With Butler in fold, Wolves ready to shop for free agents
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) Jimmy Butler's formal introduction to Minnesota was held at the Mall of America, an appropriate location for the Timberwolves and their prized new player.
They'll be shopping for sidekicks starting this weekend, and Butler will be part of the sales team.
''I'll be talking to a lot of really good players, much better than myself, I will tell you that, and get them here to join what we have,'' Butler said. ''I know that, with the support that I've already felt from this city, they're definitely going to love it. Getting here, with this young core, winning these games, anybody's going to want to be a part of that. Now it's all about getting the right fit.''
Since point guard Stephon Marbury infamously complained of the harsh winters in forcing his exit nearly two decades ago, while the Wolves mostly languished as a lottery team, Minnesota has never been a destination market. Now there's a sparkling new practice facility and a big-time big three of Butler, center Karl-Anthony Towns and shooting guard Andrew Wiggins.
Towns, who attended the event Thursday, didn't hold back. He said the Timberwolves trio should already be ''in that conversation'' among the NBA's best.
''This is what dynasties are made of,'' Towns said.
To start, at least.
''The league is going to be looking at us differently,'' Towns said. ''When you're talking about one of the top players in the NBA being added to your squad, the whole focus changes.''
Free agents can officially begin speaking to teams on Saturday.
''Get them on the phone, try to buy them some dinner, maybe buy them a bottle of wine,'' Butler said. ''I don't know. We'll find out.''
The Wolves acquired the three-time All-Star Butler from Chicago in a draft-night trade . The deal sent point guard Kris Dunn and shooting guard Zach LaVine, their first-round draft picks in 2016 and 2014, to the Bulls. The teams also swapped first-rounders, with Minnesota moving down to No. 16 for center Justin Patton and Chicago taking power forward Lauri Markkanen with the No. 7 spot.
With Dunn and LaVine gone, the Wolves are searching for more reliable, quality players to fill out their rotation, even after the big splash produced this big three. Perimeter shooting has been a perpetual need. Depth on the wing behind Wiggins and Butler is lacking. They could also use another power forward and help at point guard behind Ricky Rubio, with 21-year-old Tyus Jones the only other one on the roster.
Los Angeles Clippers long-range shooting specialist J.J. Redick, Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Taj Gibson - another Thibodeau protegee from the Bulls - and San Antonio Spurs point guard Patty Mills are among the names most prominently mentioned in association with the Wolves. They can create more than $18 million in salary cap room by renouncing the rights to all of their free agents.
There's a sense around the league that Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden have bigger aspirations. With Butler as their recruiting coordinator, they could try to take another big swing at a higher-profile free agent and an even more formidable starting five.
Before he was traded, Butler pushed for Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry to join him with the Bulls. Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague are other point guards whose shooting prowess would fit better in a Wolves lineup currently missing a 3-point marksman. Such a move, of course, is easier said than done. Trading Rubio and perhaps center Cole Aldrich, who has two years left on his contract, might be necessary.
Absent from the playoffs for 13 straight years, with just one advancement past the first round in the franchise's 28 seasons, the Wolves were excited enough about Butler's arrival to open his introductory news conference to the public at the nation's largest mall.
With Towns sitting in the front row and hundreds of fans and onlookers circled around the rotunda on all four floors, Butler couldn't hide his giddiness, breaking out in a big smile upon hearing his name shouted from the crowd. He played it cool at times, producing an all-time zinger when asked by a Chicago newspaper columnist to respond to post-trade criticism that has questioned his leadership ability.
''It's expected. Somebody's got to take the blame. I'll be that guy. I'm OK with it. I'm fine. Everybody is entitled to their opinion,'' Butler said. ''With that being said, my phone is in my back pocket right now, so whoever has anything to say to me, feel free: 773-889-6071. If you want an interview, there you have it.''
Those digits were surely on their way to retirement, in favor of a Twin Cities area code. Butler will be sticking around for a while, though. Minnesota's new star small forward is only 27, after all.
''He's just entering his prime,'' Thibodeau said. ''It fits perfectly with our team.''
AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.
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