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Thibodeau 'proud' of Timberwolves' progress

Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts to a call during the second half against the Golden State Warriors at Target Center on Dec 11, 2016. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL—Tom Thibodeau has talked time and again about the challenge he faced when coming to Minnesota. Yes, the Timberwolves had a young nucleus with enough talent to potentially win big one day, but they were also saddled with a losing tradition.

Prior to Thibodeau's arrival, the Wolves had missed the playoffs in 12 straight seasons. Last year, as Thibodeau attempted to lay the groundwork for his style and vision, that number grew to 13.

"I knew the challenge that was here," Thibodeau said. "If you lose for 14 years, there's something dramatically wrong, so you've got to change that."

Thibodeau said changing the culture was "critical." He brought in tough-minded veterans, such as Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague to mix in with the younger players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Cole Aldrich said the addition of Butler provided the type of hard-working leader who knows how to win and what's required to do it.

"It's hard to not follow a guy like that who puts the time in and is the guy that he is," Aldrich said.

The result of the changes: 47 regular-season wins and the first playoff berth since 2004. Mission accomplished? Thibodeau seems to at least think the Wolves are going in the right direction.

"I'm proud of how these guys have fought to change (the culture) and to put themselves in this position," he said.

Many will question whether enough progress was made this season. Was getting into the postseason via a win on the last day of the regular season the goal? Maybe not, but Thibodeau is quick to point out that the Wolves were tied for the third-best record in the Western Conference before Butler went down with a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Without Butler, Minnesota was forced to navigate what was probably the most difficult portion of its schedule. The Wolves went 8-9 without Butler. It wasn't exactly pretty, but it was good enough.

"We had to fight like crazy to get in," Thibodeau said. "The West is incredibly tough."

Regardless of results, Thibodeau said there's a "stark difference" between where the Wolves are today versus where they were two years ago. Even in this season, Towns said the team has grown "a lot."

"It's amazing, (looking at) how we started, how much more disciplined and mature we are, understanding each other more," Towns said.

Aldrich said the Wolves' current culture is "just to work hard," working off Thibodeau's philosophy that you put the time and effort in to find a way to get a little better every day. He said the team has taken major strides in terms of locking into knowing the game plan and what needs to be done and how to do it.

Thibodeau said the Wolves "still have to do a lot to improve," that much is obvious, but he seems like a coach who's confident that steps will continue to be taken with time. Another offseason presents a chance to refine the team's roster and its culture.

"It doesn't happen overnight," Thibodeau said. "It happens by doing it every day, and that's what we have to do and that's what we have to commit to. So from that standpoint, I think I'm proud of the team and we have to continue to fight like crazy and we have young guys that will get better, so we're looking forward to the challenge."