By: Bill Ingram
Bill Ingram has 17 years of experience covering the NBA and is now a contributing writer for nbAradioshow.com. You can find him on Twitter: @TheRocketGuy.
When Tom Thibodeau took over the Minnesota Timberwolves he knew they had plenty of young talent. What they were missing was the right veteran leadership. He went about adding the right leaders, guys he was intimately familiar with from his successful tenure with the Chicago Bulls.
None of those veterans were more celebrated or more important to the growth of the young Minnesota core than Jimmy Butler, whom the team acquired by sending a bundle of young talent to the rebuilding Bulls. Butler had emerged as a top-tier talent in the wake of Derrick Rose’s injury and departure, making him just the right person to lead Minnesota’s young core into an era of perpetual playoff glory. That plan was going ahead full steam until Butler went down with a meniscus injury in the team’s first game after the All-Star break.
The injury required surgery, but the timetable for Butler’s return is unclear. Considering how tight the Western Conference playoff race is currently. The Timberwolves are all but tied with the foundering San Antonio Spurs, holding onto the fourth seed and a hand’s breadth away from the third. They have momentum on their side and have finally started to show the potential they appeared to have when the season started. What do they have to do in Butler’s absence to maintain their success?
The obvious answer is, of course, that other players must step up. More than 18 points per game are now up for grabs, and there are plenty of capable players ready to fill the void. Namanja Bjelica has a chance to show that he’s capable of playing a bigger role for the team. In the team’s recent win over the Sacramento Kings – not that beating the Kings is a major accomplishment – Bjelica had one of his better games of the season starting in place of Butler. Jeff Teague will have to do a little more shooting than passing, perhaps, and Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins are more than capable of providing additional offense. Sixth-man Jamal Crawford also stands ready to fill the void with more of his patented offensive spark.
There is plenty of good news for the Timberwolves. Butler is expected back before the playoffs and perhaps his most valuable contribution – his veteran savvy – is not impacted by his inability to take the court for a few weeks. He will be well-rested when he returns, ready for what could be a deep playoff run. Injuries are never good news, but if he returns to a deeper, more potent team, there could at the very least be a silver lining to the injury cloud.
For the Minnesota Timberwolves, Butler’s injury is merely a road bump. The car is still on the road and headed for the playoffs.
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