The Detroit Pistons were 59-23 during the 2007-08 regular season and then lost in the Eastern Conference finals to Boston, the eventual NBA champions. Detroit management wanted more and coach Flip Saunders was fired four days after the playoff elimination.
Saunders sat out a season and then took the coaching job in Washington for 2009-10. The roster included guards Gilbert Arenas, a well-compensated veteran, and Javaris Crittenton, a fringe NBAer.
On Dec. 19, 2009, Crittenton lost $1,100 in a card game to teammate JaVale McGee on a team flight. Crittenton started yelling at McGee. Arenas became involved. There were threats made.
Two days later, in the locker room, Arenas showed four guns to Crittenton, who responded that he also had a gun in his possession. The news of this confrontation broke in the media on Christmas Eve.
On Thursday, the websites devoted to sports gossip shared an Instagram post from Arenas (now out of the NBA) complaining that he spotted his favorite stripper buying shoes for a man that he did not consider worthy of such an expenditure.
Arenas said this was going to cause him to take the stand of no longer tipping strippers.
Crittenton has greater problems. On April 29 of this year, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the killing of Julian Jones, a 22-year-old mother of four. He admitted to gang membership in the plea and is now serving a 23-year prison sentence.
Saunders lasted for two miserable seasons in Washington and then was fired 17 games (2-15) into the 2011-12 season. It probably rates as a happy day in his basketball life.
On Friday, Saunders had a happier one. As the Timberwolves coach and president for basketball operations, he had the privilege to formally introduce two first-rounders, Karl-Anthony Towns (No. 1 overall) and Tyus Jones (No. 24), to a media horde and also to fans watching from above in the atrium of the team’s practice facility.
I’ve been at this for a while. I saw Mike Modano, and Kevin Garnett, and Joe Mauer introduced as teenagers coming to teams here. I’ve seen a hundred of these new-draft-choice press conferences.
The best first impression I’ve seen made came from Towns on Friday.
That impression was a 19-year-old who is humorous, smart and personable. If Towns wasn’t the best player in the draft, if he was evaluated a tick below D’Angelo Russell or Jahlil Okafor, I might have went with him anyway based on the rest of it.
Intangibles. Character. Makeup. Those are the terms team officials use.
And you’re right … you never can be sure what goes around in the minds of men, so that’s the disclaimer.
Milt Newton, the Wolves general manager, said there was no doubt the team hit a “home run” in the draft on Thursday night. He was talking about the combination of Towns and Jones.
I’d say the home run already was hit once Adam Silver confirmed that the first pick was Karl-Anthony Towns of Kentucky. Tyus Jones was the triple that followed — two bases for talent and a third for the local angle.
Towns is 6-foot-11 with the ability to defend, to shoot and to move, and with the rest of it …
There’s a new star in town, and the older one who is back for a cameo, Kevin Garnett, will hopefully stick to basketball suggestions and not try to teach Karl-Anthony anything about handling the attention.
First impression (again): The Big KAT has that figured out at 19.
Saunders was asked if the awful experience in Washington — after Arenas and Crittenton — has made him more determined to rely on athletes with a head on their shoulders (rather than knotheads) in undertaking this rebuild with the Wolves.
“I’ve always believed in that,” Saunders said. “When I was moving into a new office here, I found a copy of something I wrote for [owner] Glen Taylor in 1996, on how to build a championship team.
“The first thing on the list was character. Also very high was to find guys who wanted to be here, who wanted to win in Minnesota.
“We thought we were headed there when we added Stephon Marbury to KG in 1996, but then the NBA salary rules changed, and Stephon got upset about making less money. Steph wasn’t a bad guy, and he would’ve stayed and tried to win here, but jealousy over the contract got to him.
“Andrew Wiggins, and Zach [LaVine], and now Karl-Anthony and Tyus, and rest of our young guys … I really think we have the talent and the personalities, and the commitment to stay in Minnesota, to win here.”