• An offseason that dramatically shifted the NBA landscape arguably began on draft night when the Timberwolves and Bulls agreed on a deal to send Jimmy Butler west. While the Celtics and Sixers had already completed their notorious trade, it didn’t vault a new team into the middle of the conference playoff picture where many expect the Timberwolves to prowl this season.

    After spending 13 consecutive years in the lottery the Wolves feel they have a legitimate chance to break their streak and host playoff basketball in Minneapolis once again.

    So what should be expected this season? Growth.

    Tom Thibodeau endured his first losing season as a head coach, going 31-51, and wasn’t able to deploy a group of players that fit into his style. Thibodeau tends to rely on a lead ball handler who is able to beat guys off the dribble, score at the rim and kick out if they need to.

    While departed point guard Ricky Rubio is an excellent playmaker and overlooked defender, he has been historically poor finishing in close, shooting under 50 percent within 3 feet of the basket.

    In come Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague. Each thrive in the pick and roll game and are able to get to the rim and finish, shooting 63 percent and 59 percent in their careers within three feet, respectively. Expect Thibs to interchange their roles throughout the season, and generally be effective.

    Up front Karl-Anthony Towns is the focal point, with Taj Gibson and Gorgui Dieng providing the bulk of support. Towns is a monster and is able to score all over the court, which fits with Thibodeau’s mold as he isn’t afraid of bringing his big men away from the basket and even facilitate some offense.

    Defensively he has room to improve, but that is to be expected out of a 3rd year center. Gibson is a vet that Thibs trusts and is likely to start while Dieng will come off the bench. Both players will struggle to find shots and are likely relegated to mid range jumpers, hard screens and defense.

    Where this leaves Andrew Wiggins is the key to it all. Playing two bigs and two dribble-heavy guards leads to concerns about floor spacing and in that regard Wiggins does little to alleviate it. As a coach in Chicago, Thibodeau would use a series of screens and back door action to get Luol Deng the ball in space so he could use his superior athleticism to score.

    Expect more of this action to crop up this season as Wiggins can show off his talent for scoring, and perhaps improve his efficiency, while they try to figure out how these pieces fit together.

    So where does this collection of players lead? The Western Conference is as competitive as ever, and this is Year 1 of the new Wolves era, with last season serving as an evaluation period for coach and president Tom Thibodeau.

    Offensively there is plenty of talent to make things work, and while it might take some time to get the pieces where they want, this should be a strong group despite spacing deficiencies. In order to make the next step, the biggest concern going forward is this team’s defensive ability. Towns, Dieng, Gibson and Cole Aldrich form a strong core to lock down the paint, and Butler is an All-NBA defender on the perimeter.

    While Butler will likely guard the opposing team’s best player, he cannot guard everyone. Teague and Wiggins must step up for these Wolves to separate from the pack, and Wiggins in particular will have the spotlight on him. Fresh off of a max contract extension, Wiggins is the man moving forward. The physical measurements say he can take the next step, but it is up to him in the end. How far the Wolves can go leans on the defensive improvements of the young players.

    In the shadow of the Golden State Warriors building a championship contender can feel like a hopeless affair, though these Wolves find themselves in a position unlike other teams. While they are still building towards a playoff appearance, bigger aspirations are also on the horizon. Moves were made to help the team now, but visions still remain on what’s ahead. Jimmy Butler was brought in to propel the playoff efforts, but the future rests on the shoulders of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Fantasy News

  • Luke Kornet - PF - New York Knicks

    According to Chris Haynes, the Knicks will not extend a qualifying offer to Luke Kornet.

    Kornet will hit unrestricted free agency and will likely only return to the Knicks if they miss out on big-time free agents. He has had some bright spots with the Knicks over the past two seasons, so he could garner interest once he hits the open market as a bench stretch-big.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter

  • Emmanuel Mudiay - PG - New York Knicks

    Report: The Knicks will not extend a qualifying offer to Emmanuel Mudiay, which makes him an unrestricted free agent.

