The Timberwolves should have traded Jimmy Butler in July, two-plus months after he told Tom Thibodeau he wanted out of Minnesota. Glen Taylor should have fired Thibodeau, the Wolves’ president of basketball operations and coach, or at least stripped him of the former title, when his refusal to trade Butler turned into insubordination.
None of these things happened and so the Wolves will open the season on Wednesday night in San Antonio with an unhappy Butler in the lineup and a confused bunch of teammates surrounding him.
For this, Taylor deserves a big thank you.
Not because this situation has been handled well. It has been handled absolutely horribly and once again has made the Wolves a laughing stock of the NBA. The reason to thank Taylor is because in allowing Thibodeau to mismanage this situation at nearly every turn, he has made the Wolves into a circus that will be impossible to ignore.
If Butler did tell Thibodeau he wouldn’t be sticking around Minnesota after his contract expires following the 2018-19 season, the logical thing would have been to start looking for a trade and get the best deal available.
Instead, we got a training camp of Butler holding out from the Wolves, of Butler showing up at various health clubs in town to play in lunchtime pickup games, of Butler finally showing up at Wolves practice and going nuclear on everyone in attendance, including Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden. We got “You (bleeping) need me. You can’t win without me.” We got Butler going from that practice to a pre-arranged interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in which he morphed from maniac to charming.
Any of the above would have gotten a player suspended by a professional organization. But this is the Wolves.
Butler might not want to be here — and Thibodeau clearly doesn’t care about the future of this franchise and would be more than happy to run it right into the ground — but for the short term this duo has done a fantastic job of scripting this soap opera.
What’s funny is it’s clear Thibodeau would love to be like his buddy, Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Thibodeau has no interest in telling you anything about his team and, honestly, would prefer if the Wolves tipped off at 3 a.m., so he could simply coach basketball and not be bothered by fans or media.
The difference is that Belichick has multiple NFL titles and an idea of what he’s doing when it comes to personnel. Thibodeau might have been a very good coach at one point — the constantly screaming stuff likely would have been a hit in the mid-1990s — but these days he comes across as a guy who gets tuned out by young players and a personnel man who has no idea that part of his job means focusing on the future.
Those who run professional sports franchises often try to tell you that they tune out distractions. That they don’t pay attention to the outside world and what is being said. This is nonsense. Thibodeau’s new mantra is that the media loves the “drama” of the Butler situation and he’s just focus on winning. This is hysterical since he’s the one who has provided the drama by pleading with Butler to stick around and not trading him when he would have had some leverage.
How long will the Butler & Thibs show last? That’s anyone’s guess but at this point the longer the better and not because it means the Wolves will be successful. Taylor and Butler reportedly met Sunday, with Taylor promising to continue to try to trade Butler and, in return, Butler promising to be a good teammate.
You would have to be incredibly naïve to believe any of this. Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune quoted Taylor on Wednesday as saying Layden “will be talking to other teams to see if there is a trade that works.” If that’s the case, if Layden is the main point man on a Butler trade, that means nothing is going to happen because Layden works for Thibodeau and Thibodeau isn’t trading Butler.
Thus, Butler’s wishes are going to be ignored, meaning the clock is ticking on another Butler meltdown. Will it be the same as last time or will he take a swing at one of his two favorite targets, Karl-Anthony Towns or Andrew Wiggins. If he does that, will either one ofthem decide they have had enough of Butler’s act and stand up for themselves?
In the meantime, Butler will be on the Target Center floor on Friday for the Wolves’ home opener against Cleveland. He already has encouraged fans to boo him and the only question is whether Butler or Thibodeau will hear more boos?
Things are so dysfunctional the Wolves stand a chance of becoming the first team in NBA history to have a bench clearing brawl that doesn’t involve the opponent. If that happens, Thibodeau would be wearing that diabolical smile he gets and explain that everything is going according to plan before telling us the media is making too big of a deal of the fact his players are now conducting in-game brawls.
If Thibodeau and Taylor had handled matters in a professional manner when the opportunity presented itself, this all could have been avoided. The failure to do so means the Wolves will open the season as one of the NBA’s most entertaining teams to watch and it will have nothing to do with on-court success.