Tag Archives: Timberwolves

You can buy a no-name, blank ‘trees’ era Wolves jersey for $400 if you want

So the brand Mitchell & Ness has collaborated with designer Don C on some vintage NBA jerseys that are … well … hmmmm.

They’re part of the “No-Name Collection,” and they definitely deliver on that promise.

See, there are six NBA teams represented in the part of the collection released Tuesday, with the Timberwolves’ “tree” era jerseys — worn during the KG heyday of the late 90s to mid-2000s — among them.

And, um, all that’s on the jerseys aside from labels are the small green border trees and an NBA logo. No player name. No team name. No name.

And they’re $400.

(The photo above is the jersey for sale and the actual jersey, as worn by Kevin Garnett).

I’ll admit the Jazz, Suns and Warriors no-name jerseys are better. Maybe not worth $400, but I’m a dad who has stuff in his closet from last century and more jumpsuits than real suits.

The Wolves no-name jerseys, though? They seem a little too sparse. But that’s the point? From the news release:

Designed and tailored in the United States, the “No Name” collection presents itself just as it sounds. Don has strategically removed the NBA team names on the front of the jersey, creating a fashion-forward silhouette that provides a unique take on nostalgic HWC jerseys.

It’s your life. It’s your money. I get the weird psychology behind wanting something more because it’s absurdly expensive. It’s $400. Is there something wrong with me because I don’t like it?

You might be the envy of Target Center next year, or you might regret a purchase immediately.

I’m a dad, but I’m not your dad. Do what you want.

If Wolves explore trading Andrew Wiggins, here are some possible deals

Let’s start here: I think there’s a better chance than not that Andrew Wiggins is on the Timberwolves’ roster next season. He’s a talented 23-year-old former No. 1 overall pick and Rookie of the Year about to enter into five very highly paid years. The former makes it hard for the Wolves to give him up, and the latter makes it hard for them to find a willing taker.

I’m also not convinced trading Wiggins would be a good idea. I’m over 50 percent on the “yes” side, but not by much. There’s a lot to consider, even after his disappointing fourth NBA season and imperfect fit on a roster with Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns.

But Wiggins is the Wolves’ most enticing asset. And particularly if the Wolves are able to retain Butler and Towns this offseason with expensive extensions, the possibility of a Wiggins trade after the new league year begins in July is at least worth considering. Even after the Wolves improved by 16 victories and reached the postseason for the first time in 14 seasons, there wasn’t the sense that they could just run it back with the same roster next year and improve. Advancing into the next tier might necessitate more shaking things up, and Wiggins is a candidate.

So consider this an exercise in assessing Wiggins’ potential value and what he might fetch in return if — a big if — the Wolves decided to go that route. As I see it, there are four realistic types of deals given where the Wolves are in their development:

1) Go big or go home: I think the single biggest thing missing on the Wolves’ roster right now is a shot-blocking, defensive-minded big man. If you want an eraser that fixes a lot of defensive deficiencies, go get yourself one of those. Tom Thibodeau had one in Chicago with Joakim Noah when he had all those highly ranked defenses. He lacks a player like that in Minnesota, and the defense has suffered accordingly.

Names to consider: Two guys come to mind. One is the Heat’s Hassan Whiteside and the other is Detroit’s Andre Drummond. Both are defensive beasts who can also score. Both have big salaries that would match up with Wiggins’ max deal. Whiteside is being mentioned in rumors as a trade bait because of a lackluster performance in this year’s playoffs. Drummond has been mentioned in trade rumors in the past, too — most prominently to Boston.

So what’s the problem: Whiteside is under contract for just two more seasons, and one of those is a player option. The Wolves would be trading their relative problem for the Heat’s relative problem, and if you deal for him and it doesn’t work out, you could be left with nothing. And in both cases, the Wolves would also probably need to move Gorgui Dieng — lest they have a TON of salary tied up in big men, along with Towns and Taj Gibson.

