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Timberwolves ace Jimmy Butler trade… then made some other moves

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

From the moment former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau took over the Timberwolves, Minnesota was involved in Jimmy Butler trade rumors. But, as of last year, Chicago reportedly wouldn’t budge without receiving Andrew Wiggins, and I didn’t think that was enough for the Bulls. Since, Butler has only improved and Wiggins moved closer to a max salary that will diminish his value. A deal seemed unlikely.

Then, suddenly the Timberwolves traded for Butler – without surrendering Wiggins. A team bound to improve around Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins is now set to clobber a 13-year playoff drought.

Butler is a star in his prime who’s locked up for two more seasons at an affordable salary. The price to land him – Zach LaVine (injured and up for a contract extension), Kris Dunn (ineffective as a relatively old rookie) and moving down from the No. 7 to No. 16 pick – was absurdly low. By dropping only nine spots rather than give up the No. 7 pick entirely, Thibodeau just stunted on his old bosses.

That fantastic trade started a busy offseason in Minnesota, but the rest of it wasn’t nearly as inspiring. (To be fair, how could it be?)

Going from Ricky Rubio (two years, $29.25 million remaining) to Jeff Teague (three years, $57 million with a player option) at point guard wasn’t ideal in a vacuum. But Teague’s shooting was important considering Butler and Wiggins form a sketchy wing pairing on 3-pointers and Thibodeau insists on playing two traditional bigs. Plus, the Timberwolves got a first-rounder a first-rounder from the Jazz for Rubio.

Another former Bull, Taj Gibson, will bolster Thibodeau’s two-big rotation. But Minnesota already had Gorgui Dieng and Cole Aldrich (who’s overpaid and has disappointed, but can still eat up minutes) to limit the defensive burden on Towns, and No. 16 pick Justin Patton is in the pipeline. Does a 32-year-old Gibson have enough left in the tank to justify a two-year $28 million contract?

Likewise, will a 37-year-old Crawford provide value at the full room exception (two years, $8,872,400 with a player option)? The Timberwolves didn’t need another ball-handler. Butler, Wiggins and Teague can be staggered enough to handle that. Towns should be tasked with a greater offensive role, too. At least Crawford is a solid spot-up shooter, but his defense is a big minus.

Shabazz Muhammad won’t fill Minnesota’s 3-and-D void, either. But on a minimum contract, he was too talented to pass up. Dante Cunningham could help, though he’s better at power forward than on the wing, where the Timberwolves need more depth.

Thibodeau hasn’t exactly instilled faith in his ability to take this franchise into the future. But he hit a home run with the Butler trade, and that buys him leeway.

Offseason grade: A+

Utah Jazz sign Nate Wolters to two-way contract

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz have signed Nate Wolters to a two-way contract.

The 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard played for Crvena Zvezda in Serbia last season, where he averaged 8.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

Wolters was selected No. 38 in the 2013 NBA draft out of South Dakota State by the Washington Wizards. He averaged 7.2 points and 3.2 assists in 58 games with the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2013-14 season. Wolters played 42 games in 2014-15 between the Bucks, Toronto Raptors and New Orleans Pelicans.

New NBA rules allow teams to carry two players with two-way contracts in addition to the 15-man roster. The contract enables players to more easily go back and forth between the NBA and G League.

Entering contract year, Rodney Hood stayed in Utah all summer to work on game

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With Gordon Hayward gone, a lot is going to be asked of Rodney Hood this season in Utah. He will need to be the team’s leading scorer on the perimeter, which means he’s going to have to bring more playmaking to the floor, and he’s got to be more consistent as a shooter. He’s shown flashes, but it can’t be that way anymore.

Oh, and by the way, he’s entering a contract year. Improve his game and his salary goes up.

Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey challenged Hood to step up this offseason, and the two guard stayed in Utah all summer to work on his game with coaches, reports Tony Jones at the Salt Lake Tribune.

Lindsey challenged his shooting guard. He wants more consistency. He wants Hood to visit the free-throw line more often. He wants the guard who is entering a contract year to turn his offensive ability into efficient production
“He told me the truth,” Hood said. “He said he wanted me to get better and to prepare myself for a bigger role.”

