Gorgui Dieng

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LeBron James blows by Gorgui Dieng then puts him on a poster

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LeBron James battled foul trouble in the first half against Minnesota, picking up four and only playing 12 minutes because of it.

When he was on the court, however, he was dominant — 16 points on 10 shots, with a couple of deep threes.

Then LeBron did this to Gorgui Dieng.

That’s just not fair.

In the video, watch the reaction of the Laker bench — that group is having fun.

The Lakers led 73-65 at halftime of this defensive struggle game in Los Angeles. Anthony Davis had 27 on 12-of-15 shooting in the first half.

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.

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-

Jordan Bell reportedly agrees to one-year deal with Timberwolves

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Jordan Bell brought a lot of athleticism off the bench for the Warriors. He also brought enough young player mistakes to frustrate coach Steve Kerr, this was a team thinking title after all. Bell’s minutes were up and down in Golden State.

They should be more consistent in Minnesota, where he is headed according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

This is a one-year, $1.6 million deal for the former Long Beach Poly Jackrabbit and Oregon Duck.

At that price, this is a good pickup by the Timberwolves.

Bell can be undersized at 6’9″ as a big in the paint, but his strength and athleticism let him hang if the team is willing to play small and fast. Bell does not space the floor as a shooter but get him in space and playing downhill and he can make plays.

The bulk of Minnesota’s center minutes go to Karl-Anthony Towns, with Gorgui Dieng behind him. This could allow Ryan Saunders to play KAT and Dieng together a little with Bell soaking up the minutes behind him. Bell just wants steady minutes to show what he can do, and those minutes are available in Minnesota.

Timberwolves, including Karl-Anthony Towns, reportedly meet with D’Angelo Russell

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The Minnesota Timberwolves are looking for the second star to put next to Karl-Anthony Towns. (Don’t bring up Andrew Wiggins and his contract, it just makes Timberwolves fans glow red with rage.)

How about All-Star D'Angelo Russell?

The Timberwolves — with Towns and aggressive new president Gersson Rosas in the room — are going to meet with the Nets’ restricted free agent, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

The Minnesota Timberwolves will meet with Brooklyn Nets restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell when free agency opens on Sunday, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Timberwolves contingent expected to be present at the meeting: president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, head coach Ryan Saunders and franchise player Karl-Anthony Towns, sources said.

Russell is a restricted free agent, however, if Kyrie Irving commits to Brooklyn as is widely expected, the Nets would rescind their qualifying offer to Russell, making him an unrestricted free agent. (Otherwise, Brooklyn can match any offer, although whether they would match a max is a matter of debate.)

Russell’s agent has been looking everywhere for a team willing to give his player the full $27.5 million max, after finding many teams think his value is a little below that ($22 million to $25 million). Minnesota is going to go all in according to friend-of-PBT Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports.

However, to get that much cap space one of two things needs to happen.

The buzz around the league for a while has been Minnesota had a new home for Andrew Wiggins and his remaining four years, $122 million. There certainly would be sweeteners (picks and/or players) in that deal, but if the Timberwolves can get off Wiggins’ salary they would have the cap space to sign Russell to the max.

The other option is to move both Jeff Teague and Gorgui Dieng to teams that can absorb their salaries and send nothing back. Getting Wiggins out of Minnesota would be the preferred option.

As ESPN’s Zach Lowe has noted, Minnesota was “up to something” and suggested Charlotte as a potential dumping ground for Wiggins after Kemba Walker bolts to Boston.

Russell will have a lot of suitors, but the top two picks in the 2015 NBA Draft could be teaming up in Minnesota.