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How to Lose Fans and Alienate Your Teammates


Kevin Love’s foibles and Minnesota’s predicament

@BreakTheHuddle

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“People, you know, have their blogs, and can sometimes hide behind their computer screen, but, you know, you have people that, that, you know, can type out things that are derogatory towards a person…” – Kevin Love[i]

“Well, Kevin, you know, I have no athletic ability or discernible life skills, and some free time, so, you know, what do you expect?” – Yours Truly

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 Kevin Love

A few years ago, at an old job, there were three of us of similar age and education levels, who were all hired at roughly the same time. It was an entry level position, but I loved the job and was interested in making a career of it. I felt my work was comparable to my peers, and was given good reviews reflecting this belief.

The first guy was promoted and given a decent raise. The second guy was promoted and given a modest raise. I was given a lateral transfer to a similar department and received no raise. What do you suppose happened?

I looked for another job, and took the first one which was suitable, even though it paid only a pittance more than what I had made at my original place of employment.

Why do you suppose I did that?

Clearly, my work wasn’t quite as good as I thought it was – I was young, and a little immature, with how I handled it – but the whole experience changed my perspective on athletes and their public discourses regarding salary disputes and “respect.” I felt as though I deserved something similar to what the other guys got, and I didn’t get it, so that was that. I was a poisoned apple. I let it bother me, and as soon as the opportunity arose, I bolted.

Kevin Love found himself in a similarly sticky predicament last summer[ii] – only in a far more exciting setting. Instead of a middle class job, he was yearning for the finest compensation an NBA franchise could offer him – a maximum (“max”) contract extension, roughly $80 million for 5 years. LaMarcus Aldridge, a similar player two years his senior, got a max deal from Portland. Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, who were in Love’s draft class and were viewed similarly in the league (as franchise players), also got max (or near-max) contracts from their respective teams.

Due to a new wrinkle in the collective bargaining agreement, franchises were only allowed to give one of these “max” deals at a time – and, citing this restriction as their reason, the Wolves withheld offering it to Love. His consolation prize was a four year, $62 million deal with an “opt out” clause after the 2014-15 season – meaning he could be on a new team three years from today, and the Wolves would be left with nothing to show for it.

Disgruntled about the way it was handled, the residual ill will between Love and the front office simmered, but remained largely hidden, until it finally boiled over in the form of a piece published Tuesday by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The story quotes Love as saying the following:

Kahn

GM David Kahn has blown two top-6 picks during his tenure (Wes Johnson, Jonny Flynn) and might have blown a third (Derrick Williams) so it’s fair to wonder if he’s fit to run the team.

-GM David Kahn is unprofessional

-Love is unsure if the organization has a “plan” for constructing a roster

-He’s miffed that owner Glen Taylor didn’t regard him as a “superstar”

-He was  hurt by the fact that some within the organization questioned whether he really injured his hand in the preseason by doing knuckle push-ups

-And most importantly, Love was upset that he didn’t receive the “max” offer when it was time to negotiate an extension, calling the Wolves’ possible strategy of saving the “max” deal for guard Ricky Rubio “a projection over a sure thing”

Naturally, Love downplayed the comments the day after they were made public – but didn’t back off of them. He did express frustration with the fact that positive tidbits he had offered about the Wolves hadn’t made it into the article, and concluded his remarks on the entire subject with the old “I want to retire a Timberwolf” platitude.

First of all, let’s set one thing straight – Adrian Wojnarowski hates David Kahn’s guts, and this fact is widely recognized by front offices and media members around the league.[iii] Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press, who’s as about as non-confrontational  as it gets, called the piece “sensationalized” and “a bit irresponsible”, which coming out of his mouth was as shocking to these ears as Mr. Rogers dropping an ‘F’ bomb. The story drips with condescending potshots at the Timberwolves’ organization, and its fans, for treating Kevin Love so poorly – and goes way over the top in doing so. Love’s comments were bad enough, but pair them with Wojnarowski’s agenda, and it’s hardly surprising things blew up the way they did.

As far as Love questioning Kahn’s competence – well, that’s sort of like calling the sky “blue.” Only after coach Rick Adelman came aboard did the roster begin to reflect any sort of plan. The Timberwolves, loaded with smart players who fit Adelman’s system, have built more buzz around the franchise than they’ve had since their last playoff appearance in 2004-05.The timing of the piece was the biggest buzzkill, especially because of imminent return of the sensational Ricky Rubio.

Love’s comments beyond mere organizational gripes. One way to alienate a fan base, especially a blue collar one such as Minnesota’s, is to “complain” about money when you’re making $13,668,750 this year. Reading the full article by Wojnarowski, it’s clear that Love’s got the summer of 2015 on his mind, and that’s depressing. Instead of focusing on this season, when he’s surrounded by teammates with winning pedigrees (Andrei Kirilenko and J.J. Barea, especially) he’s looking ahead to when and how he might finagle his way out of Minnesota.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Portland Trail Blazers

Players like Love are hard to find. Once you’ve got them, you’ve got to embrace them… warts and all.

I don’t believe Love’s festering issues are strictly about money, either. He’s an All-Star, and it’s a star-driven league. Finding one, and holding onto him, is very hard to do. Love knows he holds the cards, now, and it’s crystal clear that he feels as though he was disrespected in a big way by the Wolves’ organization. Fans might be looking at a three year window of possibility before he’s lost and gone forever, to the Lakers, or the Knicks, or the Mavericks.

For better or worse, it’s not always about how much money a player makes – it’s about “respect.” And while it seems silly, if you apply it to your own work situation, it makes sense in a strange way. The fact that Love is a millionaire adds a different element to it, but he’s still human – he feels slights, and maybe he’s a little insecure. It’s probably what’s motivated him to become the player he is – reshaping his game, and his body, to become an All-Star.

I know this – it’ll be way tougher for the Wolves to replace Kevin Love than it was for anyone who’s ever had to replace me… at anything. And if you’re honest, you’ll admit the same thing, swallow your pride, and hope that the Wolves can patch things up with Kevin Love and keep him in Minneapolis for a long, long time.

It’s a superstar league. If you want to win in the NBA, you have to play by their rules, as tricky and unsavory as that can be at times.

 

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below


[ii] This is the first and last time I’ll compare myself to a professional athlete. I know, I know, my life experience and his aren’t in the same stratosphere, really, but I have a point to make. I think.

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The Shved Army


A Russian expatriate is becoming a Minnesota fan favorite
@BreakTheHuddle

Shved
This past offseason was one of tremendous upheaval in the offices at the Target Center. Malcontents and inconsistent buffoons were jettisoned in favor of long, athletic and intelligent wing players. Out went Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic, Martell Webster, Anthony Randolph, Wayne Ellington and Wes Johnson; in came Andrei Kirilenko, Greg Stiemsma, Dante Cunningham,  and Chase Budinger. Brandon Roy, sans knee cartilage and all, was also signed to (hopefully) fill the void at shooting guard, the caveat being – “if he can stay healthy.”

