The Jimmy Butler saga will have repercussions

By ERIC LYNCH | September 27, 2018

Last week, All-Star forward Jimmy Butler officially asked the Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office to trade him away. Fans have long been speculating that Butler wouldn’t be re-signing with the team next offseason, but his decision to try and get out of Minnesota came earlier than many expected. 

Since his conversation with Tom Thibodeau, head coach and president of basketball operations, Butler has watched his reputation and, by extension, his market value decline steadily. 

Butler has been branded as a bad locker room presence by fans for years now. After the news broke, an Instagram exchange between Butler and his teammate Andrew Wiggins seemed to validate those notions. The exchange made clear implications that Wiggins was not happy with Butler’s presence on the team, and Butler seemed to say that the feeling was mutual. 

Soon after, it was reported that All-Star teammate Karl Anthony-Towns had previously made it clear that he would not be willing to play with Butler this upcoming season. After being fined for public comments about his teammates in 2017, Butler continues to face questions about his ability to coexist with other players. 

Butler has one year left on his contract, meaning only teams that expect him to re-sign with them next season will be interested in a trade. The teams he has announced interest in are the Brooklyn Nets, the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers. These teams are all in rebuilding phases and can’t afford to give up important players to acquire Butler. If the Timberwolves did pull the trigger on a good trade, Butler would be stuck on a mediocre team that lacks the support to help him make a playoff run.

On top of this mess, Butler only made his intentions clear the week before training camps begin. Shaking things up dramatically at this time is a risk that most teams would prefer to avoid. 

By asking for a trade, Butler has clearly hurt his own situation. He can’t comfortably continue to play in Minnesota, but all the other outcomes seem either worse than his current situation or unlikely to happen at all. With his reputation at an all-time low, his narrow list of desired destinations and his unfortunate timing, Butler can’t do anything but wait and put his hope in Thibodeau. 

Unfortunately, that hope may be misplaced. Thibodeau, who coached Butler for several years on the Chicago Bulls, has said he will not be trading the four-time NBA All-Defensive Second Team player. Despite ending the Timberwolves’ 13-year playoff drought last season, Thibodeau’s failure to keep his best players happy has prevented him from gaining job security and has landed him in the hot seat this offseason. 

To makes things worse for the head coach, the team’s owner, Glen Taylor, made it clear that Butler is, in fact, on the trading block. He even went as far as to say that teams should personally contact him if his front office refuses to consider their offers.

This statement obviously undermines Thibodeau and makes his seat even hotter. It reveals that the turmoil in the organization doesn’t stop in the locker room. Clearly, the administration has had its fair share of friction as well. Unhappy players and the appearance of disorder adds the Timberwolves to the list of losers in this situation. 

Butler was arguably the lead player in orchestrating the T-Wolves’ first playoff berth since 2004, and the last thing the organization wants is another season without making the playoffs. It feels like the only beneficiaries here are the conference rivals who will benefit from the Timberwolves’ imminent decline. 

The entire situation mirrors Kawhi Leonard’s trade request earlier this offseason. Rumors had been floating around about rifts in the relationship between Leonard and fellow former All-Star Tony Parker. Leonard had reportedly been having problems with the San Antonio Spurs’ staff after disagreements over his quadricep injury. And, like the Timberwolves now, the Spurs were forced to make a tough choice about their superstar’s future. 

Like Butler, Leonard made a shortlist of teams he would be willing to re-sign with after his contract was over. The Spurs were torn between forcing Leonard to play out the season in San Antonio, trying to work out a less than favorable deal with whichever one of his listed teams was willing to offer one or trying to convince another team that Leonard was worth the risk of him signing elsewhere next season.

In the end, Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors for All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan. Both organizations seemed to win the trade and Leonard has indicated that he is happy. He has even shown signs that he may re-sign with Toronto next season, despite the team not making his original shortlist. 

Before the deal went down, it looked almost as bad as Butler’s current situation. The only difference was that, rightly, people had more faith in the Spurs’ management to make a smart deal than the Timberwolves’. 

Hopefully all the involved parties can end up happy like Leonard and the Spurs. But whether it’s Butler, Thibodeau or the Timberwolves organization, it seems likely that at least one involved party will not be in an ideal position after the next few weeks pan out.

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