Andrew Wiggins

Wolves Notes: Rubio, Muhammad, Thibodeau, Wiggins

Now that the dust has settled from the trade deadline, Ricky Rubio has high aspirations for the 22-35 Timberwolves.

“I believe this team can make the playoffs and we can make a push,” Rubio told Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune (Twitter link). Minnesota will have a tough road ahead to forge a postseason run. The Wolves entered Friday three games behind the Nuggets for the eighth-seed of the Western Conference, and two teams ahead of them- the Pelicans and Mavericks- made stellar deadline acquisitions to boost their chances.

Rubio spoke to reporters, including Jon Krawczynsk of the Associated Press, about the human element of being mentioned in trade rumors.

“As pros, we know what’s the deal,” Rubio said. “But yeah, this time felt a little different. It’s all rumors. Until it doesn’t go down, you don’t believe it…I know this is a business and it has to be like that.”

More from Minnesota…

  • Shabazz Muhammad will hope to stick with the T’Wolves in restricted free agency. “Come this summer I want to be Timberwolf,” the former UCLA Bruin told Darren Wolfson of KSTP Eyewitness News (Twitter link). Minnesota was “determined” to move Muhammad during the trade deadline, according to David Aldridge of TNT. Despite being linked to the Wizards at one point, Muhammad ultimately stayed put. With the assurance of staying with Minnesota through the season, Muhammad is focused on helping the Wolves enter the playoff picture. “It’s a great opportunity for us,” Muhammad said. “We’re going to finish this season out strong, and we’ve still got a lot to show.”
  • Coach Tom Thibodeau had a measured view of the trade deadline, claiming no trades really came close. “If something made sense, we would have done it,” Thibodeau told the Associated Press. “But it had to make sense and make us better. If it didn’t, just be patient, continue to work.” With trade talks in the rear-view mirror, Thibodeau discussed his approach following the All-Star break. “Before the break we laid out what we wanted them to do when they were away,’’ Thibodeau told Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune. “The first day back (Wednesday) was more activation, just to get the bodies going again. And then we had a really good practice Thursday, and shootaround today. Again, the big thing is to make sure you have a routine established in terms of how you prepare to play.”
  • A playoff chase would benefit the young Timberwolves, Jace Frederick of Twin Cities writes. While FiveThirtyEight currently gives Minnesota a 2% chance of making the postseason, it’s a breath of fresh air for Wolves fans to see their team involved in the playoff picture. “It’s a good feeling knowing that we’re in the mix,” Andrew Wiggins said. “And if we put in a good stretch, we can put ourselves in a really good position. We’re getting better every game. Some games we play bad and there’s a little setback, but we keep playing hard, practicing hard, learning a lot of new things.”

Timberwolves Exercise Options On Four Players

The Timberwolves have exercised third-year options on Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones and fourth-year options on Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins, the team announced today.

Adreian Payne has been told his fourth-year option will not be picked up, according to Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News in Minneapolis (Twitter link).

Towns and Wiggins are the last two Rookies of the Year and Levine is part of the rotation, so all of those moves were expected. Minnesota has reportedly been in ongoing trade talks involving Jones, with the Sixers as the current front-runner.

Payne, a 6’10” power forward, appeared in 52 games for the Wolves last season, averaging 2.5 points and 2.1 rebounds in 9.3 minutes per night. He was acquired from the Hawks in a 2015 trade.

Western Notes: Nowitzki, Wiggins, Knight

Mavs owner Mark Cuban was never concerned that Dirk Nowitzki would elect to head elsewhere this offseason, as he detailed to Brandon Robinson of “Dirk wasn’t even in the country and people couldn’t even reach him when free agency started,” Cuban told Robinson “I basically told him, look, you tell me the price and it actually started lower. His agent said ‘how about this much’ and we said ‘we’ll have a little more money, we’ll give you more’ and as the numbers started getting bigger and bigger, it was like ‘what about this number?’ ‘We’ll give you more.’ Finally, it was like ‘this is what we got left, take it!’

We wanted to make it a two-year deal with a team option so that people wouldn’t speculate that he was going to retire because Dirk is the type of guy, he’s just a good guy. He would hate going city to city to city and everyone asking him if he was going to retire because he has no intention of retiring after this year and, with the team option that we have, he gave us the flexibility that said ‘if we find somebody that we can send the money to that he likes, we all like, then let’s do it and if not, let’s give the money to Dirk again which I’m fine with too.

