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Timberwolves in turmoil

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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.

The Timberwolves won 47 games and ended a 13-year playoff drought last season, and their core group returns. Few teams can match the 1-2 star power of Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson are strong complementary pieces, and Andrew Wiggins has the tools to excel.

But it feels like Minnesota was decimated by a meteorite this offseason.

Butler’s unsatisfied trade request casts a shadow over the upcoming season. It has shined a spotlight on the discord permeating through this organization in so many directions – Butler and Wiggins, Butler and Towns, Towns and Tom Thibodeau, Tom Thibodeau and Glen Taylor.

Maybe Butler and Thibodeau can thrive in this chaotic, energetic, intense environment. It seems the weight of it could crush everyone else, though.

This all reflects terribly on Thibodeau, who let the Butler situation linger over the summer. Chemistry matters, and an unhappy Butler trying to torment Towns and Wiggins into playing with more fire could just burn everyone involved. It was bad enough last year when the young players thought Butler could be there a while. If they expect him to leave next summer in free agency, will they just tune him out until then? If that happens, will Butler become even harder on them? This could get ugly in a hurry.

That said, it’s not as if Minnesota had great chemistry last season, either. This is still such a talented team. Heck, even if the Timberwolves trade Butler by the trade deadline, he might first help them stack enough wins to make the playoffs. Hope isn’t lost.

Most importantly, Minnesota locked up Towns to a long-term extension. No matter what happens with Butler, the 22-year-old star is staying a while.

The Timberwolves also did tinkering to help over the summer. Signing Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, two ex-Bulls, will generate plenty of laughs, but those two for the minimum is fine. So was drafting Josh Okogie No. 20 and Keita Bates-Diop No. 48.

Minnesota’s biggest signing was Anthony Tolliver for one year, $5.75 million – which, to stay under the luxury-tax line, required letting Nemanja Bjelica go. I considered Tolliver an upgrade as the Timberwolves’ stretch four, though part of that calculation considered Tolliver’s positive effect in the locker room.

In that area, it might be too little, too late.

Offseason grade: D   

Jimmy Butler’s camp reportedly says concerns about salary ‘manufactured’ by Wolves brass

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There are more spin doctors at work around the Jimmy Butler trade request than there are working congressional campaigns right now.

Among the flood of reports that came out was one that Butler’s primary issue was his salary — he wanted Minnesota to clear cap space so he could renegotiate his current deal to near a max contract, then extend him off of that deal. That the issue was less personal with Towns and more about the money.

Not true, reports Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

To add to the Butler drama there have been multiple reports in the Minneapolis area to come out this week that money was the main sticking point for Butler to demand his departure, but a source in his camp told the Sun-Times on Friday that it was “manufactured’’ by “ownership mouthpieces’’ to make Butler look bad….

According to the source, this is about a philosophy in making an impact in the Western Conference, and in Butler’s mind you can’t run down a dynasty like Golden State when two of the so-called dogs in the pack are in fact kittens.

Two thoughts here. First, this report makes more sense — to give the Butler the kind of raise talked about would have required gutting the Timberwolves roster. Meaning the would have had to dump guys that have value such as Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson, or they would have had to find a sucker to take on the contracts of Andrew Wiggins or Gorgui Dieng, and to do that would have required sending out quality talent or picks as sweeteners. Butler is smart and understands the NBA business, he would know this was never going to happen, he realizes his money was going to come as a free agent next summer. The idea he demanded this always smelled fishy.

Second, Butler and a lot of people want to lump Towns and Wiggins together as players who don’t work hard, don’t have much of a motor, and don’t seem to love the game. Nobody who has watched Wiggins play — especially last season — is going to put up much of an argument about that in his case. Wiggins looks like an anchor contract, unless he suddenly sees the light.

Towns, however, is different. His game has improved year-to-year, he does have a good motor on the court (at least on offense), and he does put in work in the off-season. Maybe he is young and doesn’t wear it on his sleeve like Butler, and certainly Towns was taught some tough lessons in the playoffs by Clint Capela last season, but Towns is not Wiggins. Towns was an All-NBA player last season for a reason. Lumping him and Wiggins together is a mistake.

Report: Jimmy Butler wanted Timberwolves to add four years, $155 million to his contract this summer

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Jimmy Butler rejected the largest-possible extension the capped-out Timberwolves could offer him this summer – a four-year deal worth $100,514,631 ($25,128,658 average annual salary).