The Roy experiment lasted five games before knee pain, and another surgery, sidelined him indefinitely. The risk was well worth it: the dearth of talent at shooting guard has made it a premium position in the NBA. If Roy could have managed to be 75% of his former self, for 24-28 minutes per night, his $5 million salary would’ve actually been a bargain.

The answer to the Wolves’ shooting guard deficiency, or at least part of the answer, came in the form of their least heralded offseason pickup: Russian guard Alexey Shved. Lured away from his Euroleague club, CSKA Moscow, Shved was an unproven commodity. A combo-guard with good length, he was seen in the Olympics playing for the bronze-winning Russian national team along with fellow Wolves’ newcomer Andrei Kirilenko.

It isn’t often that impact foreign players go completely undrafted – usually, someone will take a second-round flier on an international guy just in case he develops into a back-of-the-rotation contributor – so what happened with Shved? How come he was an international free agent, ripe for the plucking?

Shved 2

Also a problem: the hair, which he has since fixed.

Shved was draft eligible in 2010, at the age of 21. According to scouting reports from around that time,[i] concerns about his wiry frame, as well as his perimeter shooting, held him back. According to Wolves’ beat writer Jerry Zgoda, there were also some doubts about his maturity.[ii] Oddly enough, it seems as though his game wasn’t suited for the Russian leagues in which he played, which are known for their slow-it-down, half-court style of play. Shved is more of a slasher, which is possibly attributable to his time with American players such as Trajan Langdon, a former Duke star who wound up with CSKA Moscow after his college days were over.[iii]

All that was enough for Alexey to slip through the cracks – that is, until his 2011-12 Euroleague and club season, in which he broke out in a big way. In 21 Euroleague games (Europe’s highest level of competition) he averaged a 10.6/2.6/3.6 line on 49%/50%/81% shooting splits. In club games, he went for 11.6/2.9/3.3 on 46%/39%/78% shooting. Two years older, and having addressed his perimeter shooting woes, Shved was now a free agent, thanks to the fact he’d gone undrafted in 2010. It was a blessing in disguise.

To be fair, the Wolves weren’t the only team who approached Alexey with a contract offer – Memphis and Cleveland were also in the mix – but he chose to come to Minnesota, and it’s difficult to believe Andrei Kirilenko didn’t have something to do with it. The two came as something of a package deal – 3 years, $9-$10 million for Shved, and 2 years, $20 million for Kirilenko, with both deals signed within two days of each other at the end of July.

Andrei Kirilenko has arguably been the Wolves’ most important player to this point, but Shved’s contributions to the back court cannot be understated. Though he has yet to start a game, Shved has played more minutes than the nominal “starting” shooting guard in 11 of the team’s 18 games, including the last 7 in a row. The Wolves are 6-5 in such games, and 3-4 in the rest.

Shved’s non-starting irks some Wolves fans who’d like to see him on the floor at the opening tip – but Adelman’s handling of his backcourt rotation is anything but conventional. Most teams start their best players and rest them from the 3:00 mark of the 1st and 3rd quarters to the 10:00 mark of the 2nd and 4th quarters. Adelman, however, starts Malcolm Lee at the 2-guard, plays him until there’s about 3:00 left in the 1st and 3rd quarters… then Alexey Shved comes in, and rarely leaves the court afterward. Shved ends halves and games on the floor – a sign that the coaching staff trusts him a great deal.[iv]

The trust in Shved makes sense – he’s hardly your typical rookie. He’s been playing professionally since he was 17 years old. This season, he’s averaging 10.6/2.7/3.6 on 40%/33%/79% shooting splits – remarkably similar to his production with CSKA Moscow last season. While a 33% mark from the perimeter is nothing to write home about, he’s had to become more of a gunner with the absence of Chase Budinger (out with a knee injury) and the struggles of Kevin Love (22% from 3-point range).

Despite the low Field Goal and 3-point percentages, he’s still an efficient player, with a 14.3 PER.[v] For some reason, he’s labeled as a point guard in all the NBA statistical databases, which is odd, because he’s rarely the primary ballhandler on the floor; almost all his minutes come with Barea or Ridnour on the court with him. If he were labeled as a shooting guard, that 14.3 PER would be good for 23rd in the league, ahead of big money guys like Joe Johnson ($19.7 million salary) and Andre Iguodala ($14.7 million). He’s about on par with J.J. Redick ($6 million) and Jason Terry ($5 million) in that category.

I’m not saying he’s as good as those four guys, but if he’s in the conversation with them, and for half the cost, it’s pretty clear the Wolves found a diamond in the rough when they snagged him out of Mother Russia. If you insist on calling him a point guard, his efficiency looks a little worse, but is still higher than Ty Lawson, Devin Harris and some guy named Jeremy Lin – and again, Shved makes significantly less money than all of them.

What remains to be seen is how Shved meshes with Ricky Rubio when he returns. Malcolm Lee has abysmal as the starting shooting guard, and should see a significant decline in minutes once the Spanish prodigy is cleared to play. But time will tell how Adelman distributes the minutes in a crowded backcourt, with Shved, Barea and Ridnour all viable options at the guard spots.

The potential lineup that really excites many Wolves fans – most of all, me – is Rubio, Shved, Kirilenko, Love and Nikola Pekovic. It would be fun to see players with the passing skill sets they possess take the floor at the same time – the unselfish ball movement, playing within Adelman’s offensive system, would be a sight to behold.

Will Adelman agree with our premise? Would that lineup even be successful? Hopefully, we start to get some answers on Wednesday night.

Rubio

 

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!


[ii] Personal correspondence via Twitter. Jerry Zgoda is a must-follow for Wolves fans – he’s engaging, pleasant and sticks strictly to Wolves-related business.

[iii] Also in the Draft Express article referenced in footnote 1.

[iv] As of December 3rd, Shved had played in 86% of the team’s 4th quarter minutes, per 82games.com.

[v] PER stands for “Player Efficiency Rating”, a statistic developed by ESPN’s John Hollinger that is a little like WAR in baseball. There’s an explanation here: http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/hollinger/statistics

BTH Preview: Game 1, Sacramento Kings


I pay homage to Timberwolves blogger Tim Allen, who passed away in August, by emulating one of his timeless “game preview” pieces.[i]

@BreakTheHuddle

Pictured: Tim Allen, aka @TimAllenOnline, Timberwolves blogger. His writing style, entertaining, informative and full of wisecracks, is one I make every effort to emulate.

I didn’t know Tim Allen. At least, not in a personal sense.

