|Spurs, Timberwolves kick off campaign full of hope|
The San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves have been two of the most talked about teams in the NBA during the offseason so perhaps it's only fitting that they open their 2018-19 campaigns against each other Wednesday at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.
The Spurs have recorded 21 straight winning seasons and compiled the second-highest winning percentage of any team in the four major professional sports during that span. They have won five NBA championships and earned 12 division titles in that time.
It will be a decidedly different Spurs team this season. Gone are venerable guard and sixth-man Manu Ginobili to retirement after spending all of his 16 years in the NBA in San Antonio, and point guard Tony Parker, who signed with Charlotte as a free agent.
Also subtracted from the Spurs' lineup are forward Kawhi Leonard and guard Danny Green, who were traded to Toronto in exchange for guard DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first round pick from Toronto. DeRozan is a four-time All-Star and two-time all-league player who spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Raptors.
The Spurs will be led by forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who is starting his fourth season with San Antonio and 13th in the NBA. He led the Spurs in scoring (23.1 points) and rebounding (8.5) while averaging 33.5 minutes in 75 games last year.
"I feel good," Aldridge said Monday. "I had a great offseason, getting healthy. Had a good camp as far as working on things and finding chemistry with the guys, so I feel good. Just ready to go."
The Spurs have been racked with injuries in the preseason, losing guards Lonnie Walker IV, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White -- in that order -- to long-term injuries over a six-day span. Murray tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and is expected to miss the entire season.
Veteran point guard Patty Mills said the Spurs will be ready despite the new lineup and the challenges created by the injuries.
"It's been a very quick preseason, knowing that we've got a new team and there's a lot of stuff to try to get everyone on the same page," Mills said. "In that sense, we blinked our eyes and here we are, getting ready for our first game of the season.
"But I think, like always, we can hang our hat on our system and the way that we like to play. Anyone can kind of fill in roles as long as we do it together and see the big picture."
The Timberwolves, who returned to the playoffs last season after a 13-year absence, were enjoying a mostly quiet offseason until guard Jimmy Butler disrupted things by demanding a trade shortly before training camp began.
Butler, who averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and two steals a game in last season, missed most of training camp and the preseason before returning to the team last Wednesday.
Asked if the Timberwolves are still trying to trade Butler, coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau said the team is always looking at options.
"Whatever is best for our team, that's what we'll do," Thibodeau said. ""Everything's fluid. We'll continue to work through things."
Minnesota is led by All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague, and will get quality minutes and physicality from forward Taj Gibson.
The Timberwolves replaced stretch forward Nemanja Bjelica in the offseason with Anthony Tolliver, re-signed point-guard Derrick Rose, and made a couple draft picks that could contribute (Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop).
Minnesota was 1-4 in the preseason, and Towns, who signed a super-max contract extension with the Timberwolves last month, is not pleased with his team's play heading into the regular campaign.
"We don't got no more time to be here saying, 'Aw, it's OK; it's preseason,'" Towns said after Minnesota's 143-121 loss to Milwaukee on Friday. "This momentum we're riding right now, this wave we're riding, it's not good. It's not good at all."
It remains to be seen how the Butler fiasco will affect the team, but one thing is likely: The Timberwolves that will hit the court against San Antonio on Wednesday will not be as good as the team will be in mid- and late-season.