Andrew Wiggins

Wolves Notes: Offseason, Saric, Experimentation

It’s been a busy year for the Timberwolves, who find themselves in a very different position now than they did this time last year. Bobby Marks of ESPN (Insider) recently broke down the offseason priorities for a front office still reeling from a whirlwind few months.

Among the first tasks will be figuring out what to do with interim head coach Ryan Saunders, who took the reins after Tom Thibodeau‘s firing with predictably modest results given the circumstances. Minnesota will need to hire a general manager following Thibodeau’s departure and that individual would likely want a say in who is coaching the team.

Marks also flags Derrick Rose and Andrew Wiggins as players that Minnesota’s brass will need to mull over. Just how much of a priority should Rose be, he asks, and is it finally time to consider dramatically downgrading Wiggins’ role?

There’s more out of Minnesota today:

  • There’s a strong possibility that veteran point guard Jeff Teague opts into the final year of his contract, Michael Rand of the Star Tribune writes. Although the $19MM he’ll earn through 2019-20 may sound steep to Wolves fans eager to rebuild, Rand notes that the team was distinctly better with the 30-year-old on the court in 2018/19.
  • After an underwhelming season, Dario Saric and the Timberwolves can take solace in the fact that they’ll have another full season in which to gauge how well they fit together before a free agency decision needs to be made, Britt Robson of The Athletic writes.
  • The Timberwolves won’t be sneaking into the postseason this spring so head coach Ryan Saunders will use the final games of the campaign to tinker with different strategies. Per Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune, Sanders is particularly interested in seeing how Andrew Wiggins and rookie Keita Bates-Diop fare in unusual situations.

Wolves Have No Plans To Shut Down Towns, Wiggins

Even after winning their last two contests, the Timberwolves remain 5.5 games out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference with just 15 left to play, meaning their hopes of making a postseason push are minuscule. Nonetheless, the club has no plans to shut down its two highest-paid young players, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, both of whom are dealing with injuries.

“We’re a competitive basketball team,” head coach Ryan Saunders said today, reiterating that the Wolves don’t intend to tank down the stretch, per Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Towns, who missed Sunday’s game against the Knicks, is battling right knee inflammation, while Wiggins has been sidelined for Minnesota’s last two games with a left quad contusion. Saunders said today that both players will go through shootaround and warmups before the team determines their availability for Tuesday’s game vs. Denver (Twitter link via Krawczynski).

As we noted on Monday when we discussed Zach LaVine‘s injury, this is typically the time of year when lottery-bound teams take an extra-cautious approach with minor injuries, both to preserve the health of their most valuable players and to potentially improve their draft standing. However, Towns in particular has plenty of incentive to remain in the Wolves’ lineup for the season’s final four weeks.

Towns’ new five-year, maximum-salary extension, which goes into effect for the 2019/20 season, currently projects to be worth about $158MM. However, its projected value would increase to nearly $190MM if KAT earns a spot on an All-NBA team. The big man would have virtually no chance of earning All-NBA honors if he sits out the season’s final month.

We pointed out in February that the Anthony Davis saga in New Orleans could create a clearer path for Towns to snag a spot on an All-NBA team, and his recent numbers suggest he’s motivated to do so — he has posted an impressive 35.1 PPG, 14.1 RPG, and 3.4 APG on .597/.489/.776 shooting in his last seven games (34.1 MPG).

Wolves Notes: Wiggins, Rose, Saunders, Draft

The Timberwolves need to take drastic action on Andrew Wiggins to get the franchise back on the right track, according to Michael Rand and Jim Souhan of The Star Tribune. Wiggins has regressed this year in the first season of a $147.7MM extension. His shooting percentage has dropped to a career-low 40.0% and he ranks last in the league in true shooting among 92 players who have logged at least 1,700 minutes.

Souhan believes Minnesota should do whatever it can to trade Wiggins this summer. Rand recommends taking away his starting spot, but admits that would only lower any trade value he still has. He adds that trading Wiggins now would mean selling him at a low point and likely taking back an expensive contract in return. Souhan contends that the Wolves are better without Wiggins, stating that the priority should be to get rid of him and accept whatever return they can get.

There’s more today out of Minnesota:

  • With Tom Thibodeau gone, the future of the “TimberBulls” – the ex-Chicago players he brought to Minnesota – is uncertain, writes Britt Robson of The Athletic. Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng will all be free agents this summer and may be able to get better deals elsewhere. Rose has revived his career with the Wolves, but Robson notes that his value is only high when his shot is falling and he comes with a constant injury risk. Rose should receive several mid-level offers in the $6-8MM range, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
  • The best chance for interim head coach Ryan Saunders to keep his job is for ownership to recognize how he has been adapting to a short-handed situation, notes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Keita Bates-Diop got his first career start in Saturday’s victory over the Wizards and Cameron Reynolds, who is on his second 10-day contract, played 20 minutes. Krawczynski points out that Saunders’ roster hasn’t been fully healthy since he took over for Thibodeau.
  • If the Wolves’ pick falls in the middle of the lottery, they could be the team to gamble on Bol Bol, Rand suggests in a separate story. The Oregon center was projected as a top-five pick before suffering an injury to his left foot.

