SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – The Timberwolves move on without injured star Jimmy Butler by inserting Nemanja Bjelica into the starting lineup at small forward and sliding Andrew Wiggins into Butler’s big-guard spot.
The Wolves received news as good as they could have hoped when Butler fell and clutched his knee Friday at Houston. Sunday morning surgery on a partial tear of Butler’s meniscus cartilage has him aimed at a return in time for the playoffs, if the Wolves remain positioned for them these final six weeks.
The Wolves have kept a roster spot open all season and now could counter Butler’s absence by signing a free agent such as Derrick Rose, Tony Allen or Randy Foye.
The Wolves also will keep their eye on the waiver wire for any players bought out of their contracts by Thursday. Players waived by then are eligible to be included on another team’s playoff roster.
They also could recall rookie center Justin Patton from their Iowa G-League team. He played 32 minutes on Sunday in his road back from July foot surgery, and coach Tom Thibodeau wants him to play more games with as many minutes as Sunday’s or more.
“Up front, we feel good about the players we have here,” Thibodeau said. “Once he can get through some games down there, we’ll take a look at bringing him back.”
The Wolves also have two-way contract players Anthony Brown and Amile Jefferson in Iowa.
Whether the Wolves add a player or not, they will play on without their best player for now.
“The main thing is we want Jimmy to be healthy again,” Thibodeau said. “We’re not going to put a timeline on it. He’s already begun the rehab process and hopefully that will go well. We’ll take it step by step. Like everything he does, he’ll put everything he has into it. The most important thing is that he gets healthy again and that he feels good about where he is.”
Although he is away from the team this week as it plays three games on the West Coast, Butler’s presence nonetheless will be felt.
“He’ll be involved,” Thibodeau said. “He’s engaged. He’s watching. He’s already talking. He’ll be around the team as soon as he can travel. We talk the game all the time. I want to hear the things he sees, and I want him to be involved. He’s a big part of the team.”
Remembering Dan Fegan
A prominent NBA agent who once represented Wolves players Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea, Dan Fegan was killed in a motor vehicle accident Sunday morning in Aspen, Colo. He was 56.
Wolves General Manager Scott Layden first met him when Layden led Utah’s front office and Fegan represented Jazz players Howard Eisley and Shandon Anderson in the late 1990s. Layden on Monday called Fegan “hardworking, passionate and a very smart guy” as well as “a tremendous advocate for his clients” and fondly recalled a long lunch they had last summer during which Layden met Fegan’s 5-year-old son.
“We caught up on a lot of old times, and I remember how happy he was to be with his boy,” Layden said. “I’m saddened and I pray for his family. It’s a hard thing. The whole NBA community was saddened by that news.”
Still a champion
The banner will come down, the trophy returned and Louisville’s 2013 NCAA championship stricken from the books, but Wolves center Gorgui Dieng will keep the ring he won by playing on that team.
Louisville will vacate its title after the NCAA last week denied the university’s appeal of penalties imposed because of an escort sex scandal.
“Personally, I don’t think this is the right thing to do,” Dieng said of the NCAA’s decision. “That was wrong, to me. It takes a lot of time and effort to win a championship. You can’t take away memories. Everyone knows we won that. Whatever decision the NCAA makes, it doesn’t matter to me. That’s not right.”