MINNEAPOLIS – After Sunday’s 93-88 Timberwolves’ loss to Golden State – one that saw the Timberwolves up 55-34 at the end of the second quarter – J.J. Barea was frustrated.
Just 10 months removed from a championship in Dallas, perhaps Barea’s unfamiliarity with consistent losing pushed him to say what he said. Or maybe he’s just independently competitive; maybe it takes less to push him to the point at which he’s desperate enough to air out his concerns. No matter the motivation, Barea was ready to say his piece on Sunday. No one pushed him or asked him. It was his speech, and he made it.
“We got problems here,” Barea said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that don’t care. When on a basketball team you’ve got a lot of players that don’t care, it’s tough to win games. What’s going to happen, we’re just going to keep getting (losses) until we get players here that care, care about winning – care about the team, care about the fans.”
It was a vague set of accusations at first, but eventually, he clarified.
“We just come in here after the game like nothing happened,” Barea said. “That’s what happens to a losing team.
“After a game like this, you’ve got to have problems. You’ve got to argue with your teammates, but nobody really cares. We’ve got to change that.”
That’s the part his teammates would be wise to listen to. The first bit – that’s finger-pointing without direct targets. It’s somewhat irresponsible, but that’s not Barea’s message. He was frustrated. His head was likely spinning after playing 48 minutes in such a frustrating loss. It took him a bit to get to the point, but when he did, it made sense. The locker room around him was nearly empty, the players who’d shouldered the majority of the game’s minutes long gone.
That was the problem.
But in the immediate aftermath, the players who remained were hesitant to agree with the second-hand message. It was a problem of repeating, of reporters parroting as quickly as possible the gist of a more complicated argument: “J.J. said guys don’t care. What do you think?”
It’s hard to ask any better in that situation or even to synthesize all that he’d said so quickly, but that wasn’t his message. And so Michael Beasley disagreed. Anthony Tolliver disagreed. Nikola Pekovic disagreed. Two days later, Kevin Love disagreed, likely for the same reasons. There were parts of Barea’s argument that anyone would call into question, just as other points were hard to ignore.
“I just think J.J. was upset, and a guy coming from a championship team, he kind of saw it a little different the past few years at the end of the season,” Love said.
But that’s the crux of it. He was upset, and he was showing it. That’s what Barea called his teammates to do in a louder, more vocal way, and perhaps the only person who truly understood what the point guard was trying to get across was his coach, Rick Adelman.
By Tuesday, Adelman had heard what Barea said two days before. Maybe he’d been told, or perhaps he read the quotes on his own, but regardless, he didn’t have much to contest. Adelman said that when a team is losing like the Timberwolves are – 12 of their past 13 – players have to care. They have to feel the pain of playing so poorly, and sometimes that means that frustration takes over. It did for Barea, and Adelman was just as upset, he said.
“People should get mad,” Adelman said. “People should not accept that. I think young players, sometimes they have to learn that. The game is, you don’t get dressed in 10 minutes and leave.”
Words like Barea’s are the kind that creep around a locker room. They can get distorted, and they don’t always have the intended effect. People hang on them for their most salacious points, the accusations rather than the suggestions and advice. There’s no way to tell how the team feels about what the point guard said now, but those words were no cause to get upset. Everyone deals with frustration in his own way, and for Barea, talking may have been cathartic.
Barea talks. Someone else – or maybe it was him, as well – knocked over a metal sign in the hallway outside the locker room. Other players, though, were silent, quick to leave the arena and put it all out of their minds. And in criticizing that attitude, Adelman and Barea were justified. No matter how fast players dressed and left on Sunday, they have to take the court one last time on Thursday, and there’s no use running away from what happened.
To run away is to give up. To get mad is to make a statement that losses like Sunday’s are never OK.