Hazeltine National Golf Club has now been the site of two memorable defeats for Tiger Woods in major championships. Yesterday’s come-from-behind win by Y.E. Yang was notable because it was the first time Woods had ever coughed up a 54-hole lead in a major (going 14-for-14 before hand), and only the second time in his entire professional career that he had done so. It’s also notable because Yang is one of the few folks who have been able to take down Tiger when paired with him. Yang played a tremendous round of golf on Sunday, refusing to fold on numerous occasions and then delivering two masterful shots (the chip-in for eagle on 14, and the hybrid second-shot on 18) to take control of the tournament.
But the storyline, as always, is about Tiger. Pick your reasons for Tiger’s struggles on the weekend — did he play too conservatively, was he trying to get too cute with his approach shots, or was it just a matter of a bad day with the flat stick — but this is now the second straight major at which Tiger hasn’t delivered in the face of strong play by an unheralded player.
What’s that, you say? Tiger didn’t blink in 2002 — he finished with four straight birdies and made Rich Beem sweat out the roars in front of him. And that has indeed become the narrative we remember from that August day. But everyone forgets what happened between Beem’s memorable eagle on 11 and Tiger’s four-birdie close. Playing one group ahead of Beem, Tiger followed the posting of Beem’s eagle with two really sloppy holes of golf. First, Tiger three-putted the 13th from 12 feet. Then, Tiger made a mess of the short 14th, lacing a 4-iron wide right into the rough, and after a 9-iron left him just short of the green, he couldn’t get up-and-down to save par. The two bogeys by Woods left Beem with a six-shot lead. Tiger’s four birdie run to close the round was just not enough.
In 2016, it might not be such a bad thing for the Euros to have to face Tiger at Hazeltine after all.
Jim Souhan isn’t a basketball guy. I’m sure even he’d probably admit that. His insights on the Timberwolves organization haven’t been, well, very insightful over the years. Just really a reflection of the typical anti-McHale, anti-Taylor angst that what is left of the fan base has been feeling.
That doesn’t exempt Souhan from the tenets of basic logic, though. In today’s column, Souhan goes after the notion of the Wolves hiring Kurt Rambis based on the fact that Rambis (other than a 38-game interim stint in 1999) hasn’t been a head coach anywhere, and has apparently been comfortable with being an assistant to Phil Jackson for most of his coaching career.
That’s an impressive résumé, unless you believe that true head coaches don’t sit around in assistant’s chairs for the bulk of their careers, waiting for the right break and the right salary, as Rambis did.
If you are dying to be a head coach, do you really take the easy way out and live the big-time life of a Lakers assistant, or do you do what so many of the best NBA coaches have done, and invest yourself in the craft of running a team by yourself?
Gregg Popovich coached Pomona-Pitzer before becoming an NBA assistant. Flip Saunders, George Karl, Jackson, Jim Boeheim and Bill Musselman became head coaches in the CBA. Larry Brown became a head coach at Davidson, then jumped to the ABA.
If you are made of the stuff of outstanding head coaches, you don’t sit in the cushy chair next to Jackson. You find an uncomfortable head coach’s seat in the CBA, or at a high school, or a small college. You learn the craft of running a team, which is far different than the craft of running one or two aspects of a team.
He then goes on to list some folks who would have been acceptable to him:
There were a lot of intriguing, highly-thought-of coaching candidates available this summer, including Sam Mitchell, Jeff Van Gundy and Avery Johnson.
Let’s look at the coaching careers of each of these individuals, shall we? Mitchell served as an assistant coach with Milwaukee for two seasons before being hired as the head coach by Toronto in 2004. Van Gundy spent eleven years as an assistant coach for Providence, Rutgers, and the Knicks before being promoted to the head job with the Knicks in 1996. Johnson spent less than a year as an assistant coach before being promoted to head coach with the Mavericks in 2005.
None of these three esteemed coaches had ever been a head coach at any level before getting their shot at the NBA level. Per Souhan’s logic, the Raptors, Knicks, and Mavericks were foolish to hire these coaches.
And, by the way, isn’t Rambis’s apparent decision to leave the cushy seat next to Phil Jackson to take the job with one of the worst organizations in the NBA the exact sort of thing that Souhan was urging him to do?
