The Timberwolves play the Bulls twice this upcoming season.
We didn’t need Monday evening’s schedule release to tell us that. That’s something we know is going to happen every year because that’s how the NBA works. A Western Conference team will play an Eastern Conference team twice. One at home. One on the road. The Wolves are in the West. The Bulls are in the East.
These are all #facts that aren’t alternative.
But there is so much more to this matchup.
The Bulls will first host the Wolves on Friday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. That game will air on ESPN. The Wolves will then host the Bulls on Saturday, Feb. 24 at 8 p.m.
Last season, there was the storyline of Timberwolves Coach and President Of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau going up against his former squad. Thibs got his first head-coaching gig with the Bulls and coached there from 2010-2015, amassing a record of 255-139 in five seasons, making the playoffs each season.
Under Thibodeau last season, the Wolves beat the Bulls both times by an average of 16.5 points.
However, Chicago ended up making the playoffs, earning the eighth seed, while the Wolves were on the outside looking in.
The Bulls also have a coach Wolves fans are familiar with in Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg spent 2003-2005 with Minnesota, playing 155 games while shooting 46.1 percent from deep during that time. Hoiberg would later take a job in Minnesota’s front office before taking a gig at Iowa State. He was named the Bulls’ head coach in 2015.
But wait! There’s more!
Hoiberg played for the Bulls, where he coaches now, from 1999-2003, before playing for the Wolves. Thibodeau started out his NBA coaching career in Minnesota as an assistant from 1989-1991.
The NBA. What a weird world.
So, Who Plays For Who?
It’s been a crazy offseason for both teams.
You went on vacation from June to now, had no social media or TV and had no friends during that time? That’s unfortunate.
A quick breakdown on the connections between the two teams:
Jimmy Butler: Acquired on draft night by the Timberwolves in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the rights to Lauri Markkanen. Butler played the first six years of his career (four with Thibodeau) in Chicago. He went from averaging 2.9 points per game in his rookie season to 23.9 last season. He’s made three-straight All-Star games and is only 27 years old. He was the best player in the trade.
Taj Gibson: Signed with the Timberwolves in free agency. The power forward played seven-plus seasons with the Bulls before being traded to the Thunder last season. When you think of Thibodeau-type players, Gibson is one of the first who come to mind. Gibson is one of the better defenders among big men in the league. He’ll either start or be the first big off the bench for the Wolves.
Jamal Crawford: Crawford signed with the Wolves this offseason after surprisingly being traded from the Clippers to the Hawks before being bought out.
What connection does Crawford have to the Bulls? In 2000, Crawford was drafted eighth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are not the Bulls. I know this. Be patient.
Crawford was then traded to the Bulls in exchange for Chris Mihm. Crawford played the first four years of his career with the Bulls, averaging 17.3 points per game in his final year in 2003-04. To put time in perspective, that’s when Kevin Garnett led the Wolves to the Western Conference Finals. Time is wild.
Zach LaVine: LaVine was the main piece of the Butler to Minnesota trade for Chicago. LaVine, 22, averaged a career-high 18.9 points per game last season, proving that he is indeed, more than simply a dunker. The former 13th overall pick unfortunately tore his ACL on Feb. 3 and is currently rehabbing. The Timberwolves have wished LaVine nothing but the best with his recovery and to be honest, the fact that LaVine was the main piece in a deal to acquire Butler speaks to how far LaVine has come in his three years in the league. With both matchups coming so late in the season, the hope is that LaVine would be healthy by then.
Kris Dunn: Dunn was paired with LaVine in the trade for Butler. His rookie season was somewhat of a roller coaster as he averaged just 3.8 points per game while shooting 37.7 percent from the field and 28.8 percent from the 3-point line. Defensively, however, Dunn was solid.
Two Teams Going Two Different Directions
With the trade, the two teams painted their picture for the foreseeable future. The Wolves are opening the window for a run to the playoffs (and more?) earlier than expected with the core of Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. And then you add in veterans like Gibson, Crawford and Jeff Teague and hot diggity. Wolves fans should be excited.
The Bulls, despite having Dwyane Wade, decided to do a rebuild of sorts. This surge is led by LaVine, who is probably the most proven youngster on Chicago’s roster. And then you move to Dunn, Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine and Markkanen. This is a rebuilding effort in Chicago with some quality pieces.
Jimmy Butler Revenge Game?
After being traded from the Bulls, Butler was asked about what his first performance would be like against his former team on Bill Simmons’ podcast with The Ringer.
“I’m just gonna try to score like five points in my first game back,” Butler said. “That’s all I need.”
For a player who scored 20 or more points in 55 of 76 games last season, we have a feeling it will be more than five.
Can We Just Make This A Rivalry Please?
Finding rivals in the Midwest is hard. The teams that make the most sense to rival to Wolves are the Bulls and Bucks, but both teams play in the East, which makes it hard. When you play a team twice in 82 games, it’s hard to really get the blood boiling, let alone above room temperature.
But all of these new familiar pieces for both teams should spice things up. After all, Chicago is only a six-hour and two-minute drive according to Google. It’d be a pretty fun thing for a Wolves fan to rock a Butler jersey at the United Center on Feb. 9.
We knew three months ago that the Wolves and Bulls would be playing twice in 2017-18. We just didn’t know it would be this much fun.