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Cunningham: What took the Wolves so long?

The Minnesota Timberwolves had no choice. They had to trade Jimmy Butler.

After an 0-5 road trip out west and a 4-9 start to the season, this was a move that needed to be made. Perhaps it should have been made a month ago, if not longer. It was foolish to think that the team could succeed under these circumstances. Butler can say all he wanted to about giving his maximum effort on the floor, but it wasn’t working with him actively wanting out of the situation, and it was never going to work that way.

The question that begs to be asked is simple. What took so long for Tom Thibodeau and the Wolves to come to this resolution? According to ESPN, Thibodeau came to the realization that things wouldn’t work as is with Butler part of the picture after Minnesota lost to Sacramento on Friday night.

How was this not realized following the blowout loss at home to the Milwaukee Bucks? Or the fact that one of the biggest reasons the team was winning the few games that they were was because Derrick Rose was playing at a level unseen from him since 2012? Furthermore, what reasons were shown that this could possibly work? Butler hitting a couple big shots in a victory over the Lakers? That’s all that comes to mind.

The Wolves waiting this long to come to the conclusion that things were not going to work as constructed has potentially ruined this season as well. Now, making the playoffs for the second consecutive season feels like quite a longshot and there’s no telling how the team will perform moving forward.

Is it possible? Sure, but deeming it likely would be crazy. The real opportunity this season is to build for next year. What the Wolves did by acquiring Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and to a lesser extent Jerryd Bayless, in this deal was avoid the tanking route. Right now, it’s fair to say they have the talent to be at least a 35-win team. That’s not a place any franchise should want to be, especially coming off a playoff season.

The Wolves entered the season with playoff aspirations. That was understandable in July, but seemed foolish from the time Butler’s request was revealed.

At this point, the Wolves have plenty of climbing to do in order to get out of the hole that they’ve dug. Through 13 games they’re in 13th place in the Western Conference with a huge stretch of games coming up. Looking at the situation realistically, tanking may not happen on purpose.

And because of the way the Wolves should want to build a culture, that’s probably how it should be. Losing games at that rate can be harmful to the long-term success of an organization. That’s why other franchises have been very wary to go the route that Philadelphia did by “Trusting the Process” and losing upwards of 60 games in a season. Those losses can harm the psyche of the athletes, and when it’s time to turn it around losing is already so ingrained in them it makes sustained winning even more difficult.

That being said, at this point the higher the draft pick for the Wolves in 2019, the better. With a core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, the rest of the pieces on this team — and a potential lottery pick in next June’s draft — the gap between playoff appearances shouldn’t be very long.

The Wolves had no choice but to end this soap opera. It definitely took them too long to bring Butler’s request to fruition, but the franchise is better having this in the rearview mirror.


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