Early last season, fans arrived by the thousands 90 minutes before the Golden State Warriors’ visit to Target Center, just to watch Stephen Curry shoot.
Brandon Rush played with Curry for three seasons and vows he has never watched Curry’s intricate, intense pregame routine that still draws fans early to NBA arenas, if perhaps not in the same massive numbers it did during the Warriors’ record 24-0 start to last season.
“I have actually never watched it,” said Rush, a guard who signed with the Timberwolves over the summer. “I really haven’t.”
That his story and he’s sticking with it.
Rush did witness, however, Curry and mate Klay Thompson grow from promising prospects into arguably the best shooting backcourt in NBA history.
Now a nine-year veteran at age 31, Rush was a member of the 2014-15 Warriors team that won the NBA championship as well as last season’s team that won a record 73 regular-season games but lost a 3-1 NBA Finals lead and a second consecutive title to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
From the front row, he has seen Curry win two league MVP trophies and he has seen Thompson score 37 points in a single quarter, in January 2015 against Sacramento.
From afar, Rush watched Thompson score 60 points without playing a minute in the fourth quarter against Indiana on Monday.
Rush deemed Thompson’s 60-point game even more impressive than his 37-point quarter because “to have 40 at half and end up with 60 through three quarters, that’s pretty remarkable. Both those guys, it just shows you how much work they’ve put into their games and their shots.”
And now superstar Kevin Durant has joined their side and will arrive with Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green when the Warriors come to Target Center on Sunday with the NBA’s best record once again. They were 20-3, having won 16 of 17 games, entering Saturday’s game at Memphis.
Golden State remade its roster — and particularly its bench — to make room for Durant and his two-year, $54 million contract signed last summer by replacing Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights, Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli and Rush, among others, with namely Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee.
“You knew it wouldn’t take them long to figure it out,” Rush said, “not with a talent like K.D. on their team.”
Rush said he turned down the chance to return to the Warriors this season, refusing the same one-year, $3.5 million contract the Wolves offered because he determined there was more “opportunity” for him in Minnesota.
“It was a pretty tough decision,” Rush said. “All the guys wanted me to come back, but they understood my decision and they were fine with it.”
So far, a troublesome big-toe injury and Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau’s lineup decisions have offered very little opportunity. Signed for his experience and three-point shooting range, Rush has played an average of less than 11 minutes in 10 of the Wolves’ 23 games. Before getting into Friday night’s blowout loss to the Detroit Pistons, he hadn’t played in seven games since the Wolves lost at Golden State on Nov. 26.
“It’s frustrating dealing with this big toe here,” Rush said. “I’m just trying to get back into the rhythm of the game.”
The Warriors welcomed him back with a scoreboard video presentation, just as they are honoring members from last season’s historic team who are playing elsewhere this season.
“I thought it was dope,” Rush said. “It’s pretty nice they’re doing that for everybody.”
He only chatted briefly with his former teammates last month, but he hopes to spend more time with some of them during the Warriors’ visit on Sunday.
“There are so many great memories from last season,” he said. “Everywhere we went, we had half the arena cheering for us, Warriors jerseys all over the place. It was crazy, just crazy.”
Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau visited the Golden State Warriors’ operations twice last season during his year’s sabbatical from coaching.
So did he learn any of coach Steve Kerr’s secrets?
“He saw us playing some music in practice,” Kerr said. “You can ask him if he plays any music now.”
Thibodeau calls the Warriors organization “something we aspire to be,” but not to that extent.
“It’s everything they do and the way they do everything,” Thibodeau said. “We have taken a lot of things from them, but that was not one of them.”
Asked about the Warriors’ musical tastes, Thibodeau said: “I forget who. They take turns with the playlist.”
Believe it or not, TNT analyst Charles Barkley had some opinions about the Wolves and their lousy season start during Thursday’s game at Toronto.
“I’m a big Thibs fan, but he’s got to turn these thoroughbreds loose, man,” Barkley said. “They’re one of the most athletic teams in the NBA. You’ve got to turn them loose and they’ve got to go ahead and put [rookie Kris] Dunn in. … Listen, [Ricky] Rubio is not their point guard of the future. Kris Dunn is. They’ve got to speed up the tempo. They’ve just got to play run-and-gun.”
The Wolves’ Thursday TNT game brought their own Andrew Wiggins and fellow Torontonian and pal Cory Joseph together again.
“He has come a long way,” said Joseph, a Raptors guard. “Watching him when he first got in the league, he’s being more of a leader now. He’s establishing himself a lot more in the game. He’s being more aggressive, not the laid-back Andrew that he sometimes was when he was younger.”
WOLVES’ WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 6 p.m. vs. Golden State
Tuesday: 7 p.m. at Chicago
Saturday: 7 p.m. vs. Houston
Sun., Sat. on FSN; Tue. on ESPN
Player to watch:
James Harden, Rockets
New Houston coach Mike D’Antoni has put the ball in his hands as the team’s point guard, and the bearded one is on pace to join Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to average 28 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds a game. Harden is averaging 28.5 points, 11.4 assists and 7.5 rebounds.
“I’m happy for him. He has bounced back into a really good spot, with a team that has a bright future.”
Golden State coach Steve Kerr on Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau
Twitter: @JerryZgoda E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Blog: startribune.com/wolves