Karl-Anthony Towns

Butler, Covington, Saric Debut For New Teams

Four days after the Timberwolves and Sixers first agreed to a blockbuster Jimmy Butler trade, and two days after that deal was officially completed, Butler made his Philadelphia debut on Wednesday night while Robert Covington and Dario Saric made their first appearances as members of the Wolves.

Butler had a fairly quiet first game for the Sixers, posting just 14 points and four rebounds in 33 minutes as his new team lost to the Magic, 111-106. Despite the loss, head coach Brett Brown and the 76ers weren’t discouraged, pointing out that getting everyone on the same page in the wake of Butler’s arrival will take a little time.

“I mean, it’s hard,” Brown said after the game, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com. “He comes in, and he’s trying to do the right thing. You’re trying to put in some plays this morning at shootaround. He’s trying to figure everybody else out, [and] they’re trying to figure him out. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take time. I think, in general, you sort of see what you have in him, and it’s incredibly exciting.”

Things went better in Minnesota, where Covington and Saric combined for 22 points and 10 rebounds en route to a 107-100 win over New Orleans. As Patrick Reusse of The Star Tribune writes, Covington got an early taste of Tom Thibodeau‘s tendency to ride his starters hard, playing a game-high 41 minutes for Minnesota. “As Thibs said, ‘Being out there on the court is the best way to learn about your new teammates,'” Covington told reporters with a smile after the game. Meanwhile, Thibodeau suggested after the game that Covington’s defensive effort made it easy to give him a major role immediately.

“I knew we could use him right away because he brings so much defensively,” Thibodeau said. “And he goes so hard … if you go hard enough it’s going to make up for a lot of things, including being new to a team.”

Here’s more on the Sixers’ and Timberwolves’ new additions, and how each team is being impacted by the changes:

  • Time is on the Sixers‘ side as they adjust to the arrival of Butler, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. With the start of the playoffs still five months away, the team has plenty of time to work out the kinks, and Butler is confident that’ll happen before too long. “How tough will it be? Nah, it’s not hard at all,” Butler said. “So far we all get along. I think that’s the first thing — we all want each other to be great. We’re all talking about where we’re supposed to be and what we see out there on the floor. I’m telling you, it’s coming sooner rather than later. We’re going to be just fine.”
  • In an interesting piece for HoopsHype, Alex Kennedy goes behind the scenes on Butler’s first couple days as a Sixer, sharing details on how the 29-year-old and his new Philadelphia teammates found out about the trade on Saturday. Kennedy also reports that the 76ers held a team dinner on Tuesday night in the hopes that Butler, fellow newcomer Justin Patton, other recent additions like Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala, and the team’s incumbent players could all get to know each other a little better.
  • With Butler no longer on the team, Karl-Anthony Towns is ready to lead the Timberwolves in his own way, according to Malika Andrews of ESPN.com, who writes that Towns is hoping for a looser environment in Minnesota. “All those teams I was on that were successful were the ones that everyone had love for each other and had fun,” Towns told Andrews. “Things that seem minuscule — joking around, laughing, conversing, all those things that seem childish — that is what builds camaraderie.”

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.

Wolves Notes: Butler, Towns, Wiggins, Rose

The Clippers, who hosted the Timberwolves on Monday, were reportedly on Jimmy Butler‘s list of preferred destinations when he requested a trade in September, and the Lakers, who will face Minnesota tonight, have also been identified as a potential suitor for the 2019 free-agent-to-be. However, Butler was in no mood to answer questions about a possible future in Los Angeles this week, as Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com relays.

“No, I’m in Minnesota for the time being,” Butler said after Monday’s loss. “I’ll enjoy the sunshine for a couple days, and then if we go back there, we go back there.”

Butler also turned away inquiries on whether or not he’d even play in the game against the Lakers on Wednesday. The All-NBA swingman has only appeared in two of the Wolves’ last four contests, missing games against Utah and Portland due to what the team referred to as “general soreness” and “precautionary rest.” He’s listed as questionable for tonight.

Here’s more on Minnesota:

  • With Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau under fire for his handling of the Butler situation, Michael Rand of The Star Tribune revisits all of Thibodeau’s major personnel moves during his time in Minnesota, assigning each a grade. Karl-Anthony Towns‘ rookie scale extension received the highest marks of any transaction Thibodeau has overseen.
  • Speaking of Towns, Chris Herring of ESPN.com explored whether he and Andrew Wiggins are strong enough franchise cornerstones to make the Wolves a legit contender in the West once Butler departs.
  • Although he has started two of his last three outings for the Wolves, including last Wednesday’s 50-point game, Derrick Rose recently suggested that he’s aiming to win the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award this season, as Nick Fridell of ESPN.com writes. Rose, who has come off the bench in eight of his 10 games, is averaging 17.4 PPG, 4.6 APG, and 3.5 RPG.

Wolves Notes: Butler, Thibodeau, Towns, Wiggins

Timberwolves coach/executive Tom Thibodeau raised the asking price for Jimmy Butler in trade talks after last week’s infamous practice incident, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on today’s edition of “The Jump.” The ESPN scribe adds that Thibodeau feels like he came away victorious in his struggle with owner Glen Taylor because Butler remains on the team and will play in tonight’s opener.

“This is exactly what Tom Thibodeau wanted, which was him in the lineup on opening night,” Wojnarowski said. “The day that Jimmy came back and practiced, Thibs won. He waited out his owner, he waited out Jimmy, got him back on the court.”

He adds that Minnesota still hasn’t gotten serious about trading Butler and continues to ask for returns that it knows teams won’t agree to. Woj doesn’t expect the situation to change until closer to the trade deadline in February, when he says some teams that have been involved in trade talks will “circle back” to see if the Wolves have become more realistic.

There’s more today out of Minnesota:

  • Thibodeau isn’t concerned about team chemistry despite the surreal preseason and lingering rumors from last year of locker room disharmony, relays Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Thibodeau contends the bond that players have is reflected by their performance on the court. “That’s how you measure chemistry. When guys are playing together, how do they play with each other? Do they play effectively?” he said. “That’s what was so encouraging to me about what we did last year. The starters were a very dynamic group. To be third in offense and seventh in defense and the record we had when everyone was healthy (37-22) was terrific. And we want to build off of that.”
  • Karl-Anthony Towns has the talent to be considered the second-best player in franchise history after Kevin Garnett, but he may not reach his potential until Butler is gone, suggests Jim Souhan of The Star-Tribune. Towns has been targeted frequently by Butler because of a passive attitude, and Souhan believes the best outcome is a trade that leaves Towns as the team’s unquestioned on-court leader.
  • A Star-Tribune panel debates whether Andrew Wiggins can blossom into the player the Wolves hoped when they gave him a five-year, $148MM extension. That new deal kicks in this year, and there are concerns that he might never be more than an inefficient scorer.

Wolves Rumors: Noah, Butler, Jones, Towns

The Knicks’ long-awaited roster move involving Joakim Noah finally happened on Saturday, resulting in a flurry of speculation about the Timberwolves‘ interest in the veteran center. However, league sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link) that Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau has shown no interest in adding Noah to his roster.

Thibodeau hasn’t hesitated to stack his Minnesota squad with several of his former Bulls players, including Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, and Luol Deng, and reports earlier in the offseason indicated that he might be interest in Noah as well. Apparently that’s not the case though. For now, Thibodeau has his hands full with another one of those ex-Bulls, as he attempts to determine what to do with Butler.

Here’s more out of Minnesota:

  • Asked on Friday for the first time about Butler’s now-infamous performance in practice on Wednesday, Thibodeau downplayed its importance, according to Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. “It’s not uncommon when players scrimmage that there will be some talk,” Thibodeau said. “It was competitive.”
  • Thibodeau also offered this assessment on confrontations during practices and scrimmages, per Hine: “It’s OK to confront. That’s not an issue. The way you confront that’s important. But if you do confront, don’t beat down. The big thing is to lift people up. You make other people better.”
  • We haven’t heard much else on the Butler front since reports indicated he was likely to start the season with the Wolves and that the Heat weren’t making an effort to re-engage the Wolves in trade talks.
  • There have still been no rookie scale extension discussions between Tyus Jones and the Timberwolves, Jones confirmed on Friday (link via Hine). “I’d like to be here, but I know it’s a business,” said Jones, who will be eligible for restricted free agency in 2019 if he doesn’t get an extension. The deadline is Monday.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns expressed plenty of frustration following another bad preseason loss on Friday, calling the team’s recent showings “unacceptable.” Chris Herring of ESPN.com has the details and the quotes from Towns.
  • Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN confirms (via Twitter) that Canyon Barry and William Lee received Exhibit 10 deals today and are expected to join the Iowa Wolves, Minnesota’s G League affiliate, after they’re waived.

Wolves Updates: Practice, Butler, Towns, Jones

After a Wednesday practice session that figures to go down as one of the notorious NBA scrimmages of the decade, the Timberwolves have cancelled their Thursday practice, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic (Twitter link).

As Krawczynski observes (via Twitter), head coach Tom Thibodeau complained just last week that the preseason schedule didn’t allow for much practice time for a Timberwolves team that desperately needed it. So the cancellation today is probably more about avoiding another media circus than anything else. After all, following Wednesday’s performance, Jimmy Butler told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that he planned on being back at practice on Thursday.

Here’s more out of Minnesota, with several notes on the Butler situation:

  • Within his conversation with Nichols, Butler confirmed much of the recent reporting on his situation, acknowledging that he wanted the Timberwolves to renegotiate his contract in the offseason and indicating that he believed he made it clear long before September 19 that he wanted out of Minnesota.
  • According to Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Athletic, Butler’s return to practice played out just like he frequently promised Thibodeau and owner Glen Taylor it would if they didn’t trade him. The Athletic duo reports that Butler also made it clear he wanted to sit down and discuss a handful of issues with Karl-Anthony Towns in the hopes of challenging Towns to be upfront and honest. It’s not clear whether that meeting has happened or will happen.
  • While Butler claimed that Towns started the trash talk in practice, others in the gym disagreed with that assessment, per Krawczynski and Charania.
  • Here’s what Butler told Nichols about Towns: “Am I being tough on him? Yeah! Yeah, that’s who I am. I’m not the most talented player. Who’s the most talented player on our team? KAT. Who’s the most god-gifted player on our team? Wigs (Andrew Wiggins). Wigs got the longest arms, the biggest hands, can jump the highest, can run the fastest. But who plays the hardest? Me. I play hard. I play really hard. I put my body on the line every damn practice. Every day in the games. That’s my passion. That’s how I give to the game. That’s how I give to you guys.”
  • The reactions to Butler’s performance in practice were mixed, according to Krawczynski and Charania, who suggested some players laughed and enjoyed it, while others in the building were concerned, wondering how Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden could stand for Butler’s conduct. ESPN analyst Stan Van Gundy said on SportsCenter (video link) that he heard from some members of the organization that it was the team’s best practice of the fall, which suggests Thibodeau and Layden weren’t bothered by it.
  • In non-Butler news, the Timberwolves have yet to have any contract extension talks with backup point guard Tyus Jones, per Darren Wolfson of 1500ESPN (Twitter link). If the two sides don’t work out a new deal by Monday, Jones will be on track for restricted free agency in 2019.

Latest On Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler gave a first-hand account of his return to Timberwolves practice and offered his perspective on the standoff with team management in an interview with Rachel Nichols of ESPN’s “The Jump.” (Twitter link)

Butler describes an exchange with Karl-Anthony Towns during today’s drills. Towns allegedly quipped, “Anybody can get this work,” when they were matched up, and Butler responded with the challenge, “Do it to me” and “Every time I get switched out onto you, you pass it.”

Later in the interview, in an exchange tweeted by Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune, Nichols asked Butler if his presence at practice is a sign that the situation is improving. “I think people think that,” he responded. “I would think that, too. It’s not. It’s not fixed.” He suggested it “could be” fixable, but added, “Do I think so? No. You’ve got to be honest.”

Butler also defended his actions at today’s session, saying, “A lot of it is true. But you got to think I haven’t played basketball in so long and I’m so passionate. I love the game… All my emotion came out at once. Was it the right way to do it? No, but I can’t control it when I’m out there competing.” (Twitter link).

There’s more news to pass along on the Butler situation:

  • Butler sent a message to teammates and the front office by joining forces with third-string players and defeating the starters in today’s scrimmage, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Woj adds that some of the Wolves were “energized” by Butler’s performance and that he followed it by marching out of the gym as though he was doing a “mic drop.”
  • Butler spent much of the practice on a profanity-laced tirade, mostly aimed at Towns, Andrew Wiggins, coach/executive Tom Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Butler taunted Towns and Wiggins by yelling, “They soft” as he faced them in the scrimmage. Neither player confronted him for his actions. Haynes adds that Butler has warned team officials in the past that he might find ways to express his displeasure if his trade request isn’t met.
  • The organization has reacted poorly ever since Butler made his trade demand three weeks ago, argues Britt Robson of The Athletic in a roundtable discussion. Robson contends the best response would have been to trade Butler quickly and start rebuilding the team around Towns and Wiggins. Instead, Thibodeau and Layden publicly expressed a desire to work things out with Butler and dragged their feet on numerous trade offers. Robson also blasts Towns and Wiggins for not playing with more desire in an effort to prove that Butler is wrong about them.

