Timberwolves acting head coach Terry Porter addressed his players before Thursday's practice, striking upon the themes of togetherness and respect for teammates during a stretch in which they've lost seven of eight games while Rick Adelman is away.
Porter's words came the morning after star guard Ricky Rubio was visibly angered when Porter sat him for the entire fourth quarter and played J.J. Barea all 12 minutes instead.
The two men did not talk about the matter before practice, but both said they will.
"Hey, look," Porter said after practice, "he's a young man who's competitive and he has been playing pro ball since he was 14 and he has been that guy who's always in the game in the fourth quarter, but this is a different animal. Our team is different. He's coming off an injury. We talk a lot about guys having to take themselves out of the picture and think of the team and the whole, and what's best for the team to try to get wins at the time."
Porter sent Rubio to the scorer's table with four minutes left in Wednesday's 91-83 loss to Brooklyn, but he was recalled after there was no immediate stoppage in play and after Barea made a three-point shot with 2:37 left to get the Wolves within five points.
Porter said he stayed with Barea down the stretch because Barea is a three-point threat and the trailing Wolves needed scorers. Rubio is many things, but a scorer he is not, particularly at this stage of his comeback from March knee surgery. He is shooting 22.1 percent from the field.
Rubio acknowledged Thursday that keeping Barea in the game was not necessarily wrong -- "maybe he was the right decision" -- but also did nothing to hide what he felt Wednesday night after he did not get back in the game.
"I was hot and, of course, there is respect for the teammates who were on the court," Rubio said. "I'm going to say the same thing always. I always want to play, even when I don't deserve it. I have ambition and I want to play and I want to try help the team and I want to be in there in the last minutes.
"I think everybody has to get mad. Everybody wants to play, but you have to respect who is on the court. You always want to try to play. That's normal, that frustration."
Rubio intends to speak with Porter about the matter so they can put it behind them.
"We are all adults," Rubio said.
Porter played 17 NBA seasons. He has been where Rubio was Wednesday night.
"He should be, everybody's frustrated I think with the whole situation, and there's nothing wrong with that," Porter said. "From a competitive standpoint, you want guys to be frustrated when they don't get a chance to play in the fourth quarter. There are a lot of guys who have been frustrated. The coaches are frustrated. We're trying to find answers, too. We'll address it in-house and talk about those situations."
The "whole situation" to which Porter refers includes an injury-ravaged season in which two-time All-Star Kevin Love has broken his hand twice, Rubio remains a shadow of his former self, Chase Budinger, Brandon Roy and Malcolm Lee are all injured, out for the season or indefinitely, and even their head coach is absent until his wife's medical condition is resolved.
Porter has been a head coach twice before, but he is not Adelman, a future Hall of Fame coach who is approaching 1,000 NBA victories.
Porter was asked Thursday if he needs to be more mindful communicating with players to keep his team together and maintain his players' respect through a tough stretch.
"I think everything," he said. "It's part of being respectful to whoever is in charge, being respectful to the game, respectful to your teammates. A lot of that boils from frustration, I'm sure. This is an emotional game. I get it. I've been there. I can't say I've played 17 years and haven't been in a situation where I probably said some things.
"But you have to make sure it doesn't boil over. It has to be addressed."
Porter, a former point guard, has mentored Rubio since he arrived in Minnesota to start his rookie season 13 months ago and Rubio credits Porter for helping him through his knee injury.
"Me, I respect everyone," Rubio said. "I think T.P. is doing a great job. It's a hard moment for everyone with all the injuries. Coaching is tough. He has been a player. He knows how frustrating it is for us with how things are going right now."