Here’s more from out West:

  • Andrew Wiggins expects big things this season from himself and his Wolves teammates, adding that the addition of Tom Thibodeau as coach and executive will make him a better player, Martin Rickman of Dime Magazine relays. “We’ve done a lot of good things this year. And we beat a lot of good teams – we can beat any team out there on a given day,” Wiggins told Rickman. “But we’re getting stronger. We’re getting older. We’re getting more experienced. And we’re building chemistry. We’re just getting better every game. We have a lot of things to accomplish this coming year. We’re all looking forward to it, and our expectations are getting higher. We want more. We’re young, and hungry, and we want to see the playoffs.
  • The Suns are excited about what Brandon Knight can do in 2016/17 if he remains healthy, Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic relays. “He has the ability to play either guard spot,” Suns GM Ryan McDonough said of Knight. “He can play the 1. He can play the 2. He’s an elite shooter. People who just saw Brandon playing last year when he was a little bit banged up and wasn’t 100% probably don’t realize how well he shoots the ball when he’s healthy and right. We think, with our top four or five guards, they will be interchangeable. They’ll be able to play either spot. We have at least four, maybe five guys now, who can get in the paint, break down defenses and kick to open shooters.

Northwest Notes: Durant, Ibaka, Murray, Dunn

Oklahoma City remains the favorite in the Kevin Durant free agency sweepstakes, according to Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman. The Thunder have a significant advantage in the amount they can offer Durant, Slater notes, as he can make $229.5MM over the next six seasons if he opts out of a two-year deal next summer and signs a five-year max contract. OKC can also offer a guaranteed contender, as the Thunder just fell one game short of reaching the NBA Finals. Slater rates the Warriors, Spurs and Celtics as having the best chance to take Durant away, with the Heat and Clippers as long shots and the Wizards and Rockets as “delusional pipe-dreamers.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Durant gave at least his unspoken approval to the draft-day trade that sent Serge Ibaka to the Magic, writes Sam Amick of USA Today Sports. Given the uncertainty surrounding Durant, Amick says the Thunder never would have made such a major deal if they didn’t know he was on board with it.
  • New Nuggets guard Jamal Murray can expect to begin the season in a sixth-man role, according to Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. Denver GM Tim Connelly says veteran shooting guard Gary Harris will continue to start, with Murray used for instant offense off the bench. “It’s Gary’s job,” Connelly said. “Certainly I hope Jamal does everything he does to potentially take the job, but Gary’s our starting two guard. [Drafting Murray] was an addition to what we think is a very strong backcourt already. We like the flexibility he provides us.”
  • The Nuggets haven’t decided whether to bring over No. 15 pick Juan Hernangomez next season, Dempsey writes in the same piece. The 20-year-old power forward played for Real Madrid this season. “Both options are open,” Connelly said. “There are some pretty good international situations, if we want him to marinate a bit overseas. I think certainly he has the game to come over. If you’re productive at the ACB level, it usually translates. But it’s a conversation we’re going to have with his representatives and figure it out.”
  • No. 5 pick Kris Dunn likes the situation he is entering with the Timberwolves, relays Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun. The Providence point guard will be surrounded by young talents such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine“All those athletes … [who] like to play up and down, and that’s how my game is,” Dunn said. “I like to play at a fast pace, that up-tempo. We’re all young so I think it’s going to make the relationship even stronger because we’re all trying to learn together, we’re all trying to build together, and we’re going to try to compete every game.”

Central Notes: James, Wiggins, McMillan, Pistons

LeBron James is falling in the NBA Finals with the Cavaliers team that he built, writes Dave Hyde of The Sun-Sentinel. It was James’ decision to leave Miami for Cleveland two years ago because he saw a franchise with younger talent, Hyde notes, and he pushed for the deal that sent Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota for Kevin Love. James also approved the trade with New York that brought J.R. Smith and supported the hiring of Tyronn Lue, who had no previous experience as a head coach. Cavs managment has given James everything he wanted since his return, Hyde writes, saying it shows the danger of letting a player make too many personnel decisions.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • James’ desire to have Love as a teammate instead of Wiggins shaped the Cavaliers‘ destiny, contends Shaun Powell of Wiggins’ defensive prowess would have been much more valuable against the Warriors, Powell argues, noting that he is also capable of creating offense with his dribble, in contrast to Love, who has settled into a role as a 3-point shooter since he arrived in Cleveland. Wiggins also could have eased the Cavaliers’ financial burden with a rookie contract instead of the maximum deal that Love got last summer.
  • The Cavs’ bench has been letting them down in the finals, points out Marc Berman of The New York Post. Channing Frye, who was acquired in a February deal with the Magic, only has two points in the series. Iman Shumpert has been held to 11. Love came off the bench to score 11 in Game 4, but the rest of the reserves combined for just four points. Berman says depth will need to be the focus of Cleveland’s offseason moves.
  • New Pacers coach Nate McMillan will keep Dan Burke and Popeye Jones as part of his staff, tweets Scott Agness of Vigilant Sports. Agness says McMillan seems to have decided on a third assistant, but no announcement has been made.
  • The Pistons may concentrate on power forwards with the 18th pick in the draft, writes David Mayo of MLive. Detroit traded that pick to Houston for Donatas Motiejunas in a February deal that was later rescinded, so it’s clear that Pistons management recognizes the need for help at the four spot. Mayo lists Michigan State’s Deyonta Davis, Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis, Marquette’s Henry Ellenson and Kansas’ Perry Ellis as four possibilities.