Assuming the Wolves stand pat with the 5th and 6th picks in tonight’s NBA Draft, the Wolves will be selecting two of the following four players: Ricky Rubio, James Harden, Tyreke Evans, and Stephen Curry. Let’s rank the possible combinations in order of attractiveness:
The top three combinations indicate my clear belief that Rubio is the best of those four players. And, as the only true point guard in the group, he fits easiest with any of the other three. Harden is a solid shooting guard prospect, while Evans and Curry are either combo guards or tweeners. I think Evans has the higher upside and the greater prospect of playing the point in the NBA. A Harden/Curry combination is problematic on a number of levels. It may even be worth bypassing Curry in such a scenario to go after Jonny Flynn or Brandon Jennings instead.
|Drafted with the 3rd overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft|
|Traded to Atlanta with Sean Rooks on February 23, 1996 in exchange for Andrew Lang and Spud Webb|
|Seasons||Games||PPG||RPG||APG||FG %||FT %||3 PT %|
|Seasons||Games||PPG||RPG||APG||FG %||FT %||3 PT %|
Christian Laettner (courtesy nba.com)
I think he’ll eventually have the credentials to back up everything he thinks of himself. — Jack McCloskey
Setting the stage
The 1991-1992 edition of the Minnesota Timberwolves remains the worst team in the franchise’s two-decade history. And that’s saying a lot. The 91-92 season (the franchise’s third-ever) represented the second philosophy in the team’s history, as Bill Musselman was shown the door after two seasons for failing to focus on the development of young players. Jimmy Rodgers, former coach of the Boston Celtics, was brought in to helm the club and develop the young players on the team, including Pooh Richardson, Doug West, Felton Spencer, Gerald Glass, and first-round draft pick Luc Longley.
Rodgers did focus more on the young players, trading Tyrone Corbin early in the season and shuffling Tony Campbell (the team’s leading scorer the first two years) to the bench midway through the season in favor of Glass. Felton Spencer took over as the starting center for Randy Breuer.
The result of such a change in focus was a disaster in many ways. The Wolves stumbled to a 15-67 record, fully six games worse than any other team in the league. And they discovered that much of their young talent wasn’t as good as they previously imagined. Point guard Richardson continued to plateau after a strong rookie campaign in 1989-90. Glass proved to be a world-class head case. Spencer and Longley showed they were little more than functional role players, not the impact players expected from high lottery picks. If not for the blossoming of swingman West into a solid NBA starter, the new approach taken in 1991-92 would have been considered a complete washout from an on-the-court perspective. But hope was rising from a different perspective. College basketball was abuzz with what was supposed to be shaping up to be a historically strong draft class, led by LSU center Shaquille O’Neal, Georgetown center Alonzo Mourning, and Duke power forward Christian Laettner. The Wolves also presumably bolstered their front office by hiring former Detroit Pistons general manager Jack McCloskey to run the team’s basketball operations.
The ping-pong balls fall
The 1992 NBA Draft Lottery was perhaps the most critical moment in the young franchise’s history, and it became emblematic of the team’s bad luck in the lottery and the lack of success on the court. When the envelopes were opened, though, Wolves fans were disappointed. Orlando (who had the second-worst record) and Charlotte (sixth-worst record) both leapfrogged the Wolves to claim the #1 and #2 picks, respectively.
On draft night, O’Neal went to Orlando followed by Mourning to Charlotte. The Wolves went with Laettner, the consensus #3 pick. It’s easy to forget now just how accomplished of a player that Laettner was at Duke. Few players in the history of college basketball can claim the sort of record that Laettner racked up in his four years with the Blue Devils.
- Two-time national champion, four Final Four appearances
- Most outstanding player, 1991 Final Four
- National Player of the Year, 1992
- First team All-America, 1992
- All-time leading scorer, NCAA basketball tournament
- Second team All-America, 1991
- Member of the 1992 Gold Medal winning “Dream Team”
Not to mention the fact that Laettner and the Blue Devils handled O’Neal’s LSU Tigers with relative ease during the 1991-92 college season. The drop from O’Neal to Laettner wasn’t supposed to be extreme. Most folks saw Laettner as emerging into an All-Star caliber talent.
Yeah, he sometimes can be stubborn. But he has a heart somewhere…I think. – Chuck Person
Perception becomes reality
Despite his achievements, Laettner came into the league with something of a battered reputation. It was the Laettner-era Duke teams that established the Blue Devils as perhaps the most hated team in college basketball. Laettner’s pretty-boy looks (he was named one of Peoplemagazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People in 1992) were frequently derided, and he was the subject of frequent speculation about his sexual orientation and a potential relationship with teammate Brian Davis. Laettner’s infamous stomping incident with Kentucky forward Aminu Timberlake also fed the hatred that many felt towards him. The notion of Laettner as an arrogant whiner — some of it deserved — was cast in stone. In a league where an aging Bill Laimbeer was on the way out, Laettner was poised to be in as the new villain — if only his play would live up to the hype.
