Without saying exactly how they intend to do so, Timberwolves coach/president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau and General Manager Scott Layden made it clear Monday during a postseason meeting with reporters that they want to sign All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns to contract extensions, while also being aggressive in improving the team elsewhere.
How they do both — with Andrew Wiggins already sign to a maximum contract — and still have salary space to surround all three with a roster with improved three-point shooting, defense and depth is the big question.
Thibodeau called a 47-victory regular season and a first-round loss to top-seeded Houston after 14 years away from the playoffs a success and the “next step” toward contending for a title.
“When you haven’t done something for 14 years, it’s a major step for our organization,” Thibodeau said. “And it’s not easy to do. Winning in this league is very difficult and we should understand that. When you lose for 14 years, that says a lot and to change it, it’s a massive change in your culture.”
Thibodeau made it clear Monday the Wolves’ culture change starts with Butler. This summer, he can sign an extension to stay in Minnesota through 2023 before he can opt out of his current contract in the summer of 2019.
Thibodeau said Butler experienced just “general soreness” in his knee at season’s end, but won’t need any other procedures after he had February surgery on his meniscus.
“At an appropriate time, we’ll talk to him,” Thibodeau said. “What he did for our organization, we certainly know how important he is and so every day our communication with him is critical. It’s important for him to feel good about everything that we’re doing here.”
The Wolves can sign Towns to a five-year maximum contract extension this summer; under the NBA’s labor agreement they can give two players coming off their rookie contracts such an offer. They used the first to sign Wiggins last October to an extension worth at least $146 million.
“Obviously, you know how we feel about Karl also, so we feel the same way about him being here,” Thibodeau said. “We want him here for a long time and at the appropriate time we’ll sit down and talk with him. But he’s a huge part of our future.”
Layden stressed the importance of continuity when asked if the Wolves can sign all three players to max contracts and still shape a competitive roster around them.
“The importance of keeping a team together and keeping a system like Coach’s is critical to having more success the next year,” Layden said.
Layden noted the three ways teams can improve — through the draft, trades and free-agent signings — and deems the June draft good enough that his team could get a player with their 20th overall pick who could help them next season.
But he also said that 20th pick could get them “in the game” to make a notable trade.
Thibodeau said he meets briefly with players when the season ends and then will come back in two or three weeks with detailed individual meetings.
He was asked just what exactly that “next step” is for his team.
He called it improvement by the players his team already has, and the chance to either retain players or acquire ones by signing, trade or draft in a Western Conference where Golden State and Houston have separated themselves.
“We’re thinking every day about how we can improve,” Thibodeau said. “We know the West, we’re not the only team. There are a lot of teams that are going to improve, so we have to make sure we’re aggressive in our approach also.”