MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — For a team that didn’t make any major moves during the summer, the Minnesota Timberwolves sure have their share of new players this season.
The critical process of familiarization and integration will speed up over the next week, in the form of a trip to California to continue training camp and play a couple of exhibition games while Jimmy Butler’s unresolved trade request looms in the background .
The Timberwolves will be out of town for seven days, a prime time for bonding.
“They can spend a lot of time together. We’ll have good practices, some film sessions, some team dinners, so I think it’s good,” coach Tom Thibodeau said Thursday, before the traveling party boarded a plane for the Bay Area. The Wolves play the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors on Friday night.
With draft picks Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop and veterans Anthony Tolliver and Luol Deng, the Wolves will sport a significantly different look to their bench. When — or if, as Thibodeau has insisted — the Butler deal goes down, the freshness factor of the roster will only increase.
“Not a new team, but damn near a new team,” said Andrew Wiggins, who has had Derrick Rose next to him on the wing instead of Butler with the first unit with Jeff Teague at point guard and Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns in the frontcourt.
Deng, who signed with the Wolves just 2½ weeks ago after being let go by the Los Angeles Lakers, doesn’t figure to factor heavily in the rotation as his 15th year in the league unfolds. Thibodeau wouldn’t have added him, though, if he didn’t plan to use him some.
“I’m happy just to be back playing, night in and night out. I have an opportunity,” Deng said. “Last year I was told from the start of the season that I wasn’t going to play. So it’s a different fire.”
Another or player or two would likely be moved along with Butler to consummate such a blockbuster trade, creating another level of uncertainty surrounding the club with the season opener fast approaching on Oct. 17. Backup center Gorgui Dieng, who has three years left on his contract at an annual average of $15.7 million, would certainly be a candidate for salary-cap relief.
Still, most of the players have expressed a nonchalant attitude toward the absence of Butler, the four-time All-Star who helped shepherd the Wolves to the playoffs last spring to snap a 13-year streak of sitting out.
“All we can do is come in here and hoop, play hard, stay competitive and try to win,” Wiggins said. “The rest of that is up to the coaches, GM, owner, all that.”
The rookies Okogie and Bates-Diop have been undergoing a big adjustment, moving from the college game to the pros. Tolliver has to learn Thibodeau’s system, style and expectations. Wiggins, though, has an equally weighty task of asserting himself as more of a go-to player.
“It’s going to be tough. When you don’t have a guy like Jimmy out there, the workload’s going to get even harder for you,” Gibson said. “But I felt like Wig did a good job last year, especially when Jimmy went down.”
Through three days of training camp, at least, Wiggins has begun to do just that.
“Demanding the ball, hitting great shots, being real physical,” Gibson said. “That’s things we all count on him doing.” (Dave Campbell, AP)