INBOX: First Week of Camp
Andy G: First things first:
Why hasn’t Wig signed his deal yet? Is he waiting until he’s injured first?
Patrick J: Great question. Wiggins unexpectedly fired his agent, Bill Duffy, in late August after Duffy had negotiated a five-year, $148 million maximum contract extension for his client. Things have been in a holding pattern since then. Glen Taylor said he wanted to talk with Wiggins about Wig’s future before finalizing the deal, which doesn’t seem an affront against a soon-to-be max player whose demeanor and drive have been questioned as contributing to his defensive lapses and his low rebounding numbers. According to Wig, those conversations are done and the offer is on the table.
So what’s going on here? Andrew Wiggins is a unique cat. He simply might not be in a hurry while he focuses on training camp, the task that’s immediately at hand. Maybe he’s still in the process of working out a deal with another agent who’d close Wiggins’ max extension and offer something additional that Duffy wouldn’t. Regardless, Wig should really get ‘er done here soon. He stands to lose some money if he would get hurt in one of Thibodeau’s’ notoriously intense training camp practices.
On a different note, Bjelica is back, apparently healthy and practicing full strength after completing his recovery from foot surgery. What’s his role going to be?
Andy G: About that, in his post-practice interview today in San Diego, Thibs said that “Belly” did NOT practice today (he had been practicing before today) due to personal reasons, before smirking and smiling and telling the media that Bjelica would have to tell them what those “good” personal reasons were, in a day or so.
I guess we’ll have to look forward to that news.
But on his place on this team, he seems to be squeezed from the enlarged role that he took on late last season — before his injury — when the Wolves finally started winning and generally playing like a Tom Thibodeau basketball team (read: getting defensive stops like whoa.)
Most people assume — rightly, I think — that either Taj Gibson or Gorgui Dieng will start next to KAT in the frontcourt. KAT gets 36 minutes per game and Taj/G will get another 50 to 55 or so between them (however distributed). Unless they go with some “big ball” lineups that include Bjelica at the 3, that would only leave 5 to 10 minutes per game for Bjelica.
Of course game-to-game situations will vary and sometimes one guy will be hurt or another will be in foul trouble. Belly will get his opportunities. But they might not be as regular and steady as some — including Belly — expected when he seemed to finally turn a corner last year, before breaking his foot.
Andy G: “The greatest thing about having Jimmy, having Taj, they know how it is to play for Thibs. They got his system already down pat. They played for him for years. For other players like me, Andrew, it’s our first year in a system like that. NOW WE GOT IT. Now we know where we can take our chances, where we can use our instincts a little better, not just kinda follow the system, but be basketball players.”
This is what KAT said to Steve Aschburner of nba.com last week on Media Day and it reflects what he told the local press in his press conference.
Here’s the thing though: In April last season, in the team’s final 8 games, the Wolves had a catastrophically-awful defensive rating of 116.4. KAT’s individual D-rating in the final month was even worse, at 117.2.
So, the last time KAT played defense for Thibs, he most definitely did not “get it.” That is not to say that he’s certainly wrong to be confident now. There are myriad ways that he and his teammates could have improved over the offseason, including more workouts and film study (fwiw: in Thibs’s post-practice presser on Wednesday, he said that KAT was in much better shape than last season), and it is equally possible that the April slide had more to do with fatigue than actual regression or even accurate assessment of where they were at. (The team was defending WAY better, before their end-of-year slide.) But isn’t there something disconcerting about KAT speaking so nonchalantly about his clear understanding of Thibodeau Defense, at this pivotal time when that is the biggest question facing the team this year, and that supposed understanding was nowhere to be found when we last watched him play?
Patrick J: The thing about training camp is that no one has seen them play yet. KAT’s overconfidence and seeming casual assurance that he and his teammates are going to be better defenders than they were last season is worrisome. KAT needs to show the willingness and ability to play hard and smart defensively for the long stretches he plays nightly. He has never shown it before, and, as you noted, last year things got worse, not better, as the season went on. While the team is likely to improve defensively this season, it is likely to come simply from being a year more mature physically (for Towns and Wiggins) and from adding the defensive wizard, Butler, who makes any team’s defense better when he’s on the floor. Defense remains the biggest question mark around this team by far. Fortunately, Wolves fans won’t have to take KAT’s word for it too much longer. Soon we’ll be able to see them on the court.
Andy G: That is all for now about training camp. By all accounts the Wolves are working hard in San Diego. When Thibs was asked about the city as a potential NBA-franchise city, and specifically pressed about the possibility of coaches golfing together at Torrey Pines, he just laughed and said that he doesn’t golf. That is both not surprising at all and yet another sign that the team is singularly focused on preparing for the task at hand.
Until next time.