Wolves Notes: Prince, Bjelica, Olympics, Mitchell

The Wolves’ Tayshaun Prince surprised even himself by playing 78 games and averaging 19 minutes a night, relays Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune. The 36-year-old says he feels good and has no plans to retire. The only question for Prince, who is headed toward free agency, is whether to come back to Minnesota or try to sign with a contender. “It’s all up in the air,” he said. “I really can’t speculate. I would love to see some of the things they do here and what opportunities would present themselves. Definitely it’s a possibility to come back, but it’s a crazy business.”

There’s more out of Minnesota:

  • Nemanja Bjelica‘s rookie season wasn’t what he expected, but he ended it with a flourish, Zgoda writes in the same story. The Wolves reached agreement with the draft-and-stash player last summer and watched as Bjelica struggled though his first NBA season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.5 rebounds in 60 games. However, he raised his scoring average to 12.5 points per night and shot 68% over the final four games. “At the end of the day, I’m happy to be here,” Bjelica said. “I belong in this league. I compete with the best players. Of course, I have some up and downs. This is normal. I’m just happy because I finish season in good way, like positive.” Bjelica, 27, has two years and $8MM left on the contract he signed in July.
  • Wolves management is asking players to do more of their offseason workouts in Minnesota, Zgoda continues in the same piece, but the Olympics could get in the way. Possible Wolves Olympians include Ricky Rubio with Spain, Bjelica with Serbia, Gorgui Dieng with Senegal and Andrew Wiggins with Canada.
  • Former coach Sam Mitchell deserved the chance to build on the work he did with the young core in Minnesota, contends Sid Hartman of The Star Tribune. Mitchell, who was dismissed after the season’s final game Wednesday, took over the team on an interim basis in September after Flip Saunders encountered health problems that proved fatal. Continuity is important to a young team, Hartman argues, and there will be an adjustment process even if the Wolves are able to hire an experienced coach like Tom Thibodeau, Scott Brooks or Jeff Van Gundy, who have drawn mention as candidates. They will also expect a higher salary and more control over personnel decisions than Mitchell would have, Hartman notes.

Northwest Notes: Miller, Harkless, Wiggins

Nuggets coach Michael Malone gushed about Mike Miller this week, and the team would like to re-sign him when he again becomes a free agent this summer, writes Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. Malone is willing to have him back even as an assistant coach, but Miller believes he can continue to play. The 36-year-old who’s in his 16th NBA season isn’t sure whether he’ll re-sign with Denver and said he’d like to play more minutes than the career-low 7.8 he’s seen this season, an unlikely proposition if he returns to the Nuggets, according to Dempsey. Still, Miller said he’s in a “good situation” in Denver and added that he’s learned a lot from Malone. “I just can’t speak enough about his work ethic, his example that he sets every day,” Malone said. “Even [Thursday]. This was practice No. 118. Even [Thursday], three games to go, Mike Miller is in here, working hard, setting the example. I don’t think you can have enough guys like that. The fact that he has two world championships, sixth man of the year, rookie of the year. … I’d love to have Mike back. I think he’s been a tremendous help for me, the staff and all of our players. I hope he’s a Nugget for a while.”

See more from the Northwest Division:

  • An early February injury to Noah Vonleh was the catalyst for the return of Maurice Harkless to the Blazers rotation, and now Harkless is thriving as a starter, notes Jason Quick of Comcast Sportsnet Northwest. It’s fortuitous not just for Portland’s playoff push but for the bank account of the Relativity Sports client who’s eligible for restricted free agency this summer.
  • Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell acknowledges that he coaches Andrew Wiggins with more subtle instruction because of the 21-year-old’s mellow demeanor, but GM Milt Newton is confident the former No. 1 overall pick will become an elite player based on his performances against superstars, as Rob Mahoney of chronicles. The extension window for Wiggins opens in 2017, but, as Mahoney notes, it’s unclear whether Mitchell or Newton will still be in their jobs this time next year.
  • The Nuggets will likely look this summer for a stretch four or sizable wing player who can play both forward positions with strong 3-point shooting and defense, but a healthy Wilson Chandler is liable to fit that bill, writes Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post. Bontemps nonetheless suggests that Chandler also makes for an intriguing trade chip. Chandler is under contract for at least the next two years but missed all of this season because of hip surgery.