I knew of him, knew the Twitter handle (@TimAllenOnline), knew he was snarky, knew the intelligence, knew he had correspondence with other amateur bloggers, overwhelmingly positive, encouraging and sincere. But I never wrote anything to him, never knew what he did for a living, and I never knew his anguish. On August 7th, 2012, hours after tweeting about a USA-Argentina Olympic basketball game, six days after his final post, Tim Allen took his own life.

I learned about him after the fact. I learned about him digitally – first through the anguish of people I follow on Twitter, people who knew him, people who couldn’t believe what had happened. Amateur sports blogging is an insular community – if you’re serious about getting what you write to the public, familiar names and faces will pop up. As a guy interested in writing about the Wolves, Tim Allen kept popping up – and now he was gone. People said he was funny, sharp and kind. A very talented writer. A brother, son and friend.

All those things are human connections, and I wouldn’t have any of that with Tim. My connection with the man is all through the internet, via screens and mobile devices. See, once he passed away, I started reading some of what he wrote – he was the co-manager of the popular Timberwolves blog Canis Hoopus – and that’s when the bond started to form.

He was a much better writer than I am – no question about that – but there was something familiar about the way he wrote. The way his brain worked, the non-sequitors, the faux-homer-ism, the painstaking attention to detail and statistics – all of it was something I try to employ in my own writing. I slowly felt as though I knew the guy, in a tiny way, knew his sense of humor, his way of seeing things. He loved hoops. He loved to play with the form and structure of writing posts. He loved being a smartass.

Forgive me if you knew him and my assumptions are way off the mark, but reading his exhaustive body of work left those impressions upon me. I admire the talent and devotion he had for writing, above all else. I am sorry to all those who lost someone they knew on a deeper level than my distant, electronic admiration.

So in honor of Tim, and because the Timberwolves begin their 2012-13 season tonight, full of promise, here is my Game 1 preview, shamelessly, earnestly imitating Tim Allen.

My first suggestion to the Wolves: fewer ‘Muskies’ throwback nights, and more ‘Early 90s’ throwback nights.

Game 1: Minnesota Timberwolves (0-0) versus Sacramento Kings (0-1) at Target Center

It’s true that some of the excitement for the Wolves’ season opener has been tempered by the fact that stars Ricky Rubio (torn ACL) and Kevin Love (broken hand) will not be in the lineup for the game. Rubio’s injury (it happened last March)has had plenty of time to sink in, and fans weren’t expecting him back until January anyway. But Love’s freak incident (which occurred while he did bare-knuckle pushups) threw a wet blanket on the anticipation for the 2012-13 campaign.

Despite the injuries to the team’s two most important players, there’s still plenty to be excited about. The roster has been upgraded, and for the first time, there is an expectation for the Wolves to contend, despite the fact they’ll have to weather the storm for awhile until Love and Rubio are healthy. If the veteran-laden team can weather the storm, there should be a playoff run to look forward to in March and April.

The Kings opened their season Wednesday night with a loss against the Derrick Rose-less Bulls at the United Center in Chicago. Tyreke Evans scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, a surprisingly efficient night for the enigmatic guard. As a team, the Kings tallied 14 assists on 34 offensive field goal – they broke down into one on ones far too often, eschewing ball movement for isolation plays. The Bulls won despite the fact that Nate Robinson gets meaningful minutes for them (20 in the opener). It’s going to be a long season in Sacramento.

Let’s break down the matchups for the Wolves’ season opener:

The dude with the best tattoo in the NBA could have one of 2012’s biggest breakout seasons.

C: Nikola Pekovic vs DeMarcus Cousins

Remember last year, when Darko Milicic opened the season as Minnesota’s starting center? Wasn’t that hilarious? Well this year, the starting big man is Nikola Pekovic, who surprised everybody by making a quantum leap his second season in the league. His per/36 minute averages: 18.5/9.9/0.9, shooting 56% from the field and 74% from the line. He showed up to camp trim, fit and ready to go. Translation: a breakout season awaits him.

DeMarcus Cousins is a crazy person. At the tender age of 22, he has already got a coach’s blood on his hands (figuratively, of course. He didn’t murder Paul Westphal. Yet.) He’s got immense talent, averaging a double-double (18.1/10.9/1.6) on 44.8% shooting a season ago. At 6’11, 270 pounds, he is about as gifted athletically as they come; problem is, he’s a lunatic. And don’t even suggest this “lunacy” talk is all just latent jealousy over the fact that the Wolves took the affable, though terrible, Wes Johnson ahead of him in the 2010 NBA Draft. Don’t. Even. Suggest it.

Winner: Pekovic

If he can be 75% of what he once was, and keep his hair a defensible length and style, Kirilenko’s signing will look like a steal.

PF: Andrei Kirilenko vs Jason Thompson

AK-47 makes his triumphant return to the NBA following a year playing for a pro team in Moscow. While he won’t be the guy who averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2 steals and 3.6 blocks as a 23-year-old way back in 2004-05, he will still be a nice role player, filling up the stat sheet at power forward in Kevin Love’s absence.

Jason Thompson sucks. I’ve never even heard of him. Ha, I am kidding, I’ll tell you something about him. I won’t just leave it at “he sucks”, I’ll give you a reason for it. His per/36 minute averages have been stagnant or declining every year he’s been in the league. This is the start of his fifth season, and the Kings drafted a guy at his position (Thomas Robinson) fifth overall. Writing’s on the wall, Jason. Update your resume.

Winner: Kirilenko

SF: Chase Budinger vs James Johnson

Remember a paragraph ago when I said Jason Thompson’s numbers were “stagnant”? It would be a mistake to look at Budinger’s per/36 history and call those statistics “stagnant.” I prefer “consistent.” As a guy familiar with Rick Adelman’s system (he played for Adelman for two years in Houston) he’ll know what to expect, and play well within the offense. His 3-point percentage soared from 32.5% to 40.2%, more than 5 points ahead of league average.

James Johnson sucks. He’s sort of like Jason Thompson – I mean, who needs ‘em, right? Just another dude with a nondescript name on a stupidly constructed team from the most boring city in the NBA. The Googles tell me he’s a small forward who doesn’t shoot threes well (30% career) and was below average in Win Shares per 48 minutes in 2011-12. What does that mean? He’s not as good as Chase Budinger, that’s what it means.

Winner: Budinger

SG: Brandon Roy vs Tyreke Evans

Roy will get the start, and despite the fact that he “retired” before last season because he had zero cartilage left in his knees, Rick Adelman plans on playing him 30-32 minutes per night. His health will be a key component to the Wolves’ season.

