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Karl-Anthony Towns on Timberwolves: “It’s fine. Keep sleeping on us.”

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The bottom half of the Western Conference is going to a tight race going into late March and April. Good teams — San Antonio, Dallas, Sacramento, New Orleans — could all be battling for one, maybe a couple of playoff spots (especially if an expected playoff team falls back to the pack).

Karl-Anthony Towns says don’t leave Minnesota out of that mix.

Towns believes that nationally fans and the media are sleeping on the Timberwolves — which is true — and he told Marc Spears of The Undefeated that would be a mistake.

“Everyone always sleeps on people in Minnesota because they don’t hear our name a lot,” Towns, who was named a 2019 NBA Western Conference All-Star, told The Undefeated. “That’s fine. That’s cool. We are going to come from the underground and just find ourselves in the playoffs if we continue to do what we’re doing. …

“It’s fine. Keep sleeping on us.”

The Timberwolves made the playoffs two seasons ago, Jimmy Butler‘s first with the team. Last season, after Butler torpedoed the squad in training camp with a public and messy trade demand, Minnesota never recovered (and Tom Thibodeau lost his job).

If Minnesota is going to make the playoffs Towns is going to have to take a step forward, being more of a facilitator on offense (coach Ryan Saunders needs to get him high-post touches) and more consistent on defense. But that is just the start. Robert Covington, Minnesota’s second-best player, has to lead an improved defense. Andrew Wiggins has to do more than get empty-calorie points (18.1 per game last season), and he’s got to be more efficient.  Josh Okogie needs to take a step forward and rookie Jarrett Culver must contribute. Jeff Teague, Gorgui Dieng, and Jordan Bell all need to fill their roles.

Which is a lot of things that need go right, leading to a lot of that sleeping on the Timberwolves.

It’s up to Towns and company to prove us all wrong.

Report: Andrew Wiggins’ contract extension was central to Jimmy Butler’s unhappiness with Timberwolves

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In 2017, Andrew Wiggins signed a five-year, max contract extension with the Timberwolves.

In 2018, Jimmy Butler requested a trade from the Timberwolves.

You can apparently draw a straight line between those two events.

Bobby Marks of ESPN:

Wiggins has failed to live up to expectations, and the extension was at the root of Jimmy Butler’s unhappiness in Minnesota, league sources confirmed.

Wiggins’ contract troubled Butler in a couple ways.

Butler called Wiggins the “most god-gifted player on our team.” The problem: Butler was way better than Wiggins. That clearly bothered Butler, who scraped his way to the top. It’s easy to see how he’d view Wiggins as having more just handed to him and resent Wiggins for it.

When Butler was up for a contract extension with the Bulls, they reportedly told him they’d bury him behind Tony Snell if he didn’t sign. Wiggins’ hurdle for getting a max contract extension? He had to look the owner in the eyes and promise to try really hard.

Wiggins’ has regressed since signing his extension, leaving Minnesota with limited flexibility around his massive contract. Butler felt the brunt of that, too.

Last summer, he reportedly requested a renegotiation-and-extension that would’ve added four years and $155 million to his deal. But the Timberwolves didn’t have the cap space to make that happen – in large part because of Wiggins’ deal.

Of course, Butler knew that. It was unrealistic for Minnesota to trade Wiggins without bringing back salary at that point. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if Butler’s renegotiation-and-extension request were designed to create an excuse for a trade request. He might have wanted out for reasons other than just his own contract status.

Like the Timberwolves being saddled for years to come by an underachieving Wiggins on a max contract.

Butler got away, finding a great fit and a max contract with the Heat. Minnesota is still dealing with the same problem.

Joel Embiid on Jimmy Butler: ‘I wish he was still on the team’

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After Jimmy Butler had issues in Minnesota with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins (and reacted by blowing up the Timberwolves’ season), there were questions about how Butler would get along with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia.

Turns out, pretty darn well.

Butler and Embiid formed a bond as they led the Sixers to a Game 7 against the eventual champion Toronto Raptors, a game the Sixers only lost because of an insane shot from the corner by Kawhi Leonard over Embiid. (Or, the Raptors got a lucky bounce if you’re viewing it through Sixers goggles.)

However, it turns out the bond wasn’t strong enough to get Butler to stay, he decided to take his talents to South Beach. Embiid wishes he would have stayed, he told Rachel Nichols on ESPN’s The Jump today (with the full interview coming Oct. 23 when the Sixers open the season).

“It was a big loss because me and him, we got to the point where we were really close – we’re still close. We talk a lot, that’s my guy, that’s my brother forever. I wish he was still on the team, because I feel like the relationship that I built with him could have gone a long way. When it was the fourth quarter, we knew the ball would either be in me or Jimmy’s hands. I knew I could count on him. This year it kind of changes around. Now other guys have to step up and I have to do more.”

That’s one of the big questions for the Sixers: Who has the ball at the ends of games? Embiid can get buckets, but he’s not a shot creator. Philly needs Ben Simmons or Tobias Harris (or someone) to step up and be the perimeter creator who can sometimes feed Embiid.

