Tom Thibodeau is apparently going to get his way — at least in the short term.
The Wolves coach and president of basketball operations acknowledged after the team’s practice on Sunday that the plan is for Butler to play in the regular-season opener on Wednesday at San Antonio. This comes despite the fact that Butler, entering the final season of his contact, said he demanded a trade four days after the 2017-18 season came to an end.
Butler went through practice less than a week after he returned to the court and reportedly went nuclear in an attempt to force the Wolves to ship him out of town. If Butler does open the season with the Wolves, that means he also figures to play in Friday’s home opener against Cleveland at Target Center. Considering Butler’s actions of late, which include an arranged ESPN interview after he melted down at practice, Wolves fans don’t figure to give Butler a warm welcome.
“Go ahead, boo me,” Butler told reporters Sunday when asked about the potential reaction to his presence at Target Center. “It ain’t going to change the way that I play. In fact, it’s going to make me smile more. So, please come on with it.”
So where do things stand with a potential Butler trade?
Wolves owner Glen Taylor met with Butler before practice, according to reports, and agreed that Taylor will continue to work on making a trade as soon as possible, but until then Butler will play for the Wolves.
Asked if he is done trying to trade Butler, Thibodeau said: “We’re always looking at options. Whatever is best for our team, that’s what we’ll do. Everything is fluid, we’ll continue to work through things, we’re always going to do what’s best for the Timberwolves.”
Although Butler has had almost no practice time in training camp and had offseason surgery on his right wrist, he said he’s prepared to play this week. “I can go out there and I can play,” Butler said. “It’s all about playing hard and I think I can do that. When I’m gassed and I’m tired, I’ll look down at Thibs and say, ‘Thibs, I need a break.’ If he doesn’t take me out of the game, I’ll call upon Rook (Josh Okogie) to come to the scorer’s table.”
Thibodeau, who coached Butler with the Chicago Bulls and then acquired him on draft night in 2017, didn’t seem too concerned about Butler’s conditioning. “One thing about him is he stays in great shape year-round in terms of working out, strength and conditioning, shooting, all that stuff,” Thibodeau said. “But an NBA game is entirely different because of the physicality and it’s body-on-body. It’s a lot different.”
The Wolves have been a mess during the exhibition season and are 1-4 after an embarrassing 143-121 loss Friday night in Milwaukee. That game came two days after Butler melted down during his first practice of training camp on Wednesday. The Wolves cancelled practice on Thursday, but Butler reportedly did meet with teammates before the club left for Milwaukee. Butler stayed behind, as did Andrew Wiggins, who was awaiting the birth of his first child.
Butler reportedly wants out because his contract demands weren’t met by the Wolves this offseason and because he doesn’t think some of his teammates have the same desire to win that he does. This includes Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins, who have both received maximum contracts from the franchise. Butler, though, does not seem concerned that his teammates won’t accept him.
“I talk to them everyday,” he said. “I miss my guys. I want to compete, they know that. They know I have my best interest in it, theirs. I tell them everything that I see out there on the basketball court because I want them to be great. ‘If I’m out there, if I’m not out there, I want you to be the best basketball player that you can be.'”
Butler also told his teammates that this isn’t personal, although that seems hard to believe.
“That was my message to everybody,” he said. “It’s not personal. Especially to my guys. We’re the ones that have got to run up and down this court every single day. I make sure to remind them every single day (that) I’m paying attention, I’m watching, I’m helping, I’m studying the film just like you are. Just because I want to help everybody to be better. I want you all to win games, my names still attached to this thing, I’m still here, so we better win. … Like I said, this don’t got too much to do about basketball. It’s not basketball at the end of the day, it’s bigger than that.”