2) Cut and run: The Wolves could flat-out decide the Wiggins extension was a mistake and take on useful players on shorter-term contracts to get out from the deal while still charting a course for a repeat trip to the playoffs.

Names to consider: A team like Brooklyn — bereft of elite young talent because of damaging deals involving draft picks — could view Wiggins as a key piece around which to build. The Nets could send back DeMarre Carroll or Allen Crabbe (shooters who would help next year) and enough spare parts to make the money work.

So what’s the problem: Brooklyn would be getting the best player in the deal, and the Wolves would be giving up on Wiggins at a relatively young age — with the potential to look foolish down the road.

3) The unlikely home run: Tom Thibodeau swung a franchise-changing deal for Jimmy Butler last offseason. Could he do it again this offseason?

Name to consider: Kawhi Leonard. He’s one of the best players in the NBA, and his situation in San Antonio is strained to say the least. He would give the Wolves a devastating Big Three along with Butler and Towns, and mayyyybe Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would look at Wiggins and think he can maximize his potential.

So what’s the problem: Leonard is due for a massive contract, and his health is in question. Also, if the Spurs trade Leonard, can’t they do better than this? (Yes).

4) Opportunity knocks: Sometimes a playoff flameout creates momentum for change via a trade. I could see two potential teams in this sphere: The Raptors and the Blazers.

Names to consider: Toronto has some intriguing matches. DeMar DeRozan had a rough postseason and is neither a great three-point shooter nor lockdown defender, but he’s become a very good scorer and all-around offensive threat. He’s basically an older (almost 29) version of Wiggins and is essentially the kind of player Wolves fans now hope Wiggins will become. The Raptors were the East’s No. 1 seed but were swept by the Cavs, with DeRozan shrinking along the way. Wiggins is a Canada native who could be a megastar in Toronto. Point guard Kyle Lowry is another name to consider in a deal (along with other parts) that would presumably include both Wiggins and Jeff Teague in return.

Portland, meanwhile, was swept by New Orleans in the first round — leading to some thoughts that the Blazers might need to deal either C.J. McCollum or Damian Lillard in order to try something new. McCollum is a great shooter who would change the Wolves’ offense, while Lillard is a fearless point guard. Both names are intriguing.

So what’s the problem: Wiggins for DeRozan seems to make the most sense on multiple levels of any deal mentioned here, but is that really a game-changer for the Wolves? It might make them a couple wins better, but you don’t look at it and think they could suddenly compete against Golden State or Houston. The other deals make you think, “Would the other team really do that?”

Indeed, the best trade the Wolves could probably make would be dealing 2017-18 Wiggins for a consistent, truly dynamic version of Wiggins in 2018-19. I’m just not sure that trade is any more likely than the ones mentioned above.

With No. 20 pick in NBA draft, will Wolves nab another Creighton player?

While *most* eyes are fixed on Game 2 of the Timberwolves’ series against the Rockets (8:30 tonight, FSN and TNT), it is inevitable that some Wolves fans also are casting a sideways glance at the NBA Draft in June and wondering how Minnesota might improve on its 47-win roster.

To that end, there was a little bit of news a few days ago when the NBA conducted tiebreakers to determine draft positioning at the conclusion of the regular season. We obviously don’t know the order of the 14 non-playoff teams since the draft lottery isn’t until May 15, but we do know how picks 15-30 shook out.

In that sense, the Wolves *won* a couple times. First, the pick they owe Atlanta from the long-ago (and not so successful) Adreian Payne trade) is No. 19 overall. It could have been No. 18, but San Antonio won that tiebreaker. So the pick Minnesota is missing out on isn’t as good as it could be. (Hawks sites and even the official team Twitter account had some fun with that pick, by the way, since it was lottery-protected. Had the Wolves missed the playoffs, they would have kept the pick. The Hawks, who now have three first-round picks, were rooting hard for the Wolves to beat Denver in the season finale).

