Tom Thibodeau referred to point guard Jeff Teague as a “quiet leader” in the Timberwolves locker room after practice Tuesday.
Hearing that description of Teague caused forward Taj Gibson to crack a smile.
“Jeff is not quiet,” Gibson said. “Everybody says he’s quiet, but he’s really funny. He’s a real jokester. In the game, he does his job. Off the court, he makes the locker room at ease with his jokes and having fun.”
Jokes aside, there’s another facet of Teague’s personality that has emerged during his tenure with the Wolves — refreshing truth teller. The Wolves might need both the serious and funny side of Teague as the regular season inches closer with no resolution to the distracting Jimmy Butler trade saga more than three weeks after he requested the Wolves trade him.
Teague often speaks in quiet tones during media interviews, sometimes so softly that out-of-town media may not realize he is still talking and they begin their next question, but that doesn’t mean his words lack volume.
Last season, Teague said some of the starters “ran out of gas” during a late-season loss to the woebegone Grizzlies and made a public plea for Thibodeau to play the bench more minutes and rest the starters more.
On Sunday, after the Wolves struggled in a 125-107 preseason loss to the Bucks, Teague laid bare one big reason the Wolves have struggled on defense. Teague said the Wolves needed to be “more aggressive in all our coverages” but that the issues may extend beyond the court.
“You can tell the teams who got together in the summer,” Teague said. “I think [the Bucks] spent a lot of time together in the summer and you can tell. We didn’t see each other until the season started. We have a little more time to try and get right. But we got to hurry up.”
It was a comment that cut to the core not only of the Wolves’ defensive struggles but also their chemistry, which can show up on the court. The team didn’t spend time together in the offseason and are seeing the consequences of that now.
Perhaps this is where Teague’s sense of humor can help smooth things on a team that hasn’t had many reasons to laugh over the past few weeks.
“He’s a professional, been in the league a long time and been on some great teams,” Gibson said. “It’s good to have him in there some days, especially when things aren’t going right.”
Teague has said Butler is a “good friend” but doesn’t want to get involved in what he has going on off the court.
“I really don’t pay attention to much,” Teague said. “Just kind of stick to myself and do what I’m supposed to do. Stay out of everybody’s way and I just enjoy the process, I honestly do.”
That attitude has served Teague well during his nine previous seasons, which includes nine playoff appearances.
He joined the Wolves a year ago as part of a remade, veteran-influenced roster and endured constant comparisons to previous point guard Ricky Rubio.
Even the most ardent Rubio supporters, though, eventually conceded that Teague’s strengths — reliable outside shooting and a scorer’s mentality around the rim among them — were useful assets on last year’s 47-win team.
Teague missed seven games in January last season because of a knee injury and struggled upon his return but by the end of the season was back to the form that made him an All-Star with the Hawks in 2015 — and helped the Wolves make the playoffs to keep his streak alive. He averaged 16.9 points and 7.4 assists over his last 12 games.
“I’m loving how Jeff is kind of like a good luck charm,” Gibson said. “I have to knock on wood. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
The uncertainty around Butler combined with a strong Western Conference could put that run in jeopardy.
Thibodeau said Teague’s attitude was even keel, even in times of stress. Something that could serve the Wolves well any time during the season.
“All his teammates enjoy playing with him,” Thibodeau said. “He’s not one of those guys that’s yelling and pounding his chest and all that stuff, but he’s a very confident guy and he’s good to have in the locker room. He doesn’t get rattled by things.”
And he might help make sure others don’t as well.