A month away from training camp’s opening, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said Monday at the Minnesota State Fair he doesn’t need to assure the team’s nervous fans or his best players that all will be right in a season after which All-Star guard Jimmy Butler can leave as an unrestricted free agent.
“The winning will take care of that,” he said.
Thibodeau answered a couple of questions from fairgoers worried about the team’s chemistry and Butler’s future during an appearance at the Star Tribune booth.
Thibodeau said “I respectfully disagree” when a fan questioned the unity and culture of a team that won 47 games last season — its first winning season since the Kevin Garnett era — and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
He ticked off facts and statistics: The Wolves went 27-10 against the mighty Western Conference when Butler and young teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins played together last season. The Wolves broke 14 franchise records last season, won 13 consecutive games at home and had 18 sellouts at Target Center.
The team’s starting five — which includes all three players together — ranked third in offensive efficiency and seventh defensively last season on a team whose second unit ranked 30th defensively. The Wolves have signed Derrick Rose, Anthony Tolliver and James Nunnally to address both the bench’s defense and the team’s three-point shooting.
Media reports throughout the summer have, using unnamed sources, suggested Butler is unhappy with his young teammates’ will and dedication and has decided he won’t play in Minnesota after this season and wants to unite with pal Kyrie Irving or other stars elsewhere.
“I’ve been around a long time; I don’t buy into any of that stuff,” Thibodeau said. “You have to distinguish what’s real and what’s not real. You never heard any of that come from Jimmy’s mouth. It’s always a source close to Jimmy. If Jimmy has something to say to someone, he usually says it directly …
“The biggest thing is chemistry on the floor and winning. How efficient they are tells you there’s strong chemistry on the floor.”
The Wolves offered Butler a new maximum $110 million contract as soon as NBA rules allowed in July. Butler turned it down, as expected, because he can make as much as $187 million if he becomes a free agent next summer and re-signs with the Wolves then. Or he could become free then to sign with any team he chooses, but for less money.
Thibodeau called Butler’s decision “anticipated,” but added, “We wanted him to know how important he is to the future of the organization. The winning will take care of that. We know the position we’re in. We have a lot to offer him. We think this is the best place for him, and it’s up to us to show him the reasons why.”
Wolves hire Pistons’ Allen
The Wolves have hired Detroit assistant coach Malik Allen to replace Rick Brunson in that same position.
Allen, 40, is a former 6-10 forward who attended Villanova and started his pro career in the International Basketball League before he played for eight NBA teams from 2001 to 2011. He accepted an assistant’s job with the Pistons on Stan Van Gundy’s staff in 2014 and coached there until he was just hired by the Wolves.
“He came up the hard way, undrafted, terrific career as a player,” Thibodeau said. “Everywhere he has been, his teammates loved him and he’s done a great job as a coach.”
Thibodeau also said the role for player-development and Summer League coach John Lucas III will be expanded some.
“He’ll do a little more,” Thibodeau said. “He has the capabilities to be a terrific assistant coach.”
‘Very optimistic’ about Towns’ extension
Thibodeau said he’s “very optimistic” the Wolves will sign Towns to a contract extension before the regular season starts. They have until October’s end to sign him to an extension that could be worth $187 million.
If they don’t sign him by then, he’ll become a restricted free agent this summer.
The Wolves signed Wiggins to a max extension last October not long before the season opener.
“We know how important Karl is to the future of the organization,” Thibodeau said.
Thibodeau said he is also hopeful that second-year center Justin Patton will be cleared for contact in time to participate when training camp starts Sept. 25.
The 16th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, Patton has played a mere 3 minutes, 44 seconds in the NBA because of two surgeries on the same foot.
“He’s coming along well,” Thibodeau said of the 21-year-old from Creighton. “We think he has a huge upside. We’re excited about him, but we still know there’s a big learning curve ahead for him.”