Because it was a preseason game, it was difficult to ascertain just how the crowd was feeling about the current state of the Timberwolves.
A relatively small crowd makes for an unreliable poll.
Friday’s game vs. Oklahoma City at Target Center — the third of five on the preseason slate and the only one to be played in Minneapolis — drew an announced crowd of 9,807, though it appeared far smaller. Some in the arena offered up boos when coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau was introduced before the game.
Over the next four quarters there wasn’t much reason to cheer. Never leading, the Wolves were defeated 113-101 by a Thunder team playing without Russell Westbrook.
Paul George (23 points) and center Steve Adams (14 points, 13 rebounds) led an OKC attack that had seven players in double figures.
The Wolves were led by Karl-Anthony Towns’ 23 points. Jeff Teague had 17.
Minnesota was out-rebounded 57-39. The Thunder also had a 58-44 edge on points in the paint, 18-10 on second-chance points and 12-2 on the break.
Down 22 in the second quarter, the Wolves pulled within 11 late in the third, before the Thunder finished the quarter on a 7-2 run
It appears the player who isn’t here is still a dominating presence. Jimmy Butler hasn’t been traded yet, and we’re well past a week since he asked out. While the team was working its way along the California coast, it was easier to keep the Butler situation on the back burner. But Friday the Wolves were home, Butler was still waiting and so is everybody else. And the team looked less than focused.
Heading into the game, Thibodeau was keen to talk about what he’d seen in the first two games, and what needed work, with defense atop the list. Close behind: Ball movement on offense, avoiding the slow start that hurt the team in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
But when the conversation switched to Butler? After Friday’s morning shoot-around Thibodeau was asked how he felt about discussions regarding a Butler trade. Thibodeau paused, then: “They’re ongoing.”
End of interview.
Fact is, just about everybody is waiting for the other sneaker to fall, with the regular season opener less than two weeks away.
At least a few members of the Wolves said they would welcome Butler back should he somehow wind up back in a Minnesota uniform.
“Jimmy’s my guy,” guard Jeff Teague said. “So, he’s a professional. I know he’s going to come in, work hard. You all know that. He’s a team guy. He gives it all. I think he’d be accepted. But I guess we’ll see.”
Should the situation drag out, would it become harder? “Just being honest, it’d be nice to have him back. But it’s not up to me.”
Andrew Wiggins said any team with Butler on the roster is going to be better.
“Jimmy, he’s always a plus, you know?” he said.
It was Taj Gibson who echoed most closely what has become the company line.
“Right now I’m just trying to focus on the guys we have in the locker room now,” he said. “They’re putting a lot of work in. … My objective is to go out there and try to help the guys we have here. Hopefully everyone has a positive outlook and comes back together.’’