More importantly, the pick the Wolves are getting from the Jazz (which originally belonged to the Thunder) is the No. 20 pick. OKC was the winner in a four-team tiebreaker, so that pick could have been as low as No. 23.

Now that we know where the Wolves are picking, and we know a lot of the underclassmen who have declared for the draft (the deadline is April 22), looking at mock drafts can at least yield somewhat useful information.

Last year, the Wolves drafted for need but also took a chance on potential when they grabbed Creighton’s Justin Patton at No. 16 after their swap with the Bulls. He spent the first part of this season rehabbing a foot injury before having some strong moments in the G-League.

This year, one of the more intriguing players they might be able to get at No. 20 is Patton’s former teammate — Khyri Thomas, a Creighton junior guard who declared for the draft earlier this month.

Baskeball Insiders has Thomas going to the Wolves at No. 20 in its latest mock draft, and it’s not hard to see why. He’s a good three-point shooter (over 40 percent for his career) and is considered a very good defensive player. He’s not overly tall (6-3 or 6-4 depending on where you look), but he has a 6-10 wingspan. He averaged 15.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.7 steals last season, helping Creighton make the NCAA tourney. He might not have a ton of star potential, but he could be a solid pro and exactly the kind of player the Wolves could use.

Here’s a five-minute highlight video. I have to admit, I really like his game (and yes, I’m aware these are just highlights).

Mock drafts will undoubtedly change as time goes on, and there will surely be other names to consider. Thomas’ stock could rise or fall once workouts and camps start, and he could still pull out of the draft since he has not hired an agent.

For now, though, he’s an interesting early name to think about — especially as you watch the Wolves in the playoffs and wonder what their roster would look like with a potent “three-and-D” guy coming off the bench.

Three reasons for optimism and pessimism with Wild and Wolves

It’s fun having both the Wild and Timberwolves in the playoffs at the same time for just the second time ever and first time since 2002-03. But now that both series are underway, with both teams trailing heavy favorites, you might be wondering: Does either team really have a chance to win and advance?

As such, let’s inject some doses of positive thinking — as well as a reality check — into each conversation. Here are three reasons to be optimistic about the Wild and Wolves, as well as three reasons to be pessimistic about their chances against the Jets and Rockets, respectively.

Wild

Current status: Down 2 games to 1 in best-of-7 series against Winnipeg, with Game 4 slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center (FSN and CNBC)

Reasons for optimism:

1) The Wild didn’t just win Game 3, it won convincingly. There is a difference, I think, between the 6-2 hurting the Wild put on Winnipeg on Sunday and, say, a 2-1 squeaker. Both count the same, but the feeling generated is different. In one game, the narrative changed from “the Wild looks totally overmatched” to “this series looks completely different now that Winnipeg is away from home.” The Wild now has confidence that it can score in bunches and should feel very good about the prospects of tying the series tonight.

2) The reverse side of things is how Winnipeg feels. One loss, even in a blowout, probably isn’t enough to shake the Jets’ confidence. But another one Tuesday, particularly if goalie Connor Hellebuyck struggles again? That would give the Wild a chance to create some panic or at least some uneasiness in what would essentially become a best-of-3 series.

3) There is precedent for the Wild coming back from a 2-1. In fact, of the four playoff series Minnesota was won in franchise history, the Wild was down 2-1 in three of them — and in all four the Wild was the lower seed.

Reasons for pessimism:

1) The Jets had a lot stacked against them in Game 3, including a weird travel situation created by the snowstorm. They arrived late, and it’s possible Game 3 was the outlier in the series.

2) Even in what looked like a lopsided loss, the Jets had chances. It was a 3-2 game before all heck broke loose, and Winnipeg still finished with more shots on goal than the Wild (31-29).

3) Even if the Wild wins Game 4, it will have to win a game in Winnipeg to take the series. These are two of the best home teams in the NHL, and the Jets still have two games left in Winnipeg — where the Wild is 0-4 this season counting the playoffs and has been outscored 18-8.

