Tom Thibodeau enjoying having Jimmy Butler as a recruiter

Tom Thibodeau enjoying having Jimmy Butler as a recruiter

LAS VEGAS — Wearing a Cheshire grin while making his way through the Cox Pavilion was one Tom Thibodeau, still wearing the newlywed glow of a man who pulled off quite the heist.

The Timberwolves coach and president acquired the player he longed for since taking the top post in Minneapolis in Jimmy Butler on draft night and while it doesn’t guarantee his team a playoff spot, it definitely increased its chances for next season.

And it probably gave him a little satisfaction to send his former franchise into a rebuild that could take years to get out of. Still, he insists it was a “good deal for both teams”.

“I think, here’s the thing. Having been there, they had a great run and you have to make a decision, where you are with your window. You know they had been thinking about it (trading Butler),” Thibodeau said. “Both of our windows matched up, what they wanted to do and what we wanted to do. I think it was a good deal for both teams. They got quality players, we obviously got an elite player and thrilled to get Justin Patton also.”

In adding to a core that includes talented youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the Timberwolves agreed to terms with former Bull Taj Gibson in the opening days of free agency and Saturday evening, added free agent guard Jamal Crawford as a scorer off the bench.

The Timberwolves also acquired Jeff Teague to replace Ricky Rubio at point guard, giving them a bonafide starting lineup that should be interesting in the West. For a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2004 and owns the longest streak of futility in the NBA, legitimacy has been added in the last two seasons with handing Thibodeau the keys to the franchise and now, acquiring the likes of a top-15 player in Butler.

It’s safe to say Butler was instrumental in the signings, necessary acquisitions in a stacked Western Conference. Butler was supportive of Gibson when Gibson was traded at the deadline from Chicago to Oklahoma City, telling him to “go get the bag (of money).”

Apparently, Butler did his part in making sure his new team brought another familiar face — albeit with a substantial bag of money.

“I think it’s critical. I think anytime you can add an elite player to your team most players are aware,” Thibodeau said. “When they’re looking around, when they become free agents, they’re going to look at the first part is obviously the financial part. And then the second part is going to be who are they playing with and how do they fit into the group?”

Butler’s relationship and recruiting of Dwyane Wade was instrumental in Wade’s signing last summer, but Thibodeau plans on using his players even more as time goes on. One could say the Bulls have been reticent in that department, not taking much input from players in personnel matters.

“And I think when you add in a guy like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, I think it makes it that more attractive,” Thibodeau said. “And of course Jimmy has relationships with a lot of guys in the league because of his experience in All-Star Games, with Team USA, so that all factors into it.”

Thibodeau’s fondness of Gibson was well-known, and he fawned over Gibson Saturday, calling him the most versatile defender in the NBA and more than anything, he’ll be an advocate for Thibodeau’s culture next season as the expectations will rise exponentially.

“I don’t think there’s a better defender switching to two’s (shooting guards), 3’s (small forwards), point guards, and his ability to finish,” Thibodeau said. “You have 3-point shooting (on the roster). Defensively we’re a better team. Next to Karl you have a big time multiple effort guy. I think that goes a long way to being a good defensive team. As they learned, multiple effort is necessary and required.”

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.  

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal.