SAN ANTONIO – Just as so many others did, Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler looked away when television replays showed Gordon Hayward’s gruesome leg injury fewer than six minutes into his Celtics career Tuesday in Cleveland.
“No, I can’t handle that, man,” Butler said. “That’s sad, man. As talented a group of guys as they have, that’s one of their new faces, one of their leaders and really good players to go down, that’s tough, man. I pray for him, his family and the whole organization. I don’t want anybody on my team, any other team, any other basketball player, period, to go through anything like that.”
Hayward signed a four-year, $128 million contract last summer, moving from Utah to Boston. He played five minutes, 15 seconds with his new team before he leapt for an alley-oop pass on a play the Jazz ran countless times during his seven years there and came down wrong, dislocating his ankle and fracturing his tibia.
Hayward and new Wolves guard Jeff Teague both were born in Indianapolis and each played high-school ball there or nearby.
“Indiana kid, man,” Teague said before the Wolves’ season opener at San Antonio on Wednesday night. “We all stay together. I feel really bad for him. Prayers to him and his family. That stinks because he’s a really talented guy and he’s a good person. I hate to see that happen to anyone.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich watched the season-opening game with his wife and a friend. He stepped away for a moment, returned and his friend told him he wouldn’t believe what had just happened.
“I didn’t look, I couldn’t look,” Popovich said of the replay. “Just horrible, horrible for anybody, but with his circumstances — he’s new, the team probably spent a lot of the preseason doing things around him, setting up the team and then he’s gone like that. It’s just horrible, horrible.”
Another Seattle connection
Starting for the injured Tony Parker was Spurs young point guard Dejounte Murray, who went to the same Rainier Beach High School in Seattle that Wolves guard Jamal Crawford did, only about 15, 16 years later.
“He’s like a little brother,” Crawford said. “I’ve known him since he was in the sixth grade. I’m very happy for him. I honestly don’t think he could have landed in a better situation: Get a chance to learn from veterans, get a chance to learn from Pop. It was an excellent experience just working out with him in the summer. You can see the growth.”
Pick up the pace
The NBA has reduced timeouts per game from 18 to 14 this season and each team will now have two rather than three timeouts in the games’ final three minutes. All of it is an effort to speed the game’s pace.
“I like it,” Teague said. “Timeouts are the worst part of the game, to me. So I’m glad. You’ve got to learn on the fly a little bit. It helps us come together as a team, communicate better on the floor. Less timeouts, it doesn’t slow the game down as much.”
Not his fault
Butler’s former Chicago team suspended forward Bobby Portis for eight games one day after he punched teammate Nikola Mirotic in the face during practice Tuesday. Mirotic sustained a concussion and will need surgery to repair two shattered bones in his face.
“Hey, all I know is I’m not to blame for this,” Butler said. “I don’t know. I’m going to be quiet on the matter. Jimmy Butler is not the bad guy.”
Former Vikings owner and longtime San Antonio resident Red McCombs turns 90 Thursday.
“Red’s not 90, he’s like 104,” Popovich said. “Red is a forever guy, obviously an icon in the city and a philanthropist like nobody else. He’s someone who cares about the city, the community, the whole state of Texas probably, and he just doesn’t stop.”
• As they did during their preseason games, the Wolves linked arms during the national anthem. The Spurs scoreboard carried a message about equality afterward. “We haven’t talked too much about it,” Crawford said. “Before, we linked arms so we’ll probably stay with that.”
• Wolves reserve Gorgui Dieng played the first game on the big $64 million contract he signed last fall. He shrugged when asked about moving into another tax bracket. “It’s not about the money anymore,” he said. “It’s nice to have it, but it doesn’t bring happiness.”
• Wolves reserve forward Nemanja Bjelica is wearing No. 8 this season instead of last season’s 88 because the former No. 8, Zach LaVine, was traded to the Bulls in June. Bjelica has worn No. 8 since he was a kid.
• When asked if he’ll continue on as a Team USA assistant now that Popovich is taking over as national team coach, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said, “Whatever they ask me to do, I’ll be happy to do.”
• By making the Wolves’ opening day roster, former D Leaguer Marcus Georges-Hunt received a guaranteed $275,000 through January on the $1.3 million non-guaranteed contract he signed in August.
• Two-way contract player Anthony Brown traveled with the team to San Antonio before the Wolves’ G League team in Iowa begins practice next week.
• Popovich when asked if he had spoken to Thibodeau during the Wolves’ visit: “I have not talked to Tom. Tom doesn’t talk to anybody 24, 36 hour before and after the game. He’s one of the more focused guys.”