Even with the loss of Butler, the Sixers are one of the favorites to come out of the East. Embiid said they should right there, but he understands they have to fill Butler’s shoes.

“I think we should be up there. Obviously, we still have to prove ourselves. We lost a big piece in Jimmy, he did a lot of great things for us, but we should be up there. On paper, we got a really good team so now it’s on us to go out there and actually prove it.”

The Sixers are going to be really good, with one of the best defenses in the NBA. What that means next playoffs remains to be seen, but the Sixers have plenty of time to work out how to fill Butler’s shoes before then.

Jarrett Culver enlivens Timberwolves’ otherwise-quiet offseason

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NBC Sports’ 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.

The Timberwolves are the only team with two max-salary players under age 29. Heck, they’re the only team with two max-salary players under age 25.

But Minnesota isn’t set.

Far from it.

Though Karl-Anthony Towns (23) is already a star and sometimes looks like a budding superstar, Andrew Wiggins (24) has stagnated on his max extension. Add expensive contracts for Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng, and the Timberwolves have limited cap flexibility. With veterans too good to allow deep tanking, Minnesota also has limited means to upgrade through the draft.

New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was likely always bound to limit his impact this summer. Minnesota faced few clear pressing decisions. Any big moves would start the clock toward Rosas getting evaluated on his prestigious job. In one of his main decisions, Rosas retained head coach Ryan Saunders, an ownership favorite.

Yet, in this environment, Rosas still found a simple way to add a potential long-term difference maker.

The Timberwolves entered the draft with the No. 11 pick – right after a near-consensus top 10 would’ve been off the board. They left the draft with No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver.

All it took to trade up with the Suns was Dario Saric, who would’ve helped Minnesota this season but probably not enough to achieve meaningful success. He’ll become a free agent next summer and is in line for a raise the Timberwolves might not wanted to give.

Culver is not a lock to flourish in the NBA. But Minnesota had no business adding a prospect with so much potential. This was a coup.

Otherwise, the Timberwolves remained predictably quiet, tinkering on the fringe of the rotation. They added Jake Layman (three years, $11,283,255) in a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers. They took Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham off the hands of the hard-capped Warriors, getting cash for their trouble. They signed Noah Vonleh (one year, $2 million) and Jordan Bell (one year, minimum). They claimed Tyrone Wallace off waivers.

With their own free agents getting bigger offers, Minnesota didn’t match Tyus Jones‘ offer sheet with the Grizzlies (three years, $26,451,429) and watched Derrick Rose walk to the Pistons (two years, $15 million). For where the Timberwolves are, the far-cheaper Napier should handle backup point guard just fine.

Minnesota is methodically gaining flexibility. Teague’s contract expires next summer, Dieng’s the summer after that. The big question is how to handle Wiggins, but that will wait.

With Towns locked in the next five years, Rosas has plenty of runway before he must take off. Nabbing Culver was a heck of a way to accelerate from the gate.

Offseason grade: B-

Minnesota’s Gersson Rosas says Andrew Wiggins must be ‘main contributor’ to T-wolves

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Last season in Minnesota — with Jimmy Butler torpedoing the team and ending the Tom Thibodeau era — was pretty much the figurative definition of a train wreck.

Out of that wreckage, the Timberwolves think they found some positives. Ryan Sunders was thrown into the fire as a young coach but bonded with Karl-Anthony Towns. Robert Covington sparked the defense before his injury. Josh Okogie emerged as a player. This summer the team drafted a player with a lot of potential in Jarrett Culver.

Minnesota also brought in the aggressive Gersson Rosas out of Houston to take over as team president and start reshaping the franchise into one that can live up to the promise of Towns’ potential. For that to start to happen, meaning a return to the playoffs, Rosas pointed to a couple of things needing to go right this season. First and foremost, they need more — and more consistency — out of Andrew Wiggins. Via Timberwolves writer/podcaster Dane Moore.

Most Timberwolves fans, and the rest of the league, have moved on from Wiggins, who has four years, $122 million left on his max contract. While he averaged 18.1 points per game last season, he doesn’t get those buckets efficiently nor consistently, and the result is an average/slightly below-average wing whose contract is an anchor on the franchise. We’ve learned no contract is untradable in the NBA, but this is as close to that line as it gets — the sweeteners Minnesota would have to throw in right now make a deal are prohibitive.

The only thing Minnesota can hope for is that in year six Wiggins takes some steps forward he did not take in the last five. Maybe continuity helps, but we’re all going to need to see it before we believe it.

The other thing Rosas said Minnesota needs: More consistent defense from Towns.

Saunders seemed to connect with Towns and got him to defend, and Covington played MIC linebacker calling out coverages and getting guys in position before his injury. Rosas said Covington would be good to go at the start of the season, if so that gives the Timberwolves real hope that the defense will improve.

Whether all of that will be enough to get them into the playoffs in a deep West is another question, but at least Minnesota seems to be moving in the right direction now.