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Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor expecting big jump next season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Timberwolves coach and president Tom Thibodeau is meeting with his staff to put together an aggressive game plan for the summer in hopes of adding some defensive tenacity to a young team that never quite got it on that end of the floor in his first season on the job.

Owner Glen Taylor hopes the stability of having the same coach for two straight seasons for the first time since 2013 will help the team move past yet another disappointing season.

Thibodeau is the Wolves’ fourth coach in the last four seasons. Flip Saunders died of lymphoma in October 2015, and the team decided to move on from interim coach Sam Mitchell last April after he went 29-53 in his one season. Thibodeau was given a five-year deal last summer to take over and instill his attention to detail and defensive focus to an impressionable young team, but they won just two more games this season than last with little discernible improvement on defense.

“I’m of a belief that if they say that’s one of the factors, of course I’m going to say that my expectations are pretty high for next year because we have the same coach and he’s coming back,” Taylor told The Associated Press on Friday. “If you really believe that’s (the problem), then we’ve solved our problem. I don’t know if it’s going to be that easy. I wish it was that easy.”

Thibodeau held his season-ending press conference Friday, two days after they finished the year with a sixth straight loss. The Wolves went 3-13 in their final 16 games and finished the year ranked 26th in the league in defensive efficiency. He said they will head into this summer prioritizing adding shot-blocking, wing defense and shooting after the team finished last in 3-pointers made and attempted.

“I think every person in our organization has to ask what can we do different to change what has happened here over the last 13 years?” Thibodeau said. “That’s from top to bottom, there has to be a determination and a will to change it.”

That’s exactly what Taylor wants to hear. He hired the hard-driving Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden with an aim to expedite the learning process for a team with young stars Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. While all three young players and point guard Ricky Rubio exhibited significant improvement on offense under Thibodeau, the poor finish to the season and lack of improvement on defense concerned an owner that sits courtside nearly every night.

After starting the season 6-18, the Wolves seemed to find themselves around the All-Star break. They won six times in eight games, beating Denver, Dallas, Golden State, Utah and the Clippers to creep back into playoff contention. Then the defense took a nose dive and the Wolves faded.

“I’m a little bit concerned because it’s not logical to me what happened, that we just went along and we were playing good and we fell back into maybe old habits or old style of play,” Taylor said. “I have no explanation for that. I think it’s my job to make sure that I sit down with the coaches, Scott, everybody and ask them what do they think went wrong there.”

Thibodeau attributed the struggles to the team’s youth, injuries to LaVine and Nemanja Bjelica and his focus on immersing Towns and Wiggins in his system to prioritize laying the foundation for long-term success over winning games in the short term.

“It has to start with Karl and Wigg in that they have to make the commitment,” Thibodeau said. “In order to get all the things that they want to achieve, it has to start with them.”

Now if the Wolves are going to end a 13-year playoff drought that is the longest active skid in the NBA, they are likely going to have to make at least a 10-victory jump to do it, and probably more.

“It’s not like I’m upset and not like I’m mad,” he said. “I’m concerned because I know our task is going to be a little bit more difficult next year.”

Taylor and Thibodeau were both encouraged by Towns blossoming into an unstoppable offensive force and Rubio’s career year from a shooting standpoint that gave the pass-first point guard another dimension. Now the Wolves need to add some veteran help and it’s always been difficult to lure free agents to cold and snowy Minnesota, especially when the Wolves have not made the playoffs since 2004.

“I think guys will come here because they want to play with these guys that can win,” Taylor said. “But I sure wish we would’ve done better because we could’ve said `see we are on the right track.”‘

Report: Russell Westbrook may sign “designated player” extension with Thunder on July 1

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Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP, coming off a historic season where he averaged a triple-double.

Westbrook also could see a massive pay raise this summer. Yes, you remember correctly that Westbrook signed one last summer after Kevin Durant left, but the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that kicks in July 1 grandfathered him (and James Harden, who also signed an extension last summer) in to get the “designated veteran” max contract. That would start at about $34.7 million (if the cap is at $99 million as expected) and go up from there.

Thunder management’s first call at midnight July 1 will be to Westbrook to offer the deal, and he may well take it reports Royce Young of ESPN.

Those close to Westbrook fully expect him to take the Thunder’s offer, quite possibly at 12:01 a.m., and stabilize the franchise and present a clear road map. Westbrook signed an extension last summer and invoked the word “loyalty” for a reason. He wanted to make a statement — a public declaration — and take on the burden of leading the franchise forward.

