It’s finally here! For Minnesota sports fans discouraged by the Twins season and happily befuddled by the heavily-injured but never-say-die Vikings, the Timberwolves are here to sell hope.
The Wolves have a new coach (Tom Thibodeau), two bona fide rising stars (Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins), a fun wild card (Zach LaVine) and a slew of other players that are looking to end the Wolves’ playoff drought this season.
Below is a summary of each coach or player’s press conference, which took place at the Courts at Mayo Clinic Square, including quotes, notes, video and pertinent Tweets.
Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden
Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden were the first to go. We weren’t three seconds in before Sid Hartman, who made his presence known throughout the whole event, did his thing.
Thibodeau addressed the elephant in the room first, speaking at length about Kevin Garnett and what he meant not only to the Timberwolves organization, but also to him personally when he was an assistant with the Boston Celtics.
In reference to the Wolves roster specifically, Thibodeau wants to see them improve defensively and hit 3-point shots, and he said that the team has to work on the fundamentals and X’s and O’s before they start talking about the playoffs. He also was honest about where the team is at — they won 29 games last year.
He believes that the roster has versatility, and that the Wolves are capable of playing two point guards together — likely Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn — as well as small ball or going big. He sees Nemanja Bjelica as an underrated passer and Wiggins playing 2, 3 and 4 this year.
One reporter asked Thibodeau and every player about participating in protests pertaining to social justice issues in America right now. Thibodeau responded by praising Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and other players for their stands on various issues, as well as how NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has handled this situation so far.
After Thibodeau was done speaking, various Wolves players took the podium. The players below are listed in the order that they addressed the media.
The theme with Jones was pretty simple: he played well in the Summer League, there is some curiosity surrounding how he will play with Kris Dunn, and he’s from Minnesota, so he must like Cole Aldrich, right?
It’s pretty straightforward: Jones knows it’s a big deal to be a Minnesota native playing in Minneapolis, he’s down to play with Dunn and he’s bulked up a bit after being pushed around in the NBA last year.
Muhammad is another guy who is likely to be used in various ways this year. Time will tell what he has to offer defensively, but he appears to be developing into a slasher that has improved his three-point shot.
He also emphasized that he doesn’t want to use the team’s youth as an excuse this year.
And when it comes to social justice issues, he feels communicating the right message is paramount.
With Dunn, the line of questioning was pretty pointed: Can he play with Rubio?
Once the formalities of asking what he thinks of the coaching staff (he likes them) and his transition to the NBA (he knows it will be tough, especially the deeper three-point line), it was all about where he would play.
He says he likes competing against and working with Rubio, and that he’s not really one to hound coaches and players with questions. “Just throw me into the fire,” he said.
Bjelica says he spent all summer in Minneapolis working on his game, hitting the weight room and improving his three-point shot. He says it helps that he has acclimated to the Twin Cities and American life, especially after last year when he arrived from Europe shortly before the season started.
A reporter asked him specifically about passing up good shots last season, instead opting to dish the ball to a teammate who might not have had as good of a look. He said he was learning the NBA game and realizes how small of a window he has to get a shot off.
Wiggins was maybe the biggest surprise at media day. Usually reticent, he was elaborate with most of his answers and came out with the strongest statement of any player in the building.
He also said that he’s fine with playing multiple positions this season, emphasized the intensity of Thibodeau’s practices and called Kevin Garnett a big brother to everyone. He said he had a “big effect” on the team.
LaVine was his usual goofy self at media day. He called Thibodeau and his staff “hands-on and vocal,” but also “intense and caring.” He too called Garnett a big brother and echoed Muhammad when he said that he’s tired of the team using its youth as an excuse.
Oh yeah, and despite his credentials as a sixth man that can energize a team, he wants to start.
He also probably took the hardest stance when it came to social justice issues.
Sid went after Rubio right away, calling him the King of Spain and then asking him directly about whether or not he wanted to be traded. Rubio said that he wanted to be part of a winning team, but that the Wolves had the pieces and expressed a desire to move on from that narrative.
Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of his availability was that he admitted to recruiting fellow Spaniard Pau Gasol, who ultimately landed with the San Antonio Spurs.
He also said that he would help Dunn out — and didn’t feel threatened by him — that he was willing to be a leader, although he wants other people to step up into that role too, and that he feels this team can win now.
Aldrich appeared happy to be home. As Zach points out above, he’s got a monster voice and a personality to match. He’s a little unassuming, but also a bit intimidating given his size and rapid hand gestures.
He knows he’s one of the veteran players on the team, and also that Towns is a once-in-a-generation guy who he’ll be paired up with from time to time.
He’s also a bit bummed he couldn’t have played with Garnett for a year here.
Zach for some reason started this video by pointing the camera at his legs. I can’t imagine this is what Hill likes about Minnesota. But I digress.
Hill knows who he is: a veteran guy here to help the young players. He named Kobe Bryant and Carlos Boozer specifically when asked about his influences as a young player. He also had a doozy of a one-liner when asked about playing in Minnesota.
He also had a very honest answer when asked about social justice issues.
Towns was his usual affable self at the podium today. He was asked immediately about K.G. and replied with something to the tune of “we’re getting down to business right away,” knowing that this would be a big question after he expressed his thanks for all Garnett taught him last year.
He said that their shared emotion and passion helped them form a bond that was important to his development as a player, and that he will “always be his little brother.”
He, like Wiggins, also seemed very perturbed about the Wolves’ reputation as perennial losers.
Rush was kind of funny in his own way. He came over from Golden State, and says that Thibodeau’s pitch and his reputation as a winning coach were big selling points for him going from one of the most successful teams in the league to one that has the NBA’s longest playoff drought.
The best part is he was pretty honest about the advantage of coming to Minnesota: he’ll get playing time.
He also knows that as one of the veteran players in the room, he’ll be expected to be a leader as well as a knock-down shooter.
We don’t have video available for Payne. If you’re wondering why, bug Zach (@ZacharyBD). His DM’s are open.
Payne emphasized that he’s bulked up, knows that the coaching staff is going to be defensive-minded and is “working on everything.”
Dieng said that with Thibodeau and the coaching staff “you have to learn every detail, you have to learn the basics,” and that he and Towns had success last year because they communicated effectively.
The big news from his press conference is that he’s added a lot of weight knowing that he tends to get really skinny during the season and needs some bulk.
That’s all from media day. It should be a fun season. Be sure to follow Zach (@ZacharyBD) and I (@tschreier3) for Wolves coverage all season long.