SALT LAKE CITY – Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau visited Utah during his year’s coaching sabbatical a season ago, studying a Jazz franchise that’s a model for his team.
At 37-24, the Jazz is fourth in the Western Conference and headed toward the playoffs for the first time since 2012. It has done so by adding veterans George Hill, Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson last summer to a youthful core built around Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors.
“They’ve built their foundation, they’ve gone step-by-step,” Thibodeau said. “Their young guys have really grown, and I think they’ve added the right veterans. So I’m not surprised by how well they’ve played. They’ve done it the right way.”
The Wolves have set their foundation with young stars Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. Now they must add the right veterans — a defensive-minded power forward, for starters? — around this summer and going forth from there.
“Yeah, you’re hoping,” Thibodeau said. “That’s the big thing, continued growth. Then as you move forward, you want to add the right pieces. They’ve gone to the next level. Hopefully, that’s something we can do also.”
Big men beware
Wiggins rarely expresses his emotions, except when he imposes his dunkadelics on opposing big men. That list includes Denver’s Nikola Jokic, Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic, Golden State’s JaVale McGee as well as Utah’s Rudy Gobert, whom Wiggins faced again Wednesday.
His posterizing dunk over Gobert late in Wiggins’ rookie season probably remains his favorite, perhaps because the “Stifle Tower” stands 7-2.
“It’s always good competing against competitors,” Wiggins said. “If I see a bigger guy, I’m going to attack him. It just happens. If I get a chance to dunk over him, I try it. If I get a chance for a layup, I do that. It just comes in the flow of the game.”
On the mend
Free-agent guard Lance Stephenson continues to rehab a sprained ankle, with the expectation he’ll re-sign with the Wolves.
“Once he’s healthy, we’ll move forward,” Thibodeau said. “It is a sprain, so it is getting better.”
Meanwhile, LaVine continues to rehab in California after knee surgery there last month. Thibodeau said LaVine will return to Minnesota “shortly” to continue therapy.
Turning the tables
Thibodeau spent four days at training camp visiting Jazz coach Quin Snyder, GM Dennis Lindsey and former NBA coaches Frank Layden and Jerry Sloan during his season away from coaching. He supposedly was there picking their brains, but the picking went both ways.
“I tried to milk him for everything I could,” Snyder said. “He wasn’t coaching then, so he was less guarded. So I got a bunch of stuff from him. I’ve got a whole file on Thibs.”
• The Jazz started veteran Joe Ingles at guard for injured Rodney Hood, who had knee soreness.
• Wiggins continues to wear those eye-catching green sneakers he debuted nearly a month ago, but they’re not the same pair. “I’ve probably gone through two or three,” he said. “Whenever they break down, I switch it up.”