Rudy Gobert

Wolves’ Connelly Talks Gobert, KAT, Edwards, Milton

As we relayed on Thursday, Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly spoke during an appearance on The Jon Krawczynski Show about the team’s desire to keep Jaden McDaniels around for the long term, telling Krawczynski that he’d love to get an extension done with the young forward before the season begins.

Connelly’s comments about McDaniels weren’t the only interesting takeaway from that conversation. As Krawczynski writes for The Athletic, the Wolves’ lead decision-maker also addressed several other topics related to the club’s offseason and expectations for the 2023/24 season, including why Minnesota is more optimistic about the pairing of Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns heading into their second year together.

“We don’t have too much video, but we have enough video to understand where we were wrong and where we were right and kind of drill down on those things that were working and say, ‘Maybe we were wrong with this is how things potentially could work,'” Connelly said. “So I just think collectively, knowing all the actors is going to make things a whole lot easier.”

Here are a few more highlights from Connelly during his interview with Krawczynski:

On whether the Wolves viewed 2022/23 as a down year for Gobert:

“I think at times we kind of don’t appreciate how impactful it can be (for a player) to make a big move. And the first one. So I think Rudy was very good last year by NBA standards. I thought by his standards, I don’t think he played up to his standards. I think he’d be the first to tell you. He was coming off a brutal European championship where I think he played until maybe eight days before the season. Nobody works harder than Rudy. Nobody pays more attention and detail to every single aspect of his game, his body, his mental approach. And he’s super, super excited to have a more comfortable season both on and off the court.”

On why he has big expectations for Anthony Edwards this season:

“I think he’s primed to have a monster year. … His work ethic has been insane this offseason. I mean, the guy’s in the best shape of his life. He’s so excited to take the next step, excited with the guys on this team and what they can do as they grow together. But I think with him, anything that’s not sincere or not kind of true to who he is, I think he smells it out quickly. So him forging his path, I think is the challenge that we’ve given him. And how can we help ensure he’s doing it in a way that’s reflective of who he is?”

On the role the Wolves envision for free agent addition Shake Milton:

“We view Shake as a point guard. He’s started enough NBA games at that position where we feel confident that he can handle that load. He’s a guy that, when given the opportunity, he always produced and produced for good teams. Philadelphia has won as many games as anybody in the last three or four years. So we were excited to get him in. I think it gives us a different look with size at that position, his ability to score around the paint and his ability to be a good match for our bigs. He can make some of the passes that, at 6’5″, 6’6″, he’s allowed to make that maybe smaller guards can’t make. So we’re excited about him.”

Northwest Notes: Lillard, Henderson, Markkanen, Gobert, Towns

Appearing on the “It Is What It Is” podcast, Damian Lillard said he wasn’t upset when the Trail Blazers used their lottery pick to draft Scoot Henderson. The electrifying point guard is projected to be Lillard’s eventual replacement as the star of Portland’s backcourt, but Lillard won’t mind sharing the court with the rookie until he gets the trade he wants.

“Me and Scoot, we’ve had a few conversations with him coming into the league,” Lillard said. “That wasn’t a deal breaker for me at all. I respect his game. I think in that position he was the best player available, so that’s what you’ve gotta do if you’ve got the pick. But no, I wasn’t offended at all, because at the end of the day, you’ve gotta come in and play. I’ve been doing this for a long time, so to me that wasn’t a knock on me or anything.”

With trade talks between the Blazers and Heat reportedly at a standstill and other teams reluctant to make their best offers because of Lillard’s preference to play in Miami, it appears there’s a good chance that Lillard and Henderson will begin the season as teammates.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Lauri Markkanen is one of the best values in the NBA, but the Jazz need to consider his future beyond his current contract, writes Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune. Markkanen has two seasons left at $17.3MM and $18MM, with only a $6MM guarantee for the final year. Larsen notes that Utah can either let him play out the deal and take advantage of about $41MM in cap space next summer or renegotiate the final year and sign him to an extension. The new CBA places a 140% limit on extensions, so Markkanen would have to get to about $35MM in 2024/25 to be eligible for a max deal of $49MM the following season.
  • The Timberwolves are hoping for improvement in the second year of the Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns pairing, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic states in an overview of Minnesota’s roster. He adds that Gobert was dealing with knee soreness following EuroBasket last fall while Towns missed most of training camp because of an infection, so there’s hope that better health will lead to better results.
  • The Minnesota Board of Medical Practice has fined Timberwolves assistant trainer Jesse Geffon $500 for treating players without a license for part of last season, per Paul Walsh of The Star-Tribune. Geffon joined the team in September, but didn’t apply for his license until February.

