Minnesota finally returned to the playoffs after a 13-year absence, but the stay was a short one as the Houston Rockets ousted the Timberwolves in five games. A core led by All-Stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler gives the Wolves hope of another playoff spot in 2018-19. Their mostly quiet offseason, however, was disrupted shortly before training camp began as Butler requested a trade from the Wolves. Even before Butler's request, several players had to step up for the Wolves to make their next playoff stay longer than their last one. With Butler's future uncertain, it puts even more pressure on Towns and several others in Minnesota.
Towns signed a super-max extension as training camp, a deal worth a reported $190 million ... Butler, an unrestricted free agent next summer, reportedly rejected a $110-million contract extension back in July … Former fan-favorite Anthony Tolliver, who played for Minnesota from 2010-12, is back after signing as a free agent … Free-agent forward Nemanja Bjelica initially agreed to a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers. Then, he backed out of that deal to stay in Europe before finally signing with the Kings … In September, the Wolves added another ex-Chicago Bulls player to their mix in Luol Deng ...
1. How will Butler chatter affect this season? The guard missed Minnesota's training camp and, to date, has not played in any of Minnesota's preseason games. Thibodeau isn't a stranger to roster drama -- he was the coach in Chicago when talk of Derrick Rose's ACL injury and return ruled the Bulls' for years. How Thibodeau and the Wolves' front office manages the Butler trade talk will set the tone for Minnesota in many ways.
2. Can Andrew Wiggins bounce back? Last fall, the Wolves invested in Wiggins with a five-year, max extension. He responded with dips in scoring average (17.7 ppg) and other offensive stats. The Wolves are better when he is involved, as they were 20-14 last season when Wiggins scored 20 or more points.
3. A consistent 3-point threat is still needed. The Wolves loved to score in the paint … and made the fewest 3-pointers in the NBA. Tolliver’s 3-point stroke should help, but one of Minnesota’s star players (and perhaps another role player) needs to develop into a reliable threat from the outside.
3b. Thibodeau isn’t opposed to playing rookies. But he won’t just gift them minutes. Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop both boast impressive wingspans and Thibodeau loves players who think defense first. If either look for stops first, they could quickly find a spot in the Wolves’ rotation.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Rose is likely never to regain the game that made him Kia NBA MVP in the 2010-11 season. However, he was solid serving as the Wolves' backup to starting point guard Jeff Teague late last season and into the playoffs. The Wolves re-signed him this summer to a one-year deal and, if Rose is healthy -- always a question with him -- he is a competent scorer and playmaker for the second unit. A bigger role for Rose, however, may stunt the growth of youngster Tyus Jones (who also showed improvement last season).
Taj Gibson | 12.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.2 apg
Posted his highest rebounding average since his rookie season with the Bulls.
Jimmy Butler | 22.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.9 apg
December run (26.5 ppg, 50.6 FG pct) last season showcased his go-to guy skills.
Andrew Wiggins | 17.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.1 spg
Attempted career-low 314 free throws and scored 4.4 points per drive last season.
Jeff Teague | 14.2 ppg, 7 apg, 1.5 spg
His scoring and assists averages took a step back last season.
Derrick Rose | 5.8 ppg, 0.7 rpg, 1.2 apg
Showed some flashes of his old scoring touch in the 2018 playoffs (14.2 ppg).
Gorgui Dieng | 5.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 0.5 bpg
Gibson’s uneven play caused his role to shrink after the All-Star break.
Josh Okogie | 18.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.5 apg (Georgia Tech)
Athletic rookie has the tools to be a factor on defense as well as in transition.
Minnesota was a so-so 11-9 to close out 2017-18, with much of that record attributed to Butler missing time with a knee injury. A 47-35 finish was a bit of a letdown to some, and the defense needs to improve (Minnesota was 22nd in Defensive Rating last season). With Butler's trade request hanging out there, the Wolves must manage that as well as perhaps playing without him (or without his full interest in 2018-19 in Minnesota). Even if Wiggins gets back on track, the defense trends up and the rest of the roster stays healthy, Thibodeau and Co. are looking at 44 wins (if Butler sits out all season or is traded).
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