The Timberwolves’ top-four standing in the Western Conference indicates the winds finally have changed.
By just how much, you will know Tuesday evening.
That’s when the NBA All-Star Game’s reserves will be announced on TNT before its Tuesday doubleheader.
That’s when you will know just how much difference winning really does make, should the Wolves get both Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns into next month’s game in Los Angeles.
The Wolves have done so only twice in their history: Kevin Garnett and Sam Cassell made the 2004 game and Garnett and Wally Szczerbiak made it in 2002. Both those Wolves teams won at least 50 games and reached the playoffs.
Playing at what his coach calls a “MVP level,” Butler is a three-time All-Star already — all in Chicago — and along with Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge is a lock to be chosen by Western Conference coaches.
Towns was stung when he made neither last year’s game nor the postseason All-NBA teams. This time around, he will receive serious consideration by conference coaches along with Draymond Green and Paul George because he has helped his team win in a major way.
It also helps that Western Conference frontcourt players Kawhi Leonard, Blake Griffin, Rudy Gobert and Paul Millsap all have missed a significant number of games this season because of injuries.
“We could easily say we should have two guys,” Wolves 18-year veteran Jamal Crawford said. “Other teams have their cases, too. But I think with the jump we’ve made, we should get two. KAT definitely deserves it.”
Kevin Love made three All-Star Games when he played for the Wolves because his statistics were too gaudy to ignore. Towns’ stats sparkled, too, during his first two NBA seasons, but the Wolves’ 29 and 31 victories those two years did not.
But Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau will be the first to say Butler has changed the franchise’s culture since last summer’s draft-night trade and the Wolves’ winning ways — 12-3 in one recent 15-game stretch — have changed their reputation around the league.
“Their whole team are All-Stars in my book,” Orlando coach Frank Vogel said. “Their whole starting five save for maybe Taj [Gibson], who’s just a great role player. I would be surprised if they don’t have multiple selections.”
Winning must indeed have changed everything because Towns says he’s all good whatever Western Conference coaches choose.
“It’d be nice, but I’m not too much into it at all,” Towns said. “Last year, being a second-year player having a chance, I was very giddy that I possibly could make it. When I didn’t make it, that took a lot of wind out of the sails. So I’m just going with the wave.
“I’m just trying to make the playoffs and make it deep in the playoffs. That’s all I care about. If I do make it, I do. If I don’t, I don’t. I really don’t care.”
Butler said he would just as soon go on vacation with the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan over the long All-Star weekend.
“I don’t care, to tell you the truth,” he said. “It wouldn’t bother me if my name was left off the list.”
Personal preferences aside, the selection of both Butler and Towns would be the next significant step toward respectability for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in 14 long seasons.
“The unfortunate part is somebody or a couple guys who deserve it will be left off,” Thibodeau said. “Usually, the part of the decision that will separate them is how has the guy impacted winning. I don’t know if there’s any other way better to do it than that. Some guys get stats that don’t impact winning.
“You can usually make a case one way or another for the last four or five guys, and I think the fact that things have changed here is helpful.”
Twitter: @JerryZgoda, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Blog: startribune.com/wolves