SAN DIEGO – The Timberwolves’ trio of promising young stars is now only a twosome after the team traded two time slam-dunk champion Zach LaVine to Chicago last summer in the deal that brought three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler.
Basketball is a business and it bounces on. Former No. 1 overall picks Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns remain as the foundational pieces of a team remade by adding veterans Butler, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford and Aaron Brooks.
LaVine’s absence, though, has been noticed in the early days of the Wolves’ San Diego training camp by those who know him best.
Asked if it feels odd without a teammate with whom he played the past three seasons, fifth-year forward Shabazz Muhammad said, “It does. I just talked to Zach a week or two ago.”
LaVine and Wiggins came into the league together as rookies. Wiggins was acquired in a trade with Cleveland that sent away Kevin Love just two months after Wiggins was the 2014 draft’s top pick. The Wolves took LaVine for themselves with the 13th pick that summer and kept him.
Until draft night last June, that is.
“It’s definitely tough to see Zach go because he was my best friend on the team,” Wiggins said. “But Chicago, that’s a great opportunity for him. He has a chance to do something. He’s excited, and I’m excited for him and bringing Jimmy in is a good move for us. He’s a proven All Star, a proven player in the league. He brings defense, playmaking, attitude. He brings a lot to the team, but I’m sad to see Zach go.”
Ahead of the game?
Teammate Gorgui Dieng says it’s still too early to tell, but Towns already has called the team noticeably improved defensively. He also said it’s ahead of the curve now that veterans Butler, Gibson and Brooks — who all played for Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau in Chicago — are on board.
“Last year, we had a brand-new coach and players who had never played for Thibs,” Towns said. “It makes a difference. Last year in training camp we were walking, sometimes crawling, and now we’re in training camp today and we’re jogging. We understand we have to push up our ready date.”
Wiggins hasn’t officially signed that five-year maximum contract worth $148 million. But when he does, veteran teammate Crawford doesn’t expect all the money to alter Wiggins’ desire and ambition.
“Not for the really good players,” Crawford said when asked if such a contract can quench a player’s fire. “You want more. Not money obviously, but you want what comes with it. You want to accept responsibility for your team. You want to be a leader on your team, in your community. You just want to be more of a stand-up guy.”
Hurting for Houston
Most of his family has moved away and he no longer lives near where he grew up near Houston, but Butler nonetheless says he was moved by the devastation Hurricane Harvey wreaked on his hometown last month.
“That hurts my heart; that’s where I grew up,” the 2014-15 Most Improved Player said. “Texas is my state. Houston is my city. For all those people out there, my love and prayers went out to them.”
• The Wolves completed their second day of two-a-day practices Sunday and now will practice just once daily as they prepare for their preseason opener against the Los Angeles Lakers in Anaheim, Calif., on Saturday.
• Forward Nemanja Bjelica has participated fully in camp in his comeback from a broken bone in his foot sustained last March. “He’s doing great,” Thibodeau said. “He did everything today. He had two solid days, so just keep building.”
• Rookie center Justin Patton has done some shooting but hasn’t been cleared to run or return to practice yet after he slipped on a court’s wet spot and broke a bone in his foot in June. Thibodeau said he is hopeful Patton will be cleared to do noncontact court work as the next step in the Creighton product’s recovery.
• The Wolves practiced at San Diego State on Sunday and Aztecs head coach Brian Dutcher — son of former Gophers coach Jim Dutcher — and members of his staff attended.