Wooed by Cleveland and superstar LeBron James last summer, veteran guard and three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner Jamal Crawford chose to sign with the Timberwolves.
Monday, he said that all likely would have changed had the Cavaliers’ trade that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston for Isaiah Thomas happened in early July rather than late August.
Separated by nine years but united by their Seattle ties, Crawford and Thomas are more than friends ever since Crawford reached out to Thomas when he was 15, just as NBA standouts Doug Christie and Gary Payton reached out to Crawford when he was young.
“Yeah, it would have had,” Crawford said. “We’re past friends or a basketball relationship. We go on vacation and it’s his family and my family. I was a groomsman in his wedding. We’ve passed the basketball phase. That would have had to change things, for sure.”
Crawford used to drive from Manhattan to Connecticut when he played for the Knicks and Thomas moved cross-country to attend prep school there. Thomas, in turn, would take the train to New York City and spend weekends with Crawford.
They had dinner together Sunday and have been known to show up unannounced and participate in pickup games together.
“You see us at an L.A. Fitness, YMCA, no matter where it is,” said Thomas, who was ejected from Monday’s game for an uncharacteristic Flagrant foul 2 after smacking Andrew Wiggins in the chin. “We’re always in places nobody thinks we’re in. That’s just the love of the game we have and something I’ve done since I was a young boy … It has been a helluva relationship, friendship. I used to watch him in the NBA and now I get to compete with him. It’s a blessing.”
Gone four seasons now, former Wolves star Kevin Love returned to a remodeled Target Center and a team that looks nothing like the one he left in a 2014 trade. Gone, too, are former teammates Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic.
“It feels a little different,” Love said. “We played once at home, once away against Utah and playing against Ricky is definitely different. I guess nobody has heard from Pek. It’s different to see the turnover, but at the end of the day I spent six years here and it’s cool to see this team do well, in the West.
“They’ve got a great resurgence that’s great to see in Minneapolis, and it’s going to make for what looks like playoff basketball. That’s going to be fun for this city.”
All grown up?
Whatever you do, don’t ask James about the “young” Timberwolves.
“Young team? They’re not young anymore,” James said. “No, Jimmy, Jamal, Taj [Gibson], Aaron Brooks, Jeff Teague, they’re not young anymore … They’re one of us. Well, not us. Us and the Spurs, we’re like Stone Age. But they’ve got a good chance to be really good in the West and in the league.”
• Thomas played his third game back — his team averaged 129 points in his first two — from a hip injury that ended his playoffs last spring. He says it started when Karl-Anthony Towns fell on him during a March game. “Yeah, Karl-Anthony Towns did that on purpose,” Thomas said, grinning. “Nah, nah, it’s no big deal. We were just playing basketball, and it happened to be against them.”
• Traded by Cleveland to the Wolves before he played a game, Andrew Wiggins averaged 29.8 on 55.6 percent shooting his first six games against the Cavaliers coming into the game and added 25 more on 9-for-19 shooting Monday. “I do,” Towns said when asked if he sees a different Wiggins against the Cavs. “He always comes with a fire.”
• Make-good NBA minimum contracts become guaranteed for the season Wednesday, and Wolves forward Marcus Georges-Hunt is here to stay. “He’s not afraid,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s got toughness and we need toughness.”