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.