Five years ago, I covered my first media day for Canis Hoopus. Flip Saunders led off a string of interviews by selling an exciting youth movement centered around prized rookies, and Bounce Brothers, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. There were tons of old faces; Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin sat at the podium as the starting backcourt; J.J. Barea and The Godfather Nikola Pekovic fielded questions as the electric comedy duo; the sophomore boys, Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad, were hungry for more playing time after a season of marinating on the bench under Rick Adelman; veterans Thad Young and Mo Williams were being looked towards for “leadership,” as if you thought #MuscleWatch was the most popular training camp narrative.
That first media day still lingers in the back of my mind; I was nervous and unprepared but equally thrilled with the opportunity Eric in Madison (our site manager) gave me. I took deep breaths trying to find my way through this media jungle during that season and those memories have a way of creeping back as each new season rolls back around. The flashbacks also bring realization over what media day often stands for in the big scheme of things: lies vs. truths. Navigating through the (timber)bullshit is always the toughest part.
At the start of another season, under the familiar feeling of tumultuous terms, the Jimmy Butler Trade Request dominated the conversation. Butler wants out of Minnesota after formally requesting one of his biggest supporters (HC/POBO Tom Thibodeau) to move him at the franchises earliest convenience. The future is on hold until a trade happens and the impending move remains the most vital question surrounding the team. On media day 2018, Butler’s request hovers grimly over the start of a new campaign. While some players deflected questions about the disgruntled star, others took them head-on clearly uninterested in mincing words. With that being said, let’s discuss the biggest moments of yesterday.
Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden welcomed the assembled media by saying they were excited about the upcoming season. What a tremendous start! The two wisely jumped headfirst into the main course after that. The Jimmy Butler trade request was the dish most came to indulge in.
“It’s not the first time a player’s made that type of request, nor will it be the last,” said Thibodeau. “Our job is to seek out the best opportunity for us. If something’s good for us, then we’re interested in doing it. If not, we’re ready to move forward the other way.”
Thibs hit on all of his typical talking points. He gushed about the major improvement made last season. 47 wins. Playoffs. Two All-Stars. Breaking 14 team offensive records. Major accomplishments. What they did last season, compared to the history of the franchise, should be seen as a huge accomplishment, he contends. The core is all back together again (well, except Jimmy). Getting Karl signed was key (he easily should have hit on this more.). The West is getting better so they can’t ease into camp and they have to be ready to go. This is the consistent Thibs message.
Layden then thanked everyone for coming out, including the players (who contractually had to be there). He talked about basketball returning and the ball bouncing again at Mayo Clinic Square. Oh, what beautiful sounds! They are super excited about the new team in “coaches system.” Obviously, every year has challenges and they look at it as an opportunity to get better. They talk exhaustively about getting better, which is interesting because all of last season Thibs said Butler meant everything to the franchise in their quest to ... get better. The West is tough but their guys are up for the challenge, Layden concludes.
The following are quick excerpts of what was said and not direct quotes unless quoted.
THIBS: Their job is to acquire the best players they can and put a plan in place. In terms of where Jimmy is, he did his physical and still needs a little time to finish up his rehab and conditioning and is probably about a week away. This isn't the first time they have had the requests to have players traded and if it makes sense for the team they will do it. “But Jimmy needs about a week and we’re going to give that to him.”
So that’s why Jimmy isn’t around, eh? Cut the BS.
“Conflict in the NBA, it’s not unusual. Every team has it, so you navigate through it. If you put the team first, you put winning first and that’s what we have to be about.”
THIBS: The team made great strides last season. Going down the path of changing winning to losing is not simple. He’s excited about the group he currently has and everyone's looking forward to the challenge.
Types of pieces Thibs is looking for? Jimmy is a top 10 player. They will not make a bad deal no matter what. If it’s a good deal, then they are interested. “We’ve got our parameters and will keep those quiet.”
THIBS: Getting Jimmy to come to Minnesota was a step that needed to happen. He doesn’t regret the trade even though Butler asked out. There’s never a good time for a trade request but Butler is highly touted in the league and they will only do a deal that makes sense for them. The impact of Jimmy Butler was great. Winning is the most important thing and everything else is noise. (Great management style!)
Consistent message from Tom Thibodeau to start Wolves media day: the franchise will not make a bad deal just to get something done. "We're not going to make a bad deal. If it's a good deal, then we are interested," says Thibs.— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) September 24, 2018
LAYDEN: My phone is right next to me for a top 10 player like Jimmy Butler. It’s been ringing a lot lately. Please call me. It’s right here [points to cell phone]. We are looking to get a deal done immediately if possible.