Latest On Jimmy Butler

The Timberwolves appear as if they are preparing to start the season with Jimmy Butler on the roster despite the fact that the four-time All-Star has reiterated his desire to be traded. Butler maintains his stance even after the organization made numerous attempts to convince him to stay.

Heavy negotiations between the Heat and Wolves broke down yet again this week with Miami’s latest offer not satisfying Minnesota’s front office. The Heat’s proposal was a package headlined by Josh Richardson and a protected first-round pick, as Marc Stein of The New York Times reports in his weekly newsletter. Stein doesn’t provide full details on that offer, but based on Miami’s reported interest in moving Dion Waiters, it wouldn’t be surprising if he was also included for salary-matching purposes.

Here’s more on Butler and the Wolves:

  • Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden have been known as one of the most difficult front offices to negotiate with over the past two years, agents and executives within the league tell Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. That has continued to be the case with teams attempting to nab Butler. Rivals have been willing to undergo “unconventional” negotiations because of Butler’s talent, Krawczynski explains, adding that if Butler weren’t a franchise talent, rival organizations would simply hang up the phone and not deal with the Thibs/Layden duo.
  • According to Krawczynski, the Timberwolves are still talking with teams about a potential deal and talks with Miami are expected to resume this week.
  • Should Minnesota hold onto Butler through opening night, he is unlikely to sit out and forfeit game checks. Butler was in Los Angeles when the Wolves faced the Clippers last week and he dined with several current teammates. While some players have said Butler would be welcomed back on the team, Krawczynski notes that it would no doubt add to the club’s chemistry issues.
  • Thibodeau would welcome Butler back unconditionally should he warm up to the idea of playing out the season in Minnesota even though he could leave for nothing next summer, Stein reports in the aforementioned newsletter. Thibs also isn’t concerned about how uncomfortable the situation might get between Butler and the team’s young stars (Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins). Butler’s “chilly” relationships with Towns and Wiggins are said to be high on the list of reasons why Butler wants out, per Stein.
  • The Heat, Clippers, Sixers, Nets have all reportedly had negotiations with the Timberwolves for Butler. Stein contends that Miami’s package headlined by Richardson and a protected first-rounder is likely the best-case scenario for Minnesota, given the circumstances. Stein believes that deal allows the Wolves to recoup a good portion of the value they gave up (Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and the draft pick that became Lauri Markkanen) to bring aboard Butler in the first place.

NBA GMs Weigh In On 2018/19 Season

NBA.com has completed its annual survey of NBA general managers, with John Schuhmann of NBA.com asking each of the league’s 30 GMs to answer an array of questions about the league’s top teams, players, and coaches. Unsurprisingly, the Warriors are once again viewed by the NBA’s general managers as the overwhelming favorites to be the last team standing, with 26 of 30 GMs (87%) picking Golden State to win the NBA championship for the fourth time in five years.

While there are many responses in the GM survey worth checking out, we’ll focus on rounding up some of the more noteworthy ones related to rosters and player movement. Let’s dive in…

  • LeBron James (30%) and Kevin Durant (27%) are viewed as the frontrunners for the 2018/19 MVP award, but two younger players led the voting for the player GMs would most want to build a franchise around starting today. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo (30%) and Pelicans big man Anthony Davis (23%) led the way in that category. Interestingly, Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns didn’t receive a single vote this year after leading the way with 29% of the vote in 2017.
  • The Lakers‘ signing of James helped them earn 70% of the vote for the team that made the best overall moves this offseason. The Raptors, buoyed by their acquisition of Kawhi Leonard, finished second at 20%.
  • A ton of different signings and trade acquisitions received votes for the most underrated addition of the summer, with the Pacers‘ signing of Tyreke Evans barely leading the way with four votes. The Spurs‘ trade for DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls‘ signing of Jabari Parker, the Pelicans‘ addition of Julius Randle, and the Thunder‘s acquisition of Dennis Schroder received three votes apiece.
  • DeMarcus Cousins‘ decision to join the Warriors (35%) was considered the most surprising move of the offseason, followed by the Spurs/Raptors blockbuster trade (29%) and Paul George remaining with the Thunder (19%).
  • While Mavericks guard Luka Doncic is the strong frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, GMs expect Suns center Deandre Ayton and Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. to be the best players five years from now. Meanwhile, the Clippers‘ selection of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at No. 11 was viewed by the most GMs as the steal of the draft.
  • The Sixers (47%) and Celtics (33%) dominated voting for the teams with the most promising young cores.