SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Friday night was the most somber and self-reflecting the Timberwolves have been after any of their nine losses this season. This one, 121-110 to Sacramento, was the capper on a winless five-game road trip.
The locker room was quiet as the Wolves packed their bags for an early-morning flight back to Minnesota. There needs to be change when it comes to the Wolves’ defense and rebounding. That has been the refrain they have sung over and over on this trip.
But there’s more to it than that.
According to some Wolves, there needs to be more accountability among the team. Derrick Rose was the first one to bring that up after the game.
“It’s about understanding one another and having that chemistry where you could give someone good or bad criticism,” Rose said. “There’s nothing wrong with coming up to your teammates, tapping them when he’s doing something wrong, doing something right and vice versa.”
A few moments later, Jimmy Butler finished changing and was asked if he agreed with Rose’s assessment – that the Wolves needed more self-criticism. Butler didn’t mince words.
“Do I agree with it? Yeah. But I don’t think everybody can handle it,” Butler said. “I don’t. I know actually. But I’m with him on it. … Everybody got to talk to one another and be able to handle it if somebody says something they may not like. We’re all grown men.”
Butler hasn’t been shy before about criticizing teammates, namely Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins for not having enough of a competitive fire. Towns scored 39 points on Friday while Wiggins missed a game after re-aggravating a right leg contusion that caused him to miss time late last month.
Of course, clouding the entire franchise is the looming specter of Butler’s trade request, which has produced enough noise off the court for the Wolves. From all indications, it hasn’t poisoned the Wolves’ locker room and forward Taj Gibson was adamant that the team is dealing with it just fine.
“It’s not that …” Gibson said. “Everybody is going to keep going out there and keep playing through whatever is going to come. This is what comes with playing in the NBA. There are going to be trade rumors. You are going to have he said/she said in the papers.
“At the end of the day, we just got to close games better. I feel like we play hard until the very hard, but we just have to play a little harder.”
At the other end of the locker room, Rose didn’t completely agree. He said he has been able to block out the noise of Butler’s trade request just by focusing on himself.
“I’ve been through enough trials and tribulations myself," Rose said. "So, I just try to stay focused and I mean, just coming in, being a professional and let the front office and whoever is involved handle it.”
Rose was then asked if he thought everybody was able to compartmentalize the trade talks the same way.
“Not young players, you know what I mean?” Rose said. “But to each his own. Everybody handles everything different. If anything, I think everybody is just watching and trying to see how it’s going to play out, or if anything learn from it.”
But the season ticks onward. The Wolves face an uncertain situation over the long term because of Butler’s request. They face problems in the short term because the team is underperforming while he’s still on the roster.
It starts with defense, which is bad because the Wolves don’t communicate – because some on the Wolves say others can’t take criticism. And on and on it goes. Butler said those issues “better be” correctable or else the Wolves are in serious trouble.
“If we want to win, we got to figure out a way to fix this whole thing,” Butler said. “But it’s a day at a time. We’re in a big time hole right now, that’s for sure. But we got a lot more games.”
Even if Butler may not be around for all of them.
Rose to get X-ray
Rose also said after the game that Towns accidentally knocked him in the face and that's why Rose was out of the game late. Rose said he was worried about his surgically repaired eye. He felt OK but was going to get an X-ray. A Wolves spokesperson said the team is treating Rose for a facial contusion and will be re-evaluated this weekend.