Timberwolves Notes: Payne, Payton, Chandler, Edwards, Towns

The Timberwolves are “kicking the tires” on free agent point guard Cameron Payne, reports Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News (Twitter link). However, as of Friday morning, the team hadn’t extended an offer to the veteran guard, per Wolfson.

Payne, 29, averaged 10.3 points and 4.5 assists in 48 games with the Suns last year, becoming a reliable rotation point guard for Phoenix. The 6’1″ guard closed out his Suns tenure with a 31-point game in the playoffs against Denver. Phoenix traded him to San Antonio this offseason in order to open up a roster spot, then he was waived by the Spurs on Monday.

Minnesota has also had a couple point guards – Elfrid Payton and Kennedy Chandler – in for workouts during the last few weeks, according to Wolfson. However, neither guard was offered a contract following their respective workouts.

Payton, 29, holds career averages of 10.1 points and 5.7 assists in 500 NBA games. The 6’3″ guard hasn’t appeared in a game since the 2021/22 season. Chandler, 21, spent last season with Memphis after being drafted with the No. 38 overall pick in the 2022 draft. However, the former Tennessee guard was waived in April. He averaged 2.2 points in 36 appearances in his lone NBA season so far.

We have more from the Timberwolves:

  • Anthony Edwards‘ ascension from young star to potential superstar was obvious during the 2023 FIBA World Cup, though one of his most impressive moments came off the court, Yahoo Sports’ Jake Fischer opines. Fischer writes that Edwards was asked a question about which teammate he’d rather trade: Karl-Anthony Towns or Rudy Gobert. After initially ignoring it, Edwards circled back to the question. “Neither one, man,” Edwards said. “I like all my teammates. I love them. They my brothers. I wouldn’t trade neither one of them.” In his journey to superstardom, Fischer writes, Edwards’ leadership shined this summer.
  • In his annual NBA player tier rankings, The Athletic’s Seth Partnow placed Towns in his Tier 4B, defining him as a “sub-elite” big. The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski joined Partnow to go through his logic for placing Towns between the 55th and 66th-best players in the league in his ranking. Partnow reasons that while Towns’s offensive production is tremendous, his defense and availability leave much to be desired.
  • In case you missed it, the Timberwolves signed guard Vit Krejci to a training camp deal on Thursday.

International Notes: Sneed, Parker, Gobert, Nembhard, Prospects

Former Hornets wing Xavier Sneed signed with Italian club Happy Casa Brandisi, the team announced in a release. This will be Sneed’s first professional experience in Europe.

Sneed, 25, finished last season with Charlotte on a two-way deal before being waived in early August. He appeared in just four games last year, putting up a total of 17 points during that time. Sneed also spent time with the Grizzlies and the Jazz in 2021/22. In total, he has 13 NBA appearances under his belt.

The Kansas State product has spent more time in the G League, mostly with Charlotte’s affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm. In 60 regular season career G League games split between Greensboro and Utah’s affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, Sneed averaged 12.2 points and 4.8 rebounds.

We have more International Notes:

  • France had a rough go in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, failing to reach the second round despite having NBA players like Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier and Nicolas Batum. France gets an automatic bid for the 2024 Olympics due to being the host country, but was still looking to make an impact in the World Cup. Hall of Famer and French national team legend Tony Parker spoke on the loss, calling it “disappointing,” per Sarah Todd of Deseret News. Parker didn’t specifically call out any players but hinted that big names, including possibly Gobert, could be on the way out, Todd writes. “They are going to have big choices to make,” Parker said. “If you bring back big players like Joel Embiid and [Victor Wembanyama], it has to be complementary with the rest, because it could mean the departure of certain cornerstones, which can make headlines.
  • RJ Nembhard, who spent the 2021/22 season with the Cavaliers, is signing with Belgium’s Filou Oostende, Eurohoops reports. Nembhard, 24, is being added to offset the loss of fellow former NBAer Patrick McCaw, whose visa issues are preventing him from joining Oostende, according to Eurohoops. Nembhard has 14 games of NBA experience, mostly while playing on a two-way deal with Cleveland, and totaled 15 points and 12 assists in those games.
  • The 2023 World Cup was a great opportunity for younger players across the world to get competitive, meaningful minutes early in their career. HoopsHype’s Alberto De Roa takes a look at some of the top prospects from the event, including NBA draftees Rokas Jokubaitis and Gui Santos. Both Jokubaitis and Santos, whose draft rights are held by the Knicks and Warriors, respectively, looked like future NBA rotation pieces, according to De Roa.