Wolves Notes: Jones, Wiggins, Bench, Taylor

Tyus Jones’ status as a restricted free agent is among several factors that make it hard to predict whether he’ll return to the Timberwolves next season, according to Michael Rand and Chris Hine of the Star-Tribune. Minnesota will have to determine how high it is willing to go to match an offer for the fourth-year point guard, who is making $2.44MM this year.

The decision will be influenced by whether starting point guard Jeff Teague opts into a $19MM salary for next year. The Wolves, who have luxury tax concerns, could find their budget tightening if Karl-Anthony Towns makes an All-NBA team, which would increase the value of his extension by $6MM per season.

There’s also a question of whether current GM Scott Layden will be kept around to make the decision on Jones. Minnesota didn’t give serious consideration to giving Jones an extension when Tom Thibodeau was running the organization, but Hine believes Ryan Saunders will advocate for keeping Jones if he is still the coach.

There’s more Wolves news to pass along:

  • Minnesota should take away Andrew Wiggins‘ starting spot and try to trade him this summer, contends Jim Souhan of The Star-Tribune. Wiggins’ low shooting percentages and poor defensive effort have become too much for the team to endure, Souhan argues, and benching him might be the last chance to motivate him and save the season. Wiggins still has four seasons and more than $121MM remaining on his contract.
  • The coaching change has worked out well for the Timberwolves’ reserves, who are seeing more playing time with Saunders than they did under Thibodeau, notes Kent Youngblood of The Star-Tribune. Luol DengKeita Bates-Diop and Anthony Tolliver are among those getting a greater chance to contribute.
  • Owner Glen Taylor recently purchased the 5% ownership in the team held by Chinese investor Lizhang Jiang and may eventually sell some of that to Meyer Orbach, who bought 9.5% of the franchise in 2016, according to Sid Hartman of The Star-Tribune. “I think [the team’s value] went up about 19 percent, which is an awful lot, but everybody else’s went up, too,” Taylor said of a recent Forbes report that valued the Wolves at $1.26 billion. “It is just unbelievable. It’s not anything I anticipated, and it’s surprising. But at this point, I just want to continue to play with this team and work with them. And I have every expectation it might continue to go up in the future.”

The Deadline Deals That Didn’t Happen

The Raptors were close to acquiring Nikola Mirotic, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports on his podcast. The power forward would have been part of a three-team trade with the Pelicans and Magic in the proposed framework. Toronto didn’t have the expiring contracts that New Orleans was seeking and Mirotic was instead sent to the Bucks.

Toronto shifted its focus back to Marc Gasol and acquired the big man from Memphis in exchange for Jonas ValanciunasDelon WrightC.J. Miles, and a 2024 second-round pick.

The Hornets came close to acquiring Gasol before some “last-minute haggling,”  ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes. Charlotte had a lottery-protected first-round pick on the table for most of the week leading up to the deadline. Lowe passes along more deals that were discussed behind the scenes. Here are the highlights from his latest piece:

  • The Sixers offered two second-rounders to the Pelicans for Mirotic and prior to trading for Tobias Harris, Philadelphia and New Orleans discussed a Markelle Fultz-Mirotic swap. Fultz was dealt to the Magic for Jonathon Simmons and a pair of picks.
  • The Hornets pursued a deal for Harrison Barnes, dangling a first-round pick to the Mavericks, Lowe adds in the same piece. Dallas would have had to take back long-term money in the potential deal, something that it wasn’t willing to do.
  • The Nets and Grizzlies briefly discussed sending Allen Crabbe to Memphis along with a first-round pick (Denver’s 2019 selection) in exchange for Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green, sources tell Lowe. Tax concerns led Memphis to shy away from acquiring Crabbe, who will take home approximately $19MM next season.
  • Several teams attempted to pry Andrew Wiggins from the Wolves without giving up much in return. Minnesota was uninterested in giving Wiggins away.
  • Kris Dunn was available at the deadline but the Bulls weren’t looking to deal Zach LaVine. Lowe writes that Chicago may have only considered trading LaVine if it received an overwhelming offer, something that was unlikely to occur.

Trade Rumors: Wolves, A. Davis, Irving, Conley, More

After making a big splash earlier in the season by sending Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia, the Timberwolves remain active on the trade market, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, who reports that GM Scott Layden is “canvassing the league for available deals.” Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News relays a similar sentiment, tweeting that Layden has been “much more communicative” than in past years.

