The headline on the Wall Street Journal article read “Hey Warriors, Watch Out” and detailed how the Timberwolves’ draft-night trade for Jimmy Butler made them a future, if not quite immediate, challenger to the Golden State Warriors for NBA supremacy. The Warriors’ dynamic lineup makes it appear they are the team to beat for the next few years.
The article discussed how the whole point of the NBA lottery is to give bad teams the chance to select a future star player. But even if you draft superstar LeBron James, as Cleveland did in 2003, it took the Cavaliers two years to make the playoffs.
So when the Wolves were able to nab Butler, they sped up their timeline.
“The Minnesota Timberwolves, who finished 31-51 and haven’t made the playoffs in more than a decade, became one of the NBA’s better teams overnight,” Ben Cohen wrote.
“The Timberwolves were somehow able to swing a blockbuster deal for Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler that secures their core of Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins for years to come. They’re not beating the Golden State Warriors this year. But they’re now one of the few teams in the NBA that have the makings of something that might — might! — be able to beat the Warriors in the next several years.”
That possibility led the Wolves to deal two of their young guards, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, for a three-time All-Star in Butler.
The NBA is becoming a league where each team needs several stars to compete, as everyone saw Wednesday when Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets to team up with James Harden, who is coming off one of the greatest offensive seasons of all time.
While LaVine might become an offensive star and Dunn might become a defensive standout, neither seemed likely to become a dynamic two-way player like Butler. That’s why Wolves bosses Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden made a gutsy move that the entire organization acknowledged was quite difficult.
Still, as the WSJ article pointed out, this deal was about turning potential into real talent and real playoff hope.
“Butler is a 27-year-old All-Star in his prime,” Cohen wrote. “But what makes him especially valuable is that he’s under contract at a reasonable price for at least the next two years.
“The Timberwolves already had foundational pieces in Wiggins and Towns, the No. 1 picks of the 2014 and 2015 drafts, because that’s how a team like the Timberwolves had to be assembled. Minnesota is a lovely place with charming people. It is not a destination for NBA free agents. At least not yet. The Timberwolves’ most reliable way of getting stars was drafting them — or trading for them with players they had already drafted.”
Butler might not be the face of the NBA in the way James or players such as the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are, but teaming him with Towns and Wiggins means that soon, the Wolves might be one of the most improved franchises in the NBA.
Hoiberg likes deal
Former Wolves player and front office executive Fred Hoiberg, who has coached the Bulls for the past two seasons, will be reconfiguring the team as it moves on from Butler, and possibly veterans such as guards Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade.
Hoiberg has gone 83-81 in his first two seasons in Chicago. The Bulls were the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference this year and had the top-seeded Boston Celtics on the ropes in the first round of the playoffs by winning the first two games of the series in Boston, but a thumb injury to Rondo ended the team’s chances.
Now Hoiberg might be looking at a complete rebuild. He told the Chicago Tribune he likes what he sees from Dunn and LaVine and is excited to have Arizona 7-foot forward Lauri Markkanen, who the Bulls selected with the Wolves’ No. 7 pick after the Butler trade. He doesn’t mind going young with his roster.
“We’re going to have a lot of young players. We had a lot of young players last year,” Hoiberg said. “We were one of five teams that played five players in their first or second year in the league. The other four were Philadelphia, Phoenix, New York and Miami. We have a lot of young players in this program.
“… To add to that some very talented players, Markkanen is not even 20 years old yet, and also with LaVine, who’s a very young player, and Kris Dunn going into his second year. So we’ve got a lot of young guys that have gotten a lot of experience in the last couple seasons, and to add three new and exciting guys to that mix is something that I’m excited about as a coach.”
Tom Swain, who I rate as the most notable civic leader in the Twin Cities over the past century, will raise the flag before the Twins’ July 4 home game against the Angels.
Swain, a World War II veteran, will turn 96 on July 4.
I don’t know of any one person who has been involved in so many things to make the Twin Cities what it is today than Tom Swain. Nobody did more for me than he did when I broke in as a reporter with about as little background as you could have at the time.
He’s one of the most highly decorated people in Twin Cities history. He was the mayor of Lilydale and won a National Governors Association Award. From the University of Minnesota alone, he has received an Alumni Service Award, an honorary doctor of laws degree and the David W. Preus Leadership Award.
Swain’s son, also named Tom, wrote the Twins that, “Dad was very involved keeping the Twins in Minnesota during the ‘contraction’ years. I believe he met with Minnesota government officials and with [then-MLB Commissioner] Bud Selig to make the case for the Twins.”
It will be another great honor to see Swain raise the flag for the Twins on his 96th birthday.
• The Twins are staying in contention for postseason play, and if the season ended today, they would be a wild card team. They are rated ninth in the MLB power rankings, according to CBSSports.com.
• How big is the Butler trade? Jimmy Shapiro of Bovada out of Las Vegas reports that the Wolves’ NBA title odds have improved from 100-1 to 50-1 — good for the seventh-best odds in the league — trailing only the Warriors, Cavaliers, Rockets, Celtics, Spurs and Wizards. But first the Wolves have to finally reach the playoffs. They still hold the longest current streak of missing the NBA postseason at 13 years.
• Do the Twins have any interest in one of their former relievers, Pat Neshek, because of the great season he is having for the floundering Phillies? The Park Center product has appeared in 33 games, striking out 29 over 30⅔ innings and giving up only two earned runs on 20 hits, good for a 0.59 ERA.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. on Monday and Friday and at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org