The Minnesota Timberwolves haven't made the playoffs since 2004, but the organization did a lot of work this offseason to finally turn the squad into a contender.
A trade for Jimmy Butler on the night of the NBA draft set the tone for the upcoming season, giving the team an established star to pair with young players ready to take the next step in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
Add a new point guard in Jeff Teague, and this squad has all the tools necessary to compete in the Western Conference. The question is whether the team will be able to live up to expectations while navigating a tough 2017-18 schedule.
Season Opener: Oct. 18 at San Antonio
Championship Odds: 20-1 (via OddsShark)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
Chicago Bulls: Feb. 9, Feb. 24
Butler spent all six years of his career with the Chicago Bulls, earning All-Star appearances in each of the last three seasons. He set new personal bests with 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game last season and remained a loyal member of the organization.
Despite his play, the Bulls constantly mentioned him in possible trades, leaving him confused when he was eventually sent to Minnesota.
"I have nothing against anybody on that team, anybody in that organization, but they were so stuck on not building around me, but maybe building with me as they would say or going young," Butler explained in July, per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times. "A rebuild. So it was one or the other. I just wanted to know. Was it clear when I left that meeting what we were going to do? No. Maybe I was told some things that I took as, 'You might be here.'"
This game will finally give the superstar a chance to get even, showing the Bulls what they're missing.
Between Butler, power forward Taj Gibson and head coach Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota has a number of Bulls outcasts who could take this game personally.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Oct. 22, Oct. 27, Dec. 1, Jan. 10
The Northwest Division might be one of the deepest divisions in sports. The Jazz, Thunder and Trail Blazers all made the playoffs last year, while the Nuggets and Timberwolves both made significant improvements from last season.
It wouldn't be a surprise if all five found a way into the top eight in the Western Conference next season.
Of course, the Thunder appear to be the team to beat after adding Paul George, especially with the Jazz losing Gordon Hayward. If the Timberwolves are seriously going to compete this season, they will have to show they can win games against good teams like this one.
While the Warriors, Rockets and Spurs might be in another tier, Oklahoma City represents a winnable matchup for Minnesota thanks to its athleticism and scoring ability. If the team finds a way to even slow down Russell Westbrook, it can earn some key wins over a division rival this season.
This would represent a major step toward returning to the postseason for the first time in 14 years.
The Western Conference will be a gauntlet next season with every team trying to catch up with the Golden State Warriors. This means even with major improvements next year, the Timberwolves will have a difficult time finishing among the top teams in the league.
However, the franchise should finally be able to return to the playoffs thanks to its elite core.
Butler and Towns are capable of carrying the team on their own with their all-around play, while Wiggins can be a serious scoring threat for games at a time.
The biggest question is depth, which can kill a team over the course of an 82-game season. Tyus Jones and Gibson could be useful, but the Wolves will struggle against better teams when their first unit comes out of the game.
Still, there is enough talent on the roster for Minnesota to shoot up the standings over the coming year.