NBA Season Preview: New Look Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves had one of the most successful offseasons in recent memory, in my eyes. An offseason highlighted by the acquisition of Jimmy Butler, the Timberwolves went from being a lottery team to guaranteed playoff contenders.

Before any trade or signing happened for the Timberwolves, the future was looking bright. The trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach Lavine gave Minnesota fans more than enough to be excited about for the future. Although the future was looking bright, it seemed the team was still years away from contending. Minnesota hasn’t made the playoffs in 13 years, and although it was inevitable that they would make the playoffs in a few years, the time of waiting was over. When opportunities present themselves, you take the ball and you run with it. Enter Jimmy Butler.

Jimmy Butler’s name has been mentioned in the rumor mill for years. Although Bulls’ management told Butler that there were no intentions of trading him anywhere, that wasn’t the case. It was evident Chicago was going towards a rebuilding phase, especially after losing to the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs despite going up 2-0 in the series. Speaking of the Celtics, that was the team most people predicted he’d end up, but the NBA is a funny place where anything truly can happen.

The Timberwolves pulled a heist on the Bulls and stole Jimmy Butler from the city of Chicago. A package of Kris Dunn, who has yet to make an impact in the league, Zach Lavine post-ACL surgery, and the 7th pick for Butler and the 16th pick. I knew this trade was a crime when I saw the 16th pick was going to Minnesota as well. Although there are two young guys with potential going to Chicago, along with draftee Lauri Markkanen, there was a sense that the Bulls could’ve gotten a much better return than Dunn, Lavine, and Markkanen. Regardless of Chicago’s decision making, the Wolves got an elite shooting guard/small forward coming off a career year, with averages of 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.5 assists, all career highs. Turning 28 in September, Butler is in the prime of his career. He’s the veteran superstar that the Wolves needed to aid their young talent and end the 13-year playoff drought. As the West continues to get stronger, the Wolves adapted and added a superstar from the Eastern Conference to hold their own. As Wiggins and Towns continue to improve, Butler will have some of the best years of his career in a Timberwolves jersey.

Along with trading for Butler, they got the 16th pick in return, which turned into Justin Patton from Creighton. The 7-foot center averaged 13 points and 6 rebounds during his lone year at college, while also shooting 53% from three. He will serve as a backup for Towns, but will also be able to come in the game and help spread the floor. Patton joins an already talented front court consisting of Towns, Gorgui Dieng, and newly-signed Taj Gibson.

In what was kind of out-shadowed by the Jimmy Butler signing, the Timberwolves also signed former All-Star Jeff Teague to a three-year contract. Jeff Teague put up excellent numbers in his lone season in Indiana, where he put up 15 points along with a career high in assists (7.8) and rebounds (4). He’s only three years removed from making the All-Star team along with three of his other Atlanta Hawks teammates. In all eight seasons that he’s been in the NBA, he’s made it to the playoffs. Jeff Teague, alongside Jimmy Butler, brings a winning mentality to Minnesota. Although he’s failed to reach the NBA Finals so far in his young career, mostly because of LeBron, he will be able to help lead the young core to their first playoff appearance. Teague will play his role well on the team. Butler, Wiggins, and Towns will all look to put up their 20+ points a game, while Teague will continue to be the all-around player that he’s always been. Tom Thibodeau will be able to trust Teague being the floor general. I can see Teague putting up yet another career high in assists this upcoming season while being surrounded by three offensive superstars.

I briefly mentioned the signing of the hard-nosed forward Taj Gibson, who will also bring a winning mentality and toughness to the team. Along with Gibson, the Wolves managed to reel in veteran and arguably one of the best sixth men of all time, Jamal Crawford. Crawford could’ve signed anywhere, including with Cleveland or Golden State. But instead of ring chasing, Crawford decided to use his veteran experience to help the young Timberwolves make it over the hump. This is Crawford’s way of giving back, and I couldn’t respect it more. Having a guy like Crawford, who’s won three Sixth Man of the Year awards, coming off the bench can do wonders for the young players who are looking to make the playoffs for the first time in their careers.

Overall this team did nothing but improve. The only negatives were losing Kris Dunn and Zach Lavine, who both still have so much to prove in this league.  But then you realize they got Jimmy Butler on their team, and everything seems to balance itself out. Shabazz Muhammad has yet to sign with a team, so perhaps he’ll stay in a Wolves jersey, but nobody knows at this point. Adding Butler and Gibson, who can finally reunite with Thibs, Teague, Crawford, and Patton without giving up much is a huge win in my eyes. While their young guys are still improving, they added veterans that will help lead them to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. Will this team be enough to dethrone the Warriors in the West? Probably not, but who says they can’t 3-4 years down the line, especially when Wiggins and Towns enter their primes. That’s going to be one scary duo one day.

Minnesota fans should be ecstatic with the direction this team is going down and should begin to prepare themselves for a playoff appearance this season. What a day that will be for the dedicated fans in Minnesota, when they can finally say they’ve made the playoffs after 13 long years.

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