Tom Thibodeau, the coach, had an underwhelming first season on the Timberwolves bench. Tom Thibodeau, the basketball czar, pulled off a draft-night blockbuster that made the NBA take notice.
Thibodeau finally got his man, and it didn’t cost him Andrew Wiggins. The Wolves were big winners Thursday night.
Thibodeau executed an organization-altering trade by sending Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick to Chicago in exchange for Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 pick, which the Wolves used to select Creighton center Justin Patton.
The trade reunites Butler and Thibodeau and makes the Wolves instantly better. Makes them relevant and credible.
They get a top-15 player in Butler, a proven commodity who will upgrade the Wolves on both ends, notably on defense. That should make his coach smile and feel more relaxed.
This trade feels transformative. The NBA will look at the Wolves differently now. Who knows? Maybe free agents will do likewise. A sales pitch of Butler, Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns should be attractive to free agents looking for a place to win.
Was the price costly? Sure. Deals of this magnitude usually require teams to feel some pain. But the Wolves showed they are serious about making a significant leap in their never-ending rebuilding project.
Thibodeau’s first season can’t be sold as anything but disappointing. No other way to spin a 31-win flop.
The Wolves have not made the playoffs in what feels like forever, so Year 2 of Thibodeau brings red-hot urgency to produce something that inspires confidence.
Trading for Butler raises the ante. The combination of Butler and Towns gives the Wolves two bona fide stars. Face-of-the-franchise type players. Butler is a three-time All-Star in his prime. Towns already has established himself as one of the league’s premier big men.
The key component of the trade — well, besides getting Butler — is that Thibodeau didn’t need to include Wiggins to complete it. That makes it an undeniable, slam-dunk victory for the Wolves.
Feels weird, doesn’t it?
Wiggins has flaws in his game, but there’s nothing he can’t fix. He needs to commit himself to becoming a consistent two-way player. But he’s 22 years old and has shown stretches of dominance as a scorer. Giving up on him in a trade would have been shortsighted and impatient.
No doubt, losing LaVine hurts. His work ethic, passion and freakish physical ability make his exit difficult, not knowing what he ultimately will become as a player. His season-ending knee injury complicated his future, but LaVine’s determination and love for basketball will serve him well.
The original blueprint called for LaVine to join forces with Towns and Wiggins for many years and pull the organization out of this cycle of losing. That was the hope, at least.
Thibodeau talks often about “process” and the need to follow that plan step-by-step. The organization has invested time, energy and patience in developing its young core. A lack of meaningful improvement last season necessitated a change in plans.
Thibodeau sped up that process with a bold stroke that revealed his own urgency. The fact that he included Dunn in the deal was noteworthy, too. No player received more praise from Thibodeau last season than his rookie point guard. Thibodeau went out of his way to gush about Dunn’s development, to the point that Ricky Rubio’s status within the organization never felt secure.
Who would have guessed that Dunn would get traded before Rubio?
The Butler trade might be only the first step of an offseason makeover. The draft and free agency usually work hand-in-hand, so the Wolves still could add a veteran (or two) in free agency to complete the puzzle. It will be interesting to see what else Thibodeau has up his sleeve.
This much is certain: The Timberpups aren’t young anymore. That excuse got tossed out the window. They became older and tougher overnight. Expectations should be adjusted accordingly.
Target Center is in the midst of a major renovation. The roster looks a lot more attractive now, too.
Chip Scoggins email@example.com