Timberwolves coach running low on patience with sportswriter

Minnesota Timberwolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell reacts during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Trail Blazers won 109-103. (AP Photo/Hannah Foslien)

Anybody who saw Saturday’s Timberwolves game against Portland had to wonder why interim head coach Sam Mitchell yanked future superstar Karl-Anthony Towns in favor of the over-the-hill-and-out-of-gas Tayshaun Prince late in the game Saturday night. It didn’t help the mood when an easy layup by Portland proved the dagger in the heart of the locals.

So it wasn’t surprising at all that someone asked coach Sam Mitchell what that move was all about.

It also wasn’t surprising that Mitchell, who seems to have no patience with sportswriters here, did his best to embarrass the reporter asking.

There was more to the outburst than what the Pioneer Press’ video showed, including some slamming of the table and a challenge to other reporters.

I will argue that a little respect for people doing their jobs isn’t a bad thing, especially when reporters are asking the questions on behalf of a paying public that can’t.

Mitchell, the immediate consensus online seemed to confirm, was wrong to call out the sportswriter, even considering the circumstances, his team having kicked away a big first-half lead.

You know who doesn’t agree? with that consensus? The sportswriter.

It was the erudite Britt Robson of MinnPost, who is probably the finest basketball writer in Minnesota.

In a stand-up post today, Robson says he was wrong to ask the question.

For example, even if I’d had a proper clue about who Tayshaun Prince was being brought in to guard on Saturday night, Mitchell’s patience would have likely ended with his response that Portland brought in a smaller lineup and he followed suit to better match up with them. Unfortunately, this stands in sharp contrast to his predecessor Saunders, who reveled in explaining what was on his mind and how he regarded the outcome of his decisions during postgame press conferences.

Had it been Saunders (and still assuming I’d had a clue that night), I would have asked why he chose to lift Towns instead of Gorgui Dieng when he went small. I would have asked what happened on the play — did Rubio and Dieng miscommunicate the potential pick-and-roll defense or did Lillard wisely ambush the scheme with his sudden drive to the hoop? And seeing that Lillard’s layup barely made it over Prince’s outstretched arm, I may have even risked asking Saunders whether he regretted substituting Prince for Towns.

I am very confident in asserting that any of those questions would be met with either derision or anger by Mitchell, depending on which he thought would more quickly end the discussion. And that’s a shame because it makes me less capable of accurately analyzing this team.

Is there a chance I would use Mitchell’s answers to second-guess his decisions? Sure. But that’s not my primary motivation. It is invaluable for me to know why the guy most intimate with the team’s personnel uses one player over another in certain situations and who is properly reading and adapting to the schemes that are being devised. Absent that hard information, I’m more likely to speculate — and be wrong — about what has happened, which ironically feeds into Mitchell’s suspicion that those covering the team don’t know what we’re talking about.

Mitchell’s use of Towns has invited more questions since he started benching the number one NBA draft pick in the 4th quarter. On Saturday night, it should be noted, Towns was the best player on the team.

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32), left, center Gorgui Dieng (5), of Senegal, guard Ricky Rubio (9), of Spain, and guard Andrew Wiggins (22) huddle up during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Trail Blazers won 109-103. (AP Photo/Hannah Foslien)

It’s Mitchell’s team, like it or not. If he wants to disrespect reporters for doing their job, that’s up to him. It’s low-risk, given the low popularity of the media in general.

But the franchise has been in a losing struggle for credibility for a decade and while the fans might not have the basketball acumen that Mitchell possesses, the image of a coach telling off a reporter — and by extension, the fans who paid their money to see the product the franchise is selling — seems illogical, misplaced and counterproductive.