GM Scott Layden: “The phone is ringing, that’s why I brought it up here today.” Thibs and Layden continue to say Jimmy Butler is a top 10 player and they will not make a bad deal.— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) September 24, 2018
What if they can’t deal Jimmy Butler? Mostly talks about last season’s success.
THIBS: Doubles down on trading for Jimmy Butler ... they were a perennial lottery team looking to change the direction of the club. “I thought it was a great deal for us,” he says. (Accurate, in my opinion.) Stars asking for trades is not unusual. Him and Scott and Glen are always looking at collaborating and making the team better. Karl is an extremely special player and Andrew has scored 6000 points in the league and that’s an elite group at his age. He doesn’t want to overlook the rest of the team. Teague and Taj are terrific players. Rose, Tolliver, Tyus, and Gorgui are all good players as well. They need to add to it. Talks about the Western Conference getting a lot better and needing to be ready for that.
Does Thibs see a scenario that Butler plays for the Wolves?
Basic message: they won’t make a bad deal. They will not be backed into a corner.
Teams have expressed a frustration in the communication with the front office with the Butler trade saga ... describe the approach?
LAYDEN: Gets a tad defensive and says “Bravo” to Jon Krawczynski for not sharing his sources. Thibs says “of course.” Sometimes teams get frustrated because they can’t get a seat at the table. All he can say is they have a process aimed at improving the team and are thorough and inclusive. Glen Taylor is a major part of all decisions. It was great to see KAT and Glen get together on Towns’ max deal. (That comment was a big ??? for me. Not sure what Layden was going for there.)
Asked Thibs if there was a falling out with Jimmy Butler that made him want a trade: "No, we're fine. We're fine. And I've been around Jimmy a long time. He was straightforward; I was straightforward with him. And so, we're good."— Michele Steele (@ESPNMichele) September 24, 2018
THIBS: Not worried about losing authority given Butler walking away from the team. Wins. Wins. Wins. The Wolves won 47 games and it worked out how they thought it would. They succeeded last season. The Lottery Wolves are gone and excitement was restored. Praise or criticism, Thibs doesn’t worry about it.
Other players besides Jimmy Butler have requested trades but that should all remain private. Thibs doesn’t know if the rookies, Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop, are going to be ready to chip in. But their work ethic fits the team well. Thibodeau and Butler were “straightforward” with each other about the trade request. They’ve known each other for a long time, Thibs says.
The Wolves will not be pressured into a bad deal just to get something done. That was the consistent messaged. “We’re not going to make a bad deal. If it’s a good deal, then we are interested,” Thibs says again.
THEY WILL ALWAYS PUT THE TEAM FIRST.
Here’s the supercut of Tom Thibodeau getting his point across at Media Day. pic.twitter.com/tT9Cu4FHuo— Wolvescast (@wolvescast) September 25, 2018
What Did KAT Think?
KARL-ANTHONY largely deflected questions about Jimmy Butler, which seemed like the savvy choice given the circumstances. What is there to accomplish at this point besides getting reasonable assets in return for Butler? Towns was a bit mum during his availability and consistently talked about controlling what he can control. That was the main message. I do wish he seemed more thrilled with that fresh 5-year, $190 million contract, though one can imagine his disinterest in discussing the dysfunction.
There was no issue with Butler but rather an issue with Glen Taylor that “got handled,” says Towns. He and the organization eventually found “common ground.” This obviously could be true but also sounded a bit like a deflection aimed at shifting the conversation from Butler. Towns alluded to “a lot more being talked about” outside of this press conference.
Towns offered plenty of word salad that avoided the original question (shouts to Flip!). KAT didn’t want any distractions and is glad the deal is done before camp. (We all are.) It’s also clear he doesn’t want negative media attention that comes with trade rumors and contracts and potential teammate beef. Towns says he and Butler were two passionate guys with a common understanding and both left everything on the line. Their relationship was fine, according to the Kentucky phenom.
(I doubt it.)
MORE FROM KAT: There is not ONE LEADER. Every person must sacrifice for the betterment of the team. Towns is doing his best to send the right messages. This could also be read as a shot at Mr. Buckets, but I also agree there isn’t one leader in an NBA locker room. Towns spoke about the Bulls and Warriors leaning on various players other than Michael Jordan and Steph Curry.
What was Towns’ initial reaction to Butler wanting out? He was surprised. That’s something Thibs and Layden control, he said. Towns merely controls his workouts, diet, and getting ready for the season, but NOT THAT FOLKS. (This sounded like a clear deflection which seemed wise given the circumstances.)
guys...— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) September 24, 2018
THEY’RE EVEN BETTER IN PERSON.
What About Wiggins?
Well, you can imagine how many words Andrew had to offer about the current affairs. As usual, there wasn’t much to learn from his vague comments. He does deserve a little credit though. Wiggins did something I haven’t heard much of in the past four years by actually blaming himself, saying he didn’t feel like he had his best season last year.