Tyreke Evans is a freakish athlete without a position. Is he a point guard? His rookie season suggests, “no.” Is he a shooting guard? That’s probably right, although he doesn’t play well enough without the ball in his hands to be effective. Is he a small forward? His size (6’6) and shooting ability (20.2% from deep in 2011-12) don’t translate to that position. So what is he? An enigma, much like DeMarcus Cousins. If you’re keeping track, the Kings are starting two super-athletic head cases and two nondescript nobodies.

Winner: Roy

Hopefully, Rubio took some tips from Adrian Peterson, who returned to prime physical form less than ten months after tearing his ACL. The physical similarities between the two guys begin and end right there.

PG: Luke Ridnour vs Isaiah Thomas

Ridnour performed well last year as the team’s starting point guard after the Rubio injury, averaging nearly 14 points and 7 assists in 11 games before going down with a season-ending ankle injury. He’s the perfect guy to perform as a stop-gap at the point – a consummate professional who understands his role, and will cede the starting spot once the Spanish Messiah’s knee allows him to play.

The only difference between THIS Isaiah Thomas and THAT Isiah Thomas is an extra letter ‘a’, as well as nine playoff appearances, two NBA championships, twelve All-Star appearances, two assist titles, two head coaching gigs, one accidental overdose of Lunesta, one submarined basketball franchise (the Knicks), one torpedoed basketball league (the CBA) and one hilariously frightening sexual harassment lawsuit. Other than that, they’re exactly the same.

All kidding aside, THIS Isaiah Thomas went from being the final pick of the 2011 draft to a starter, posting averages of 11 points and 4 assists to go along with 37.9% shooting from 3-point range. It seems like he was an overlooked steal of the draft; it’s too bad he’s been punished by playing for a team with so many ‘me-first’ scorers (Evans, Marcus Thornton, Aaron Brooks, Jimmer Fredette, Francisco Garcia). We might not find out how good Thomas can actually be as a distributor for a long, long time.

Winner: Ridnour

Oh, lest I forget, there’s also a ruined college hoops program in THAT Isiah’s path of destruction.

MY PREDICTION:

Minnesota Timberwolves 111, Sacramento Kings 87

Timberwolves record: 1-0

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BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!

Diversity Quotient


Is the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Roster “Too White”?

@BreakTheHuddle

Russians Andrei Kirilenko (left) and Alexey Shved are newcomers to the Wolves, but instead of thinking of them as diverse assets to the team, some would like you to look at them and see nothing but two more white boys. Personally, all I see are two guys with above-average hair.

The Sunday morning sports section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune featured a report about the state of the Minnesota Timberwolves roster. It didn’t suggest the team make a trade, nor did it cite the team’s failure to land a marquee shooting guard in the offseason, and it didn’t once mention Ricky Rubio’s rehabilitation from a torn ACL last March. Sure, those might seem like pertinent storylines, but this article was following something else: the whiteness of Minnesota’s NBA team.

The article stated that the current incarnation of the Timberwolves’ franchise is the NBA’s “whitest” since the Celtics of the 1980s. Only 33% of Minnesota’s roster is black, which pales (PUN!) in comparison to 78%, which was the percentage of African-American athletes in the NBA in 2011-12.[i]

While those figures are interesting on a purely superficial level, and fair game for light-hearted wise cracks, no one actually thinks there’s something racist going on in the Wolves’ front offices, right? Rick Adelman, who makes most of the personnel decisions these days, is entering his 22nd season as an NBA head coach; you think if he had an issue with black players, it would’ve surfaced by now. Team president David Kahn, also part of the Wolves’ brain trust, is in the last year of his contract, and needs desperately to produce a winner this season in order to continue his employment. Can anyone possibly believe a man in his business, and in his position, would jeopardize his future over race?

Apparently, some people do. The authors of newspaper story, Jerry Zgoda and Dennis Brackin, interviewed two Twin Cities “black leaders” (their words, not mine) on the subject. Here is part of what they had to say:

“I think, personally, that it was calculated. Is this an attempt to get fans back in the stands? Minnesota, after all, is a pretty white state…” (The white-dominated roster is a) “nullification of diversity and a reversal of history.” – Ron Edwards, Minneapolis civil rights advocate

“How did we get a roster that resembles the 1955 Lakers? I think everything is a strategy. Nothing happens by happenstance.” – Tyrone Terrell, President, St. Paul African-American Leadership Council

Oy, vey.

Apparently, those of us who took diversity to mean “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements… The inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization” were all wrong, according to Edwards and Terrell. Diversity is a black and white topic – so a roster featuring two Russians (Alexey Shved, Andrei Kirilenko), a Puerto Rican (J.J. Barea), a Spaniard (Ricky Rubio) and a dude from Montenegro (Nikoa Pekovic) – as well as five American-born black players – doesn’t qualify as being ‘diverse’.

Kevin Love,  a white superstar, is a rarity in the NBA. If he were black, would we be having this discussion?

Not only are those quotes ignorant of the meaning of the word ‘diversity’, they’re also ignorant of Minnesota basketball history, as well as insulting towards the people of this state. The Wolves were never more popular than they were in 2003-04, when they advanced all the way to the Western Conference Finals. The nucleus of that team? Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell – all black dudes, and none of us backwoods hillbillies cared, because they were good.

I’m not saying racism doesn’t exist, nor am I saying that civil rights advocates and African-American leadership groups aren’t important – but I am saying that these two gentlemen are ignorant of reality. Ignorance offends me just as much as racism itself – and their assumption that I, as a Minnesotan, would be more likely to root for a white basketball team just because I am white is a racist thing to assume.

Know what I want to root for? A winner – just like everybody else in Minnesota! Know who the guys on the roster want to play with? Other guys who can play! And as far as the diversity thing is concerned – let’s say someone hears Nikola Pekovic is from Montenegro, gets curious, looks it up on the internet, and accidentally learns a thing or two about Balkan politics, the dissolution of Soviet Union and the rich basketball history of that country. What more can you hope for from diversity besides that?

As Dante Cunningham was quoted as saying near the end of the article:

“There’s just as many athletic white guys on this team as there are black guys who are athletic. It’s no big deal. We’re here to play ball, so regardless of whether we’re white or black or yellow or purple, we’re going to go out and play.”

Veteran newcomer Brandon Roy had this to say:

“It’s just basketball. I never really had to feel like I’m the only black guy out here. I’ve played on teams that maybe had all black guys and the feeling is just the same when I’m out there on the floor playing with these guys.”

If the players on floor don’t seem to mind the racial element, and are committed to each other and providing us a winner, why should we, the fans, care what they look like? Fact is, most of us don’t. We just want a playoff basketball team, no matter how it appears.

 

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!

 


[i] That terrible “pale” pun was also the basis of the article’s headline. It was an embarrassment for the paper, as well as one of my favorite writers, Jerry Zgoda. You can read it for yourself here: http://m.startribune.com/?id=176071391

Timberwolves Summer Synthesis


Trying to piece together this puzzling Timberwolves offseason.