And-Ones: Cavs, Wiggins, Nets

The Cavs will add veteran assistant Mike Longabardi to new head coach Tyronn Lue‘s staff, Brian Windhorst of reports. Lue and Longabardi spent four seasons together on Doc Rivers‘ staff in Boston, as Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic notes (on Twitter). Longabardi is expected to take over the defensive specialist role that Lue held, Windhorst adds. The Suns fired Longabardi, who is known as a defensive specialist, from his role as assistant coach in late December.

Here’s more from around the basketball world:

  • Andrew Wiggins has not spoke candidly about his feelings regarding the Cavs, the team that shipped him to the Wolves as part of the deal for Kevin Love, and instead has preferred to let his play speak for itself, Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune writes. Wiggins has performed particularly well against the Cavs, as Youngblood points out.
  • One of the top assistants in the league, like Sean Sweeney of the Bucks, would be a sensible fit for the Nets‘ coaching vacancy because it would be wise for Brooklyn to avoid the long term implications of a flashy hire, Ben Dowsett of Basketball Insiders argues.
  • Center Salah Mejri, who was recently coming off the bench in the D-League, found himself starting for the Mavs in place of the injured Zaza Pachulia and is making the most out of his opportunity, Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News relays.
  • Arinze Onuaku, who was with the Wolves at the end of last season, will be signing with the D-League, international journalist David Pick reports (on Twitter). Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv released Onuaku, Pick adds.

Cavs Notes: Cunningham, Harris, LeBron, Love

The Cavaliers thought when the regular season began that they’d waive Jared Cunningham by Thursday, the final day they could release him without paying his full-season salary, but they made up their minds weeks ago to retain him, a source told Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal. Still, the recent injury to Joe Harris posed an issue, Lloyd writes. The team would still like to somehow open a roster spot in advance of the trade deadline to provide flexibility for the post-deadline buyout market, Lloyd adds, suggesting that trading Harris, as the team has tried to do for weeks, is the only viable way of accomplishing that. The Cavs dodged a bullet today when Mo Williams said that he won’t require surgery on a partially torn ligament in his right thumb and that he’ll play through the injury as it heals over the next six weeks, tweets Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. See more on the Cavs:

  • LeBron James didn’t mention Andrew Wiggins in his summer 2014 Sports Illustrated essay announcing the four-time MVP’s return to Cleveland because he simply wasn’t familiar with him, James recently told Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports. Many speculated that the omission was a signal that James wanted the Cavs to trade Wiggins for Kevin Love, a move the team ultimately made. “I didn’t know the kid, really,” James said of Wiggins. “I knew Dion [Waiters]. I knew Kyrie [Irving]. I knew Tristan [Thompson]. I knew all the guys that I was playing with before. I didn’t know the kid, so it wasn’t no big issue to me.” 
  • Wiggins isn’t bitter, telling Lee in the same piece that the trade “put me in a better place.”
  • The max contract that Kevin Love signed this summer “gave me that little extra edge and push” to recover from the shoulder injury he suffered in the playoffs, Love said to Lee. The power forward’s primary desire in free agency was to remain in a winning situation, as he explained to James. “When I talked to him this summer and when he went over what he wanted, what he needed, the most important thing that came out of it was, ‘I just want to win. And I want to win at a high level because I went through too many losing seasons in Minnesota,’” James said to Lee. “And I said, ‘If that’s the case, we can figure out all that other stuff. If you want to win, we can figure out all that other stuff.’ And he’s been unbelievable from that point on.”

Wolves Exercise Options On Five Players

4:00pm: The Wolves have officially announced that they have picked up the options on the five players (Twitter link).

WEDNESDAY, 3:20pm: The Wolves have indeed picked up the options, as Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports hears (Twitter link), though the team has yet to make an official announcement.

SUNDAY, 1:26pm: The Wolves plan to exercise options on Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng and Adreian Payne early this week, Jon Krawczynski of The Associated Press reports (on Twitter).

The moves are largely expected and do not come as a surprise, as Krawczynski tweets. All the options are for the 2016/17 season and the deadline is November 2nd.

All five players are young and each have high ceilings. They each are also affordable. Wiggins’ option is for $6,006,600, LaVine’s is $$2,240,880, Muhammad’s is $3,046,299, Dieng’s is $2,348,783  and Payne’s is $2,022,240.

The options for Wiggins, LaVine and Payne are for the third years of their respective rookie scale contracts and the options for Muhammad and Dieng are for the fourth. We regarded Wiggins’ option as a slam dunk, Dieng’s option as highly likely and the other three as generally expected.

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