Stating definitively what he has suggested about player development since he became the Timberwolves interim head coach, Sam Mitchell on Tuesday said he intends to start young Zach LaVine over veteran Kevin Martin this season.
Mitchell told a visiting Sirius/XM NBA Radio crew that he “absolutely” plans to start LaVine at the team’s shooting-guard spot, with a caveat.
“I tell him all the time that it’s not written in permanent ink, it’s pencil,” Mitchell told the radio network for whom he worked when he was between coaching jobs.
“I asked him the difference between an ink pen and a pencil and he said, ‘Coach, a pencil has an eraser.’ So I said it’s your job until you lose it or give it away.”
Mitchell plans to start two rookies, two second-year players and a 39-year-old in Wednesday’s preseason opener against Oklahoma City at Target Center: Rookies Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones, second-year players LaVine and Andrew Wiggins and veteran Kevin Garnett.
Jones will replace starting point guard Ricky Rubio, who didn’t practice much Tuesday because of a quad strain and, according to Mitchell, won’t play against the Thunder.
“I have to understand what my job is,” Mitchell said. “We’re always trying to win games, OK? But my job is to develop this young talent. …We still have a lot of young guys that need development. The only way they’re going to learn is when we’re in those situations the fourth quarter. Will it cost us a game here and there? Probably, but I’ve got to understand what my job is.”
Mitchell told Martin of his plans before the Wolves’ first training-camp workout last week. At the team’s annual media day the day before, Martin made it very clear he considered himself a starter on a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2004.
“I know what I am among shooting guards in the league,” he said then.
He softened his stance three days later, essentially stealing a page from the script of the motion picture “Bull Durham” by saying everybody is working hard, and he’s just focused on getting the team to do better.
Rubio hasn’t participated much in the team’s last three practices and didn’t play in Monday’s open public scrimmage, so he won’t play Wednesday.
The team’s training staff has called Rubio’s quad strain minor and his absence strictly precautionary.
“If you’re not practicing, it doesn’t make sense to play him in a preseason game,” said Mitchell, who says he wants to make sure his team is healthy when the regular season starts Oct. 28.
Towns, Jones and newcomer Nemanja Bjelica will see their first real NBA action on Wednesday, and against an Oklahoma City that features two of the game’s biggest superstars now that Kevin Durant is back healthy alongside Russell Westbrook.
“It’s going to be competitive,” Towns said Tuesday. “We’re trying to win. The winning tradition starts tomorrow and we have to get ready.”