It has been more than a month since Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler requested a trade and gave the front office his initial list of teams. And yet, with the NBA regular season in full swing, Butler remains in Minnesota.
While the four-time All-Star continues to perform at a high level (25.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 3.0 steals through three games), the tension simmering under the surface is impossible to ignore. Butler got booed in his home debut — then received “MVP” chants by the end of the same game. Fans are literally chanting “Jimmy Butler” at Karl-Anthony Towns to distract him at the foul line.
TRADE RUMORS: Heat’s Pat Riley “pulling the plug” on Butler deal
None of this is ideal, especially for Towns, the franchise cornerstone who has become an easy target after Butler’s infamous practice session. No one side comes out clean in this situation, but attempting to divvy up the blame is not the primary concern here. The Wolves have some decisions to make.
Minnesota president Tom Thibodeau, general manager Scott Layden and owner Glen Taylor must come to an agreement on how to approach Butler’s immediate future. There are three options on the table, but only one solution.
Trade Jimmy Butler — right now
Take any kind of reasonable trade package. Just pull off the Band-Aid and be done with it.
Thibodeau has held onto some strange hope that Butler would return and make the Timberwolves a happy family again, but it’s not realistic. Knowing Butler will not re-sign with the team next summer, Taylor made it clear a trade is coming.
“Initially, when Butler told him that he wanted to leave you know Tom did everything he could to try to keep Jimmy here,” Taylor told the Star Tribune. “I understand that. They have a close relationship.
“Thibs brought him here so that he would stay here, but eventually I think that listening to Jimmy, Thibs and I are lined up on this. We need to be looking at a trade.”
So why not call the Heat or another interested team and iron out the details? The Wolves don’t want to force a deal and be left wondering what other pieces were available had they exercised a little more patience. The front office already kept Butler through the start of the regular season. Don’t panic now.
Keep playing Jimmy Butler
There’s a reason teams have been willing to engage with the Timberwolves despite the fact that this has become, as Kevin Garnett puts it, a complete “s— storm.” Butler is a top-15 player in the NBA, and he undoubtedly contributes to winning.
The Wolves went 37-22 with Butler in the lineup last season but only 10-13 without him, dropping them down the standings to the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. He is Minnesota’s most reliable player on both ends of the floor, and Thibodeau knows he will get maximum effort out of Butler, regardless of what is going on around him.
Realistically, though, how far does Butler take the Timberwolves if he stays? Likely another postseason appearance, but that’s about it. (It should be noted the 2018 playoff berth was a big deal for a franchise that had been stuck in the lottery for 14 years.) There simply isn’t a path beyond the first round for these Wolves in the loaded West.
Sure, Minnesota is better with Butler on the court. But are those extra wins ultimately worth the added drama in the locker room and possibly ruining the psyche of a guy who just signed a $190 million extension? It would be easy to argue those are bad things!
Can’t trade him immediately. Can’t keep throwing him into the starting lineup. That leads to Door No. 3…
Send Jimmy Butler away until a trade makes sense
The Joakim Noah route. Pay Butler, but leave him on his own island until a solid deal emerges.
This strategy allows the Timberwolves to move forward with Towns and Wiggins leading the way while preventing any unwanted outbursts from Butler during practices or games. Butler can still cash those checks, and he isn’t stuck hanging out with teammates he doesn’t seem to respect all that much anyway.
The biggest advantage with this option is maintaining Butler’s value on the trade market. He missed 23 games last season with a knee injury, and he has averaged more minutes per game over the last five seasons than anyone in the NBA. For the Wolves, there is an inherent risk in putting Butler on the floor each night from a trade standpoint. For Butler, this should be about financial security and doing everything in his power to earn a max contract.
Yes, telling one of the league’s top stars to take a hike sounds absolutely ridiculous. No solution is perfect. However, this is feels like a fair compromise for both the Timberwolves and Butler.
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