And-Ones: Ignite, 2024 Draft, Unsuccessful Pairings, Eddy Curry

The G League Ignite’s impressive collection of talent was on display Wednesday night in Nevada, writes John Hollinger of The Athletic. Six players who may be selected in next year’s draft were on the court for the Ignite, and a seventh, Thierry Darlan of France, missed the game against Perth, Australia, with an ankle injury.

The biggest attraction was guard Ron Holland, whom Hollinger considers the “betting favorite” to be the top pick in 2024. Hollinger adds that Holland isn’t a clear-cut No. 1 choice like Victor Wembanyama was this year, but he looked good in his first pro game, using a mix of explosiveness and ferocity to put up 23 points.

“Ron is very, very competitive” Ignite coach Jason Hart said. “So now I’m wanting to channel it to where the opposition doesn’t know if you’re mad or you’re happy. I just told him to relax, calm down … I think he heard me. But that’s going to be a process because he’s so competitive, and I don’t want to take that from him. That’s his thing; he’s just has to learn how to use it.”

Matas Buzelis and Izan Almansa, who are projected to be top-10 picks, also showed off their skills, Hollinger adds, along with Tyler Smith, London Johnson and Perth prospects Alex Sarr and Ben Henshall. The teams will meet again on Friday.

There’s more from around the basketball world:

Northwest Notes: Lillard, Gobert, Alexander-Walker, Clarkson

The market for Damian Lillard would have been limited even without his insistence on playing for the Heat, Sean Deveney writes in a Forbes article. Two months have passed since Lillard asked the Trail Blazers for a trade, and an unidentified executive tells Deveney that not many teams would have pursued Lillard regardless of his preference.

“I don’t think anyone likes the idea of Dame coming in and forcing the Blazers’ hand like this, forcing them to take a deal from a team that does not have the assets,” the executive said. “That’s a bad precedent, and it is one we are seeing too much of. But if Dame had not said, ‘Miami or nothing,’ where else was Portland really going to go for a deal? Maybe Brooklyn? But where else? There’s not that many teams that are going to give you a bunch of players and picks for a 33-year-old who can’t stay healthy and has a giant contract sitting there.”

Lillard will make about $215MM over the next four years, including a two-year extension he signed last summer that will pay him $58.5MM when he’s 35 and $63MM when he’s 36. There are also injury concerns after Lillard was shut down early the past two seasons.

The Heat are one of the few teams willing to absorb that deal, Deveney adds, and Lillard is a good fit with their other personnel, so Miami would have been a natural destination even if Lillard hadn’t mentioned the city.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • After a disappointing World Cup run with France, Rudy Gobert is looking forward to starting his second season with the Timberwolves, per Antonis Stroggylakis of Eurohoops. Gobert said there were a lot of adjustments to deal with last season, but he saw positive developments, even though it ended with a first-round playoff ouster. “We didn’t go as far as we wanted to go but we were resilient,” he said. “We had a lot of injuries and a lot of things that didn’t go our way. But we kept fighting. I liked the mindset that we had. Especially in the playoffs.”
  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker is looking forward to having stability when he reports to Timberwolves camp, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Alexander-Walker has been traded three times in his four-year career, but he signed a two-year, $9MM contract with Minnesota this summer.
  • After scoring 34 points as the Philippines closed out World Cup play with a win over China, Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson told fans in Manila that he plans to continue playing for the national team, BasketNews relays. “I do not think this was my last performance with this jersey,” Clarkson said. “I have more time, and I still can hoop.”

World Cup Notes: Australia, Antetokounmpo, Gobert, Dort

As expected, the Australian national team tweaked its lineup ahead of Tuesday’s game vs. Japan, replacing Matisse Thybulle with Mavericks wing Josh Green in the starting five, per Olgun Uluc of ESPN (Twitter link). The move paid dividends, as Green recorded 15 points (on 5-of-7 shooting) and four steals to help lead the Boomers to a 109-89 victory, securing the team a spot in the second round of the FIBA World Cup.

