Associated Press

Without Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves move on with warm welcome for newbies

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Jerryd Bayless walked into their hotel rooms in Minnesota, they found appropriate gifts from Timberwolves All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns: winter coats.

After the overnight temperature dropped to 7 degrees, the newest members of the team by way of the Jimmy Butler trade with Philadelphia appreciated the welcome from Minnesota’s best player. Butler’s awkward and drawn-out departure created an icy atmosphere around the organization, but now that the deal is finally done, the Wolves have begun trying to warm the atmosphere back up.

“We can’t wait to get on the court, put on that jersey and put it on for this city,” Covington said at a news conference inside Target Center on Tuesday afternoon that carried just a bit less buzz than Butler’s open-to-the-public introduction at the Mall of America less than 17 months ago.

As Butler formally joined the 76ers , the Wolves pivoted forward after a pressure-relieving win over Brooklyn on Monday night following an 0-5 road trip.

Neither Covington nor Saric played against the Nets, but they’re on track to take the floor on Wednesday night against New Orleans. Bayless is injured, rehabilitating a hyperextended right knee, and with a glut of point guards on the roster he’s not expected to see playing time even once he’s healthy. Both Covington and Saric were starters for the Sixers, who finished third in the Eastern Conference last season at 52-30.

“They’re both young, and they’re going to get better. Both are very good defensively. They both shoot the 3. We think they fit well with the guys that we do have,” said president of basketball operations and coach Tom Thibodeau. “Once we got to that point where we felt we were getting multiple rotational players, then we felt it would be time to execute the deal. When we initially started off, that wasn’t the case.”

As for whether the Timberwolves could be better without Butler, the four-time All-Star with exceptional ability on both ends on the court, Thibodeau demurred.

“We have to focus on who’s here. We think we have a good, young nucleus, and we have to build off of that,” Thibodeau said.

Covington is the centerpiece of the package.

The 27-year-old, who went undrafted out of Tennessee State and began in the NBA with Houston in the 2013-14 season, has career averages of 12.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game with a 35.9 shooting percentage from 3-point range. The 6-foot-9 Covington was an All-Defensive First Team pick last season with a career-most 315 deflections and a defensive rating of 99.0 that led all forwards in the league with at least 30 minutes per game. He was ninth in the NBA in steals with an average of 1.7 per game.

That’s the area where he’ll help the Timberwolves the most, the area that Butler was also acquired to help improve.

“In order to stay in this league and be effective, you’ve got to be able to go down there and be able to stop somebody on the other end,” Covington said, adding: “I think I watched more film the first few years than I’ve ever watched my entire life, as far as just different guys and watching how they read certain things and build the habits of watching players and everything. So I’d say the past couple seasons is when everything started to click.”

The 24-year-old Saric was named to the All-Rookie First Team in 2016-17. The native of Croatia has career averages of 13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He shot 39.3 percent from 3-point range last season.

Covington will likely fill Butler’s starting spot. Thibodeau could move Taj Gibson to the second unit and keep Saric as a starter. The 6-foot-10 Saric, who was the 12th overall pick in the 2014 draft, is the classic “stretch four” with a power forward’s size and a small forward’s shot. He meshed well with Sixers center Joel Embiid, so Towns has the potential to similarly complement his game.

“KAT is shooting so much better from the 3-point line than Joel, and it seems like we can play with each other,” Saric said, adding: “If I find a way how to play with Joel, I think I can find a way how to play with KAT.”

 

Watch Kawhi Leonard strip DeMar DeRozan, get dunk to put Raptors up for good

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DeMar DeRozan was welcomed back to Toronto Friday night with a standing ovation — DeRozan is still the most beloved Raptor in franchise history.

But with the game on the line, Kawhi Leonard showed everyone why Toronto made the trade.

Leonard stripped the ball from DeRozan at midcourt and took it in for a dunk that put Toronto up for good.

The Spurs missed their next shot and a couple Leonard free throws after that iced it.

Leonard had 25 points in the game while Pascal Siakam added 22 — those are the two guys who can make this postseason in Toronto different from the previous ones.

Draymond Green reportedly to switch agents to Rich Paul

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This summer, the Golden State Warriors need to deal with the free agency of Klay Thompson (expected by sources around the league to re-sign and stay) and Kevin Durant (those same sources think he leans toward leaving).

The following summer of 2020 it’s Draymond Green who is up. Will he have a max offer waiting from the Warriors?

