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Timberwolves in turmoil

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Timberwolves won 47 games and ended a 13-year playoff drought last season, and their core group returns. Few teams can match the 1-2 star power of Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson are strong complementary pieces, and Andrew Wiggins has the tools to excel.

But it feels like Minnesota was decimated by a meteorite this offseason.

Butler’s unsatisfied trade request casts a shadow over the upcoming season. It has shined a spotlight on the discord permeating through this organization in so many directions – Butler and Wiggins, Butler and Towns, Towns and Tom Thibodeau, Tom Thibodeau and Glen Taylor.

Maybe Butler and Thibodeau can thrive in this chaotic, energetic, intense environment. It seems the weight of it could crush everyone else, though.

This all reflects terribly on Thibodeau, who let the Butler situation linger over the summer. Chemistry matters, and an unhappy Butler trying to torment Towns and Wiggins into playing with more fire could just burn everyone involved. It was bad enough last year when the young players thought Butler could be there a while. If they expect him to leave next summer in free agency, will they just tune him out until then? If that happens, will Butler become even harder on them? This could get ugly in a hurry.

That said, it’s not as if Minnesota had great chemistry last season, either. This is still such a talented team. Heck, even if the Timberwolves trade Butler by the trade deadline, he might first help them stack enough wins to make the playoffs. Hope isn’t lost.

Most importantly, Minnesota locked up Towns to a long-term extension. No matter what happens with Butler, the 22-year-old star is staying a while.

The Timberwolves also did tinkering to help over the summer. Signing Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, two ex-Bulls, will generate plenty of laughs, but those two for the minimum is fine. So was drafting Josh Okogie No. 20 and Keita Bates-Diop No. 48.

Minnesota’s biggest signing was Anthony Tolliver for one year, $5.75 million – which, to stay under the luxury-tax line, required letting Nemanja Bjelica go. I considered Tolliver an upgrade as the Timberwolves’ stretch four, though part of that calculation considered Tolliver’s positive effect in the locker room.

In that area, it might be too little, too late.

Offseason grade: D   

Paul George says Jimmy Butler “has a very valid point”

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Jimmy Butler is doing everything he can to get traded out of Minnesota — including turning a team practice into a train wreck and yelling at players and the GM — while trying to spin it as some combination of competitiveness and leadership. We could talk about how real leaders like LeBron James or Tim Duncan would work to build up young talents like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins rather than tear them down, but that’s another discussion. Butler wants out and is doing whatever he can go get traded.

Paul George — who has been the guy trying to get traded, he forced his way out of Indiana — has Butler’s back. Here is what George told Royce Young of ESPN.

“Jimmy has a very valid point,” George said. “I’m on Jimmy’s side. It’s not coming from a place where he’s going against an organization…

“Jimmy’s a guy, his whole career, he made it into the league off work, off him having to grind and scratch and claw to get to where he’s at,” George said. “And then he sees the potential he has around him and he just wants guys to match that because if guys are skilled and have that ‘it’ like KAT (Karl-Anthony Towns) has, like Andrew Wiggins has, they have that ‘it’ that a lot of guys don’t have, now they just have to match it with what Jimmy’s bringing to the table. I’m all for what Jimmy is trying to do over there.”

A player has another player’s back. Shocking. Also, remember Butler and George were teammates at the 2016 Rio Olympics, they know each other well.

Butler is frustrated with Towns and Wiggins — and with Wiggins in particular, everyone gets that. The whole league is down on him, Wiggins seems to regress each season and does not show a real passion for the game. But Towns? The guy who averaged 21.3 points and 12.3 rebounds a game shooting 54 percent overall and better than 40 percent from three? Butler doesn’t want to play with this guy?

Which gets back to my point from the first paragraph — if Butler wants to prove he’s a leader, working hard for a trade not how he shows it. Maybe there is something more here, because if it’s about KAT and Wiggins than Butler has to take on some of the blame. Berating guys at practice is not leadership, it is not how to motivate every player to pull the same direction on the rope. Even Kobe figured that out, despite his hard-driving style. Does Towns take it far too easy on the defensive end? Yes. His game has plenty of room to improve — and he still made All-NBA Third Team. Butler can win with this guy, but it’s going to take real leadership to show him how to win, and so far Butler has not done that well enough. Neither has Thibodeau. That’s as much on them as KAT.

Report: Jimmy Butler calls players-only meeting

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The Timberwolves cancelled practice today.

They didn’t stop Jimmy Butler, though.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

So much for Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins getting a reprieve today. But it seems increasingly likely they’ll have to play again with Butler, so better everyone get used to it.

I’m curious how this meeting went. Even Butler suggested he went too far yesterday. This could be about finding a tolerable middle ground between Butler and his teammates. Or it could be about Butler continuing to assert himself and demanding everyone follow him. I wouldn’t be surprised by either.

After Jimmy Butler outbursts, Timberwolves cancel practice

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Jimmy Butler lit the Timberwolves’ practice on fire yesterday and said he’d practice again today despite his continued desire to get traded.

But Minnesota won’t give him that opportunity.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic:

So much for the Timberwolves viewing yesterday as their best practice of the year.

Even in a league full of coaches who believe their instruction is essential, Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau values practice more than most. For him to skip a day of practicing is huge.

Something has to give. Minnesota can’t keep losing training days like this. The Timberwolves must either trade Butler or return to on-court work.

But today will at least be a reprieve for Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, whom Butler has a history of tormenting/trying to inspire and whom Butler targeted yesterday.

Timberwolves’ reported organizational reaction to Jimmy Butler-gone-wild practice: Best practice of year

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Jimmy Butler reportedly showed up late to the Timberwolves’ practice, created a spectacle by talking a massive amount of trash and leading third-stringers to a win over the starters then left early.

On ESPN, Stan Van Gundy said he spoke to people in the “Minnesota organization:”

Their main reaction was best practice they’ve had the entire preseason, that Jimmy being back energized people, brought more intensity.

That’s probably true. Butler also probably scared people and annoyed people. There isn’t necessarily a single way to frame the day, though everyone has their own motives and perspectives.

This could just be spinning, the Timberwolves trying to dispel the notion they must trade Butler. But I also wouldn’t put it past a Tom Thibodeau-run organization to look past the chaos and revel in the competitiveness. Thibodeau is uncommonly obsessed with focusing on the moment, and a good practice would please him more than most.

But his job as team president forces him to look deeper. How will Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins react to Butler doing this repeatedly? How will Butler handle Towns’ and Wiggins’ responses? Keeping Butler could sink team chemistry even further.

There are undoubtedly positives for Minnesota with Butler being back around the team, and it’s fine to discuss them. But if they are truly the main takeaway from today’s practice, that’s even more evidence of Thibodeau being out of touch with the interpersonal dynamics of his players.