According to Wolfson, players on expiring contracts are available, as are Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng. However, as of Tuesday, there was “zero sense” that anything was close to getting done. Meanwhile, sources tell Krawczynski that multiple teams checked in last month on Andrew Wiggins to see if the Timberwolves might be willing to move him for “pennies on the dollar.” Those inquires qualified more as due diligence though, and didn’t really go anywhere, per Krawczynski.

Here are several more trade rumors from around the NBA:

  • The Pelicans still have yet to respond to the Lakers‘ most recent trade offer for Anthony Davis, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter). L.A. reportedly pulled out of talks on Tuesday after making a big offer on Monday night, though it appears the club would be ready to re-engage if New Orleans makes a counter-offer.
  • While Kyrie Irving‘s comments on his upcoming free agency last week had some league observers wondering if the Celtics would consider moving him at the trade deadline, the team – unsurprisingly – has no intention to do so, writes Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. “Boston’s not taking calls on Kyrie,” one general manager said. “That was made pretty clear.”
  • The Grizzlies are believed to be seeking multiple first-round picks in any package for Mike Conley, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times. According to Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune, the Jazz’s final offer to Memphis was a first-round pick, a second-round pick, and expiring contracts (likely Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors). The Grizzlies asked for Dante Exum, but were told no, per Jones (Twitter link via John Martin of 92.9 ESPN).
  • A source tells Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times that the Bulls have received “a handful” of calls about Jabari Parker within the last week. Parker is a candidate to be traded, or to be bought out if Chicago can’t find a suitable deal.
  • According to Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link), the Hawks have started to receive more calls on veteran trade candidates Kent Bazemore, Dewayne Dedmon, and Jeremy Lin. Smith adds (via Twitter) that Knicks forward Noah Vonleh is another trade candidate to watch, as he has generated multiple inquiries.

Timberwolves Notes: Sichting, Covington, Wiggins

The Timberwolves are finalizing a deal with veteran assistant coach Jerry Sichting, who is poised to join Ryan Saunders‘ coaching staff, according to Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). This will be Sichting’s third stint with the Wolves — his first came from 1995-2005, when he was part of Flip Saunders‘ coaching staff in Minnesota for a decade.

As Krawczynski notes (via Twitter), there’s a lot of familiarity between Sichting and Ryan Saunders, making it a logical hire for the Timberwolves. Sichting will fill the hole on the staff created by Andy Greer’s departure, Krawczynski adds. Greer was dismissed earlier this month along with Tom Thibodeau, given his close association with Thibs.

Here are a few more notes from out of Minnesota:

  • Timberwolves forward Robert Covington, who is on the shelf with a bone bruise, said today that there’s no timetable for his return to the court, tweets Krawczynski. “I haven’t pressed the issue just yet,” said Covington, who hasn’t done any substantial on-court activities.
  • Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report explores whether the Timberwolves might be able to find a realistic – and favorable – trade involving Andrew Wiggins, whose maximum-salary contract runs through 2022/23.
  • With Jimmy Butler poised to face the Timberwolves for the first time since the club traded him to Philadelphia, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer previews the showdown and relays some comments Butler made to Kevin Garnett during a recent appearance on TNT’s KG Area 21. Butler’s response when asked if his issues in Minnesota were more with management or his fellow players: “Maybe a little bit of both.”

Wolves Notes: Hoiberg, Saunders, Wiggins, Thibodeau

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is trying to quell speculation that Fred Hoiberg is in line for a coaching or front office job with the organization, relays Danny Lawhon of The Des Moines Register. Hoiberg, who was fired by the Bulls last month, has past experience with Minnesota, both as a player and an assistant GM. But during a trip to Iowa today to see the team’s G League affiliate in action, Taylor emphasized that he is committed to seeing what interim coach Ryan Saunders can do.

“My goal would be that Ryan would be successful,” Taylor said. “That would be the ideal thing for us.” Saunders, the youngest coach in the league at age 32, got off to a good start Tuesday with a win at Oklahoma City.

Taylor told reporters he reached out to Hoiberg after he was fired in Chicago last month, but hasn’t talked to him since the Wolves dismissed Tom Thibodeau on Sunday.

“We had already made up our mind on Ryan (as interim coach), because Ryan has worked with these players, been there all year,” Taylor said. “That was the easiest way to make the transition.”

