Things were going pretty well for the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night. Coming off their first April win in three years, Rick Adelman had his team halfway to making it two straight at the expense of the Golden State Warriors, leading by 21 at one point late in the second and taking a 55-39 lead into the locker room after two quarters.
Unfortunately for Adelman, the sharp and energetic squad that finished the first half never came out of the locker room. Golden State outpaced Minny by 21 in the final two frames behind a strong performance from rookie point guard Charles Jenkins and the bench play of Brandon Rush and Dominic McGuire, notching a 93-88 road win.
The second-half short circuit — especially on the defensive end, where the Wolves allowed the Warriors to shoot 56.8 percent in the second half, with a ton of tries coming in the paint — drew the ire of J.J. Barea. After the game, the diminutive Minnesota point guard lit into his teammates for a lackluster effort, according to Kent Youngblood at the Star Tribune:
"We've got problems here," Barea said after his team shot 10-for-40 in the second half and struggled on defense. "We have a lot of guys that don't care. On a basketball team, when you have a bunch of guys who don't care, it's tough to win games. We're going to keep getting [losses] here until we get players that care about winning, about the team, about the fans."
Barea wasn't done, according to Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press:
... when Barea made his postgame remarks, he wasn't hiding in a corner. He was sitting in front of his locker and within earshot of several of his teammates.
"They just come in here after the game like nothing happened," Barea said. "That's what happens to a losing team." [...]
"I've been noticing it. But today you can really notice it. It was a brutal second half. Nobody fighting, nobody getting mad at nobody. After a game like that you got to have problems. You got to argue with your teammates. But nobody cares so we've got to change that."
On one hand, you'd understand it if Barea's teammates felt like reminding him mid-rant that he just had 24 points, nine assists and six rebounds hung on him by a rookie from Hofstra, so maybe there shouldn't be quite so much yapping about the failings of others. You know, that whole "don't point out the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye when you're ignoring the plank in your own" thing.
On the other, though, Barea also played 48 minutes at the point for an injury-decimated team that dressed only three guards, so it's not like he wasn't out there giving effort when the team needed it. Plus, as one of the few Wolves who's experienced any kind of NBA success thanks to the ring he won with the Dallas Mavericks last season, this is to some degree what he's expected to do, right? Don't you want your veterans to hold guys accountable, especially when there's not too much left to play for?
The response from Barea's teammates appeared to be mixed. You can put Michael Beasley on the negative side of the ledger; according to Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press, Beasley called it "a collective loss" and downplayed the importance of such public statements: ''Until you point those guys out one by one, it doesn't really matter." Center Nikola Pekovic, who's been fighting through an ankle injury for weeks now, seems to be on the pro-Barea side: "If you don't want to win, go work in the office ... Sit at a table and do whatever."
Veteran forward Anthony Tolliver seemed on the fence. When he tells Joan Niesen of FoxSportsNorth.com that the "hardest thing to do is to say, 'You know what, my fault. It's on me' [...] It's really easy to say, 'You should have done that,'" it sounds kind of like taking Barea to task. But then, when he tells the Pioneer Press' Powers that he "would say that there's some guys in here that have been more worried about other things ... It's not necessarily that they don't want to win. Sometimes the team concept just goes out of the window," it seems like he's co-signing the comment. Oh, Anthony Tolliver. You eternal mystery.
It's understandable that tensions are boiling over in Minnesota. The T'wolves have lost their two top commodities for the season, they were eliminated from postseason contention nearly two weeks ago and they've lost 12 of their last 13 games (and 16 of their last 20). Not much is going right at this stage, and rancor in the locker room isn't going to make things any sunnier right now. But the points Barea is making — that professionalism must be demanded even in a lost-cause season and that effort can't be dependent on the standings — really matter for a young team that is figuring out how to be good.
If the younger players on the Wolves' roster — guys like Derrick Williams and Malcolm Lee, who will be around and part of the roster moving forward, and guys like Anthony Randolph and Martell Webster, who are playing for the prospect of continued employment, whether in Minnesota or elsewhere — take the message behind Barea's words to heart, the public teardown could pay dividends. With Love, Rubio, Pekovic and Williams at the core, the talent's there for Minnesota to be a playoff contender; with Adelman on the bench, so's the know-how. Commitment to the cause could be the final piece of that puzzle, and there are worse places to start developing that than with teammates holding one another accountable.