Tom Thibodeau does not want to trade Jimmy Butler. He seems to hold out hope — no matter how long the odds — that professionalism will win out, that Butler and Karl-Antony Towns will put aside their differences and give it a chance, and the Timberwolves will make a playoff push again. It’s not going to happen. Butler will get traded (when is the unknown question).
For some fans, the Butler/Towns feud seemed to come up out of nowhere recently, but that’s not the case. The rumors around the league of the issues between them have grown stronger all summer, and the warning signs can be traced back to the end of last season, reports Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.
While Thibodeau said on Monday that last week was the first time Butler made a trade request, the warning signs of discontent were there much earlier. After the Rockets eliminated the Timberwolves in the first round of the playoffs in May, Butler did not fly with the team back to Minnesota, sources said. He took a flight to Los Angeles shortly after the game was over and refused to do the standard medical exam all players go through as part of their exit interviews.
A few days later, he started conveying his concern for the franchise and casting doubts on his willingness to stay long-term. Butler can become a free agent after this season, and his representatives talked with Thibodeau in July about his unwillingness to re-sign in Minnesota, sources said. Butler conveyed the same message directly to Thibodeau in August when the coach came to California to visit him after he had hand surgery, sources said.
For his part, Towns was not going to sign his max contract extension until the Butler situation was resolved, and said he could not co-exist with the All-Star wing. It was only after the Butler trade process started that Towns agreed to sign his extension.
Big picture: In a brutally tight Western Conference, it’s getting tougher to picture Minnesota in the top eight and making the playoffs. Maybe they will, and maybe Andrew Wiggins will step up and look like a guy who loves to play basketball. But last season them making the playoffs came down to the final night of the regular season, and cloud of drama over the Timberwolves and the talent drop they will suffer — Minnesota will not get equal value back for Butler — will be tough to overcome in a conference where there is almost no margin for error already.