The Timberwolves still have these two guys, so they’re still in pretty good shape.

@BreakTheHuddle

Last summer, the lockout loomed, players fled for Europe or Asia in search of temporary employment, and Minnesota General Manager David Kahn took his sweet time before firing coach Kurt Rambis. The entire offseason was a bizarre anomaly – player movement paralyzed, front offices unsure of how to proceed in the face of the new rules to come in the collective bargaining agreement. In the foggy malaise, the Timberwolves hired veteran (borderline Hall of Fame) coach Rick Adelman, instantly bringing credibility and pedigree to an organization which had possessed neither in nearly a decade.

Any notion that Adelman would teach the talented but inconsistent Wolves roster the “right” way to play, slowly molding them into a winner, has been kicked to the curb. He wants to win, and win now… or at least, that’s the narrative being put forth. Kahn is nearing the end of his deal and needs concrete, on-court success in order to get an extension. Majority owner Glen Taylor gave an interview with Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press after the conclusion of last season, essentially saying that he wants a winning product to drive up the value of the franchise so he can cash out his interest while the going is good.

The priority of the current offseason seems to be upgrading the roster at all costs – to build around the core of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. The pressure to win, and win this season, pushes down on the franchise from all sides. Calling it a “perfect storm” probably conjures the wrong connotation – but the metaphor isn’t far off. Timberwolves fans would be justified to feel a bit uneasy, knowing Kahn is still the person calling the shots. For all of Kahn’s tomfoolery his first few years on the job, he’s purchased some political capital with the fans now that we see how brilliant the Ricky Rubio pick turned out to be.

Still, it’s fair to question whether the Wolves’ brain trust is making decisions that will hamper the future of the franchise, sacrificing assets for a shot to win this season. Here are the moves the team has made since the offseason began:

Bad news: Martell Webster, and his hair, are out of here. Good news: Andrei Kirilenko is coming to town.

-They got rid of one eccentric scorer (Michael Beasley, who wound up in Phoenix for 3 years at $18 million) and brought in another eccentric scorer, one who hasn’t played in the NBA in over a year (Andrei Kirilenko) for more money (2 years, $20 million – though only the first is guaranteed).

-The Wolves jettisoned one inconsistent, three point shooting wing (Martell Webster) and replaced him with another – Chase Budinger, who cost the team their 1st round pick in this year’s draft.

-Since Adelman doesn’t seem to have the time or patience for “projects”, the team had no place for the disappointing Wes Johnson, who they shipped to the Phoenix Suns to clear room for Kirilenko’s contract. They replaced him with another Russian, the unknown Alexey Shved… who will undoubtedly be somewhat of a “project” in the NBA.

-Minnesota swapped shooting guard Wayne Ellington with Memphis for backup power forward Dante Cunningham and signed Greg Stiemsma to shore up the center position behind Nikola Pekovic. Stiemsma came off the bench for Boston last season, and somewhat surprisingly turned in a solid campaign.

-The team also brought in a guy with no cartilage in his knees – Brandon Roy – on the hope he can be 60 or 70 or 80% of what he once was. His contract is 2 years at about $10 million, and hopefully includes some language about knee injuries voiding the second season. It could be a bargain, considering Roy was an All-Star a few seasons ago. It could also be a non-factor, considering, uh, the fact that he has no cartilage in his knees.

-Gone are a nutcase with some upside (Anthony Randolph), a nutcase with no upside (adieu, Darko Milicic, sent packing via the “amnesty” clause), an aging big man with a big contract (Brad Miller), and coach’s favorite Anthony Tolliver. (Side note: Tolliver seems like one of the real good guys in the NBA… but he won’t be missed. The minimal on-court contributions couldn’t warrant keeping him around.

-The exploit which attracted the most attention this summer never actually came to fruition – I’m talking, of course, about the Timberwolves’ offer sheet to Portland’s Nicolas Batum, which was matched by his original club. Attempts to work out a sign-and-trade with the Blazers failed as the two franchises reportedly descended into the kind of behind-the-scenes catfight only a teenage girl could really appreciate.

David Kahn. Some say he resembles ‘Timon’, the meerkat from “The Lion King”…

-The shameless, gory details of said catfight:

1. Since the Wolves signed Brandon Roy, a former Blazer, Portland will not be able to use insurance money to cover part of the mammoth salary still owed to him when he “retired” last year.

2. The Blazers were also mad that the Wolves gave Batum an offer sheet for much more than he was worth ($45 million over 4 years) thus putting them in the awkward position of overpaying Batum to keep him or letting him walk away to a division rival.

… I smell another Random Doppelganger coming.

3. Back in 2010, the Wolves traded starting forward Ryan Gomes and the team’s 16th pick in the 2010 Draft (Luke Babbit) to the Blazers for Martell Webster. Portland team doctors already knew that Webster needed back surgery that would hinder his 2010-11 campaign (turns out, it did). The Blazers organization didn’t disclose this to the Wolves before the deal was official, which is, uh, frowned upon around the league.

Throw in the fact that Kahn’s previous employer was – you guessed it – the Portland Trail Blazers, and you’ve got a good ol’ fashioned blood feud. Blazers owner Paul Allen is convinced Kahn is doing all this to try and make his life difficult, and Wolves fans are convinced Kahn is trying to make OUR lives difficult. The meerkat is doing a fantastic job on both fronts.

I digress. So where does all this movement left the roster? Does the prospective 2012 squad look that much better than the 2011 team? (Starters in bold, new arrivals in italics, departed players struck through.)

Position 2011 2012
Backcourt Rubio

Johnson

Ridnour

Barea

Lee

Ellington

Rubio

Roy

Ridnour

Barea

Lee

Shved

Wings Webster

Beasley

Kirilenko

Budinger

Frontcourt Love

Pekovic

Williams

Milicic

Randolph

Tolliver

Miller

Love

Pekovic

Williams

Cunningham

Stiemsma

If you had to pick one word to describe the 2012 versus 2011 versions of the Wolves roster, that word would probably be… different. And I don’t mean that in the pejorative sense, but the literal one – eight faces are gone, and six new ones have arrived (so far) to take their places. Barring an unexpected blockbuster trade, the team’s notable moves are over – it appears all they have left to do is bring in a couple more backup big men, or perhaps another wing and a big, to fill out the roster.

If the Timberwolves improve this coming season – if they are an above .500 team that makes it into the playoffs – the primary reasons won’t be Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved. It will be because Ricky Rubio returned from his ACL injury in a timely fashion, Kevin Love continues to be great (and plays a little more defense) and Nikola Pekovic follows up on a solid season with a breakout season. None of those things have anything to do with Kahn’s offseason maneuvering.

Rick Adelman’s window of opportunity to win before retiring is closing somewhat rapidly.

Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be nice if Brandon Roy is healthy, Andrei Kirilenko fits in at small forward and Chase Budinger contributes as a sixth man. The moves are okay, even though they are littered with questions. Can Roy survive an 82 game schedule? Can Kirilenko find his groove after a year abroad?

For all the fuss about Kahn and Adelman’s offseason project of improving the roster, what it really comes down to for Wolves fans are Kevin Love, Rubio’s knee and Pek’s presence in the middle. If it all comes together, we’ll see an up-tempo, unselfish and fun brand of basketball on display in Minneapolis – whether that’s because of David Kahn or in spite of him remains to be seen.

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!

Rubio, Love and Flirting with Relevance


An ode to the 2011-12 Timberwolves

@BreakTheHuddle

Technically, the Timberwolves’ season isn’t over yet. They play tonight in Detroit before closing out the season with home games against the Warriors (Sunday) and the Nuggets (one week from today). Officially, there are three games to go.

Unofficially, and in hindsight, I could have written this column on March 9th. Specifically, I could have written it 47 minutes and 44 seconds into the Timberwolves’ game against the Los Angeles Lakers.  That’s the moment when Ricky Rubio crumpled to the floor and left the sellout crowd in the Target Center holding its collective breath. I was there that night, and the intense feeling of dread I felt watching him being carried off the court by his teammates was met with unfortunate news the following day: it was a torn ACL, and Rubio was done for the year.

What’s happened since has been a mixture of good and bad, but mostly bad. And despite the three games the Wolves have left to play, I’m forgoing their input on my opinion of the season. The moment Love went down with a concussion (April 11th versus the Nuggets), the season was more or less finished. Nothing that has happened since should alter our views of the season that was.

It’s time to take a look at what the core of the Timberwolves (Rubio and Love) as well as the rest of the roster did in 2011-12. It’s time to appreciate the Wolves’ newfound sense of relevance. It’s time to look ahead, to see what’s coming, and hope for better things in the years to come. It’s time for some perspective.

Rubio

It’s really hard for me to maintain any sense of perspective when I talk about Ricky Rubio – and I am not alone in this. He is beloved around the league, by both observers and his peers. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated seemed catatonic in a Dan Patrick Show interview immediately after the injury. This followed years of Mannix driving the Rubio bandwagon, calling his passing ability “Magic Johnson-esque” in a podcast just two games into his NBA career. Larry Bird told the Sports Guy (Bill Simmons) that he watches Rubio (and the Timberwolves) “every single night” because he loves the way the team passes the ball when Rubio’s on the floor. When the news broke of his injury, the support that poured in for Rubio (via Twitter, mostly) from players around the league was incredible.

The Wolves were 21-20 with Rubio, and are 4-18 without him. In the 14 games Kevin Love played without Rubio, and before his concussion, the Wolves were 4-10. His importance to the team cannot be overstated. Despite the fact the team has been ravaged with injuries in this condensed season (Nikola Pekovic, Michael Beasley, J.J. Barea, and Luke Ridnour are main contributors who have all missed significant time) there was a clear demarcation, both in style of play and in the results, between the games he played and the ones he didn’t.

His turnover rate was low (for a pass-first point guard), his three point percentage (34%) was  decent, he rebounded the ball very well for a point guard, and he exhibited on the court leadership that belied his status as a “rookie”. He had, after all, begun playing professionally in Spain at the tender age of 14. Once he came onto the court, he was the master of the offense, and wasn’t timid about directing traffic.

Love

Despite being voted the NBA’s Most Improved Player the season before, Kevin Love managed to elevate his game to new levels in 2011-12. He lost a shocking amount of weight (20-25 pounds, but it looks like 40), began driving to the rim more, and improved his outside shot. In March, Love averaged 30.7/13.9/2.1 with 46% Field Goal, 79% Free Throw and 45% 3-point shooting splits. Those numbers are unheard of for an entire month. For the season, his line was 26.0/13.3/2.1 with 45/82/37 percent splits –  making him the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000 to average 26 points and 13 rebounds per game for a season.

He also hit clutch shots late in games – a 3-pointer to beat the Clippers comes to mind, as does another 3 during his 51 point evening versus the Thunder which sent the game into overtime. He doesn’t seem afraid of the moment, which was something that plagued even a terrific player like Chris Webber. Rick Adelman designs plays for him at the end of games, and Love does not shy away from the challenge.

His willingness to improve the holes in his game makes him a terrific leader for this franchise, and the type of guy who deserved (and will earn every penny of) the lucrative extension given to him in February.  While the PR campaign begun by the Timberwolves promoting him as an MVP candidate was a few years’ premature, it’s clear that Love has the potential to win the award in the very near future.

The Rest of the Roster

A diamond in the rough – Nikola Pekovic

The best tattoo in the NBA.

Not to keep quoting Bill Simmons as though everything he writes is basketball Scripture, but in his annual Trade Value column, he ranked Pekovic 51st – FIFTY FIRST – in the NBA. In his mind, at least, there are only 50 people he would trade for Nikola Pekovic. A year ago, the book on Pek was that he was an awkward foul machine. This season, he’s displayed soft hands, deft post moves, shot well from the free throw line, and displayed the best tattoo in the NBA. If his health concerns clear up in the offseason, he should be a force in 2012-13.

You were impressive in spots – Luke Ridnour, Anthony Randolph, J.J. Barea, Wayne Ellington

Ellington is a spot-up three point shooter that actually doesn’t shoot three pointers all that well, yet. But if he ever figures out his stroke, he could be a nice role player for a good team – a poor man’s Mike Miller. Barea is a decent third point guard – he’s a natural scorer who can give you a jolt of energy off the bench when you need it. But when he’s asked to carry the load, well, 11 game losing streaks happen, which is what the Wolves are in right now.

Anthony Randolph never looks happy, unless he’s bolting down the floor with a chance to finish a lob from Ricky Rubio. But again, big men are hard to come by, and Randolph’s skill has never been questioned. A project like him has terrific upside and is worth keeping around, in case he ever figures things out. Luke Ridnour did yeoman’s work this year – he played out of position (at the 2) and never complained, then averaged 14 points and 8 assists as the team’s main point guard after the Rubio injury, battling through injuries all the while… until an ankle injury ended his season. If the Wolves want to contend, they can’t have him in the starting lineup as a shooting guard – but he’s a reliable veteran and a capable backup point guard. He’s definitely a keeper.

The enigma – Derrick Williams

More on him in a bit… suffice it to say, Williams holds the key to the Timberwolves’ success in 2012.

Rick Adelman loves you, and who am I second guess him?- Martell Webster and Anthony Tolliver

Drafted straight out of high school, this was Webster’s seventh season in the league already. In the past, he’s been a smart defender who shot well from distance – but this was a down year for him. Despite that, there seems to be a belief that he can contribute to winning basketball in a reserve role. I don’t believe it – but the Wolves seem to. Another guy I am not sold on, but who is a coach’s favorite, is Anthony Tolliver. By all accounts, he’s one of the nicest guys in the NBA and one of the sport’s hardest workers. According to Adelman, he gets minutes because “he listens”, which is apparently not as common as it ought to be. That means he’ll probably be around in 2012-13… thought it’s hard to feel anything but ambivalent about it.

It’s been real, it’s been fun, but it hasn’t been real fun… Darko Milicic, Michael Beasley, Wes Johnson

Darko can defend big men, and though Pekovic has developed nicely this season, he has some faults on the defensive end. The trouble is, that’s all Darko can do – defend, and he’s not exactly an elite defender. The real issue is that he has the worst set of hands in the NBA. He’s a complete lost cause on the offensive end. And through no fault of his own, since he was once drafted second overall (ahead of Carmelo Anthony), he’s a league-wide symbol of disappointment.

Michael Beasley could be a bench scorer for a playoff team. He could be a valuable asset to someone. He could embrace his role and understand that he isn’t a starting NBA player playing a reserve’s minutes – he’s a career backup, unless he devotes himself to basketball. His talent alone gets him paychecks. The problem is, he seems like a malcontent. He’s spacey and doesn’t seem to “get it”. Winning teams don’t usually have guys like Beasley.

You're nice and all... but this ain't working out.

Wes Johnson has the opposite problem from Beasley – seems like the nicest, most coachable kid on the planet, with one problem: he doesn’t do anything well on a basketball court. Nothing. According to 82games.com, of the 180 players who qualify, Wes ranks 178th in SIMPLE rating (the basketball equivalent to WAR). He doesn’t shoot well (40% FG, 30% 3P%), doesn’t rebound (less than 3 per game) and doesn’t defend well, despite having a size advantage (he’s 6’7) over just about every shooting guard he plays against.

If all three (Darko, Beasley and Johnson) found new homes next season, I’d be happy. My guess is, however, that Darko and Johnson hang around for one more season. And I’ll weep.

 

Closing: Three Offseason Questions

1.       Can Derrick Williams play Small Forward?

A Timberwolves frontcourt of Williams, Love and Pekovic would have matchup issues all over the place. But that configuration requires Williams to play Small Forward, and he’s looked out of sorts when he’s been asked to do that this season. He has the size and athleticism to do it, but had trouble playing out of his ‘natural’ position. Williams actually performed okay, considering he wasn’t allowed to have contact with the coaches until two weeks before the first game (due to the lockout).

A normal offseason and a normal training camp ought to benefit him greatly for next year. Hopefully, the Wolves don’t abandon ship on him just yet – the trade rumors don’t seem to go away – and he can show some improvement in his second season. As the Celtics learned the hard way with Chauncey Billups, it usually isn’t wise to abandon lottery picks before you give them a fair chance.

2.       Can the Wolves find a Shooting Guard?

A backcourt combination of Rubio and Ridnour do some impressive things on the offensive end. The team’s passing is at an elite level if that combination is on the court. But neither one can handle defending shooting guards on a nightly basis, and neither can score with enough regularity to keep pace with the opponents’ 2-guards.

The answer might lie in free agency, where the Wolves have plenty of cap space. The top shooting guard available is Eric Gordon of the Hornets, who has significant upside, but has been injury prone. Giving him a big contract would be a considerable risk. Ray Allen will be a free agent, but it’s unlikely he’d come here. O.J. Mayo would be an interesting scenario – he was drafted by the Wolves and traded to the Grizzlies for Kevin Love – but it’s hard to see that one playing out either.

The possibility – Jamal Crawford, who the Wolves were rumored to be interested in at the deadline. He has a $5.2 million option for next season with Portland, and if he declines it, he’d be a decent fit at a position that is scarce right now in the NBA.

3.       Will the team’s defense improve in 2012-13?

This is the big one. Just about every measurable statistic has the Wolves near the bottom of the NBA in defensive rankings. They’ve allowed the 5th most points per game in the NBA, blocked the 6th fewest shots, are 25th in steals per game, and have allowed the 12th highest opponent field goal percentage. The thing they do well, rebounding, is offset by the fact that they also give up the 8th most rebounds in the game.

The great teams in the NBA – the Thunder, Bulls, and Heat – are all superb defensive teams, led by their superstars. Look for Kevin Love to devote this offseason to his defensive game. He’s been polishing his offensive prowess the past couple of offseasons, and has become one of the league’s best at that end of the floor. But if your superstar really “gets it” – and it seems as though Love does – he’ll continue working tirelessly to improve.

He won’t ever be Kevin Garnett, but at least if he sets the tempo, the team will follow. If the Wolves can add some defensive-minded role players this offseason,  and Love comes in leading the way during next year’s training camp, the team could make the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04.

A playoff appearance is a completely reasonable expectation – and it’s permissible to dream about a first round victory in 2012-13. For the first time in a long, long time, there are reasons to hope for the Timberwolves… and it feels really, really good.

 

IF YOU MADE IT ALL THE WAY TO THE END… Thank you! Let me know what you think – BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, leave a comment, find me on Facebook, or hit me up on Twitter @BreakTheHuddle.

Seedy Salesmen


The curious cases of Ndamukong Suh and Blake Griffin

@BreakTheHuddle

Ndamukong Suh and Blake Griffin, brought to you by Subway.

Ndamukong Suh and Blake Griffin were each widely popular while they were still in college. Both were top picks of forlorn franchises (the L.A. Clippers and Detroit Lions) whose sorry play had earned them ‘punch-line’ status in their respective leagues. Each franchise has resurrected from the ashes, and their young superstars have been catalysts for their rapid improvement.

There’s one other interesting similarity between the two – each one was marketed heavily right out of the gate, and landed significant endorsement deals early in their careers. Suh is a paid spokesman for Nike, Chrysler, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Omaha Steaks. Griffin has been ubiquitous as automaker Kia’s main pitchman; he has also appeared in commercials for Nike, Doritos, Red Bull, AT&T, and Vizio. Both are on Subway’s ever-expanding roster of athlete endorsers.

Despite Suh and Griffin’s proficiency at locking down these lucrative side jobs, is there trouble brewing on the horizon? Over the past twelve months, the on-the-field, on-the-court behavior of the two men has garnered some criticism from both their peers and opposing fans, for a variety of reasons. Could it be that two of the most heavily promoted young athletes in America are actually unlikable? What could this mean for their futures as pitchmen?

Suh

It's rare that a defensive player even cracks the Heisman ballot - the argument can be made Suh should've won the award.