Timberwolves

Current status: Down 1 game to 0 in best-of-7 series with Houston, with Game 2 slated for 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in Houston (FSN and TNT).

Reasons for optimism:

1 The Wolves held Houston in check from three-point range in Game 1, with the Rockets going 10 for 37 from long distance. That’s five fewer makes and five fewer attempts than the Rockets averaged during the regular season, and anything that decreases Houston’s efficiency creates a better path to victory.

2) The Wolves had a chance to win Game 1 even when they didn’t play their best. Houston definitely wasn’t at its best Sunday, but neither were the Wolves. Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, in particular, struggled to both get involved and to have impact. And yet the Wolves held a slim lead in the fourth quarter and still had a shot to tie on their final possession. That could create confidence on their part and doubt on the part of the Rockets.

3) In the infamous words of Christian Ponder, some of the Wolves’ Game 1 miscues should be easily correctable. If they can make adjustments to exploit mismatches for Towns, their offense could get much-needed easy baskets and run more efficiently.

Reasons for pessimism:

1) Part of the reason Towns struggled is that Houston has a good game plan for him and is determined not to let him beat them by making three-pointers. It’s unclear yet whether Towns, playing in the playoffs for the first time, can make the Rockets pay.

2) Houston probably won’t miss that many three-pointers going forward in the series. Ryan Anderson missed Game 1 with a sprained ankle but could be back for Game 2. He shot 38.6 percent from three-point range to lead the Rockets in the regular season. Also, NBA.com shows that of the 37 three-point attempts by the Rockets on Sunday, 33 of them were either “open” or “wide open.” And players not named James Harden — guys who usually make threes at a 35-37 percent clip — connected on just 3 of 24 “open” or “wide open” threes. If the Wolves allow that many open looks in Game 2, the Rockets could very well blow them out.

3) This is still an 8-1 matchup for a reason, and Game 1 was the game the Wolves needed to win to have any chance of a competitive series. There are no moral victories in the playoffs, only real ones. The Wolves had a real chance to win Game 1, and as encouraging as that might seem it also should be viewed as a missed opportunity that put a big dent in any chance for an upset.

Charles Barkley: Wolves are ‘one of the dumbest teams I’ve ever seen’

In the aftermath of the Wolves’ 104-101 loss to the heavily favored Rockets in Game 1 of the playoffs Sunday — Minnesota’s first playoff game in 14 years — there were a lot of BIG OPINIONS.

You could trash the Wolves for letting a winnable game slip away against a Rockets team that did not shoot up to its standards. You could be encouraged by the Wolves’ fight and defensive strategy in a competitive game. You could loudly scream that there are NO MORAL VICTORIES.

If this was the legislature, though, there would be at least one bill that had bipartisan support between the positive and negative folks: Karl-Anthony Towns needs to be more involved. He himself needs to be more active. The Wolves need to get him the ball more. That he attempted just nine shots — fewer than Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford — is a confounding issue.

If you went to Charles Barkley for a nuanced discussion of this issue, though, you would instead be left with severe burns from his hot take. Talking about the Wolves, Barkley said, “They’ve got to be one of the dumbest teams I’ve ever seen in my life.”

The basis for this heat was how the Wolves used Towns in Game 1. Barkley continued: “The Houston Rockets switch every pick and roll. There’s mismatches all over the floor. They never take advantage of any mismatches.”

At which point Shaq jumped in and said, “They don’t want their coach to get mad and start yelling.”

Undeterred, Sir Charles plowed ahead: “There was five or six times where the switched Chris Paul to big KAT and so they put the guard had (Clint) Capela out on the floor. (Towns) cleared out instead of getting Chris Paul or James Harden down on the box, he cleared out to let the point guard go one-on-one. That’s not good basketball.”