With the loss, the Japanese national team has been eliminated from the World Cup, though Suns fans have to be pleased with Yuta Watanabe‘s performance. The new Phoenix forward had 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-8 threes, against Australia.

Here’s more on the 2023 World Cup:

  • An MRI on Bucks forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo revealed a “slight stretch” of the adductor muscle in his left thigh, tweets Harris Stavrou of SPORT24. Antetokounmpo is receiving treatment and still hopes to play in Greece’s crucial Wednesday contest vs. New Zealand — the winner will advance to round two, while the loser will be out of the running.
  • Having been eliminated from World Cup contention, France sat three players – including Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert – for Tuesday’s game against Lebanon, per Johnny Askounis of Eurohoops. As Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press notes (via Twitter), it’d be surprising if Gobert is active for any of the consolation games to determine the Nos. 17-32 seeding. France did defeat Lebanon on Tuesday, with Evan Fournier becoming the country’s all-time leading World Cup scorer, sneaking past teammate Nicolas Batum (285 points to 282).
  • Thunder forward Luguentz Dort is missing his second consecutive game for Team Canada on Tuesday due to a minor injury. However, it sounds like Canada is just playing it safe with Dort and he’ll be available for the start of the next round, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. Canada and Latvia are currently going head-to-head to determine the Group H winner — both teams will advance to round two, but today’s winner would have a leg up to make the knockout round.

Western Notes: Kings, Brooks, Jones, Lillard, Timberwolves

The Kings decided to tweak the roster rather than make major changes this offseason after finally reaching the postseason in the spring. They acquired Chris Duarte in a trade and re-signed Harrison Barnes and Trey Lyles. They also signed EuroLeague star Sasha Vezenkov.

Kings coach Mike Brown is excited to have his core group back and is eager to see how they respond to the newfound respect they’ve gained after snapping the franchise’s long playoff drought.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how we can handle the pressure,” the Kings coach said. “It’s flipped now. We’re no longer hunting people; people are hunting us. And there are expectations, so how do we handle that? I believe our guys are ready for it, and with the fans that we have here and the juice they brought last year – let’s go. Let’s get it. I’m excited for Sasha, I’m excited for Chris Duarte, I’m excited about our young guys. It’s good to have the new guys, but I’m more excited about having our guys to be able to run it back and give them the opportunity to grow as a nucleus than anything else.”

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • The Grizzlies allowed Dillon Brooks in free agency and traded Tyus Jones. So what have they lost? Damichael Cole of the Memphis Commercial Appeal explores that topic. The Grizzlies have become known for their flashy style and trash talking and Brooks was a major reason for that. Jones was a locker room leader and led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio in each of his four seasons with the club.
  • Trail Blazers fans want the Damian Lillard saga to be resolved soon. In a poll conducted by Jason Quick of The Athletic, 80.4% want the front office to take the best offer for their longtime All-Star and prioritize the team ahead of Lillard. However, the high-scoring guard was voted as the franchise’s greatest player (51.9%), ahead of Clyde Drexler and Bill Walton.
  • Anthony Edwards (United States), Karl-Anthony Towns (Dominican Republic), Rudy Gobert (France), Kyle Anderson (China), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Canada) and draft-and-stash prospect Matteo Spagnolo (Italy) are participating in the World Cup, while Luka Garza played for Bosnia and Herzegovina in a pre-qualifying Olympic tournament. That should give those Timberwolves players a head start to the NBA season, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Alexander-Walker agrees with the notion. “I want to use it to propel me for the season,” he said.

Team France Notes: Elimination, Canada, Yabusele, Fournier, Batum

The 2023 FIBA World Cup has registered its first shocking upset. Team France, winners of the silver medal in the 2021 Olympics and led by three-time NBA All-Star center Rudy Gobert, who by day plays for the Timberwolves, has been eliminated from tournament contention after a scant two games, writes The Associated Press. The club will play a third group-play contest on Tuesday vs. Lebanon, but neither club will advance to the next round.

France was bested by Team Latvia, 88-86, Sunday night. Latvia and Team Canada, who defeated France on Friday, now move on to the second round. France had won bronze at the two most recent World Cups, eliminating Team USA in the knockout round in 2019.

