MINNEAPOLIS — Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson aren’t the only new parts of the Minnesota Timberwolves this season.
Minnesota unveiled its most drastic uniform change in several years this season, and awaiting the Timberwolves on Friday night is a new court at the remodeled Target Center.
A friendly face will mark the occasion of Minnesota’s home opener Friday as well.
Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves’ first-round draft choice in 2009, returns to Minnesota as a member of the Utah Jazz after being traded in the offseason.
The move was part of an overhaul by Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau in the offseason, installing Teague to replace the point guard with whom he never seemed to mesh, while also adding Butler and Gibson.
The three new starters — who joined young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins — certainly bring new optimism for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 13 years. Learning to play together likely will take time. The Timberwolves found that our firsthand while losing 107-99 at San Antonio in their season opener on Wednesday night.
Wiggins led the team with 26 points, Towns had 18 points and 13 rebounds, and Butler finished with 12 points, four rebounds and three assists. Minnesota led by one point with five minutes remaining but was outscored 16-5 the rest of the way.
“We didn’t close out the way we needed to against a team like that,” Thibodeau said. “You have to play, particularly down the stretch. We just have to do better. We didn’t have a lot of turnovers, but the ones we had were very costly. That’s something we have to take a look at.”
Teague, in particular, didn’t close out the game. He was on the bench much of the fourth quarter with Tyus Jones playing point guard. Teague had 11 points and six assists.
Now Rubio, whose departure from Minnesota will always be linked to Thibodeau, comes to town.
Rubio had nine points and 10 assists in Utah’s 106-96 season-opening win against Denver on Wednesday. He became the third-quickest active NBA player to hit 3,000 assists, completing the task in 354 games. Chris Paul (304 games) and John Wall (347) are the only players to reach the mark faster.
The Jazz are pleased with their return in the Rubio trade, which included a protected first-round pick sent to Minnesota.
“Far surpassed my expectations,” Utah general manager Dennis Lindsey told the Salt Lake Tribune. “And all of our intel was excellent with Ricky.”
Rubio added five rebounds and two steals in the Jazz’s win on Wednesday. Rudy Gobert contributed 18 points and 10 rebounds. Alec Burks supplied some scoring off the bench with 16 points.
“The points may come from different places every night,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We just want to score. However the guys are generating them and however the game unfolds, we have to be opportunistic in who attacks and who scores. Try to find on the court the guys that have advantages.”
Rubio is known for his acumen of finding the advantage with slick passing. He will also be a central figure as the Jazz and Timberwolves likely battle for a playoff spot in the Western Conference this season.
Minnesota opens the season with four consecutive games against teams that made the playoffs last season.
“We didn’t rebound like we were capable of, and we turned the ball over late in the game and we can’t do that,” Butler said after the Wednesday loss. “They got what they wanted to get. … We put ourselves in a position to win, though. They did what they were supposed to do, and we didn’t.”
Utah was 3-1 against the Timberwolves last season.
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