August 6, 2018, 7:13 pm
It’s the Dog Days of Summer, about the only time in the NBA calendar where teams are able to take a step back and relax juuust a little bit. Players are hard at work training for the upcoming season, most free agents have been signed and major trades are unlikely to go down. The rumor mill is quiet, for the most part, but there are still stories that appear here-and-there and we’ll round those up, plus a few unresolved mysteries surrounding the team and what Las Vegas thinks of the Wolves.
Wolves’ guard Jimmy Butler sustained a hand injury sometime late in the season after he returned from his extended absence related to his knee, although the severity was unclear and he played through whatever pain he had.
Recently it came to light that Butler was still favoring his right hand after some heads-up reporting from Sean Cunningham of ABC10 in Sacramento. Cunningham noticed that Butler was wearing a wrap on his right hand during a campus tour in Pepperdine and posted video evidence.
Friend of mine with some soccer students touring Pepperdine on Wednesday & they stumbled upon T’Wolves star Jimmy Butler in the gym – wearing a huge wrap or cast on right hand. I remember he was asked about wearing a wrap in playoffs on same hand & said it was for luck. 🧐 pic.twitter.com/v4I0gl5tyD
— Sean Cunningham (@SeanCunningham) July 26, 2018
This prompted a quick, official response from the Timberwolves to alleviate any concerns in what was simply described as an “elective procedure.”
— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) July 26, 2018
Luckily it doesn’t seem to be anything to worry about, and he allegedly returned to basketball activities less than two days after the procedure, if the timeline is to be believed (surgery on Tuesday, video on Wednesday, basketball activities on Thursday).
Butler also, unsurprisingly, turned down a four-year $110 million maximum offer extension from the Wolves in hopes of earning a bigger pay day in free agency next offseason. Butler is betting on himself here, but the injuries are starting to mount up. He should still be in line for a huge 2018-19 campaign.
C.J. Williams signs contract
In other official news, the Wolves signed guard C.J. Williams to a two-way contract last week, just three days after the Clippers waived him.
C.J. Williams has signed a two-way contract with the 🐺.
— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) July 31, 2018
Last season was Williams’ first in the NBA, but he’s no puppy. After going undrafted in 2012, Williams played in the G-League for a year then went overseas for two years. He then returned to the States and played in the G-League again before signing a two-way contract with Los Angeles last season. He played quite well for the Clippers, making 17 starts in the middle of the season and earned himself a three-year contract in the process.
Unfortunately, Williams got lost in the numbers game after the Clippers’ loaded up his position with new acquisitions and eventually waived him. The Wolves make quick work and swooped him up.
At 28 years old, Williams is a competent defender and solid 3-point shooter (don’t let last year’s 28.2 percent with the Clippers fool you, he shot 40.5 percent in the G-League and 34.3 percent in Europe) that brings solid energy and good team play every time out. He’s not going to wow anyone, but he’s a smart, reliable role-player that will give a team productive minutes outside the stat-sheet.
The signing brings the Wolves to 14 players on the roster, including their two-way players. Each team may carry up to two players on two-way contracts and 15 on NBA contracts. That gives the Wolves three open slots, and though they are unlikely to fill all three it’s possible they could look at one more player on a minimum contract before the season begins.
Depth at wing
As of now, the Wolves don’t really have what you would call a true small-forward on the roster. Butler and Andrew Wiggins are both quite capable at the position, and the two rookies Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop can fit the mold. Anthony Tolliver and Williams could potentially steal minutes there as well, but as of now it’s going to be a lot of mixing and matching at that position for Tom Thibodeau, who has a restrictive reputation with rookies.
With three open roster spots, the Wolves physically have some space to add players, but financially don’t quite have that luxury. In fact it’s the luxury tax that prevents the Wolves from adding anyone over the minimum at this point as they are right up against the line.
With financial space to perhaps add one player, and no trade in sight, there are still some possibilities out there that the Wolves could target. As mentioned above, Williams was lost in the Clippers’ offseason shuffle and they still have an excess guys they are looking to unload.
Still are risk for Clippers (waiver or trade): Thornwell, Evans, Wes – someone has to go before the season starts.
— Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) August 5, 2018
Sindarius Thornwell, Jawun Evans and Wes Johnson are the trio of players at risk here. Evans is a guard and while Johnson would make for an interesting reunion, his approximately $6 million owed next year is far too rich for the Wolves to swallow (unless he’s waived and signed later).
That leaves Thornwell as a possible option. He’s not perfect (again, more of a guard), but like Williams, can play some minutes at the wing. Thornwell didn’t put up eye-popping numbers last year as a rookie, but did average 6.4 points and 39.3 percent 3-point shooting in 17 starts last year.
He also had this amazing dunk in his penultimate game of the season.
— NBA (@NBA) April 10, 2018
The Wolves would have to wait until the Clippers waive Thornwell (which isn’t guaranteed), and he’s not a perfect fit, but he has some experience and little bit of upside at a position the Wolves could use some bodies at.
Or the team could bring back Marcus Georges-Hunt, but all is quiet on that front as of now. Sean Kilpatrick and Patrick McCaw also remain unsigned. If the season started today, it would appear Thibs would have to have a change of heart and play his two rookies some meaningful minutes.
Karl-Anthony Towns extension?
One of the major moves of the offseason was the expected signing of star center Karl-Anthony Towns to a max contract extension (upwards of five-years, $190 million). Devin Booker, a fellow player from Towns’ draft class and close friend, signed his max contract extension in early July and many believed that Towns would soon follow suit.
However, here we are in August and still no resolution on that front. It’s still widely expected that the two sides will figure out a deal (monetary terms are likely not an issue) but perhaps Towns’ camp desires a little more clarity on the long-term plan for the team and ongoing conversations with Thibodeau about their chemistry.
The two sides have until October to reach an agreement.
Finally, the Las Vegas odds makers have spoken by releasing the over/under numbers for the upcoming season. The Wolves open at 44.5 wins (the team won 47 games last season), putting them eighth-highest in the Western Conference.
Vegas set some over-unders on NBA season win totals Sunday.
— ESPN (@espn) August 6, 2018
The San Antonio Spurs sit right behind at 43.5, with the Blazers rounding out the early contenders at 41.5. The West looks as tight as ever and once again the Wolves will face a tremendous challenge. It’s worth remembering, though, that the team was third in the conference by a decent margin before Butler went down and were on pace to win more than 50 games.
The team hasn’t added any major pieces, but they also didn’t lose much either. Depth will be an issue once again should injuries befall them, but right now it looks like a solid OVER bet for the Wolves.
It’s worth reminding that the NBA is the first major sports league in the U.S. that has an open relationship with betting. This is uncharted waters for many people, and will be interesting to follow along with this season. This article from ESPN breaks it all down.