Wolves Jimmy a trade
MINNEAPOLIS—After 14 months of relative inactivity, Tom Thibodeau made what may be the biggest splash in Timberwolves history on Thursday night.
Minnesota acquired all-star forward Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 pick, which it used to select Creighton center Justin Patton, in Thursday night's draft in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick, a source confirmed. Chicago used the No. 7 pick on Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen, who was a likely candidate to land in Minnesota prior to the trade.
Butler, a third-team All-NBA player last season, is one of the league's top two-way players and brings a veteran presence to a young team that hasn't made the playoffs in 13 years. The addition of Butler forms a potent trio along with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, both former No. 1 overall picks on who appear to be on the path to stardom.
"Already the winner of the night is the Minnesota Timberwolves," former NBA guard Jalen Rose said on ESPN. "They are legit now in the Western Conference and in the NBA."
That was likely the goal, as Minnesota moved from a slow, quality rebuild to a team that could be a legitimate threat in the Western Conference next season.
"They look like a playoff team," ESPN NBA analyst Michael Wilbon said. "They really do."
They could look even more impressive by offseason's end, as the addition of Butler should figure to make free agents this summer pay more attention to Minnesota as a potential destination.
Thibodeau, Wolves coach and president of basketball operations, coached Butler in Chicago, and had a front-row seat for Butler's ascension from the 30th pick of the 2011 NBA draft to a three-time all-star. It's ironic Thibodeau was able to do a deal with a front office that fired him as coach just two years earlier.
Butler averaged 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, shooting 46 percent from the field and 37 percent from three last season.
"(They're) adding a legit scorer and a big-time competitor," an NBA scout said. "Ricky (Rubio) has targets all over the floor."
Butler also averaged 1.9 steals and is widely considered one of the league's best perimeter defenders. He was a second-team all-defensive player for the three seasons before this past season. Last season's team has not been announced.
Defense is where Butler may make his biggest immediate impact in Minnesota. The Timberwolves were tied for fourth-worst in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season, despite being coached by Thibodeau, known as a defensive guru. Minnesota was in desperate need of a shutdown defender capable of limiting an opponent's top wing scorer.
"This is a top-15 player in the league," Tom Penn, a former NBA assistant general manager, said during ESPN's broadcast. "It's time for them to get better, to get more serious, and Thibs is ready to go now. Great trade for the Timberwolves, bringing this guy in with all the kids."
Butler has two years and roughly $38.5 million left on his contract.
In LaVine, the Timberwolves surrender a rising star who established himself as one of the league's better young scorers. He averaged 18.9 points last season while shooting 39 percent from three before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in February. The injury caused him to miss the rest of the season, but LaVine's recovery is going well.
Patton is a 6-foot-11, hyper-athletic big man who averaged 12.9 points, on 68 percent shooting, and 6.2 rebounds in his freshman year with Creighton. He can finish well around the rim, which should make him a threat in the pick and roll.
His addition adds needed front-court depth for Minnesota and should be able to contribute on both ends of the floor, averaging 1.4 blocks and nearly a steal a game last season.
Prior to the draft, ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla called him "a big guy with a ton of potential."