As Memphis, Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah all went before them this past decade, the Timberwolves have turned toward age and experience to elevate a young rising team.
The Grizzlies added forceful veterans Zach Randolph and Tony Allen beside youngsters Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. The Thunder nurtured young stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and then sprinkled enough veteran winners around them to reach the 2012 NBA Finals. The Clippers acquired star Chris Paul and paired him with No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin.
Most recently, the Jazz last season added Joe Johnson, George Hill and Boris Diaw beside big Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and presumably their star of the future, Gordon Hayward.
The veteran thing, it worked out. The Hayward thing? Not so much.
Johnson, Hill and Diaw helped raise a Jazz team that won 40 games the season before but missed the playoffs. With them, the Jazz won 51 and not only reached the playoffs but also beat the Clippers in the seventh game of a first-round playoff series and reach the second round.
The Wolves have followed along, adding three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford, among others, alongside young stars Karl-Anthony Town and Andrew Wiggins.
Acquired for their leadership in the locker room and on the bench, the Jazz’s three veterans last year were heard in both places because their play talked louder than they did.
The Jazz acquired Diaw to help mentor fellow Frenchman Gobert, and then his passing proved to be something of a revelation. Hill made big shots in crucial moments. Johnson carried his younger teammates in that seven-game playoff series; his crucial 28-point Game 4 performance came after Hayward fell ill.
So the Jazz put Hayward in a dark room, draped a towel over his head and let Johnson’s veteran experience lift them with the kind of scoring and actions that give mere words real weight.
“I think it facilitates it, the two go hand-in-hand,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Those guys, they contributed more than anything on the court. And then when that’s happening, it allows you to have an impact in the locker room.”
The Jazz had won 40 and 38 games the previous two seasons but hadn’t made the playoffs since the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.
“We were on the right track anyway, no disrespect to any of those guys,” Jazz forward Joe Ingles said. “But they came in and took it to another level. It probably sped up the process a little bit for us. Obviously their work ethic got them to where they are in their careers, but it’s just all those little things they say: Being there with them at breakfast or in the cold tub and having the chance to ask questions about all those little things because they see different things than I see.”
At 37, Crawford’s presence with the Wolves gives younger players a lesson in diligence and preparation, just like Johnson has done in his two seasons with the Jazz.
“We were a young team last year, and we needed that experience to get to where we went,” Jazz injured guard Dante Exum said. “I think we’re better for it. We’re supposed to be here at 9 and you see Joe, a professional in his 17th year, in here at 8:30. Just seeing that every day — watching him get up shots, taking care of his body — it just brings that extra professionalism.
“I know a lot of guys want to get to 17 years in the league. That’s something younger guys start to mimic. It’s contagious.”
Wolves’ Week Ahead
Sunday: 6 p.m. at Oklahoma City (FSN)
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. Indiana (FSN-Plus)
Wednesday: 6 p.m. at Detroit (FSN)
Friday: 7 p.m. vs. Oklahoma City (FSN/NBA TV)
Player to Watch
Russell Westbrook, OKC
The Thunder has added stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but the reigning league MVP and triple-double threat remains must-see TV.
“How strange is it going to be with Ricky with a ponytail? How about that one?”
— Wolves star Karl-Anthony Towns when asked about playing former teammate Ricky Rubio for the first time Friday, when his new Jazz team came to town.
• Butler informed the authorities after the game Friday night not to allow Rubio into “my locker room” if he tried to visit.
• There was no kneeling during the national anthem when the Wolves and Spurs opened their seasons in San Antonio on Wednesday. But each team linked arms and the Spurs scoreboard carried a three-part message about social justice, freedom of speech and equal opportunity that obviously had been approved by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a vocal critic of U.S. President Donald Trump. Texans cheered the message. After the game, Popovich congratulated fans for their reaction. “I’m so proud to be in this city where we have fans who understand that it’s important for everybody,” Popovich said.
• Point guards essentially swapped for each other played Friday night at Target Center, where Utah’s Ricky Rubio met new Timberwolf Jeff Teague. Wolves veteran Aaron Brooks has played against both for years: “Jeff is definitely more aggressive scoring, Ricky is more a facilitator, but he gets the job done. Jeff gets it done and he’s a winner. So he’s going to figure out a way he can bring his game to help his team win. This isn’t no shot to anybody, but he’s a winner. You got guys who have won, been to the playoffs. They expect that. It’s about changing the culture. That’s the only difference.”
• The Jazz traded for Rubio last June, envisioning a future in which he and big man Rudy Gobert would form an effective pair. The Jazz also envision plenty of alley-oop dunks. “He’s athletic,” Rubio said. “He knows how to play the pick-and-roll and you can throw the ball as high as you want and he’ll catch it and dunk it.”
Twitter: @JerryZgoda, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Blog: startribune.com/wolves