Wolves enter draft with Butler looming in the distance

Published 7:16 am Thursday, June 22, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves enter the NBA draft with the No. 7 overall pick in the first round, and not sure if the player they want will be available. And that player might not necessarily be a rookie.

When the draft opens Thursday night, two All-Stars could lord over the proceedings. Indiana All-Star Paul George is on the trading block after informing Pacers that he will not re-sign with them and Chicago star Jimmy Butler could also be pried away for the right price.

The Timberwolves and Butler have been linked ever since Tom Thibodeau was hired as coach and president at the end of the 2015-16 season. The two teams had extensive conversations on draft night last summer and could renew those talks this time around depending on what happens above them with the first six picks in the draft.

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“You hear about a lot of trade rumors and things of that nature,” Thibodeau said Wednesday, holding his cards typically close to his vest. “We’re always looking to improve our club. If we feel there is somebody we can add and improve in certain areas. But we’re always looking to get better.”

Given Butler’s standing as a top-15 talent in the league and the kind of tough, experienced, two-way player that Thibodeau has said the team needs if it is going to end a 13-year playoff drought next season, the Bulls would likely command a significant package of compensation to land him. So far there has been little dialogue between the teams this week, but draft night typically ramps up the process.

If the Wolves do stay at No. 7, Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac and Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen are two of the names most often mentioned in connection with the team. Isaac is the kind of versatile, defensive-minded forward who could complement Karl-Anthony Towns in the front court while the 7-foot Markkanen would bring the 3-point shooting touch that the team desperately needs.

“If there’s a player out there that has that type of shooting skill, particularly a big guy, we feel that that could open up the floor, and that creates space for everybody,” Thibodeau said with a smile, declining to speak specifically about Markkanen. “But whether it’s a big guy or a small guy, we need shooting, and we need defense and we need toughness.”