Gorgui Dieng

Latest On Tom Thibodeau, Wolves

Contrary to a report that emerged last night in the wake of Tom Thibodeau’s firing in Minnesota, former Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg is not an “immediate candidate” to become the team’s next coach or president, a source tells Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

Interim coach Ryan Saunders will be given an opportunity to earn the job on a permanent basis, Krawczynski adds, and he has strong support from his players, who respect his work ethic and welcome his approachable nature as a change from Thibodeau. The organization will consider hiring an assistant who has experience as a head coach to help Saunders with the challenges of his new position.

GM Scott Layden was retained last night and will likely remain in place for the rest of the season, but he may need the team to make the playoffs to keep his job beyond that.

While the Wolves have a disappointing 19-21 record, the decision to part with Thibodeau was based on business as much as basketball, Krawczynski writes. The coach had become unpopular with fans, who routinely booed him every time his name was announced in pre-game introductions. Even worse, they were staying away, as Minnesota has dropped to 29th in home attendance after ranking 21st last season. The organization didn’t want to keep an alienating presence in place with a season ticket drive looming.

It’s no secret that owner Glen Taylor was unhappy with Thibodeau and Layden over how they handled the situation with Jimmy Butler before he was traded to the Sixers. Taylor commented several times that he believed both men were dragging their feet on Butler’s trade request and that they let the volatile star hijack the team during training camp and the early season.

Thibodeau has long had a reputation of giving heavy minutes to his starters, and several players complained about poor communication over their roles. Krawczynski reports that Gorgui Dieng, who has fallen out of the rotation after signing a huge contract, was “openly seething” in the locker room after Friday’s game. Tyus Jones, Anthony Tolliver and Jeff Teague have also expressed frustration over their status on the team.

As one of the few remaining coach/executives left in the league, Thibodeau’s standing was also harmed by several personnel decisions that didn’t work out. He was the driving force behind the decision to send Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and a draft pick that turned out to be Lauri Markkanen to the Bulls to acquire Butler. He also convinced Taylor to part with Ricky Rubio in exchange for Teague. And of course, he was responsible for bringing Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, his former players in Chicago, to Minnesota to form the “Timber-Bulls.”

Taylor was in Florida last night as Layden and CEO Ethan Casson delivered the news to Thibodeau. Taylor’s only comment came in an official statement from the organization, saying, “These decisions are never easy to make, but we felt them necessary to move our organization forward.”

Scotto’s Latest: Bazemore, Porter, Holiday, Dieng

Any team that trades for Hawks forward Kent Bazemore should prepare to pay him beyond this season, according to Michael Scotto of The Athletic. Scotto shares a few rumors in a column on New Year’s resolutions for all 30 teams, including a report that Bazemore is leaning toward exercising his $19.27MM player option for next year.

That would represent a modest raise for the 29-year-old, who is making a little more than $18MM this season. Bazemore, who is sidelined with a right ankle sprain that will keep him out for at least two weeks, is one of the most popular names on the trade market, with the Rockets among the teams already expressing interest in acquiring him.

Scotto offers a few more interesting tidbits sprinkled among his advice for 2019:

  • The Mavericks have expressed interest in trading for Wizards forward Otto Porter. Washington faces luxury tax concerns this season and beyond and will owe Porter nearly $56MM over the next two years if he exercises his player option for 2020/21. Porter’s production has declined in his sixth season, and the Wizards may concentrate on fixing their long-term salary structure after John Wall elected to have heel surgery that will sideline him for six to eight months.
  • After losing out on the Jimmy Butler sweepstakes, the Rockets have continued to search for a defensive-minded wing who can hit 3-pointers. Among the players they called about is Justin Holiday, who is averaging 11.8 PPG with the Bulls and ranks eighth in the league in made threes with 96. Holiday has an expiring $4.4MM deal, so he would be a low-cost option for any contender. Houston is also looking for a rim protector to back up Clint Capela.
  • The Timberwolves tried again to find a taker for center Gorgui Dieng, who has become a little-used reserve, playing just 13.7 minutes per night. Minnesota attempted to unload Dieng, who is owed about $33.5MM over the next two seasons, in Butler trade talks but couldn’t find anyone willing to take on that salary.
  • D’Angelo Russell‘s friendship with Suns star Devin Booker may make him an option for Phoenix. Russell is headed for restricted free agency this summer and the Suns need a long-term solution at point guard. The extension the Nets gave to Spencer Dinwiddie could make them reluctant to invest heavily in Russell.

