The Timberwolves haven’t played a game in almost five months, but this is one franchise that doesn’t need games to make headlines and create drama.
The latest example of this came Saturday evening when Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic reported Wolves star Jimmy Butler will meet with Tom Thibodeau, the team’s president and coach, and general manager Scott Layden on Monday to “have honest conversations” about Butler’s future with the club.
Let’s pause for a moment to consider how this is playing out.
The Wolves open training camp in less than two weeks and only now are we getting to the point where Thibodeau will have this conversation with one of his most important players? This is mind-boggling.
The Wolves have spent the entire offseason watching Butler snipe at his younger teammates, including All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns, via social media.
Towns, meanwhile, is unhappy enough that he has yet to sign the five-year max contract extension that has been sitting in front of him. That deal will be worth $190 million, if Towns makes an All-NBA team or wins Defensive Player of the year next season, or $158 million, if he doesn’t qualify for the super-max deal.
Meanwhile, many of us have been wondering when Thibodeau would ask, or, hell, demand that Butler and Towns get in the same room with him so these problems could be discussed. The answer to that question remains unclear.
What we do know is that Butler, a favorite of Thibodeau’s who played for the coach for four seasons in Chicago, is going to get his chance to express his views as he also gets set to enter the final season of his contract. Butler will be a free agent in July and thus could tell Thibodeau he has no intention of staying in Minnesota. If that’s the case, Thibodeau will have little choice but to move one of his favorite players before the trade deadline in February.
Butler, who turned 29 on Friday, would be passing up a richer deal in Minnesota — the Wolves can give him a five-year extension worth $190 million next July, while another club could go to four years, $141 million — but he has made it clear that what really matters to him is the chance to win and he wants to be surrounded by guys who work as hard as he does.
Butler’s potential destination spots as a free agent could include joining forces with Kyrie Irving with the New York Knicks — Irving can opt-out of his contract with the Celtics after this season — or teaming up with LeBron James with the Lakers.
Would Butler really break up with Thibodeau?
The guess here is absolutely and the fact that Butler and Towns aren’t on the same page this close to training camp is an indictment on Thibodeau as an executive.
How bad are things at Target Center?
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported Saturday night that owner Glen Taylor has significant concern with the broader franchise culture under Thibodeau and Layden — so much so that Taylor considered changes in the offseason. Taylor also has privately second-guessed his decision to give Thibodeau full control of basketball operations as part of hiring him as coach, according to Wojnarowski.
The Wolves’ primary offseason concern should have been getting more production from the underachieving but talented Andrew Wiggins, but instead Wiggins has become a forgotten man as the focus has been on the relationship, or lack of one, between Butler and Towns and whether one or both even wants to be here. The Wolves’ first playoff berth after a 13-year drought has been long forgotten.
Meanwhile, Thibodeau has continued to accumulate former Bulls players, with Luol Deng being the latest to join a group that includes Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and Butler. Butler was acquired on draft night last year, along with first-round pick Justin Patton, for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, the seventh pick in the draft.
Thibodeau walked around that night with a big smile on his face, figuring he had acquired a star player who would be in Minnesota for the long term and combine with Towns and Wiggins to form a top trio.
A year later, that smile is long gone and Thibodeau has plenty of work to do in convincing Butler that things are on the right track. If he fails to do so, Thibodeau could be following Butler out the door and the Wolves’ latest rebuild could be right around the corner.