After all, his projected max in free agency this summer is about $190 million over five years (about $38 million annually) if he re-signs or about $141 million over four years (about $35 million annually) if he leaves.

But Minnesota’s extension offer wasn’t technically the largest possible this summer. Theoretically, the Timberwolves could have cleared cap space to renegotiate his salary upward then offered a richer extension based on his new salary.

And apparently that’s what Butler wanted – and didn’t get – before requesting a trade.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic:

Butler was hoping for a renegotiation and extension of his contract this summer, one that would have raised his salary for 2018-19 to $30 million and added another four years and $145 million on to that.

The Timberwolves could have trimmed their roster to only their starters – Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns. That would have meant using sweeteners to unload Gorgui Dieng‘s negative value contract, dumping recent first-round picks Justin Patton, Tyus Jones and Josh Okogie and not using the mid-level exception on Anthony Tolliver. Only players who signed for the minimum could have still wound up on the roster.

Minnesota still wouldn’t have had enough cap space to renegotiate Butler’s salary up to $30 million.

Perhaps, Butler wanted the Timberwolves to take more drastic measures like trading Wiggins for little to no returning salary. But they clearly weren’t going to do that, and they’d long gone down the opposite road of adding salary. They weren’t coming close to clearing the $10 million of cap space necessary to raise Butler’s salary that much.

This is all raises questions about timing. Nearly every report on Butler’s wishes has gone out of its way to say contract concerns – not problems with Wiggins and Towns – were the primary driver of the trade request. But if that were the case, why now? Butler had to know for months he wasn’t getting his desired extension.

Report: Luol Deng reaches one-year deal with Timberwolves

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We’ve been saying another addition to the “Chicago Wolves” was coming, it just happened a little faster than expected.

Luol Deng and the Minnesota Timberwolves have agreed to a one-year, $2.4 million veteran minimum contract, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Minnesota now has Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, and Deng plus the coach Tom Thibodeau from Thib’s old Bulls team.

It forms an interesting dynamic in a locker room with a reputation as one of the most contentious in the league. Butler has not hidden his frustrations with Karl-Anthony Towns, Towns is no fan of Thibodeau, Towns is up for a max extension of his rookie contract but that front has been surprisingly quiet so far, and nobody is happy with Andrew Wiggins and his effort last season.

The question is what does Deng bring to the table? He played a total of 13 minutes for the Lakers last season. Two seasons ago in Los Angeles he played in 56 games and was unimpressive, shooting just 30.9 percent from three, with a true shooting percentage of just 47, and a PER of 10.1. Part of that was Luke Walton played him at the three, and in today’s NBA Deng is a four.

If given room can he still hit his jumper? He can put the ball on the floor against a closeout, he cuts well off the ball and finds spaces, and he’s a decent team defender — all of that when healthy. Is he healthy and rested and can he pitch in significant minutes, or is Deng another former Thibodeau player who burned out early after heavy minutes for years?

The Timberwolves likely will start Gibson at the four and have Anthony Tolliver behind him, leaving Deng a limited role. Thibodeau doesn’t really go deep into his bench.

Report: Luol Deng expected to sign with Minnesota this week

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It started out as a half-joke around the league, “Wouldn’t it be funny if Tom Thibodeau went after Luol Deng?” Chicago Wolves jokes ensued. Then pretty quickly it became clear this was no joke.

For weeks now, every source around the league has expected Luol Deng to sign with the Timberwolves sooner rather than later. Marc Stein of the New York Times confirmed this.

Just to be clear, that gives Minnesota Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, and Deng from Thibodeau’s old Bulls team.

The question is how much Deng can contribute. He was benched in Los Angeles during season one of the Lakers’ youth movement last season, but still some veterans got run under Luke Walton while Deng sat the final 81 games of the season. Two seasons ago in Los Angeles he played in 56 games and finished with the lowest point total of his career (7.6 per game), shooting just 30.9 percent from three, with a true shooting percentage of just 47, a PER of 10.1, and he was below a replacement level player. Was that season’s decline an aberration, or has Deng (like other former Tom Thibodeau players) worn down earlier in their career than expected?

There’s not a ton of minutes for Deng to get. The Timberwolves likely will start Gibson at the four and have Anthony Tolliver behind him. Thibodeau doesn’t really go deep into his bench beyond that.

But the deal looks like it will soon be done, and then we’ll see what Deng still has in the tank.