Wolves Notes: Covington, Jones, Dieng, Towns

During Jimmy Butler‘s final, acrimonious weeks in Minnesota, his ability to communicate with young Timberwolves players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins was called into question. Tasked with leading the club, Butler instead berated teammates in practice, questioning their desire to win and their ability to take criticism.

By comparison, new forward Robert Covington, acquired in the deal for Butler, seems to have a better sense of when to talk to teammates and when to lay off, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune.

“I know how to read it,” Covington said. “Emotions are flying and everything like that. That’s just part of my character. … I pick the right moments and that’s when I approach guys. I would never want to sit up here and rub people the wrong way because not a lot of people will typically react the right way.”

While Covington has gotten on Towns a little, encouraging him to bring more of a “defensive mindset” to his role, it doesn’t seem to be negatively impacting the relationship between the two, according to Hine, who notes that Covington and Towns are constantly talking and making fun of each other in the locker room. The duo has helped the Wolves win seven of nine games since trading Butler.

Here’s more from out of Minnesota:

  • While Tyus Jones and Gorgui Dieng have been frustrated at times this season due to their limited roles, both players have excelled since Butler’s departure, says Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Within the same story, Krawczynski reports that there’s still no definitive timeline for Jerryd Bayless‘ return to action, though it’s not clear if he’ll have a role in Minnesota even once he’s healthy.
  • In a separate story for The Athletic, Krawczynski explores how Towns is adjusting to his new role as the Timberwolves’ leader, with current teammate Derrick Rose and former teammate Kevin Garnett weighing in on the subject. “He’s not always going to get things right,” Garnett said. “He’s going to have to speak up, voice his opinion. It doesn’t always have to be from a confrontational standpoint. KAT has good leadership skills because he works hard. It’s whether he wants to vocalize those, which is his next challenge as a leader, to me.”
  • While the Butler drama is in the rear view mirror, head coach Tom Thibodeau remains under the microscope, as Frank Isola of The Athletic details. Thibodeau’s long-term hold on Minnesota’s head coaching job is still tenuous, but he has done an excellent job with the new-look Wolves so far.

Rockets Aggressively Pursuing Butler Deal

The Rockets have put together numerous packages in an attempt to acquire Timberwolves swingman Jimmy Butler but Minnesota coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau has taken a hard and somewhat confusing stance on all potential deals, Kelly Iko of The Athletic reports.

Houston is intent on prying Butler away from the Timberwolves to strengthen its porous defense and give it another special talent to combat the star-powered Warriors. Minnesota is intent on dumping Gorgui Dieng‘s four-year, $62.8MM contract, which still has two more fully guaranteed years remaining, in any deal involving Butler, Iko continues. In general, the Timberwolves are treating negotiations as if they were dealing a difference-maker locked into a long-term contract rather than one who wants out and can opt out after the season.

With the Rockets already dealing with luxury-tax issues, absorbing Dieng’s contract would be virtually impossible. In the earlier stages of negotiations, the Rockets made inquiries to as many as six teams in the hope of involving a third party to facilitate a deal but failed to find a partner, according to Iko.

That’s when the Rockets decided to offer up to four future first-round picks for Butler, in all likelihood their first-rounders in 2019, 2021, 2023 and 2025. The reasoning behind that was to entice the Timberwolves to make the deal without Dieng.

The proposal would have allowed Minnesota to pursue a separate deal packaging Dieng and a pick or two to shed his salary. Even though it was willing to mortgage the future in a bid to win the title this season, Houston wasn’t confident that reported offer would get Thibodeau to soften his stance, Iko adds.

The Rockets have a couple of minor trade exceptions — one for $1.545MM and another for $2.85MM — but nothing substantial to help absorb the approximate $35.5MM in combined salaries of Butler and Dieng.

Rockets Making Strong Effort To Land Jimmy Butler

The Rockets are making a “strong effort” to acquire Jimmy Butler in a trade with the Timberwolves, sources tell Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston (Twitter link). Berman’s report comes after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski indicated on Wednesday that Houston was pursuing Butler.

Wojnarowski, who suggested that the Rockets were “trying to be creative” as they explored trade possibilities for Butler, wrote that it would be tricky for the club to pull off a deal for the All-NBA wing without involving a third team. Berman, meanwhile, doesn’t offer much in the way of specifics.

It’s hard to imagine Houston being able to trade for Butler without giving up Eric Gordon, whose $13MM+ salary would make for a good salary-matching piece and whose ability to make an immediate impact might appeal to Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau. The Rockets also have full control over their future first-round picks, though the value of their 2019 selection would be limited, since it’s likely to fall in the late-20s.

Although the Rockets are apparently pushing to land Butler, they’re not the only team involved. Wojnarowski’s report on Thursday named the Clippers and Cavaliers as other clubs in the mix, with the Heat still considered the most aggressive suitors. The Wizards and Mavericks have also gauged the asking price on Butler, while the Nets have interest but haven’t engaged Minnesota recently, per Woj.

Here’s more on Butler:

  • The Heat are open to the idea of taking on Gorgui Dieng‘s contract from the Timberwolves “under the right circumstances,” according to Wojnarowski.
  • Wojnarowski indicates that potential trade partners are skeptical of Thibodeau’s willingness to move Butler, since he’s making counter-offers he knows would never be accepted. In an appearance on the Bill Simmons Podcast, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer provided an example, reporting that the Timberwolves asked for Ben Simmons when they made a counter-offer to the Sixers (hat tip to Dane Delgado of NBC Sports). We passed along a report earlier today suggesting that Philadelphia has since pulled out of the Butler sweepstakes.
  • The Nuggets were mentioned several days ago as a potential dark horse for Butler, but T.J. McBride of Mile High Sports hears that Denver views Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris as “untouchable” (hat tip to Kurt Helin of NBC Sports). A trade for an All-Star like Butler is probably a long shot without any of those players involved.
  • Earlier today, we relayed an update on the Kings‘ potential involvement in the Butler talks — Sacramento is still interested in getting involved as a facilitator, but will be cautious about adding too much multiyear money to its cap.

Kings Open To Facilitating Three-Team Butler Trade

Only one NBA team still has any real cap space available for the 2018/19 season, and that team – Sacramento – is keeping a close eye on the Jimmy Butler sweepstakes, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com. According to Wojnarowski, the Kings have been “aggressive” in courting both the Timberwolves and potential Butler suitors, offering to use their cap room to accommodate unwanted contracts.

As Wojnarowski explains, the Kings – who have about $11MM in cap space – don’t have their own first-round pick for 2019, but could be in position to acquire another team’s first-rounder or other assets as part of a three-way Butler swap. Sacramento assistant GM Brandon Williams has let teams know that his club isn’t opposed to taking on multiyear contracts, whether that means Gorgui Dieng‘s deal or perhaps a pricey contract from a potential Wolves trade partner like the Heat, Clippers, or Nets.

While the Kings don’t have enough cap room to absorb, say, Dieng’s $15MM+ salary on its own, the club could send out any number of expiring contracts to make the math work. Zach Randolph ($11.7MM), Iman Shumpert ($11MM), Kosta Koufos ($8.74MM), and Ben McLemore ($5.46MM) are among the Sacramento veterans on expiring deals.

As the Kings explore ways to get involved in a possible Butler deal, teams interested in acquiring the All-Star wing have been receiving mixed signals from the Timberwolves on what kind of assets they value, sources tell Wojnarowski. According to ESPN’s report, clubs dealing with the Wolves are also confused about whether to deal with owner Glen Taylor or front office execs Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden — there’s a perception that the management and ownership groups may not be in agreement on the structure and timetable of a potential trade.

Although Thibodeau tried on Monday to convince Butler to report to the team during the preseason, the 29-year-old remains adamantly opposed to ever practicing or playing with the Timberwolves again and has implored Thibodeau and Taylor to trade him soon to avoid prolonging the drama, writes Wojnarowski. While there has been some optimism among opposing teams that Minnesota will comply with that request, “renewed uncertainty and hazy chains of communication” have dominated recent talks, Woj adds.

Jimmy Butler Rumors: Dieng, Clippers, Bucks, More

The early trade market for Jimmy Butler is “confused and cool” as teams contemplate the risk of trading for the All-Star wing, according to Zach Lowe, who takes a deep dive into the Butler situation his his latest piece for ESPN.com. The 29-year-old’s reported desire for a five-year contract that could be worth in the neighborhood of $190MM may make some potential suitors back off, though those teams could also be posturing in the early going, Lowe notes.

One of the most interesting tidbits that Lowe passes along in his article is on the Timberwolves‘ desire to include Gorgui Dieng in a deal if they decide to move Butler. Lowe is skeptical that any prospective trade partners will be eager to take on Dieng, who still has three years and over $48MM left on his contract.

Here’s more from Lowe and others on Butler and the Wolves:

  • It would be “shocking” if the Clippers were willing to offer rookie guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in any package for Butler, sources tell Lowe. In fact, there has been no indication that the Clips haven’t acted aggressively – or much at all – on Butler so far.
  • The Bucks placed a courtesy call to the Timberwolves asking to be kept in the loop if the team gets serious about moving Butler. Still, Lowe doesn’t view Milwaukee as a fit, observing that Khris Middleton would probably have to be included. The Bucks would likely have a better chance next summer to re-sign Middleton than Butler.
  • After reporting earlier today that the Timberwolves are telling teams Butler’s not available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has updated his story to suggest that opposing clubs believe the “fastest avenue” to negotiating a trade is to engage owner Glen Taylor, rather than Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau is less inclined to part with Butler, but Taylor has stepped in on this sort of matter in the past, overseeing trades involving Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love.
  • In the wake of Butler’s trade request, initial reports suggested his desire to leave Minnesota was motivated more by “contractual matters” than any discord with Karl-Anthony Towns or Andrew Wiggins. A source in Butler’s camp who spoke to Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times disputes that notion, suggesting it was “manufactured” by “ownership mouthpieces” to make Butler look bad. “According to the source, this is about a philosophy in making an impact in the Western Conference,” Cowley writes. “In Butler’s mind you can’t run down a dynasty like Golden State when two of the so-called dogs in the pack are in fact kittens.” Presumably, that’s a reference to Towns and Wiggins.

Timberwolves Exploring Trade Down From No. 20

The Timberwolves have looked into the possibility of moving down from No. 20 in the draft, according to Jon Krawcyznski and Michael Scotto of The Athletic. League sources tell Krawczynski and Scotto that the Wolves have talked to at least three teams picking below them in the first round about possible deals.

The specific details of those conversations aren’t known. Krawczynski notes that Minnesota may be either looking to pick up an extra selection, as we heard earlier today, or shed some salary. Krawczynski also cautions that the Wolves’ front office has a track record of making a lot of exploratory trade calls, so it’s unclear how serious those discussions might get tonight.

While several scenarios are in play for the Wolves, one would involving attaching the No. 20 pick to Gorgui Dieng, whose contract the club would like to move. Dieng is owed more than $48MM over the next three years, and Minnesota’s roster will start getting expensive with Andrew Wiggins‘ maximum-salary extension set to take effect and a max deal for Karl-Anthony Towns likely to follow in 2019/20.

Still, sources inside and outside of the organization are “skeptical” about the Wolves’ chances of finding much of a market for Dieng, Krawczynski writes.

Wolves Rumors: Butler, Wiggins, Jones, Dieng

Jimmy Butler will have the opportunity to opt out and sign a new contract with the Timberwolves a year from now, but Sean Deveney of The Sporting News hears from sources familiar with the situation that Butler is uncertain about playing alongside Andrew Wiggins in the long term. According to Deveney, Butler had issues last season related to Wiggins’ work ethic and defensive approach.

As Deveney details, head coach Tom Thibodeau has had similar gripes with Wiggins in the past, and had hoped that bringing in a “tough-minded” veteran like Butler would motivate the former No. 1 pick to improve. However, it didn’t seem to help much.

While the Wolves figure to explore the trade market for Wiggins this summer, it will be hard to find a viable deal with his five-year, maximum-salary contract set to take effect, Deveney notes.

Here’s more from Deveney on the Wolves:

  • Thibodeau’s use of his bench continues to be a source of friction in Minnesota, with Tyus Jones among the backups adversely affected. A source tells Deveney that Jeff Teague suggested to Thibodeau last season that Jones should play more.
  • According to Deveney, Jones considered requesting a trade out of Minnesota, but Thibodeau “reasserted his support” of the young guard following the season, assuring Jones that his role will increase next season even if Derrick Rose is re-signed, due to the presumed departure of Jamal Crawford.
  • While the Wolves don’t appear likely to move Jones, they’ll look to deal highly-priced backup Gorgui Dieng, per Deveney.
  • I touched on several of these topics earlier this week in my preview of the Timberwolves’ offseason.

Wolves Notes: Butler, Towns, Thibodeau, Wiggins

Last summer’s Jimmy Butler trade was a good move for the Timberwolves even though they parted with several promising young talents, writes Britt Robson of The Athletic. Minnesota swung a draft night blockbuster with the Bulls, giving up Kris DunnZach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen for Butler and Justin Patton.

The deal paid dividends for the Wolves, who reached the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, and Robson contends that Butler has already become the second-best player in franchise history, trailing only Kevin Garnett.

On the down side, Butler missed 23 games because of injuries and was a steadfast defender of coach Tom Thibodeau, creating a rift with some of his young teammates. Robson advises the front office to delay renegotiating Butler’s contract, which pays him nearly $20.5MM next season with a $19.8MM player option for 2019/20, to see how the situation plays out.

Robson passes along more info from Minnesota in his mailbag column:

  • Rumors that Thibodeau could get fired this summer are premature, although the locker room has become increasingly divided between loyalists who previously played for Thibodeau in Chicago and younger players who are turned off by his abrasive style. However, replacing Thibodeau now would anger Butler and Taj Gibson and leave the team at a disadvantage heading into the draft and free agency. Robson believes Thibodeau, who still has three years left on his contract, could be in danger if the Wolves don’t move up the Western Conference ladder next season.
  • It will be surprising if Karl-Anthony Towns is put on the trade market this summer, even if the rumors about his unhappiness in Minnesota are true. Towns is just 22 and is under team control for at least two more seasons. A suggested deal for the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard wouldn’t work for the Wolves because there’s no good way to replace Towns in the middle. Towns reportedly wants a bigger role in the offense and less “tough love” from Thibodeau and Butler.
  • Minnesota probably should have passed on an extension for Andrew Wiggins last summer and dealt with him as a restricted free agent. Robson suggests Thibodeau may have been forced into the move by owner Glen Taylor, but adds that a trade is unlikely now because it would be difficult for the Wolves to get equal value in return.
  • The team would almost certainly have to surrender a first-round pick to unload the contract of Gorgui Dieng, who is owed more than $48MM over the next three years. Thibodeau lost confidence in Dieng during the season and his playing time was cut nearly in half.