The Timberwolves’ reported agreement to trade Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia on Saturday removes the franchise’s biggest and immediate headache. But Glen Taylor must realize his work isn’t complete.
There is one more move the Wolves owner must make in the coming days and, even though it seems simple, it’s going to be difficult for him. Taylor seems like a guy who doesn’t enjoy making tough decisions — at least when it comes to his basketball team — and he definitely doesn’t like paying out $24 million to make an employee go away.
Yet, that is exactly what Taylor is going to have to do when he fires Tom Thibodeau. The move should have been made before the season but now it can’t wait. Thibodeau has three years and $24 million left on the five-year contract he signed in 2016 to become the Wolves’ president of basketball operations and head coach.
Taylor needs to pay it, say goodbye and let Thibodeau take his act as Tom The Bellowing Coach elsewhere.
In mishandling the Butler situation beyond belief, Thibodeau managed to accomplish the impossible. There was a time when it seemed as if no basketball boss could embarrass the Wolves more than David Kahn had but Thibodeau accomplished it. That takes a lot of work and an unbelievable level of incompetence.
There was debate on Twitter on Saturday afternoon about what type of return the Wolves got from the 76ers in forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric and guard Jerryd Bayless. Minnesota also will get a 2022 second-round pick and send forward Justin Patton to Philadelphia.
The Wolves will try to put the best possible spin on it but there is nothing they can say that will justify how the situation with the recalcitrant Butler was handled. Butler was Thibodeau’s guy and when he decided he wanted out, and made it public in September, Thibodeau reportedly attempted to make trade talks as difficult as possible and became convinced the only way to win now was to hold Butler hostage on the Wolves roster.
One problem with this: Butler knew he had all the leverage and made a fool of Thibodeau and the Wolves at every turn. Butler didn’t care how bad he looked in picking and choosing games in which he played — heck, sometimes he picked certain quarters in which he tried — and even went so far as to finally show up for a training camp practice, embarrass everyone he could by yelling at them and then conduct a sit down with ESPN.
And what did Thibodeau do? Nothing. He was either afraid of Butler or incapable of controlling a star player who is injury prone, but the important thing is Thibodeau lost all control of his team. He should have been fired at that point and, yet, he wasn’t.
Instead, the Wolves tried to convince us they had leverage while Butler ran the franchise into the ground. He did a good job of it, too. The occasional strong performance — 33 points in the home opener against the Cavaliers, 32 points against the Lakers in a victory at Target Center — didn’t matter for a team that sits at 4-9 overall and 0-8 on the road after a loss Friday night in Sacramento.
What’s amazing is that it took Thibodeau this long to come to the conclusion that Butler had to go. While everyone with any common sense around him saw that Butler was making a fool of his coach, Thibodeau was foolish enough to believe he could run the show and in the meantime let Butler do whatever he wanted.
Maybe Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose still have respect for Thibodeau, but after watching the circus that he enabled it’s hard to believe the majority of players in the locker room, or those in the front office, can take Thibodeau seriously. If nothing else, they also have to question whether he has the ability to continue running any part of this team.
I applauded the Thibodeau hiring and loved the Butler trade but in both cases I was wrong and so was Taylor. Butler wasn’t a hard-working superstar talent who wanted to give his all to win. He was an incredibly selfish player and a diva who doesn’t give a damn about anyone but himself.
Thibodeau, meanwhile, is so focused on his own plan that he’s willing to destroy a franchise to accomplish what he thinks is right. Unfortunately, nobody around him, except Butler, seems to have the guts to tell him to stop yelling, sit down, be quiet and listen.
Thibodeau, like Butler, isn’t going to change. If the Wolves are going to have any success in the future, it’s going to be because guys like Karl-Anthony Towns and maybe even Andrew Wiggins develop. But no matter who the key players are they deserve a front office and head coach who are good at what they do. The owner deserves that as well.
And that’s why when the Wolves officially announce the Butler trade, they should include the news that Thibodeau has been relieved of his duties as well.