Here are more notes on Team France:

  • Following Canada’s win over France on Friday, French forward Guerschon Yabusele, a former Celtics power forward, discussed some quick takeaways from the matchup, per Antonis Stroggylakis of Eurohoop. “Of course there are a lot of things to learn,” Yabusele said. “The way we came into the game. The first quarter was good and then we entered the second half with less intensity. We let them play and do their stuff. Defense, offense, we all saw what went wrong in the video.”
  • Team Canada’s 95-65 massacre of Team France could serve as a galvanizing moment in the long-term trajectory of the Great White North’s national program, opines Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca. Such a dominant victory, and hopefully an extended World Cup run, could well set the table for a deep, talented Canadian club to make a legitimate push for a medal in next summer’s Paris Olympics, Grange argues. Thanks to the win on Friday, Grange believes Team Canada should handily storm to a 3-0 record in Group H play.
  • With fifth-ranked France now out of contention, the national team will strive to reset and prep for the 2024 Olympic games, writes Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. As the host nation, France has automatically qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics. “It’s very hard,” Knicks guard Evan Fournier said of his national club’s morale after its miserable 2023 FIBA performance. “Not much to say. We didn’t think we would leave the tournament like this. We have to learn from it and come back next year. There isn’t anything else to do.” Clippers forward Nicolas Batum spoke about the task ahead of France in international competition: “We have a big thing coming up in 12 months. We have to now look back at what happened — everybody, from players to coach to staff to federation. … Today was a big reality check for us.”
  • The 34-year-old Batum confirmed in a live broadcast following France’s defeat that he will not play for his national club in the 2027 FIBA World Cup, according to Eurohoops. “This is my last World Cup,” Batum said. “I sacrificed many summers for this jersey and I don’t regret it… I have one more year left in France. We need them all next summer in Paris. And the best possible conditions. I messed up my last World Cup and it really hurts. That’s why I’m not interested in politics and I want the strongest possible team next summer at the Olympic Games.”

International Notes: Doncic, Embiid, Gobert, Lessort

Mavericks star Luka Doncic was introduced Saturday as the new captain of the Slovenian national team for the FIBA World Cup competition, writes Johnny Askounis of Eurohoops. He takes over for Edo Muric, who will miss the tournament with a torn ACL.

“I am honored to be the captain. The coach and the rest of the players made the decision,” Doncic said. “It is a pleasure to play for the national team. I have not played since April 10, so I can’t wait for the games.”

At 24, Doncic is already a veteran of international competitions. He was among the stars at the last Summer Olympics and competed twice in EuroBasket, helping Slovenia capture the gold medal in 2017. His team failed to defend its title at last year’s tournament, getting upset by Poland in the quarterfinals.

“As in every tournament, the goal is to win the championship,” Doncic said. “Last year’s failure in the EuroBasket did not make (me) too angry, but instead motivated me. You must look ahead. We don’t care what happened last year. I feel better this year. It is apparent. Much praise to the fitness coach pushing me.”

There’s more international news to pass along:

  • After saying earlier this week that he’s hoping to have Sixers center Joel Embiid for the 2024 Olympics, Team USA managing director Grant Hill expanded on those comments Saturday on Marc Stein’s podcast (hat tip to HoopsHype). Hill expressed guarded optimism about landing Embiid, who also has citizenship with France and Cameroon, stating that talks will continue as he puts the team together. “Joel Embiid is an incredible talent and he has options,” Hill said. “And I guess that’s a good thing. I’ll just say this: I’ve had some discussions with him, and he knows our desire to have him a part of our program. So we’ll see sort of where that goes. But we’ll certainly, as we get through this World Cup and start to sort of plan for next summer, we’ll continue with those conversations, and hopefully by then, I’ll have some numbers and percentages to give you in terms of where the possibility stands.”
  • Rudy Gobert had doubts about participating in the World Cup after the season ended, but now he believes France has a good shot at a gold medal, according to Eurohoops. Gobert said he continued to work hard after the Timberwolves were ousted in the first round of the playoffs. “The break after the end of the season wasn’t one,” Gobert said. “I trained a lot in June and July, I feel good and that’s also why I’m here.”
  • France may be without draft-and-stash player Mathias Lessort, whose NBA rights are owned by the Knicks, Eurohoops reports. Lessort has an ankle issue that will force him to miss an exhibition game with Tunisia next week.