Make no mistake, Long Lake’s Jon Leuer earned his own way from Orono High School to a nightly role on an NBA title contender.
But it probably hasn’t hurt any that he has found in Memphis a coach who speaks his language.
“Yep, oat and aboat,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said, attempting his best stereotypical accent. “He’s my Minnesota brother.”
Joerger made it here the long way around from little Staples, Minn., via basketball’s minor leagues as well as an NBA assistant’s apprenticeship. Leuer got there from suburban Long Lake and the University of Wisconsin, as a former schoolboy guard who sprouted 8 inches during his high school years and grew into 6-10 big man’s body with some of a guard’s gifts as well.
He is the Grizzlies’ “stretch” power forward off the bench whose perimeter game and outside shooting touch — occasionally from three-point range — spaces the floor when he gets on it, which has been anywhere from four to 30 minutes a night this season.
Selected by Milwaukee in the 2011 draft’s second round, Leuer played briefly in Germany before he spent a lockout-shortened rookie season with the Bucks. They traded him that next summer to Houston, which promptly waived him. Cleveland claimed him, kept him on the regular-season roster and shuttled him to the D League before he was traded once again, this time to Memphis.
That was two years ago last week. He has found a home for a hardened Grizzlies team that’s 44-12 and leads Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and New Orleans in the rugged Southwest Division.
“Definitely the best team I’ve been on,” Leuer said earlier this season. “I’m just fortunate and happy to be a part of it. Looking back on it, it’s pretty crazy how everything works out. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself when you realize how fortunate and blessed you are to be able to play in this league. I’m just trying to make the most of this opportunity that I’ve been given. That’s all you can do.”
He signed a three-year, $3 million contract two summers ago that has made him a cost-efficient and versatile role player on a Memphis team that revolves around the well-paid Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Jeff Green and Mike Conley.
At age 26, he is averaging 5.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and shooting a career-low 30.4 percent on three-pointers while playing a career-high 15.3 minutes for a team groomed for the playoffs.
“Everybody wants to see him stand out there and shoot threes,” Joerger said, “and that’s tremendous, but I think he does more than that. He’s more athletic than people think. He has taken on the role of being in the rotation, being a solid contributor and knowing he’s going to play minutes.”
Leuer spent last summer living in downtown Minneapolis’ North Loop district, from which he walked to some Twins games.
“Minnesota’s great in the summer,” said Leuer, sounding like a man getting accustomed to southern winters. “I love going back home, seeing family and friends. It’s a great city, a lot of great restaurants, a lot to do.”
On Friday, he’ll return when the Grizzlies make their first Target Center visit this season. So, too, will Joerger, who interviewed for the Wolves’ coaching job last summer but stayed in Memphis a trifecta winner with a contract extension, a bigger salary and a chance to win a title.
“We have the same dialect, we see eye-to-eye,” Leuer said. “When you’re from the same state, you get the same inside jokes. I think it only helps. We have a great relationship, and I’m just going to keep playing my hardest for him.
NBA short takes
Miami comes to Target Center on Wednesday and brings an updated version of the Knicks’ “Linsanity.”
This time, it’s a guy named Hassan Whiteside who’s come out of nowhere. But Wolves fans with good memories will recall the NBA’s latest overnight sensation: He had a private, free-agent workout at Target Center in September 2012 that failed to impress enough, just as the former 2010 second-round pick out of Marshall did everywhere else before he dazzled this season.
That dazzling includes a 14-point, 13-rebound, 12-block triple-double in just 24 minutes against Chicago last Sunday and a 23-point, 16-rebound game against the Clippers in L.A. the week before. Project his production over a full season with increased playing time and ESPN.com’s analytics staff came up with these comparisons: David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Alonzo Mourning.
Whiteside’s father, Hasson Arbubakrr, played four games for the Vikings in 1984.
Butler makes a smart business decision
Unlike Ricky Rubio, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler didn’t sign a contract extension just before the season, a decision he called betting on himself because he believed he was worth a lot more.
He was right, perhaps to the tune of a max-contract deal after a breakout season in which he was selected an East All-Star reserve.
Butler’s 20-point scoring average is seven better than last season, and at age 25 he is averaging career highs in nearly every category. “I knew he’d be good,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told the Chicago Tribune. “But I didn’t know he’d be this good.”
TNT analyst Charles Barkley on West coaches’ decision to pick Oklahoma City’s great Kevin Durant over Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and Portland’s Damian Lillard as an All-Star reserve: “That’s really not fair. I love Kevin Durant, but he hasn’t played enough games. This isn’t a Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Wolves’ Week Ahead
Monday: 7:30 p.m. at Dallas (FSN)
Wednesday: 7 p.m. vs. Miami (FSN)
Friday: 7 p.m. vs. Memphis (FSN)
Players to watch: Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, Miami
LeBron James is gone, but they returned to Miami and both players are headed back to the All-Star Game next month as well for a Heat team that’s under .500 and focused on just making the playoffs.
« If I make it, it’s OK, right? »
– Wolves newcomer Lorenzo Brown on his shot selection in Wednesday’s debut, which came without as much as a practice after he was signed out of the D League. He took three three-point shots and made two.