Tom Thibodeau went all-in on Jimmy Butler, trading Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and swapping first-round picks with Chicago (which became Lauri Markkanen) to land the All-Star wing. On the surface it worked, Minnesota got 16 games better and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004, while Butler averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.
However, in the locker room things were not smooth. Butler is a Tom Thibodeau guy, and Karl-Anthony Towns is not, and there was a disconnect and tension between the two stars. Throw in Andrew Wiggins regressing after getting a big contract and frustrating everyone, plus nobody being happy with Tom Thibodeau grinding the starters into the ground, and you had one unhappy locker room.
How unhappy? How frustrated is Butler heading into a contract year? In a meeting with Thibodeau Tuesday in Los Angeles, Butler asked to be traded, reports Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.
Butler may have wanted assurances he was the No. 1 priority of Minnesota in the future, but while he is a better player than Towns today Butler is also six years older, has battled injuries, and has Thibodeau miles on his body.
That’s why Timberwolves put a five-year max rookie contract extension on the table in front of Towns on July 1, he is the future. However, Towns has yet to sign it. The Butler situation is reported to be the key reason. Once Towns signs the deal, he is the player in Minnesota with the power, and that’s not ideal for Butler or Thibodeau.
The timing of this is brutal for the Timberwolves. Thibodeau reportedly doesn’t want to trade Butler — he bet a lot on him and is close to Butler, this is his biggest allies — but may not have a choice. Eventually. This likely will drag out beyond when training camp opens next Tuesday, which is going to be a mess.
If (when?) the Timberwolves trade Butler they are not going to recoup near what they gave up to get him, not even close, but they may need to get something back. Butler wants to go to the Nets, Clippers, or Knicks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Minnesota is under no obligation to send Butler where he wants to go, they need to get back the best deal they can. However, leaking this could discourage other teams from jumping in with a big offer (not always, see Kawhi Leonard and Toronto or Paul George in Oklahoma City). Other teams — the Sixers, the Lakers — may well have interest and could even reach out about a trade, but both are more likely to want to get Butler as a free agent. (The Sixers have the assets to make an attractive trade offer if they wanted, the Lakers would have to trade Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball right now to make the financials work because all those veterans on one-year deals can’t be moved until Dec. 15.)
However, if the report that Butler is willing to talk contract extension with those three teams — which at its max is $29 million total less than he could sign for as a free agent with another team — it could encourage the Clippers, Knicks, and Nets to go big and try to get a deal done. This could move faster than expected. But probably not because Thibodeau wants to see if he can get the Minnesota locker room to sing kumbaya.
Either way, the drama in Minnesota has started before training camp has even opened. And media day next Monday is going to be awkward.