Well, Thursday night provided big fireworks for fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves, as the franchise landed its biggest star in a trade in the history of the organization.
Minnesota sent two, promising youngsters — Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn — and the seventh pick in the NBA draft to the Chicago Bulls for All-Star shooting guard Jimmy Butler and the 16th pick.
While it’s sad to see LaVine go, he had to be part of the deal because he is young piece that Chicago will now try to build around. Remember, LaVine is coming off a torn ACL, but I hope he makes a full recovery. He is a great kid and has vastly improved in his three years in Minnesota.
But on to the big news: JIMMY BUTLER.
He is reunited with head coach Tom Thibodeau, who coached him for four years in Chicago, and he brings a tough, defensive-minded mentality to a team that desperately needs it. Minnesota hasn’t sniffed the playoffs since 2004, but Butler significantly increases the Timberwolves’ chances after they underperformed in 2016-17.
Butler has two years left on his contract, so it will be up to management to put pieces around him and Minnesota’s other two stars — Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns — if they have any hopes of re-signing him when his contract is up in 2018-19. After waiving oft-injured center Nikola Pekovic earlier in the week, the Timberwolves should have around $20 million in cap space.
I would like to see Minnesota add a veteran point guard for the right price. A few days ago, I mentioned George Hill, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague. I did so because I thought Ricky Rubio would be involved in the Butler trade. With Rubio still on the team, a backup point guard, not a starter, is necessary.
From what I am looking at, guys like Shaun Livingston and Darren Collison top my list. However, Milos Teodosic, a 6-5 guard from CSKA Moscow, wouldn’t be a bad add. He is one of the more talented players left in Europe. He is 30 years old, but is an experienced player and wouldn’t be asked to play big minutes or have much pressure on him when he is on the floor.
With the 16th pick, Minnesota took Creighton’s Justin Patton, who finished his freshman year this past season. He is raw, but he plays hard and runs the floor. He is someone who can be molded into a force down low. At 6-11, he could become a handful for opposing posts over the next few years. Of course, he could flame out, too.
Minnesota is still thin up front. Aside from Patton, Towns and Gorgui Dieng, the Timberwolves have only Jordan Hill — which the team might not pick up his option — and Cole Aldrich.
I think Serge Ibaka — for the right price — would be a good addition. Obviously, he would have to be willing to come here and play a more reserved role. But he brings a toughness and defensive ability Minnesota lacks in the post. Perhaps a cheaper option might be another former player Thibodeau used to coach in Chicago — Taj Gibson. He is nearly identical to Ibaka, but should come at a cheaper price. He is not as athletic, but he plays hard and knows what Thibodeau expects from his players.
If Minnesota is looking to add small forwards — Shabazz Muhammad may be on his way out if Minnesota doesn’t match an offer sheet — guys like James Johnson, P.J. Tucker and Andre Iguodala could be targets for the Timberwolves. All three would bring toughness and veteran leadership to a young team.
Free agency is still a week away, but it’s never too early to shell out names that could be possible targets.
Butler improves this team, but it’ll still be difficult in the Western Conference. I think the move faults the team into the playoffs, but there is a reason 82 games are played.
Minnesota still needs to round out its roster, but it took a big step forward on Thursday night.