But hey, guess what? It’s more nuanced than that! Let’s take a deeper look:

*First, although Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said of Towns postgame, “He’s got to be more active,” it also sure looked like some of what happened last night was by design. No, the Wolves probably did NOT go into the game hoping that Rose’s usage rate would be twice as high as that of Towns or Jimmy Butler, but the Wolves seemed to want the matchup they were getting with a smaller player guarded by a big on the switch more than they wanted Towns to post up a smaller player. And part of what was happening was by the Rockets’ design. They were determined not to let Towns beat them with three-pointers. They simply switched and took their chances that Towns couldn’t beat them enough on post-ups.

*Here’s where we could get down a dangerous rabbit hole on the question, “Are post-ups efficient or inefficient.” Long story short from this excellent Grantland (RIP piece) piece from 2013: They are inefficient if the resulting shot ends up being any sort of short- or mid-range jump shot that isn’t at the rim. They are efficient if the big man gets a layup, gets fouled or is able to use the threat of scoring as a means to create open threes or layups for teammates.

Towns’ most efficient shots this season (by far) were either at the rim or from three-point range. His eFG was .724 at the rim, .632 from three and less than .500 combined in the in-between spaces.

That said, Houston gave up the fifth-most shots under five feet this season (31 per game), and teams shot 62.9 percent on those shots (ninth-highest in the NBA). So here’s where everyone should find common ground. Thibs is right that Towns needs to be more active. Wolves fans should want Towns to get the ball more. And when he does, Towns needs to exploit those mismatches because he’s great at the rim and the Rockets are vulnerable there. If the Wolves could get a bunch of easy baskets — something they have struggled with this season — they might force the Rockets to rethink their strategy.

BUT: It’s not like the Wolves were getting bad looks when they eschewed the Towns post-up in favor of a guard going at a big. Barkley says it’s “not good basketball,” and this montage of the Wolves going away from Towns concludes, “I’m not even a Wolves fan and I’m heated about this.”

The compilation, though, shows: 1) Jeff Teague missing a floater; 2) Jimmy Butler finding a cutting Derrick Rose for a three-point play; 3) Butler finding Crawford for a wide open three (make); 4) Rose finding Wiggins for an open three (miss); 5) Crawford taking a long two (miss); 6) Teague having a decent look at a three (miss) and Towns getting the offensive rebound.

So here’s where I land: The Wolves are frustrating to watch at times, but they are far from Barkley’s hysterical “dumbest team.” Their Game 2 adjustment is finding the sweet spot between when to post up Towns when he has a smaller player on him and when to attack with the guard on that switch — who should also have a mismatch in terms of quickness.

Whether it was Towns shrinking in his first playoff game, poor strategy, his teammates not feeding him enough or some combination of all three, we can all agree he needs to do more in Game 2. He probably will. And the Rockets will probably shoot better from three-point range.

It’s a race to four wins, not one.

Timberwolves are learning lessons, but few are positive

The Timberwolves, in pursuit of a playoff berth for the first time since 2003-04, are well beyond the point of settling for moral victories. But they don’t seem to be beyond the point of playing for the long-term instead of the short-term — a noble pursuit, but one that feels a little out of place in a time of urgency.

In particular, the Wolves’ top decisionmakers — I would include Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler among them — appear to be OK gathering information right now, even if it makes their playoff chase more challenging.

This would be less upsetting to fans if the information they were getting and lessons they were learning were more positive.

Instead, Thursday night — with Butler dressed and listed as active in a critical game against Denver, but never leaving the bench in a 100-96 defeat that was both narrow and frustrating — the Wolves learned again that the two young players in whom they have the most invested still have a lot of growing to do.

Win or lose, it’s good for young players Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins to play in games like this. But if the hope was that it would bring out the best in both, that was clearly not the case Thursday.

It starts with Wiggins, who was invisible at times, listless at others and sloppy with the ball when he was engaged. It added up to a nine-point game in which he was minus-13. Without Butler in the lineup for the 17th consecutive game, there were ample opportunities for Wiggins’ natural gifts to shine through against Denver.

The output was flat-out disappointing and unacceptable for a player of his talent level, not to mention a player who signed a max contract extension that kicks in next year. Wiggins has become a marginally better defender this season than in past years, but any defensive gains have been offset by offensive inconsistency.

Towns had a strong game Thursday, pouring in 26 points with 13 rebounds. The Wolves were 10 points better than Denver when Towns was on the court. The problem is he fouled out in the crucial final few minutes — and in the aftermath his body language (at least as it came through on TV) was that of a player more concerned with that perceived injustice than the rest of the game.

Wiggins’ on-court growth and Towns’ emotional growth were keys coming into the season, and they remain very much a work in progress.

Butler’s return might have been enough to put a Band-aid on both of those things, much as his overall excellence when healthy this season has transformed the Wolves into a playoff contender. His continued absence, even on a night where there was at least a decision to be made about whether he could play, showed a franchise still in information-gathering mode and one still very much dependent on its veterans for production and leadership.

There’s still time in both the short-term and long-term for this to change, but right now the Wolves can’t be happy with a lot of the lessons they are learning.

Ricky Rubio: Jazz play “more as a team” than his old Wolves did

This doesn’t really qualify as a hot take on the part of Ricky Rubio since, as I’m fond of saying, the truth cannot be controversial.

But after the Jazz defeated the Lakers 117-110 on Tuesday — with Rubio scoring 31 points, dishing out eight assists and grabbing six rebounds in helping Utah inch closer to a playoff berth — Rubio was asked about the difference between playing his first season in Utah and the previous six in Minnesota.

“Of course in Minnesota we had a lot of guys who can score and I was more passing the ball,” Rubio said, per the Desert News. “Here we play more as a team … and that fits my game better.”

Rubio went on to say that he feels like this season with the Jazz is the best he’s played in the NBA. “A different system fits me better, and I’m playing better,” he said.

Utah’s offense under Quin Snyder emphasizes a lot of screens, cuts and drives, while the Wolves under Tom Thibodeau tend to run more isolation plays and screen-and-roll actions. Those styles show up in the NBA’s tracking of distance logged by players. Utah players have logged the eighth-most miles in the NBA per game on offense this season, while the Wolves are 26th. The Wolves, though, have the No. 4 offensive rating in the league while the Jazz are just 16th.

The numbers back Rubio’s assertion that the different style is better for him. Rubio is shooting a career-best 41.4 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from three-point range. He’s been less of a straight-up facilitator, and his assists have dropped from a career average of 8 per game to 5.4 this season.

Some of this is revisionist history, though, and some of this isn’t exactly new. During his time with the Wolves, Rubio showed a reluctance to shoot and woeful accuracy when he did. But he did show flashes of the player he could become in an expanded role. It was almost exactly a year ago, after all, when I wrote about Rubio being the Wolves’ “point guard of the future” after he reinvented himself as a scorer and distributor down the stretch.

Alas, maybe a change of scenery was the best thing for all parties. Rubio has his Jazz in the No. 4 spot in the West right now, and he is all but guaranteed to reach the postseason for the first time in his career. The Wolves, after dumping Rubio and adding Jeff Teague, are also on the verge of their first playoff berth since 2003-04 (though they have more work left to do than the Jazz).

It’s even possible that the teams will finish 4-5 in the West, which would set the stage for an epic first-round playoff matchup given the point guard history and the open-court hit Teague put on Rubio during a game in Utah earlier this year.

That wouldn’t settle the point guard question once and for all, but it sure would be fun.

Season ticket price hike has Wolves explaining, fans complaining

Enticed by the prospect of an exciting season and lured by rock-bottom prices, Melissa Berman took the plunge and bought Timberwolves season tickets this year.

Her family has had them for a number of seasons, but Berman — a law student at Mitchell Hamline — decided that for $10 per game for 41 regular-season home games she could afford her own.

The Wolves have delivered on their potential, sitting at 35-25 as the Western Conference’s No. 4 seed. Minnesota had won 13 consecutive home games before a loss to the Rockets on Wednesday.

In the midst of all that winning, season ticket holders received renewal notices for the 2018-19 season. Berman says her $10 tickets were set to jump to $17 per game. With the deadline for some season ticket holders to renew for 2018-19 arriving Thursday, Berman is among those saying, “no thanks.” Or, more bluntly:

“It feels greedy and like a slap in the face,” Berman said in explaining why she canceled her tickets.

She’s a great example of the type of fan the Wolves are eager to gain and retain, but she’s also now a perfect illustration of the Timberwolves’ challenge.

As the team bottomed out through 13 playoff-less seasons, so did ticket prices. Ryan Tanke, the Wolves’ Chief Revenue Officer, said in a sit-down interview this week that season ticket prices for the team this season are in the bottom five of the NBA.

Tanke said the loudest criticism the Wolves have heard is fans saying, “we’ve stuck with you and now you’re raising prices.” To that, Tanke adds: “There’s a second part to that: because you’ve stuck with us in the 16th-largest market, we’ve provided you a bottom five price.”

Now that the franchise appears to be on the upswing again, winning inside a renovated Target Center and selling out some nights, prices are going up. But even with across the board increases at different season ticket levels, with some fans experiencing jumps of 40 percent or more, the Wolves will be in the bottom 10 of season ticket prices next year, Tanke said.

Tanke said he anticipates overall season ticket renewal rates will be “north of 80 percent” this season from a base of 8,500 full season ticket equivalents (which counts full and partial packages).

Losing about 20 percent of that base would mean a loss of roughly 1,700 FSEs, but Tanke said early projections suggest the Wolves will have an net gain of 1,000 next season – meaning the losses will be offset by 2,500 to 3,000 new season ticket customers.

The Wolves are a mid-market team, Tanke is quick to point out, and ticket prices are slated to climb more toward the middle of the pack in coming years through a “series of increases” as long as they keep winning.

“If we’re going to build a competitive, winning team we’re going to expect the demand will follow,” he said. “The hope and belief here is we need our fans to believe in what we’re doing.”

The delicate dance is doing so without alienating their longest-standing and longest-suffering clients in the process.

“I wish the price would increase slower for long-term fans. We have been loyal and went to games when most wouldn’t,” said Don Ackerman, a Wolves season ticket holder for 11 seasons, the previous 10 of which all featured more losses than wins. “If fans previously underpaid, the Timberwolves set those prices for a reason.”

Ackerman said his lower-level season tickets are slated to increase by 42 percent next season. As a result, he’s moving to a lower-priced seat and getting a single ticket instead of two.

Social media has become a rallying point for frustration, with many fans responding to my Twitter query about season ticket prices with phrases such as “no idea how they can justify that steep of an increase” to “very disappointing.”

Others are buying what the Wolves are selling – literally and figuratively — with one response stating, “It’s simple supply and demand. They offer a better product, they deserve to charge a higher price.”

It’s a market correction that is taking the Wolves closer to the ticket prices they offered when the franchise was routinely making the playoffs in the early 2000s.

Two thirds of season tickets are increasing by less than $10 per game, and nearly half are increasing by less than $5 per game, Tanke said. That adds up, though, and going from $10 to $17 as was the case with Berman’s tickets — while still in that first range of going up less than $10 — produces a gaudy 70 percent increase.

Owner Glen Taylor — who also owns the Star Tribune — has lost money during previous losing seasons, and team payroll figures to swell with Andrew Wiggins’ max contract set to kick in next year with two more for Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler potentially on the horizon.

“We want to invest in their experience and invest in their team,” Tanke said.