“Jimmy [Butler] did a lot of good things for the team last year. With Jimmy, we made the playoffs. Jimmy here was a positive. I don’t feel like I had my best year last year, and I wouldn’t blame anybody but myself for that. Jimmy was here and we made the playoffs; it was a positive energy,” Wiggins assessed.
Wigs says he was happy to go through last season and learn from everything. He focused all summer on getting to his best spots on the floor to allow himself to shine. What are those spots? Who knows. Hopefully, someone turned him on to the corner 3/dunk diet. I had multiple people in my mentions tweeting “18-footers.”
We can hope the shot selection improves.
Thanks, Shahbaz Khan...
Definitely a memorable Media Day in the @CodySharrett, @taynardinger and the entire @Timberwolves Digital Content team killed it.— Shahbaz Khan (@ShahbazMKhan) September 25, 2018
My personal favorite moment: @22wiggins with his new @MPLS_Customs Cassie kicks pic.twitter.com/KXxEIbaNRj
Wiggins says, “Me and KAT have to step up and do more.” He says he had no problems with anyone in the locker room and wants to stay positive.
The Honest Vets
The first part of media day honestly felt like a bunch of lies. Nobody wanted to really address the elephant in the room or answer questions directly as they were presented. There was tons of sidestepping over the three hours at Target Center. Of course, that also seemed like an extremely reasonable way to handle things while the team figures out what to do with Butler. The more everyone talks about Butler, the more likely it seems the Wolves will screw everything up and sell short on their one-year star player that clearly wants to be traded as soon as humanly possible.
With this being said, I found the veterans in Minnesota to be purveyors of truth.
Daily Wolf Media Day Power Rankings
1. Taj Gibson
2. Anthony Tolliver
3. Derrick Rose/Gorgui Dieng
4. Jeff Teague
5. Luol Deng
Best Quotes From The Guys Above
Taj Gibson was the most honest Wolf. Everyone else on this list also spits the truth and were enjoyable to listen to in their own right. But Gibson was the realest. Older players have a way of ditching the filter more often than not and all of the guys listed above actually seemed to answer questions honestly rather than sugarcoating their real feelings.
Might have been the realest quote of Timberwolves media day:— jace frederick (@JaceFrederick) September 25, 2018
Taj Gibson on the Jimmy Butler situation: pic.twitter.com/nDXCzWZN7W
Gibson said all of this Butler stuff really is distracting and it’s a weird feeling right before training camp. He also said Butler gave him a big hug after his physical today and at the end of the day he understands the NBA is a business. It was both obvious that Mr. Clean (yes, I will forever call him this) is disappointed with Butler’s choice and still an incredible teammate ready to support the main franchise pillars in Minnesota. Gibson was extremely complimentary of Towns and Wiggins when he wasn’t even being asked about them. In many ways, it felt like Gibson spoke exactly how Thibodeau should have, expressing nothing but confidence and belief in his young max players. He should’ve been deflecting all day with positive statements about the rest of the roster.
One thing I’ve learned about Gibson over the past year is how you can always count on him being honest and forthright. He didn’t speak in platitudes during his availability and also inspired a sense of togetherness, no matter the hurt he felt over Butler leaving. (Full disclosure: Gibson would make for an incredible coach down the road. He’s honest, likable, funny, and inspiring.)
Anthony Tolliver talked about Thibs being cut from the same cloth as Stan Van Gundy and how he liked their similarities when deciding where to sign in free agency. An old friend of the Wolves, Tolly, said he decided to come back to Minnesota because Thibs sold him on the need for more three-pointers. “If I play, you will see 3-pointers go up. PERIOD,” Tolly proclaimed. This was after Britt Robson asked if he were concerned about the system possibly not valuing threes as much as he wants to launch them.
Simplest terms: If Tolliver is on the floor, he is planning to chuck from deep.
Winner: Everyone watching the Wolves in 2018-19
Tolly will be an excellent addition. You can tell he knows what his role is. AT will shoot threes and be a positive influence. He made a point to say hello to everyone he knew in the room from his prior stint in Minnesota before fielding questions. He also talked about being a student of the game (like Rose did) and controlling what he can control (like Towns did) which is the similar type of messaging that gives me confidence in his guidance.
“I feel like we’re in a good position to be successful, even in the West,” said Tolliver. His three-point shooting has taken off since leaving Minnesota and he’s developed that part of his game to stick around in the league. ”Most people would say ‘You reached 33 years old, you’re on a decline.’ My numbers show different,” says Tolliver.
