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New Timberwolves view trade as an 'opportunity'

The Minnesota Timberwolves introduced their three newest players — from left, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Jerryd Bayless — at a news conference on Tuesday, Nov. 13. The Wolves picked up the threesome in a trade that sent Jimmy Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers. Jace Frederick / St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Robert Covington admits it was a shock to be shipped out of Philadelphia. He was there during the dark days, as the 76ers went through the early years of “the process,” which entailed a lot of losing and a lot of draft picks.

Covington spent the past few years developing with the franchise, hitting a breakthrough last season. The 76ers made the playoffs, advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals, while Covington was named first-team All-NBA on defense. He’d made it, the 76ers had made it, and they were going to continue to climb the ladder together.

Then Saturday came. Philadelphia decided to make a splash, bringing on a top-15 player in Jimmy Butler in its push toward becoming a championship contender. The cost for doing so was centered on surrendering Covington and Dario Saric to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“It’s definitely a shocker, considering everything we went through. The 10-win seasons. The rough patches,” Covington said. “That’s part of the business. … You can be mad, but you can’t allow it to take away from the new opportunity you have in front of you.

“So, yeah, I had a lot of good days in Philly. I came at it a different way than I expected. But I’m ready for this opportunity here. New team, new transition. And I’m ready to bring everything I’ve learned and my growth as a player on and off the court, to here. I feel like I can help (the Timberwolves) in so many different ways.”

That’s what the Wolves are hoping for. In Covington and Saric, coach Tom Thibodeau believes he has gained two key members of the rotation and likely core of the team. Thibodeau has mentioned that all three players — Covington, Saric and Jerryd Bayless — were part of a 52-win team from a year ago. That matters.

Just ask Covington, who feels as though he learned valuable lessons from Philadelphia that he can impart on his new teammates.

“We’re not going to sit up here and think of (this situation) as a downgrade or anything, because we have an opportunity to bring something that we really learned as players on and off the court,” Covington said. “The experience alone will help the transition for us, and we can help guys here with that same mentality because we’ve got that experience of the winning side of basketball.

“And we got to sit up there and see the fruits of labor as far as the time and effort and everything we put into it. So we’re going to bring that mind-set here, and we’re going to take that competition level up.”

It’s not like the new trio is walking into a kitchen with empty cupboards. The Wolves have a lot of nice pieces, from Karl-Anthony Towns on down. For years, the 76ers and Wolves were actually compared to each other as franchises on similar trajectories, built around young cornerstone players on their way up.

A year ago, the Wolves decided to trade for Butler to expedite that process. On Saturday, Philadelphia decided to do the exact same. For Minnesota, the deal Butler demanded was certainly a step back and will stunt its progression. The Wolves, already four games under .500 just 14 games into the season, appear to be a fringe playoff team in the Western Conference at best.

But the men for whom Tuesday’s news conference was called can have a say about that, and they appear eager to do so. Saric said the Wolves have “a couple of guys who are really amazing,” and a mix of young and talented players with vets who can help him adjust.

“The whole organization, the whole team, you know, first impression was amazing,” he said. “I cannot wait to step onto the court, give 100 percent every second of the game. Get some wins and try to get in the playoffs.”