With Jimmy Butler trade looming, Wolves take trip west for bonding

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – For a team that didn’t make any major moves during the summer, the Minnesota Timberwolves sure have their share of new players this season.

The critical process of familiarization and integration will speed up over the next week, in the form of a trip to California to continue training camp and play a couple of exhibition games while Jimmy Butler‘s unresolved trade request looms in the background.

The Timberwolves will be out of town for seven days, a prime time for bonding.

“They can spend a lot of time together. We’ll have good practices, some film sessions, some team dinners, so I think it’s good,” coach Tom Thibodeau said Thursday, before the traveling party boarded a plane for the Bay Area. The Wolves play the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors on Friday night.

With draft picks Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop and veterans Anthony Tolliver and Luol Deng, the Wolves will sport a significantly different look to their bench. When – or if, as Thibodeau has insisted – the Butler deal goes down, the freshness factor of the roster will only increase.

“Not a new team, but damn near a new team,” said Andrew Wiggins, who has had Derrick Rose next to him on the wing instead of Butler with the first unit with Jeff Teague at point guard and Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns in the frontcourt.

Deng, who signed with the Wolves just 2 1/2 weeks ago after being let go by the Los Angeles Lakers, doesn’t figure to factor heavily in the rotation as his 15th year in the league unfolds. Thibodeau wouldn’t have added him, though, if he didn’t plan to use him some.

“I’m happy just to be back playing, night in and night out. I have an opportunity,” Deng said. “Last year I was told from the start of the season that I wasn’t going to play. So it’s a different fire.”

Another or player or two would likely be moved along with Butler to consummate such a blockbuster trade, creating another level of uncertainty surrounding the club with the season opener fast approaching on Oct. 17. Backup center Gorgui Dieng, who has three years left on his contract at an annual average of $15.7 million, would certainly be a candidate for salary-cap relief.

Still, most of the players have expressed a nonchalant attitude toward the absence of Butler, the four-time All-Star who helped shepherd the Wolves to the playoffs last spring to snap a 13-year streak of sitting out.

“All we can do is come in here and hoop, play hard, stay competitive and try to win,” Wiggins said. “The rest of that is up to the coaches, GM, owner, all that.”

The rookies Okogie and Bates-Diop have been undergoing a big adjustment, moving from the college game to the pros. Tolliver has to learn Thibodeau’s system, style and expectations. Wiggins, though, has an equally weighty task of asserting himself as more of a go-to player.

“It’s going to be tough. When you don’t have a guy like Jimmy out there, the workload’s going to get even harder for you,” Gibson said. “But I felt like Wig did a good job last year, especially when Jimmy went down.”

Through three days of training camp, at least, Wiggins has begun to do just that.

“Demanding the ball, hitting great shots, being real physical,” Gibson said. “That’s things we all count on him doing.”

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Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.