
ben


To: Benjamin Polk
From: Jonathan Kaminsky
Date: 4/17/08
Subject: I have been grossly misunderstood.

Hey Benjamin,

All I'm saying is that part of me didn't want to see the Wolves win Wednesday night. I would've been pissed to watch players intentionally miss shots or throw the ball out of bounds or even make lazy passes. Obviously, the team's supporters deserve more. But that's different from sort of feeling torn about effort equaling execution in the final minutes of the final game of the season. I can't help but think Randy Wittman shared my ambivalence on some level, seeing as
how he sat Al Jefferson for the final 11 minutes of the fourth quarter as well as overtime. (His post-game explanation that he pulled Big Al because he seemed tired? Not convincing.) Anyhow.

As for Shaddy and the sixth-man role, it's hard to imagine him ever being happy in it, but that doesn't necessarily mean he couldn't be effective. For all his moodiness and seeming inconsistency this season, he averaged 15 points (I believe) coming off the bench, second in the league only to Manu Ginobili. On a more fundamental level, it seems like a role he gets: Enter
the game and immediately demand the ball. Dribble around the perimeter a little. Create space. Shoot the ball.

McCants' discord with the world around him, while it obviously makes him a difficult teammate, is also the thing that seems to fuel him. So who knows? I'll say this: If there's a future star--not solid contributor, but actual star--on this team not named Jefferson, I'd be hard pressed to bet against it being McCants. Granted, the chances of a dominating or even a well-rounded McCants aren't good, but who else on the roster is even worth thinking of in these terms?

Broadening out the conversation a bit: How many keepers are on this team, Ben?

Greetings,
Jonathan


To: Jonathan Kaminsky
From: Benjamin Polk
Date: 4/18/08
Subject: Foye is a natural leader; McCants is a freak of nature.

Your points about McCants are well taken. While the best case scenario for Foye is probably Chauncey Billups, Ginobili would definitely be something for Shaddy to shoot for (minus the flopping). Here, I think is my fundamental distinction between the two. I think that Foye has the potential to be a leader on a championship-caliber team (again, think Billups); driven, focussed, adept at running an offense, but also able, at well chosen moments, to attack and score. McCants, on the other hand, will probably be at his best when surrounded by other veterans who are comfortable with their roles, veterans who know the habits of winning, who are not afraid to let Shaddy go off but also not afraid to tell him to shut up, force him to play defense and pass the ball. Stephen Jackson got a ring with the Spurs in just this way. Rashad is way too talented to ever be a marginal player, but I would also be very hesitant to build a team around him.

As for the keepers. Though I think that both Foye and McCants could be great, I still want more info--like, for example, a full season of them playing together--before making any big proclamation. Brewer, with his stunning athleticism, length and energy could be a Tayshaun Prince someday, but, obviously, that jumper (not to mention his play at the rim) needs to get (uh, vastly) better before we say anything. That leaves Al Jefferson, who will be a sure all-star if this team ever wins more than 40 games, and our boy Ryan Gomes. The stats don't bear this out quite yet, mostly because Wolves put him in some bad positions both by asking him to guard power forwards almost exclusively and also by leaning on him for 20+ shots on nights when the team was struggling. But, with his consistent aggressiveness and a savvy awareness that belies his youth, Gomes was clearly the Wolves second-best player for most of the year. He's a restricted free-agent this summer; I promise you, if the Wolves fail to keep him, he will be making big contributions for somebody late in the playoffs sometime very soon.

all my very best always,
ben


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