ANOTHER GREAT TOLLY QUOTE: “It’s up to us as a collective to chime in to things we’re good at and that we know well. I’m not gonna tell Tyus [Jones] how to throw a pocket pass, that’s up to Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose. But if he wants to learn about shooting, let’s talk. It’s the little things that separate veterans from the new guys.”
Derrick Rose was asked about his feelings when he first heard Butler requested a trade. “I wish him nothing but happiness,” Rose said.
Interesting to note: Rose thought the chemistry was good last season for the most part. Others claimed the same. Rose also said he will pick up garbage if that’s what the team needs. His forward, no bull-shit approach to answering questions was actually refreshing regardless of my opinion of his skill. Rose also made it clear he wasn’t in Minnesota to steal anyone’s job and felt extremely comfortable here, ready to do whatever the squad needed. I honestly think he’s well aware of the Tyus Stans in his mentions and wanted to make it clear that he was concerned with the teams’ success first and foremost. There wasn’t even a question about him taking anyone’s spot! Overall, as someone that has been a Rose detractor, his honesty was a nice change of pace from the first hour of media day distortion.
What about the longest-tenured Wolf, Iron G? How is he doing? Well, Gorgui Dieng always has something fun to say.
I told Gorgui Dieng that from the outside looking in it seemed like last year wasn’t very enjoyable despite the winning. I asked him what it was like inside the locker room. “That’s why there’s a locker room,” he said— RandBall (@RandBall) September 24, 2018
Dieng said: “I know I’m a good basketball player.”
Translation: Play me more minutes.
Dieng had a bad season last year and was obviously unhappy with his role on the team. In turn, he wasn’t pleased and there’s no running away from that. They need to get way more out of him this season. Still, there are few players that offer better responses in this type of setting.
"If you have questions about Jimmy Butler getting traded, talk to him. Or contact Glen." -- Gorgui Dieng, with a giggle.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) September 24, 2018
Dieng on his role going forward: “I’m just gonna get ready. I’m a pro. I’m gonna try and do my job; be professional, come early to work, practice, and get ready for games. It’s on coach to decide who he wants to go with, and we’ve got nothing against him for that. I’m respectful and try to do the right things in the locker room. I think I’m a good teammate, and can sacrifice myself for my team.”
As for Mr. Teague...
When asked if he sees the Butler trade request as a distraction, Jeff Teague responded: “I really don’t.” For those keeping track at home, Gibson DOES see the trade request as a big distraction, while Teague does not. He jokingly said he pays more attention to pro wrestling.
When I asked him what his confidence level was in making the playoffs this year, to continue his perfect streak of making the postseason, he said, “Like I said every year, we’re gonna make the playoffs. I always say that and it always happens. When I was in Indiana, they said ‘ahhhhhh’ and we snuck in there. Last year, ‘ahhhhhhhhh,’ we got in there.”
Loul Deng was an ultimate professional. At this stage of his career, he just wants someone to believe in him.
Luol Deng says he wanted to be around people that actually believed in him and is excited to play in a system he knows well. That’s why he signed with the Wolves. He was surprised by the Butler news but also thinks a lot of what’s going on can bring the team closer.— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) September 24, 2018
Deng discussing Wiggins: “I believe Andrew is underrated. His ceiling is very high and he’s going to keep getting better. I really believe in him. He’s a hard worker.”
Deng on his role as a leader in the locker room: “From what I see so far, it’s really a great group of guys. I think everything that’s going on will bring us closer. You could see the potential. There were a lot of games that we were in that we could’ve won.
Lightning Round On Everyone Else
Tyus Jones said he will leave his contract extension up to his agent when I asked whether it’s been discussed, or if the plan is to simply play out the season and hit restricted free agency.
Jones on Butler: “He was a big part of our team. Making the playoffs was a group effort. Everybody had their roles. If Jimmy isn’t here, it will be next man up. We’re just ready to get this thing going and build off of last year. I think all our focus is on winning basketball games.”
James Nunally is confident in his three-point shot and believes the Wolves can make the right swing passes to get everyone open shots. “When I stopped worrying about the NBA, that’s when it happened.”
Rookies Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop were asked very few questions. Both said the right things. I kind of felt bad for them. The same goes for C.J. Williams and Jared Terrell, who both said they felt like this was a good place that would give them the opportunity to show what they can do.
That’s all I have for now. What stood out the most to you? Everyone involved with the Wolves are clearly waiting for Butler to be traded so they can move forward as fast as possible, but in the meantime I will say that I felt a sense of togetherness at media day amongst the players. While it sucks to lose an incredible baller like Butler, there’s still plenty of talent in that locker room and the guys seems motivated to prove that.
For now we will patiently wait for a trade and do what we always do in Wolvesdom.
We hope for the best while expecting the worst.