Laettner’s on-the-court play as a rookie was widely lauded. The rookie forward rolled up 18.2 points and 8.7 rebounds a game, landing on the All-Rookie first team behind Mourning (21 ppg and 10.3 rpg) and O’Neal (23.4 ppg and 13.9 rpg). While Laettner’s statistics were impressive, the Wolves didn’t see the comparable results in the win column. The Wolves staggered to a 19-win total, despite the addition of veteran sharpshooter Chuck Person before the season. Rodgers was jettisoned 29 games into the season, replaced by Sidney Lowe. Laettner’s rookie season was relatively quiet from a personality perspective. He was considered somewhat aloof and was sometimes hard on teammates, but nothing out of the ordinary. Inside, though, Laettner was having difficulty accepting the losing in Minnesota and what he considered the less-than-determined attitude of some of his teammates. Additionally, it was evident to many long-time observers of the league that Laettner’s college reputation and prickly personality were not appreciated by NBA referees, who routinely held their whistles when Laettner was being hacked in the low post. The seeds of Laettner’s eventual downfall were being sown.
Meanwhile, Mourning’s Hornets made their first playoff appearance, losing in the second round and O’Neal’s Magic improved their win total by 20 games and narrowly missed the playoffs.
The wheels started to come off during Laettner’s sophomore campaign. McCloskey added mercurial guard Isaiah Rider with the fifth pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, and traded Felton Spencer to the Utah Jazz for Mike Brown. But the wins didn’t come, and Laettner’s temper started to get the better of him. Laettner exploded on assistant coach Bob Weinhauer during a February practice, unleashing a profanity-filled tirade that earned him a one-game suspension. Lowe was dismissed following the 20-62 season, while the Magic and Hornets combined for 91 victories. While Laettner was demonstrating toughness on-the-court that many didn’t expect him to display, his lack of athleticism was holding him back from becoming an elite player.
Former Washington assistant Bill Blair was hired to take the reins of the team for the 1994-95 season, and the offseason acquisitions included draft pick Donyell Marshall and center Sean Rooks. Starting point guard Micheal Williams missed the entire season with a foot injury, and the Wolves lagged again, stumbling to a 21-61 record. Frustration boiled over for Laettner, who unleashed his most famous tirade after an early season defeat.
Loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, winner (pointing to himself) – Laettner
When the time comes, that may well be the appropriate quote to end up on Laettner’s tombstone. Laettner’s arrogance wasn’t supported by his solid (but not star-level) play on the court. McCloskey was replaced by Kevin McHale at the end of the season, and McHale made the bold stroke of drafting high school phenom Kevin Garnett.
The entrance of Garnett, plus the success of McCloskey acquistion Tom Gugliotta signaled the end of Laettner’s place as a key cog in the Timberwolves future. McHale signed veterans Sam Mitchell and Terry Porter to help mentor Garnett (and to limit the influence of Laettner), and midway through the 1995-96 season, Laettner was shipped to Atlanta with Rooks in exchange for the expiring contracts of Andrew Lang and Spud Webb. What began with a bang ended with a whimper.
The high point of Laettner’s career came the following year, as he made his only All-Star game appearance as a member of the Hawks. The next season, though, he would lose his place in the starting lineup to Alan Henderson. Laettner moved on to the Pistons for the 1998-99, season but missed almost the entire season with a torn Achilles tendon. From there, Laettner bounced to Washington and Miami before retiring at the end of the 2004-05 season.
Voting for the Circle of Infamy has closed.
Thanks to all who have voted!
Many professional sports franchises have a way of recognizing the great accomplishments of people who have been involved with the organization over the years. For the Minnesota Vikings, for instance, it is the Ring of Honor, a list of names that circle the Metrodome honoring the many fantastic football players and coaches that have been part of the organization.
Alas, such a concept wouldn’t work for our beloved Minnesota Timberwolves. Having no signature achievements to point to in their 20 years of existence, it makes more sense to honor the unique non-achievements in the team’s history.
As such, All Shook Down is proud to introduce the Minnesota Timberwolves Circle of Infamy, where those who have truly made a mark over the last two decades can receive their just rewards. Nominees for the Circle of Infamy are below. Please vote for your favorites. The top five vote-getters will be given further special recognition upon their induction into the Circle of Infamy.
Christian Laettner: Laettner is emblematic of the Wolves’ lottery luck (or lack thereof). The team finished the 1991-1992 season with the worst record in the NBA, then watched as Orlando and Charlotte leapfrogged the Wolves in the lottery, enabling those teams to take Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning, respectively. As the third pick, Laettner never became the player his extensive college pedigree suggested he would become. And his cocky attitude, best represented by the infamous “loser, loser, loser, winner” speech he gave in the locker room, necessitated his eventual departure half a season after Kevin Garnett was drafted.
The Draft Class of 1997 (Paul Grant and Gordon Malone): The single-least productive two-person draft class in Wolves history, and that’s saying a lot. Grant, a seven-footer out of Wisconsin, was hampered by recurring foot injuries. He missed his entire rookie season and made his NBA debut half-way through the the 1998-99 season, playing in just four games before being shipped to Milwaukee as part of the Stephon Marbury trade. Malone, meanwhile, was considered to be a friendship pick by Kevin McHale, selecting a client of his pal, NBA agent Bill Duffy. Malone never saw any NBA action, and has been drifting through the netherworlds of minor league basketball ever since.
Ndudi Ebi: Perhaps it’s somewhat unfair to Ebi to be on this list. The real blame, one supposes, should lie with Kevin McHale for selecting Ebi in the first place. But Ebi, like Grant, was a first-round pick who made no meaningful contribution to the team, playing a total of 86 minutes in 19 games over two seasons. The sting of the Ebi pick was only compounded by the fact that Kendrick Perkins and Josh Howard were taken in subsequent picks, and Ebi was the only first-round pick the Wolves had during the Joe Smith sanctions.
Foreign White Guy Three Point Shooters (Shane Heal and Igor Rakocevic): Target Center crowds have been captivated at two points over the last two decades with spunky but otherwise irrelevant three-point shooters. Aussie Shane Heal spent the 1996-97 season with the club, flashing his Zack Morris hair and a knack for shooting the long ball. Making it was another story, as Heal only converted on 30% of his threes (and 27% overall from the field). In 2002-03, the Wolves were treated to the basketball stylings of Igor Rakocevic. Rakocevic made 41% of his threes, but was largely a bench-rider and trudged back to Europe at the end of the season, where he has legitimately become one of the better guards on the continent.
Kevin McHale: The Hibbing native and Celtic legend has sullied his reputation with the locals based on a record of disastrous personnel moves. If I need to list them all here, you haven’t been paying close attention.
Randy Wittman: Wittman has long ties to the organization, joining in 1994 as an assistant coach to Bill Blair. After five years with the Wolves, Wittman got a shot a being a head coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Two years and 62 wins later, Wittman was back on Flip Saunders’ staff, departing after the 2004-05 season for a one-year stint with the Orlando Magic. One year later, Wittman was back with the Wolves as unofficial coach-in-waiting to Dwane Casey. Forty games into the 2006-07 season, with the Wolves at 20-20 and in 8th place in the Western Conference standings, Casey was fired and Wittman promoted. Wittman’s Wolves proceeded to lose 30 of the next 42 games and missed the playoffs by 10 games. Following the KG trade, Wittman guided the Wolves to a 27-85 record before being put out of his misery early in the 2008-09 season.
Eddie Griffin: Griffin was a troubled soul, dealing with drug and alcohol addiction his entire career (culminating in his death in 2007). Perhaps the most notable event in Griffin’s three years with the team was the SUV crash he got in 2006, where he allegedly hit a parked car while masturbating to a porn movie playing on the SUV’s in-dash DVD player.
Isaiah “J.R.” Rider: Rider was another Wolves player withan “interesting” personality. One of the most talented players ever to wear the Wolves uniform, Rider stormed into the league in the 1993-94 season, racking up a berth on the All-Rookie first team and winning the Slam Dunk Contest with his infamous between-the-legs “East Bay Funk” dunk. Off the court, though, Rider racked up an impressive list of transgressions, including kicking a female manager of a Mall of America sports bar, marijuana possession and using an illegal cell phone. After three seasons, Rider was shipped to Portland for Bill Curley and James “Hollywood” Robinson.
Rashad McCants: McCants, in many ways, was a lesser version of Rider. Fewer run-ins withthe law (good thing), and less talent (not so good). The less talent piece of the equation made his surly and distant attitude difficult to deal with. On the court, McCants was up-and-down, frequently looking disinterested and was not considered a good team player. After three-and-one-half seasons of mediocre play, McCants was traded to Sacramento for Shelden Williams and Bobby Brown. The emergence of Danny Granger (taken after McCants in the 2004 draft) as an All-Star talent also did not endear McCants to the Wolves fans.
William Avery: Avery, along with Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, were among the first notable players from Duke to leave early for the draft. The Wolves selected Avery with the 14th pick in 1999, becoming the last of four Dukies taken in the first round. Avery washed out of the league following his three year rookie deal with the Wolves, and based on the results, it’s not difficult to see why. Avery played just 142 games in those three seasons, averaging 2.7 points per game and shooting 33% for his career. Avery is now playing for his tenth European team in seven years overseas.
Voting has closed. Thanks to all of you who voted. Results will be released shortly.
With the first five months of the golf season in the books, it’s time to look ahead. Three majors, the FedEx Cup and the Presidents Cup still lie ahead of us.
Let’s review some of the key numbers to this point:
Official World Golf Rankings
1. Tiger Woods
2. Phil Mickelson
3. Paul Casey
4. Sergio Garcia
5. Geoff Ogilvy
PGA Tour FedEx Cup Points
1. Zach Johnson
2. Geoff Ogilvy
3. Steve Stricker
4. Tiger Woods
5. Sean O’Hair
Presidents Cup Qualifiers
US: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Kenny Perry, Sean O’Hair, Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk, Justin Leonard, Stewart Cink, Anthony Kim
International: Geoff Ogilvy, Vijay Singh, Camilo Villegas, Ernie Els, Mike Weir, Retief Goosen, Angel Cabrera, Tim Clark, Rory Sabbatini, Jeev Milkha Singh
The second major of the year lies two weeks ahead. Tiger Woods defends the U.S. Open Championship at Bethpage State Park (Black), where he won in 2002. Bethpage, known for being one of the most difficult tests around, is precisely the kind of golf course that appeared to be a bad fit for the 2009-vintage Woods. With accuracy at a premium, Tiger’s tendency to spray the ball with the driver looked like it was a problem. Tiger’s win at the Memorial, hitting 87% of fairways, may dispel many of those concerns, and Tiger goes right back to the top of the favorites list.
In 2002, Tiger held off Mickelson and Garcia. Mickelson figures to be back in the mix again, despite missing a few weeks because of his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis. Returning to the Tour this week in Memphis will allow him to answer a lot of the media inquiries about his wife this week. Mickelson was also a favorite of the Bethpage crowd in 2002, which should give him a boost. Garcia, on the other hand, has been lost most of the season. Padraig Harrington, who has been similarly AWOL in 2009, was T8 in 2002. Many of the others on the 2002 leaderboard have drifted on to the Senior Tour (Scott Hoch, Nick Price), into the broadcast booth (Nick Faldo) or into irrelevance (Jeff Maggert, Billy Mayfair, Tom Byrum).
So who else should be in the mix at Bethpage? If Geoff Ogilvy is on, he has the game perfectly suited for the U.S. Open, and he proved at Winged Foot he had the moxie to survive the USGA’s setups. Paul Casey has been red-hot, and seems poised to win on a major stage. PLAYERS champion Henrik Stenson has had a dismal record at the U.S. Open, but top-5 finishes in the last two majors last year may indicate that record is ready to change. Among Americans, Steve Stricker is good bet to be on the first page of the leaderboard.
After Bethpage, attention turns to across the Atlantic. The Open Championship will be held this year at Turnberry for the first time since 1994. The course has only hosted the championship three times previously, and each time it produced a champion at the peak of his game — Nick Price (1994), Greg Norman (1986), and Tom Watson (1977, over Jack Nicklaus in the famous “Duel in the Sun”). Two-time defending champion Harrington should be in the mix here. Additionally, we’ve seen the Open produce valiant runs from folks seen as perhaps past their prime in recent years. Might this be one of the last opportunities for Ernie Els to pop up and win a major? Or a repeat of Greg Norman’s effort from 2008? Stenson, Casey, and Ian Poulter are also good bets to be in contention.
After Turnberry, the PGA Championship returns to Hazeltine National just down the road from my house. In 2002, Rich Beem delivered the first in a string of unlikely major winners in 2002-2004 (Beem, Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel, Todd Hamilton). Hazeltine seems like a perfect fit for Woods, as the course is quite similar to Medinah, where Tiger has won PGA crowns in 1999 and 2006. Surprisingly, though, given the course’s length (7,360 yards then, extended to over 7,600 for this year), shorter hitters dominated the rest of the leaderboard. Fred Funk, Justin Leonard, Rocco Mediate, Jim Furyk, and Steve Lowery all notched top-10 finishes. Furyk would be a good bet to contend here again, in addition to Mike Weir and Luke Donald.
So, lets’ get to the picks. Originality may be short here:
U.S. Open: Tiger Woods
Open Championship: Ian Poulter
PGA Championship: Tiger Woods
That makes 16 major championships for Woods, bringing him within two of Nicklaus’s record.