SAN DIEGO – The Timberwolves’ road to respectability in the West became more challenging yet before they ever picked up a ball at training camp Saturday morning after conference rival Oklahoma acquired star Carmelo Anthony from New York.
Three months after it made a startling trade that placed All Star Paul George alongside league MVP Russell Westbrook, the Thunder again made another stealthy deal, acquiring Anthony for reserve center Enes Kanter, shooter Doug McDermott and a second-round pick.
The trade means more competition for the Wolves in the West if they intend to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
It also means the Thunder’s 2018 first-round pick the Wolves own won’t be as good as they thought it’d be. Oklahoma City has acquired both George and Anthony since the Wolves acquired the pick from Utah in the Ricky Rubio trade late last June.
“It’s the reality of our situation,” Wolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau said. “Melo is a terrific player. They get three wings who are very explosive.”
Thibodeau has coached all three stars for USA Basketball and new Wolves forward Taj Gibson well knows Oklahoma City after he played for it during last season’s final months.
“They just know what they’re doing over there,” Gibson said. “It’s a first-class organization.”
The Wolves play the Thunder twice in the season’s first 10 days, Oct. 22 at Oklahoma City and Oct. 27 at Target Center.
“That’s a great pickup for them,” Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins said. “That’s the West, though. The West is tough. Every game will be tough. They’re monsters. They’re good scorers, all great players. But our team is good, too.”
Talent, though, doesn’t always translate in every situation.
“You have to see how it all works out,” Thibodeau said. “But if you have Russell and you add Paul George and you add Melo, that’s a lot of firepower. But they also got a lot last year from Kanter posting up. They got a lot of shots out of that. So that will change and McDermott is a terrific three-point shooter who opens up the floor. We’ll see.”
Big day for Bazz
Both Thibodeau and Gibson praised Shabazz Muhammad for his energy during Saturday’s morning session, the first of two practices that day the Wolves held at the University of California-San Diego.
Muhammad said Friday he hasn’t weighed his current 218 pounds since he was in high school. Both he and Thibodeau said he’s still strong enough at that weight to play some power forward.
“Shabazz had a great day,” Gibson said. “He kind of set the tone in my eyes with how hard he was playing and how he was moving his feet. That’s what we’re going to need. Every day you’re not going to have it, so it’s up to your teammate to set the tone and get you going. I felt he got everybody going. The coaching staff saw it, too.”
Bjelica is back
Sidelined since he broken a bone in his foot last month, reserve forward Nemanja Bjelica returned to practice Saturday morning.
“Bjelly was good,” Thibodeau said. “He did well. He did contact. He did almost everything today.”
All atwitter on Twitter
After President Donald Trump tweeted that NFL players should be fired if they protest during the playing of the national anthem, Thibodeau said he wants his players to express their opinions on social issues, but also said he expects them to respectfully stand during the anthem.
NFL and NBA players such as Chris Paul and LeBron James spoke out on Twitter after Trump’s NFL tweet and after he withdrew an invitation for Steph Curry to visit the White House with his champion Warriors because Curry said Friday he wouldn’t want to go.
“That sounds more like children’s play to me,” Karl-Anthony Towns said Saturday. “I leave it to them, but there are a lot more things we need to worry about than Steph Curry saying he doesn’t want to go to the White House.”