The caption on this picture says that Jonny Flynn is battling Steve Blake and LaMarcus Aldridge during the first half of their game. In reality, Flynn had lost control of his dribble and simply fallen over in the lane, dropping the ball into the hands of a Portland defense who was willing and able to relieve him of possession. Such was the night for the Wolves. These are the sorts of contests where you really hope that the Wolves' coaching staff knows what they are doing because to the fan's naked eye, there really wasn't anything that went right. Nothing.
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We all knew this was going to be a long season. We all knew the Wolves weren't going to be world beaters. Most fans know that the Wolves have put themselves into a situation with a solid organizational future filled with cap space and draft picks. We know that the new coaching staff is installing a system with a high learning curve. We all know that being a Wolves fan in 2009/10 requires a load of patience.
All of that being written, there are some quarters, some halves, and some nights--even this early in the season--where even the most patient amongst us has to be wondering "what the hell?"
David Kahn started his tenure by priming the pump for an expectation of a two point guard system. He drafted a bunch of points, signed one more, and then hired a coach who won't put two points on the floor together. Al Jefferson, the team's highest scorer and best paid player, is looking completely hampered by injury and by a system that seems 100% not geared to utilize his talents. The team's best all-around player is out for 6-8 weeks with a broken hand and will probably take a few weeks to get back in the swing of things once he finally finds his way back onto the court.
I give this team about a 2% chance of finishing the season with its current roster. Something is going to give. Someone is going to get moved. This is a good thing. This team has a lot of assets and, by all accounts, they have a hard working VPBO who is willing to make the big deal. The problem for us fans is that the current product is...well, what are we supposed to feel about it on nights like the ones against Milwaukee and Portland? This team was blown up in the off season and it looks even more mismatched than last year's group. Yes, Jonny Flynn is intriguing. Yes, it looks like Kurt Rambis and his staff knows what they are doing, but can this franchise weather the storm of unwatchable ball with players who are likely not part of the long term plan? Who on this club can you be sure will be around in 2 months? Really, even Al Jefferson has to be put into question at this point. He looks like a square peg out there...a square peg who can't play defense and is 30 pounds more mismatched at the 5.
It's not that they're not playing hard. It's not that there aren't some things to be excited about, but...well, I don't think I really appreciated just how much Kahn's early dealing put this entire franchise into a state of flux and how that would affect my interest in what is going on out there on the court. I will watch the games because I love pro ball and the Wolves are my favorite team, but watching the squad against the Blazers I couldn't help but think that we're going to see about 10 more changes to this team in the next year and that I have more allegiance to what might happen than to whatever Pecherov, Wilkins, Cardinal based rotation we see run out on the floor. Jonny Flynn can put up 20 points a night but the most exciting thing about this club is still its cap space and draft picks. That's crazy. A lot of people have emailed me to ask me when I think the Wolves will "turn the corner". My answer to this is the moment we stop talking about draft picks and cap space for about 10 games in a row. For now, it's more entertaining to talk about things like whether or not Big Al is a fit or whether Ryan Gomes and Ramon Sessions will get traded before the end of the year. That's a bit more problematic than I thought it would be at the start of the season.
Getting around to the actual game, here's the Four Factors:
(UPDATE) The PopcornMachine GameFlow is available here. (UPDATE)
The most disappointing aspect of this particular game was a complete unwillingness of anyone in blue to attack the paint. Greg Oden is a nice young center and the Blazers have a lot of young athletic wings who can make that sort of thing a bit of a pain, but if you are going to win in the NBA you need to attack the rim and get to the line.
Another disappointing thing of note was the Wolves getting out-assisted 35 to 19 and out-rebounded by 10. Al Jefferson was in full Black Hole mode, drawing the entire offense to a grinding halt whenever he touched the ball while taking a good 5-6 seconds to set up a one-handed push shot that rarely was on mark. Nathan Jawai repaced him and proceeded to find Ramon Sessions twice in the middle of the lane where he could do nothing with the ball because he was surrounded by nothing but trees. On too many possessions, 3 or 4 Wolves just stood around and watched.
As for the rebounding...the less said about that the better.
I don't have any bullet points for this game. It was completely non-descript on the part of the Wolves. Jawai had some nice moves, Gomes played OK, and Corey Brewer found some time to make a few good hustle plays as well as keeping the Wolves from getting ally-ooped on a couple of times.
The last thing I have to say about this game is that I hope whoever gets to stick around for 2-3 years remembers this one. I hope they remember the Blazers taking 3s and going for the Sports Center dunks while being up by 25 (quick side note: how in the world did Ramon Sessions get called for a foul when Martell Webster jumped on his back?). This is one of those tilts that you have to file away in the revenge file. The Blazers came out and kicked the you-know-what out of the Wolves and they kept on kicking when they were down. I'll never hope an injury on anyone but this was one of those games where you were kind of hoping Jawai or Brian Cardinal would have put someone trying a 3 while up by nearly 30 on their back. Perhaps the Wolves aren't even at that level of play. Maybe there's nothing long term for the majority of these guys to protect. Whatever the case, here's hoping someone remembers what kind of crap was put out there last night and does something to change it when they get the chance with a better surrounding cast somewhere way, way, way down the line...well past 70+ more games of wondering who will get to stay or go, and what, if anything, will be done with all that cap space.