Berman, for her part, says she’s still invested in the success of the Wolves. She plans to go to games when the Wolves offer student discounts, look for deals on the secondary market and use her family’s tickets when offered. But her days of being a season ticket holder are over, at least for now.

“I canceled them last week,” she said, “pretty much solely because of the price increase.”

How worried should we be about Jimmy Butler’s knee injury?

When Timberwolves guards Jimmy Butler and Jamal Crawford were both late scratches when the Wolves faced the Raptors last week, my first strange thought was that they had strategically picked a point in the season to both get some rest and put more responsibility on Karl-Anthony Towns and especially Andrew Wiggins to carry the team.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau added to the mystery by being evasive when asked about Butler’s knee injury, saying “he may have” when asked by reporters if Butler had an MRI performed. Butler was deemed to not be walking with a limp after the Raptors game.

But while that makes a certain amount of psychological sense and perhaps even strategic sense, it is more the stuff of conspiracy theories than anything.

Crawford is a durable veteran who played all 82 games last season and has been a key contributor here. Butler has a reputation for being as competitive as they come. Crawford returned after missing two games with his toe injury. Butler — who is in the top five in average minutes played per game this season in the NBA — has now missed four in a row.

If we take both injuries at face value as legitimate — and again, unless we are reading too deeply into things there’s no reason not to — the next question is this: How worried should we be about Butler’s knee?

In the short-term, the absence of Butler and Crawford was actually a boon for the Timberwolves. Wiggins was sensational against the Raptors in a huge win, and he was even better in another good win against the improving Clippers. If Thibodeau had hoped other players, particularly Wiggins, would step up to fill the void left by Butler and Crawford, those games validated those hopes and proved the Wolves — who were blown out twice earlier this year in games Butler missed — could win without their new star.

The last two games, though, have been a much different story. Minnesota gave up 43 points in the third quarter of a 123-114 loss at Portland, and then had to play Golden State on a back-to-back, losing 126-113 in a game that never felt in doubt. The Wolves easily could have lost both of those tough games even with Butler healthy, but his absence is certainly being felt.

Even in those two wins over the Raptors (115-109) and Clippers (126-118) the Wolves had defensive lapses. Their defensive rating in the last four games, with Butler out, is 119.4 — second-to-last in the NBA during that span behind only the Knicks. Considering the Wolves with Butler had a recent stretch where they held seven consecutive opponents under 100 points, that’s a big lapse.

The good news is Butler doesn’t seem too far off from returning. He at least warmed up before the Golden State game before deciding he couldn’t go. And the Wolves, who are in the overall midst of a tough stretch of games, get a little reprieve in short-term with their next two games against the Nets (18-30) at Target Center and on the road against the Hawks (14-33). Even if Butler shut it down until the all-star break — the Wolves have 10 more games, several winnable, until then — the Wolves should be OK.

Beyond that, though, it’s pretty obvious that any hopes the Wolves have of not just making the playoffs but getting a favorable seed and advancing hinge largely on Butler.

Long story short: Until Butler is back, the knee is a reason to worry.

Timberwolves are eight games over .500 for first time since 2003-04

Mark this down as a bit of trivia and a milestone: With their Christmas win over the Lakers, the Timberwolves improved to 21-13. That puts them eight games over .500 for the first time since the 2003-04 season, which was also the last time they made the playoffs — going all the way that season to the Western Conference finals.

The Wolves finished that year 58-24 (34 games over .500, which is quite a few more than eight). In the following season, Minnesota was seven games over .500 a few times early on, the last being at 15-8. The Wolves lost eight of their next 10 games, and not long after that Flip Saunders was fired. Thus began the organization’s descent into various rebuilds.

They made it to six games over .500 early in 2005-06. Since then, they hadn’t really sniffed such a high-water mark as eight games over — until Monday, when they won their fourth game in a row by knocking off the Lakers 121-104.

The Wolves are now on pace to finish 50-32, which would be 18 games over .500. They’ve finished with 50 wins or more four times in franchise history.