This is the time of year when every team raves about the work a player put in, how they lost/gained 15 pounds and is in their best shape of their life, and how they added some skill or shot to their game. Take all of it with a grain of salt until you see it on the court.

This is true of Hood, too, but guys entering contract years have a tendency to improve. And Utah has been a team focused on and successful with internal development of players in recent years. Hood may well be ready to take that step forward.

Hood will be a restricted free agent next summer, unless he and the Jazz come to an agreement on a contract extension before the October deadline. That seems unlikely, Hood is going to want a healthy payday, the Jazz are both going to want to see his development, and know they can match any offer he gets next summer (in a tight market with a number of good two guards available). Maybe the two sides can reach a number, but it’s more likely Hood is playing this season for his next contract.

Report: Jazz, Rodney Hood opening contract extension talks

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Rodney Hood was a key part of Utah’s perimeter attack last season, averaging 12.7 points a game, shooting 37.1 percent from three, and working well as both a spot-up shooter and a guy who can handle the ball on the pick-and-roll and score.

Now with Gordon Hayward in Boston, Hood — a tall 6’8″ shooting guard — is going to be asked to do a lot more.

Which is why the Jazz have opened contract extension talks with him, reports Tony Jones at the Salt Lake Tribune.

The two sides have had preliminary conversations as the Jazz hope Hood can become their primary perimeter scorer this season after Gordon Hayward left for the Boston Celtics. Another meeting is expected to occur in the next few weeks, according to league sources.

Hood, who will enter his fourth season in the league, is eligible for a rookie scale contract extension, with Oct. 16 the deadline to reach an agreement.

If the two sides do not reach a deal by Oct. 16, the deadline, then Hood becomes a restricted free agent next summer.

Of course, the question is price. Hood is a solid two guard but doesn’t quite project to be an All-Star. He’s not a max guy, but he is a quality starter and more will be asked of him now. Four years, $60 million? Maybe a little more? Would Hood take that, or will he bet on himself and let the market set his price next summer (which is a concern because it’s expected to be a tight market).

The Jazz are a stable and fair organization, but they are not going to overpay. We’ll see if they can get a deal done.

Jazz second-rounder Nigel Williams-Goss signs in Serbia

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Five of the six players drafted 51-56 will be on a two-way contract this year.

The exception? No. 55 pick Nigel Williams-Goss.

The Jazz draftee signed a two-year contract with KK Partizan Belgrade.

David Pick:

Williams-Goss , via Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

“Even if I were to make the [Jazz] this year, there weren’t going to be a lot of minutes,” Williams-Goss said. ”At this point in my career, I want to be getting a lot of minutes and staying fresh. If I can do that at a high level with Partizan, I think that will be good for me.”

I’m surprised Williams-Goss didn’t ink a two-way contract. The Salt Lake City Stars would have provided plenty of playing time. If Goss spent at least 14 days, of a maximum 45, in the NBA, he would have earned more than his reported salary in Serbia. This is the type of deal his peers got. Not only could he have remained in the United States, the former Gonzaga guard could have stayed in his home region.

Williams-Goss also could have taken the required tender – a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum, teams must extend to retain exclusive negotiating rights on second-rounders. If he had, he likely would have gotten cut in the preseason.

Utah already has 16 players with standard contracts (one more than the regular-season limit), including 15 with guaranteed salaries. Raul Neto, despite an unguaranteed salary, is likely good enough to make the roster. Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum and Neto don’t leave much room at point guard.

But if waived, Williams-Goss would have become an NBA free agent. The deal with Partizan might not have been available at that point, but Goss could have still earned a salary overseas – or signed a two-way deal with Utah then.

As is, the Jazz can use a two-way spot on someone else. If Williams-Goss develops as hoped in Serbia, he negotiate an NBA contract next season only with Utah. (And the Jazz might be reluctant to pay his buyout unless he’s clearly deserving.)

It’s a sweet deal for Utah. I’m not sure why Williams-Goss went along with it.