MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves have suddenly become one of the “it” destinations for NBA free agents.
Potential and reputation are beating out palm trees and postseason history.
After finalizing contracts Monday with power forward Taj Gibson and point guard Jeff Teague, two complementary additions to a roster that has undergone a significant enrichment and pruning over the last three weeks, the Wolves introduced the pair of 2009 first-round draft picks during an introductory news conference.
Gibson (two years, $28 million ) and Teague (three years, $57 million ) agreed to terms earlier this month before they were allowed to sign their deals.
“They look at the teams and the players that they have, and then they see how they fit into that, and I think it’s very attractive to players in the league,” said president and coach Tom Thibodeau.
When Gibson and Teague jumped at the chance to join them, they were driven by more than just the tantalizing trio of newcomer Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. They willingly sought the demanding and intense coaching they’ll get from Thibodeau and his staff, too.
“He really helped turn my career. He believed in me when a lot of people really didn’t,” Gibson said.
The 32-year-old Gibson played five seasons for Thibodeau in Chicago, before the Bulls fired him. Over the last two years, until Gibson was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in February, the broad-shouldered coach with the deep New England baritone was clearly missed by the players he left behind.
“The hunger and the mentality of the team was really different once he left Chicago,” Gibson said, adding: “I always had Minnesota circled because I felt there was a lot of talent there, a lot of young guys who are really hungry, and it’s a good organization. It was a no-brainer I wanted to come here.”
Butler and Gibson were teammates with the Bulls for nearly six seasons, developing a deep relationship with Thibodeau that was love-hate based on his penchant for yelling from the bench but ultimately rooted in respect.
“Thibs understands I’m tough. He can throw anything at me, and I’m going to bulldoze right through it. Any kind of situation, any kind of perseverance, anything. He threw those things at me my second year in the league,” Gibson said, adding: “His shell is so hard, but once you finally break into his shell, he’s an awesome guy.”
The 29-year-old Teague spent his first seven seasons with Atlanta, representing the Hawks at the All-Star Game in 2015, before joining the Indiana Pacers last year. Teague told his agent as soon as Butler was dealt to the Wolves that Minnesota was the place for him to be. He’s never played for Thibodeau, but as an Eastern Conference foe in many regular season matchups plus the second round of the 2011 playoffs he has faced the defensive-minded coach often.
“I know that voice from a mile away,” Teague said. “Yeah, I’m excited. I want to be pushed, and no other coach in the league is going to push you like Thibs.”
Between Gibson and Teague, they have 127 games of postseason experience. The Wolves have also agreed to terms on a two-year contract with shooting guard Jamal Crawford, but he has not signed his deal yet. Crawford, who’s 37, has another 69 playoff games on his resume with the Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta during Teague’s first two seasons.
“He can win a game for you,” Thibodeau said. “He gets hot, and he can score a lot of different ways. He can create his own shot, and it doesn’t take him much room to get a shot off.”
Still in the market for another point guard and two more wing players to join Crawford as backups to Wiggins and Butler, the Wolves have swiftly moved themselves up the conference food chain despite a streak of 13 straight years missing the playoffs.
“I know the West is going to be tough, but I think we’re building a team right now where we can really compete,” Teague said. “And being in the playoffs every year of my career, I expect nothing less.”