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As any Minnesota Timberwolves fan can tell you, it’s been a long time since they’ve been in the NBA playoffs (13 years and counting, to be precise). Yet after an offseason overhaul of the roster that brought in playoff-tested veterans like Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford, Minnesota is thinking their playoff-less run will end soon.
Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune caught up with Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and others to discuss what it will take to reach the postseason and more:
By adding Butler, three-time Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford and playoff-tested Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson, the Wolves have gone from always playing for next year to the here and now.
That’s a place the franchise hasn’t been since Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell last took it to the playoffs, 13 long seasons ago. That’s by two years the NBA’s longest such streak.
“I’m not limiting it to that,” Butler said. “I’m not going to say, ‘Hey, if we make the playoffs, what a great season.’ A success for me? I want to win a championship. I’m not settling us short on just making the playoffs or winning ‘X’ amount of games.”
But it would be a nice start, as any long-suffering Wolves fans will tell you. Or as a couple did tell Crawford and his kids at a Dave & Buster’s the other day.
“That would be a step in the right direction,” said Crawford, who hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2012. “I’ve forgotten what it’s like not to be in the playoffs, and these fans deserve it. They’ve had the longest streak. Every time I’m out somewhere, they come up.”
Butler also gives the Wolves an alpha and the ringing voice that Thibodeau says all great teams need.
“I love that, I love holding everybody accountable,” Butler said. “If you’re doing something wrong, it’s not personal. Everybody just wants to be great here. Everybody wants to win. That’s why you play this game. If I’m doing something wrong, point your finger at me and tell me what I have to do better. I’m going to do the same thing with everybody else. You can’t be scared of a little conflict.”
“Great players always figure out how to play off each other and then they all share the responsibility to make plays, to make the game easier for others,” Thibodeau said. “They not only have the responsibility to play their best themselves but to bring the best out of the team. They all have a chance to shine, but they have to put the team first and sacrifice for each other.”
Just like Chris Paul and James Harden in Houston, Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in Oklahoma City and Irving and Gordon Hayward in Boston now, the Wolves themselves must figure out how exactly the puzzle pieces fit and if one basketball is enough.
“If we want to win big, we’re going to have to do the same thing,” Thibodeau said, referring to the 2007-08 Celtics and last season’s Warriors. “Jimmy, Karl, Wig, they’re all going to have to share and put the team first. They’re all great players, but you can’t win big in this league without playing for each other.”
Starting point guard on an Atlanta team that won 60 games three seasons ago, Teague credits conversations with veteran Mike Bibby when he was a rookie for a career in which winning has trumped all in his mind.
“He told me he never made an All-Star team, never really got a lot of credit, but he always won and his teams in Sacramento were really good,” Teague said. “He said if you’re a winner, you’ll be around. So that’s all I ever think about. When we get on the floor, if we can win the game, all the accolades will come. That’s what I was just telling the young guys, Karl and them.
“If you averaged 25 last year and didn’t make the All-Star team, you probably should have. But if you maybe average 22, maybe sacrifice a little bit and we win, you’ll get all that stuff.”