By adding Jimmy Butler, the Minnesota Timberwolves are moving up in the world. By subtracting him, the Chicago Bulls are falling off the map.
The Timberwolves were one of the NBA’s underachievers last season, finishing 31-51 in coach Tom Thibodeau’s first season. Thibodeau reshaped his roster in the offseason, and no move was more significant than his deal for Butler on draft day in June.
When NBA regular-season win totals were opened Tuesday at the Westgate sports book, the Timberwolves were posted at 48½. It’s extremely rare for a team to make a nearly 20-win leap from one season to the next, but in this case it appears realistic.
Thibodeau needed to add defense and veteran leadership. Butler is one of the league’s top two-way players. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are among the league’s top young scorers, and new point guard Jeff Teague will run the show.
“Minnesota should be the NBA’s most improved team, according to expectations,” Westgate oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “The T-Wolves have got completely different personnel after adding Butler and Teague. With those additions, you can’t stick up a number close to last year.”
As for the Bulls, it’s wait until next year and the years after that. In the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Chicago led top-seeded Boston 2-0. That’s when Rajon Rondo broke his thumb and it all fell apart. Butler and Rondo are gone, and Dwyane Wade might soon be headed to Cleveland.
The Westgate posted the Bulls’ win total at 21½, the lowest number in the league. The worst team in the NBA last season was Brooklyn, which went 20-62.
“I think Atlanta and Chicago are going to be two teams in tank mode trying to get the No. 1 pick,” Sherman said. “Those two teams are going to be really bad. The Bulls almost look like the Sixers when the Sixers were starting from scratch.”
Philadelphia should challenge Minnesota for most-improved status. The 76ers, a 28-win team last season, are posted at 42½.
Cleveland is the favorite to win the East, yet the Celtics have the highest win total (56½) in the conference, followed by the Cavaliers (53½).
“The Cavs are just trying to keep players healthy and get ready for the playoffs,” Sherman said.
Boston and Cleveland are attempting to finalize last week’s trade that sent All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. Thomas’ hip injury is delaying the completion of the deal.
“We’re going in under the premise that these teams are going to be able to get something done and Irving is going to be with the Celtics,” Sherman said.
Golden State (67½), Houston (55½) and San Antonio (54½) are tagged with the highest win totals in the West. The Rockets traded for Chris Paul to run their backcourt alongside James Harden.
Oklahoma City, which traded for Paul George to help Russell Westbrook, opened at 51½. The Thunder won 47 games in Westbrook's MVP season.
NBA win totals 2017-18
(Posted at Westgate sports book)
Golden State Warriors 67.5
Boston Celtics 56.5
Houston Rockets 55.5
San Antonio Spurs 54.5
Cleveland Cavaliers 53.5
Oklahoma City Thunder 51.5
Minnesota Timberwolves 48.5
Toronto Raptors 48.5
Milwaukee Bucks 47.5
Washington Wizards 47.5
Denver Nuggets 45.5
Los Angeles Clippers 43.5
Miami Heat 43.5
Charlotte Hornets 42.5
Philadelphia 76ers 42.5
Portland Trail Blazers 42.5
Utah Jazz 40.5
New Orleans Pelicans 39.5
Detroit Pistons 38.5
Memphis Grizzlies 37.5
Dallas Mavericks 35.5
Los Angeles Lakers 33.5
Orlando Magic 33.5
Indiana Pacers 31.5
New York Knicks 30.5
Brooklyn Nets 28.5
Phoenix Suns 28.5
Sacramento Kings 28.5
Atlanta Hawks 25.5
Chicago Bulls 21.5