Ndamukong Suh was one of the most decorated college football players in history during his time at the University of Nebraska. His senior season, he won the Associated Press College Football Player of the Year Award, though of course, the highest finish he could muster in the much ballyhooed Heisman Trophy voting was 4th. In reality, Suh was the best college football player in America in 2009 – and one of the most dominant defensive forces to come into the NFL in years.

He gained great publicity and became a media darling when he donated $2.6 million to his alma mater in April of 2010, before he had even been drafted, much less appeared in an NFL game. The positive reviews of the guy coming out of college were overflowing, and companies lined up en masse to enlist his services.

A funny thing has happened over the past two seasons. When it comes to his on-field conduct, at time Suh can be… well, dirty. His defenders believe his new reputation is unfair, and argue that he is merely an “old-school” football player. His detractors see him as a bully or a menace that cannot control his temper. The two clips below are examples of Suh at his worst:

Suh’s infamous “Thanksgiving Day Stomp”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXDmCVSnn1U

Suh attempts to collect Jake Delhomme’s head as a souvenir

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vtOrd1U5Z8

Moments like these leave lasting impressions on opposing players, coaches, announcers and officials, to the point where the reputation of Suh as a dirty player takes on a life of its own. Suddenly, Suh can’t make a (relatively) clean football tackle without announcers raising their voices or referees throwing flags, as you see here:

Suh sacks Andy Dalton, whose helmet happens to come off

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUAClQ9ZY3I

Suh pushes Jay Cutler to the ground, and flags fly

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kw6vxVVXWUM

Whether Suh is A) the victim of a league cracking down disproportionately on defensive violence, or B) a dirty football player is beside the point. When it comes to endorsements, to marketability, to sales, perception is key. For football fans outside of Detroit, even casual ones, the name Ndamukong Suh is synonymous with controversial or dirty play.

On the other hand, athletes don’t lose endorsements due to on-field performance – it’s almost always an off-the-field concern which makes them a persona-non-grata. Tiger Woods was a reckless philanderer, Kobe Bryant was accused of rape, Michael Phelps smoked some weed, Michael Vick killed some dogs – and some of the companies paying them big money ended those relationships (at least until names were cleared or the storm blew over).

Given Suh’s personal makeup (how many 23 year olds do you know that would donate $2.6 million [if they had it] to their alma mater?) it’s doubtful we’ll see scandal on that level out of him. But two years into his professional career, he is in a dangerous territory – if he becomes reviled throughout the country, the symbol of a ‘bad-boy’ football player a la James Harrison or Bill Romanowski, he won’t expand his market further, and could see his current endorsements shrivel up.

Griffin

A Blake Griffin dunk is a sight to behold.

The glamour position in football is at quarterback – it’s tough for a non-quarterback to ascend into the upper echelon of lucrative endorsements. Basketball is much different. Part of the reason is the inherent nature of the game – football players are covered in pads and helmets, whereas basketball players are more ‘visible’ in their uniforms. The economic structure of professional basketball is also unique. Shoe deals and ‘cults of personality’ seem to factor heavily in which stars attract attention.

Enter Blake Griffin. An All-American and Naismith National Player of the Year during his sophomore season at Oklahoma, Griffin was drafted first overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2009 NBA Draft. He suffered a knee injury in the final preseason game of his rookie year and didn’t appear in a single game for the Clippers in 2009-10. He returned for the 2010-11 season and quickly left his impression on the league with high-flying dunks and examples of his highlight-reel athleticism.

Griffin’s health alone made many NBA observers happy; there was a concern the league would end up with another Greg Oden, who had been drafted #1 in 2007 but had seen his career ruined by knee and leg injuries. Blake came back healthy, and with a flair for the dramatic. He made several deft moves early in his career, the most famous of which was him dunking over a Kia during the Slam Dunk contest (which he won) during All-Star weekend – which parlayed into his first major endorsement deal.

As we near the end of his second season in the league, Blake has picked up many more endorsements, but below the surface bubbles a sinister sentiment among his peers – that Griffin is a flopper. There is plenty of violence in Griffin’s game – the physicality and strength required to pull off some of his dunks is breathtaking – but at times Griffin has obviously overplayed contact in a cheap manner. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

Eddie House ‘fouls’ Griffin on a breakaway

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AM0UhJIFbNM&NR=1&feature=endscreen

Griffin hurls himself into the stands

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwL5k4FDVkQ

He hits himself in the head and asks why a foul isn’t called

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHgADbmFLCM

At risk of agreeing with DeMarcus Cousins on anything… he called Griffin ‘an actor’ on this one, and it’s hard to argue with it

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvC-TW0ues8

This is the most egregious one… Griffin hard fouls himself

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyXeeHcaGR0

Someone please explain to me why 'posterizing' is such a big deal.

‘Flopping’ is an issue for the NBA. Many players do it (see also: every European player, ever) but there seems to be particular exception to Blake’s flopping. Part of this might have to do with Griffin’s affinity for ‘posterizing’ opponents during dunks, and the long stare-downs he gives players (and officials) if he gets fouled or doesn’t get a particular foul call. Griffin wants to play a physical, violent style of basketball – but gets very worked up over people getting physical with him. I’m not saying Griffin’s a sissy; far from it. He gets beaten up more than just about any player:

Jason Smith continues the New Orleans bounty program, this time in the NBA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQmV7ETxj2I

Andre Miller doesn’t like Griffin much

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLAPJiETLCE

In a time when highlight reels are viewed about as much as the actual games are, it’s easy to lose sight of what is important. Griffin is viewed by many as the best power forward in the game, in part because of the staggering number of impressive dunks and hustle plays he makes (Griffin’s Youtube dunk montages go on forever, it seems). Arguing based on these criteria is a little like arguing that Dominique Wilkins was better than Michael Jordan – no one who understands the sport would ever do such a thing.

But highlight-reel popularity can translate into endorsement deals and a national media profile, which Griffin is wisely capitalizing on. Much like Suh, it’s doubtful that Griffin could suffer major loss of endorsement dollars unless he gets into some legal trouble. However, if he becomes a villain – to borrow a phrase from wrestling, if he ‘turns heel’ – it’s definitely feasible that his public profile could dwindle.

Personally, I dislike Suh and Griffin – Suh because I am a Packer fan, Griffin because of the way he plays – but I’m never going to stop eating Subway or Doritos over it. It’s likely that 99% of people feel the exact same way. It is interesting to note, though, that two of the most marketable young athletes in America are a bit unlikable, and may never become the beloved figure that we all picture when we think about the top endorsement-earning athletes (i.e. Peyton Manning).

A jerk who a significant portion of the population dislikes can still make plenty of money as a spokesman, after all.

Charles Barkley in a dress... brought to you by Weight Watchers.

What do you think? Send me your feedback at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, leave a comment, find me on Facebook, or hit me up on Twitter!