In anticipation of what’s to come, Green is reportedly switching agents to Rich Paul, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green is close to hiring Rich Paul of Klutch Sports as his basketball representation, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

He was previously repped by Wasserman.

Paul most famously represents LeBron James and Anthony Davis, although he has a number of other clients.

I’ll say about this switch what I said when Davis switched to Klutch at the start of this past season: Rich Paul is not the guy you hire if the plan is just to automatically sign the contract put in front of you.

Green is a former Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time All-NBA player, and this season he is averaging 7.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game. However, there has been debate around the league about whether his next contract should be a max, or more accurately, should it be a max at the full five years? Or at the four years other teams can offer? The defensive versatility Green brings Golden State is unquestioned — the Warriors are not the Warriors without his ability to guard fives effectively — he is a fantastic passer, and he is the emotional bellwether for the team in many ways. However, he’s shooting 25 percent from three this season (and teams dare him to take that shot now), doesn’t really create on offense (the Warriors can easily hide that with their starters right now), and there are thoughts that he hits free agency at age 29 and his game will not age well. Green also has had a very public clash with Kevin Durant.

What the Warriors will do with Green may hinge in part on happens this summer. If Durant decides to re-sign with Golden State could they then look to trade Green? Also, Green is extension eligible this summer, but with the Warriors cap situation, the raise the Warriors could offer Green will be well below what he likely makes on the open market in 2020. There are a lot of moving parts in the Warriors’ future. And Green’s.

It looks like Rich Paul will be part of that future now as well.

Grizzlies’ standout rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. out indefinitely with deep thigh bruise

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Jarren Jackson Jr. looked like a future franchise cornerstone in Memphis this season. He’s averaged 13.8 points a game, shot 35.9 percent from three, grabbed 4.7 points per game, played good defense as a rookie, been improving, and as the Grizzlies enter a rebuild he will be what the team is building around in the paint.

However, he’s going to miss some time now with a thigh bruise, the team announced Friday night. From the official announcement:

Grizzlies forward/center Jaren Jackson Jr. suffered a deep thigh bruise and will be out indefinitely. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Expect the Grizzlies to be cautious and take their time bringing him back, he may no return this season. In part because they should be cautious with an injury to a future cornerstone, but also in part because they are trying to hang on to their draft pick this year, which is top eight protected (otherwise it goes to Boston). Currently the Grizzlies have the sixth worst record in the league and only a four percent chance of losing their pick, but fall farther back in the standings and the odds get even better they keep it.

Watch Paul George drain game-winning floater in 2OT, lift Thunder past Jazz

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Paul George floated in a basket with less than a second remaining in double-overtime, capping a 45-point night with the winning shot in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 148-147 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday.

George dribbled out the final seconds before splitting the Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio double team then hitting a rainbow floater over Rudy Gobert 0.8 seconds left that gave the Thunder the win.

Kyle Korver got off a desperate 3 for Utah, but it went long as the buzzer sounded.

Russell Westbrook added 43 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists, helping Oklahoma City overcome 38 points from Donovan Mitchell. Westbrook fouled out with 1:09 left in the first overtime, ending his NBA streak of 11 consecutive games with a triple-double.

The game went to overtime after the Thunder’s Jerami Grant completed a tying three-point play, then blocked Mitchells shot at the other end. Grant had 18 points.

In the first overtime, Abdel Nader hit a 3-pointer to give the Thunder a 139-137 lead in the final minute after Westbrook and Terrance Ferguson had fouled out. Utah’s Rudy Gobert tipped in the tying basket with 33.7 seconds left, and George and Mitchell eached missed jumpers in the closing seconds.

Gobert hit two free throws with 1:10 left in the second overtime for a 147-146 lead, but Utah went cold from there. Mitchell’s driving shot off the glass missed the rim, and Joe Ingles missed on a long 3-point try as the shot clock expired with 13.2 seconds left.

Steven Adams played a game-high 47 minutes for Oklahoma City, returning from a pre-All-Star break ankle injury to score 16 points and grab 10 rebounds to go along with five steals.

Derek Favors hit his first 10 shots, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds for Utah. Gobert had 26 points and 16 rebounds for the Jazz.

The teams were physical throughout. Westbrook got a flagrant foul for crashing into Gobert while defending a layup, and there was a fracas late in the first half after Jae Crowder fouled the Thunder’s Dennis Schroder.