The Jimmy Butler Conundrum

The stars were aligning for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Jimmy Butler, the former Chicago Bulls all-star, became a Timberwolf on the night of the 2017 NBA draft. The hope was Butler would finally bring them back to relevance.

Butler would bring leadership and experience to the young Wolves squad. For a while, it looked like a match made in heaven. The new look Wolves were one of those teams that nobody wanted to play when the postseason came around.

Like a hero from a comic book, Butler led the Wolves to the playoffs for the first time since 2004 upon returning from a late season injury. The high-octane Houston Rockets made quick work of the Wolves, winning the series 4-1. But this was not the point. The heads of Wolves fans filled with thoughts of rooting for a team that was a contender and not just a doormat for the other NBA franchises.

This all seems like a distant memory now because Jimmy Butler wants out of Minnesota. The relationship between Butler and the Wolves has quickly gone from honeymoon to divorce.

Whispers that Butler was not happy began way back in July. The reasoning behind this wasn’t entirely clear. Then a report came up mid-September that Butler was demanding the Wolves to trade him.

He declared he would not be showing up for team camp. Butler and his teammates were feuding. The lack of heart and hustle of cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins rubbed Butler the wrong way. Butler gave 100 percent on both ends of the court, and he felt as if his teammates did not.

Butler also has a chance to get paid in a big way. He turned down the Wolves’ four-year, $110 million extension this summer. A trade and max-contract extension for Butler could have him making $190 million.

With the never-ending risk of injury, it’s hard to blame a guy who wants all the financial stability he can get. This puts the Wolves in a tough spot. Initially, the trade for Butler looked brilliant. Zach LaVine was coming off a brutal leg injury; Kris Dunn had not yet lived up to the hype of the top-five pick he was and lottery picks miss every single year.

Now, they must take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves if it was worth it. The short answer is absolutely yes. They ended a playoff drought for a fan base that was starved of a winning team. Minnesota basketball was fun again. People actually wanted to come to the Target Center to watch them play.

The long answer is to be seen. LaVine and Dunn had unexceptional, but good seasons with Chicago. The draft pick the Bulls got for Butler was used on power forward Lauri Markkanen, who looks like a potential all-star.

Differing opinions between the coaching staff and the front office complicates things even more. Head coach Tom Thibodeau would rather leave than rebuild if the trade happens. But ownership seems ready to move on quickly.

Trade demands seem to be holding up a move at the moment. The Wolves reportedly want “quality veterans, top prospects, future assets and salary-cap relief,” per an ESPN report.

Butler also has a chance at a change of scenery. Minnesota is one of the first names crossed off on a list of potential destinations for NBA free agents. That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Butler’s preferred landing spots include the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat. These are just places that players have always found more appealing to not only play in, but live in.

A trade would put the Wolves at a crossroads. Will they look back in a few years and think what might have been, or will they find a way to get back on track? It seems like only yesterday that experts were hailing them as the next big thing. Will Andrew Wiggins continue to tease them with his untapped potential? Will Towns turn the corner as a defender and become the all-in-one big man that everyone thinks he can be?

These questions will determine not only the fate of the franchise, but also the fate of Thibodeau. The Wolves brought Thibodeau in a few years back because of his no-nonsense attitude. He was supposed to whip the youngsters into shape. Instead, the young studs appear to have stunted growth. The Wolves have taken one step forward and two steps back under Thibodeau. That’s a good way to get fired in the unforgiving NBA.

“What have you done for me lately?” is the question the Wolves might ask. It’s unfortunate the way things are turning out. If somewhere down the road Butler, Towns and Wiggins had clicked, the Wolves had a real chance at winning their first title.

Fans will look back at the team that ended the over decade-long playoff drought with either a smile or a frown. Both make perfectly reasonable sense. Whatever way the Thibodeau, Timberwolves and Butler story turns out, they will all remain connected.

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