He likes the existing roster and has a close relationship and confidence in Presti and Weaver. He has built a strong bond with head coach Billy Donovan. He knew what he signed for and, with the Thunder coming off a successful first post-Durant season and with pieces in place to improve the team, there are a lot of reasons to commit again.

If Westbrook signs this, the Thunder can get on with the business of improving this roster — which will be next to impossible. The Thunder are capped out and have to re-sign restricted free agent Andre Roberson. Sam Presti is a smart man, but his hands are mostly tied due to some of the big contracts on the roster (ones that would have been no issue if Kevin Durant had stayed). The Thunder will make moves around the edges, but it’s going to take time to do anything substantial.

If Westbrook doesn’t sign this, more than just red flags will go up in OKC — this will be sirens and flashing red lights. The Thunder will be forced to think about trading Westbrook, or finding a way to keep him happy and in house. They will basically be right back to where they were last summer.

If Westbrook signs it — and he likely will, that’s a lot of money to leave on the table — it at least gives the Thunder a clear direction. Which is about all they can hope for this summer.

Bulls: No decision yet on Rajon Rondo’s future with team

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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls are not ready to say whether veteran point guard Rajon Rondo will be back for a second season.

Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson says that “is still to be determined.” The Bulls can pay Rondo $13.4 million or buy him out for $3 million by Friday’s deadline.

Paxson spoke Tuesday during a news conference to introduce newcomers Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and rookie Lauri Markkanen, who were acquired from Minnesota for Jimmy Butler on draft night. The Bulls were planning to meet Tuesday with Rondo’s agent Bill Duffy, who represents LaVine.

Paxson also says a buyout on Dwyane Wade after he exercised his $23.8 million option “has not been broached.” Paxson says the Bulls, at least for now, assume Wade will play for Chicago.

Report: Chris Paul met with Clipper officials to talk future of franchise, himself

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Chris Paul is going to talk to a lot of teams this summer, but if you ask people around the league, most seem to think he will re-sign with the Clippers. The ultimate reason is money: As president of the players’ union he helped steer the new CBA negotiations, which included changing the “over 36 rule” — limiting max contracts to players who turn 36 during the time of the deal — into the “over 38 rule.” That meant 32-year-old Paul could sign one more five-year max contract.

Paul also wants to win, and it’s hard to see how the assembled team in Los Angeles — which is certainly a top 5-7 NBA team, maybe a little higher when healthy — picks up a ring. Especially with the Golden State juggernaut not going anywhere.

Paul has started talking to the Clippers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

I doubt that discussion was much about money — the Clippers will offer a five-year max contract. That’s not even up for debate.

The discussion was how to build the Clippers into a contender. Will Blake Griffin, also a free agent, be back and be part of that? What about J.J. Redick? Can the Clippers get the cap space to lure huge free agents in 2018? LeBron James reportedly wants to come to Los Angeles, although whether he wants to be a Clipper is another question. (For the record, I don’t buy the idea LeBron would “never” be a Clipper. While it may be highly unlikely, people I have spoken to around the league closer to LeBron’s thinking say he wants to keep every option open, play out next season, then see where things stand. He would not fully rule out playing with Chris Paul, who could still be in L.A.)

The Clippers have backed themselves into a corner by trading away picks for veterans, and not developing young players into guys who can contribute in the rotation. When was the last time the Clippers had their Patrick McCaw or Dewayne Dedmon? Without those young, affordable players, it becomes hard to put a good roster together and keep it together. It’s part of what Jerry West — with some help from GM Lawrence Frank — need to bring to Doc Rivers’ Clippers.

That’s likely part of the discussion, too.

There’s a lot for the sides to talk about.

Michael Jordan sent Russell Westbrook personal MVP congratulatory note

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Russell Westbrook is one of the biggest stars in the NBA, he’s now an MVP, and he wears Jordan Brand Nikes.

Still, it has to be a bit humbling to get a personal, signed note from Michael Jordan himself.

Which is exactly what he got on Tuesday, a congratulatory note from the GOAT.

The note said (in all caps):

Congrats Russell.

I got buy first MVP award before my first ring, too… keep going!

It was then signed by Jordan.

Westbrook could probably fill a second home with memorabilia from his career, but this is one he’s likely going to keep safe.