There’s more Timberwolves news to pass along:

  • Saunders didn’t get much time to prepare before taking the reins as head coach, writes Sid Hartman of The Star Tribune. He left the Target Center after Sunday’s win over the Lakers, but was asked to return and learned that Thibodeau has been fired. He ran his first practice Monday and had his first game as head coach last night. “With not a lot of sleep, coffee and not a ton of food,” he said of the process. “There wasn’t much time to do anything other than prepare. Really just trying to dive into the work. And talking to the team, to meet with the players and get their thoughts on things.”
  • Saunders held individual meetings with each player on the roster, including one in which he encouraged Andrew Wiggins to become more assertive on the court, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Wiggins responded Tuesday with 40 points and 10 rebounds. “He’s excited. We’re excited for him,” Wiggins said. “To get this win for him, I know it means a lot to him and his family. We’re going to keep at it.”
  • Thibodeau will probably have to be successful as an assistant again before he gets another head coaching job, states Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. He cites Thibodeau’s strained relationship with the front offices in both Minnesota and Chicago as reasons that other teams will be reluctant to give him much power right away.

Towns On Butler: “I Think He’ll Be Missed”

Although Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns both downplayed the idea, there was a sense that a frayed relationship between the two Timberwolves stars contributed significantly to Butler’s desire to leave Minnesota. Now that Butler is heading to Philadelphia, there’s no need for the two stars to play nice, but Towns still had nothing but praise for the four-time All-Star on his way out.

“He’s one hell of a player,” Towns said on Sunday, per ESPN’s Malika Andrews. “I don’t know how many Jimmy Butlers there are in the world, so I think he’ll be missed.”

Rumors circulated throughout Butler’s short-lived stint in Minnesota that there was friction between him and the team’s younger players – primarily former No. 1 overall pick Towns and Andrew Wiggins – with reports suggesting that the 29-year-old questioned his teammates’ desire to win. Butler came close to acknowledging that point during a preseason interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols when he cited Towns and Wiggins as the Wolves with the most talent, but referred to himself the one who played the hardest.

Despite that reported friction, Wiggins also complimented Butler following word of Minnesota’s trade agreement with Philadelphia. As Andrew relays, Wiggins told Joel Embiid that Butler is a player you “want on your side” if you’re going into battle.

“I learned a lot of things from him,” Wiggins said of Butler. “We made the playoffs, something we haven’t done in a long, long time. So I think it was a positive either way you put it.”

While Towns and Wiggins appear to be sticking to the line that there were no off-court issues with Butler, they should have the opportunity to regain larger roles on the court now that he’s gone.

In 2016/17, the season before Butler’s arrival, Wiggins averaged 23.6 PPG on 19.1 FGA, while Towns posted 25.1 PPG on 18.0 FGA. Those were career highs for both players, who saw those marks slip to 17.6 PPG and 15.8 FGA (Wiggins) and 21.1 PPG and 14.4 FGA (Towns) during Butler’s tenure in Minnesota.

Northwest Notes: Wolves, Barton, Jokic, Westbrook

The Timberwolves are back to where they started before the first Jimmy Butler trade with a young nucleus built around Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, writes Chip Scoggins of The Star-Tribune. Coach/executive Tom Thibodeau changed the blueprint in Minnesota last year when he acquired Butler from the Bulls in hopes of finding a veteran leader who could vault the team to the top of the West. Now the Wolves are back to square one, only instead of having Zach LaVine, who was sent to Chicago in the Butler deal along with a draft pick that became Lauri Markkanen, their core will include Dario Saric and Robert Covington.

Thibodeau has reduced job security after the Butler incident, and Scoggins suggests his first move should be to try to repair relationships within the organization. He let Butler virtually run the team over the past two months — catering to his outrageous behavior in an effort to convince him to stay —  which created dissension in the locker room that won’t be easy to erase.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Nuggets guard Will Barton is making progress in his rehab after surgery to repair core and hip muscle injuries, according to an Associated Press story. There’s still no timetable for his return, but Barton said he’s “getting stronger every day.” Team doctors planned to re-evaluate his progress six weeks after the October 23 procedure, so his comeback could start in early December. Barton said strengthening core muscles is the focus of his rehab work.
  • Nuggets coach Michael Malone defended center Nikola Jokic, who was fined $25K this week for using “derogatory and offensive language” in a postgame interview, relays Mike Singer of The Denver Post“There’s so many things being said about this poor kid, and I understand some of it, but those of us who know him, like most people in this hallway, give the kid a break,” Malone said. “He made a mistake, he’s paying for it, get off his back a little bit. He’s a great kid. He loves everybody, and he meant no offense to anybody.”
  • The Thunder are citing progress for Russell Westbrook, who is recovering a a sprained left ankle he suffered in Monday’s game, writes Maddie Lee of The Oklahoman. With a packed schedule this week, OKC hasn’t had time to fit in a practice to fully evaluate Westbrook’s condition. “He’s got to get out there, he’s got to practice, move and cut and do those things, so that’s going to take a little bit of time,” coach Billy Donovan said at Saturday’s shootaround.