    Mudiay was the Knicks' starting point guard for a majority of last season when he was healthy, but since they acquired Dennis Smith Jr. and are pursuing big free agents this move makes sense. He will hit unrestricted free agency and should garner some interest being that he is a young athletic point guard who averaged 14.8 points on 44.6-percent shooting last season.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter

  • DeMarcus Cousins - C - Golden State Warriors

    According to Marc Stein, the Knicks will extend a short-term offer to DeMarcus Cousins if they miss out on Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard.

    They have been planning for quite some time to pursue the big-time names, but will pursue some short-term deals like Cousins if they strike out. Cousins' offer would likely be a considerable one-year offer, while other free agents may get the same as the Knicks have two max spots.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Kevin Porter Jr. - PG-SG - Cleveland Cavaliers

    The Cleveland Cavaliers have announced that they have officially acquired the draft rights to Kevin Porter Jr.

    This trade was confirmed on draft night but it has now officially gone through. Porter Jr. figures to see opportunities off the bench as a score first guard for a Cleveland team in desperate need of bench production in his first season. He'll get his first look with his new team in Summer League.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Stanley Johnson - SF - New Orleans Pelicans

    The Pelicans have opted to not extend a qualifying offer to Stanley Johnson, making him an unrestricted free agent according to Shams Charania of the Athletic.

    This doesn't come as much of a surprise. Johnson struggled to make much of an impact both in Detroit and in New Orleans this season, despite possessing defensive upside that has been mired by his inconsistencies elsewhere throughout his career. He's still 23, and should find an offer elsewhere for next season. Wherever that may be, he will have a long way to go before he will become fantasy relevant.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Derrick Favors - PF - Utah Jazz

    According to Shams Charania of the Athletic, Derrick Favors will field calls from several interested teams and act as if he will be an unrestricted FA, a sign that he doesn't expect the Jazz to pick up his team option.

    Favors has gone on the record indicating that he'd love to return to Utah, but it appears that they are interested in allocating the 17 million he would have made, elsewhere. Favors has always struggled to maximize his fantasy potential playing next to Rudy Gobert, and perhaps a situation with a less clogged paint could do more for his value.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Thomas Bryant - C - Washington Wizards

    Thomas Bryant has been given a qualifying offer from the Wizards, making him a restricted free agent.

    Bryant surprised last season, coming from obscurity to finish with top-125/100 value (8/9-cat). That despite Scott Brooks toying with his minutes. If the Wizards can keep Bryant around last season's workload he'll easily be a steal in fantasy leagues, though we're obviously hoping he takes hold of the starting job.

    Source: Fred Katz on Twitter

  • Romeo Langford - PG - Boston Celtics

    The Celtics start Summer League practice this weekend but first-round pick Romeo Langford will not be cleared for full contact.

    Langford is recovering from right thumb surgery, which is not expected to have any significant long-term effects. This is just the Celtics taking it easy on their new rookie. Hopefully he's cleared before Summer League ends, otherwise we'll get our first look at him in preseason.

    Source: Adam Himmelsbach on Twitter

  • Enes Kanter - C - Trail Blazers

    The Blazers, Lakers and Celtics are among the teams that will be interested in free agent Enes Kanter, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

    Portland knows Kanter well and would surely like to have him back after his admirable work filling in for an injured Jusuf Nurkic, while playing through his own serious ailments, in the playoffs. The Celtics could use a ferocious rebounder to replace Aron Baynes and are barren at the center spot with Al Horford's departure, while the Lakers are lining up cost-effective depth with their roster almost completely empty. Kanter might not replicate his Knicks numbers, but he'll be a standard-league asset no matter where he lands.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter

  • Cheick Diallo - PF - New Orleans Pelicans

    Cheick Diallo will be an unrestricted free agent after the Pelicans decided not to extend him a qualifying offer.

    Diallo has solid per-minute output but the playing time has never been there for him in New Orleans. He's got talent and good work ethic, but the league is flooded with available big men at the moment. Hopefully Diallo lands in a spot where he can continue his development.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter