"Every time you thought, 'I just don't know how this is going to go,' we'd turn around and win three or four in a row," McHale said. "With 42 games left to go, we wanted to make sure Randy had the time to get things going."
- Kevin McHale after firing Dwayne Casey, who had compiled a 20-20 record with a lottery-bound team.
Our Beloved Puppies are now 35-96 with Randy Wittman at the end of the bench. So far this year he has resorted to questioning his players' trust of one another, their effort, as well as "pulling the switch" on the starting lineup a handful of games into the season.
Anywho, Witt has dug deep into his Bobby Knight bag of motivational tricks to get this team moving on the right direction. Coaching-wise, this has meant a lot of crazy lineups and a style of play that doesn't exactly fit the personnel on the squad. Last night's game is a perfect example of this approach in action.
Against the Warriors the Wolves ran out 11...yes 11...players in the 1st quarter of play. The substitutions began when Kevin Love was lifted (with a +6) at the 2:28 mark and replaced with mini-4 Craig Smith. Smelling blood in the water, Warriors coach Don Nelson replaced starting guard CJ Watson with the skeletal 6'10" rookie Anthony Randolph. When Nelson upped the tall-ball ante by putting in the 6'10" Ronny Turiaf, Witt responded with the small-ball duo of Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes. Not surprisingly, the 19-6 lead the Wolves accumulated at the beginning of the game quickly evaporated into a 27-27 score by the end of the quarter.
The fun continued right into the 2nd quarter with a lineup centered around Rashad McCants and Foye. The Warriors countered with a massive lineup centered around the ridiculously long Brandon Wright and Randolph.
This approach became so obvious that the Warriors' announcers were literally calling it the "tall-ball" lineup. Of course, it ran into a bit of a pickle in the 3rd when the Wolves finally got around to fielding a rotation of Mike Miller, Al Jefferson, Love, Brewer, and Foye, but Don Nelson made the necessary adjustments and rode his starters hard in the 4th and overtime while Witt inexplicably rolled out a McCants, Gomes, Foye, Smith, Big Al special over the better part of the last 17 minutes of the game.
Think about this for a moment. In the 1st quarter, with the Wolves up 19-6, Witt installs the rotating door to the tune of 11 different players. He then ends the game by sticking to a 6 man rotation for the final 17 minutes of the game. At every step of the way his flailing efforts were met with a Don Nelson smile and the insertion of yet another 6'10" tall ball player. It was absolutely brutal to watch. In comes a Minnesota Smurf...in comes a Golden State giant.
Even more frustrating was the apparent reasoning for some of these substitutions. Granted, he had already played 9:31 to start off the game, but Al Jefferson was yanked for Mark Madsen after absolutely, 100%-without-a-doubt not trying on help defense when he watched Kelenna Azubulke drive through the middle of the lane for a layup. Madsen played the final 2+ minutes of the quarter and was never to be heard from again. This is even more ridiculous when you take into account Jerry Zgoda's latest column on the squad, entitled Matchups keeping Collins on the bench:
Collins, though, offers something the Wolves so far lack: Size. He's a 7-foot center on a team that plays undersized Al Jefferson and Kevin Love at center and Love, Ryan Gomes and Craig Smith at power forward. After the Wolves traded for Love on draft night, basketball boss Kevin McHale said a Love-Jefferson frontcourt pairing is plenty big enough most nights in a league that has downsized in recent seasons.
Other nights, though, there still is a need for traditional NBA center size.
"We have, for a number of years," Wittman said when asked if his team has missed having 7-foot height. "We've talked about our size. We have to get bigger and as this moves on, we have to look to get him in the game."
Keep in mind that this was written before the Wolves were ripped apart by tall ball. (To play the Devil's Advocate, perhaps Witt is an evil genius and he is using games like the GSW contest to highlight the small ball deficiencies of the team that have been brought about by years of poor front office decisions.)
Along with Collins, the other DNP-CD was Kevin Ollie. Mr. Ollie didn't see the court because Randy Foye, the team's backup 2 guard, went for 38:45 while Sebastian Telfair, the team's starting point, only picked up 14:14 of burn. I mention this because the Wolves' small ball bench was decidedly torched last night while the starters were able to put up some decent +/- numbers. Bassy was having an off night and it was obvious. Instead of working with a Foye/Ollie duo at the point with the group of starters, the Wolves...well, I don't know if there was any rhyme or reason to what Witt was doing last night.
Getting around to the larger issue here involving the coaching of this squad, I think it is safe to say that while Witt is to be commended for pointing out the ridiculousness of McHale's 42-40 comment (he probably knew his days were numbered when he read that in the Strib), and while he was able to keep his players trying hard during a 22-win season, he is performing so far below a reasonable level this year that a change needs to be made ASAP for the sake of the long-term benefit of this club. It's bad. It's really bad. He's flailing about with rotations that make no sense, there is little evidence of player development, there doesn't seem to be a coherent system in place, and the on-court decisions don't seem to have any real coordination with the abilities of the personnel on the court. We'll save the topic of who should be coaching this team for another day, but let's acknowledge one thing here before moving on with the game's bullet points: Witt is a career .333 coach with zero track record of player development. He is who he is and he can't be anyone else. The fact that he's even in the position he is in is an indictment of one person and one person only: The Iron Ranger. Perhaps he should take the chair at the end of the bench for the rest of the year. It's not too late to hold him to the .500 standard he mentioned at the end of last year. Actually, I'd go as far to say that this is the only benchmark that needs to be met this year: Taylor making McHale coach his motley collection of players to a .500 record or else.
Oh well, let's wrap this up with bullet points:
- Randolph + Brewer = All skeleton team
- Overheard from the GSW announcing crew: "This is not practice." (In regards to the poor play of the Warriors in the 1st quarter. "Is McCants playing with teammates?" (In regards to 2nd Quarter Shaddy.)
- 2nd Quarter Shaddy had one of his classic moments last night in...surprise...the 2nd. After the aforementioned quote about playing with teammates, the GSW crew mentioned that Shaddy is a "tough guy" and that he was trying to "intimidate" the rookie Randolph. I'm not sure what this meant but Shaddy did have the famous scowl on full blast and he was bodying up Randolph at every opportunity. As luck would have it Shaddy and Randolph got locked up in a jump ball and before the tip you could see Rashad mouth the words "my ball" to the 6'10" Randolph. He then proceeded to lose the tip. Mission Intimidation....not accomplished. And so goes Shaddy's game. There just seems to be something missing between the player he is in his head and the one that makes its way out on the court.
- Foye went off in the 3rd.
- Why won't Mike Miller shoot the ball? Against Portland in the 4th he camped out opposite Al Jefferson and it worked like gangbusters. This time around...not so much. This was especially frustrating considering the zone Golden State played down the stretch. With two 40% three point shooters on the floor, the Wolves should have been more effective in this set.
- I don't like to complain about the refs, but with 46.8 seconds to go in the 3rd, I think I saw the wort call in NBA history. Andris Biedrins was "fouled" on the way to the hoop but in both real time and replay it was obvious that he wasn't even touched.
Al Harrington, Corey Maggette, and Monta Ellis did not play in the Warriors' win. I'm pretty sure this means the Wolves are in the cellar of the NBA.
- The Wolves outrebounded the Warriors 18-4 in the 3rd and the Warriors outrebounded the Wolves 16-3 in the 4th. Kevin Love sat out the 4th. This by itself borders on a fireable offense.
Well, that's about it for now. Over at Zgoda's blog he has an interesting post up on wondering what happens next. Go check it out.