When Minnesota Timberwolves superstar Jimmy Butler turned down his team’s offer of a massive four-year, $110 million extension back in July, whispers regarding the 28-year-old swingman’s imminent exit quickly turned into audible chatter. With just two years remaining on his current contract, time is running out for the hungry Wolves.
At this point, it appears that their best option is to ship out their seemingly disgruntled star at the soonest possible time.
A Brief History
Prior to his move to Minnesota, Butler was the centerpiece of a Chicago Bulls side in search of an identity following the collapse of the Derrick Rose era. However, things did not pan out for Butler and Chicago, and in the summer of 2017, the Bulls front office pulled the plug on the experiment.
Along with Justin Patton, the Bulls sent Butler to the Timberwolves in exchange for Kriss Dunn, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen. At that time, the deal seemed like a win-win situation for both sides looking for a new face for their franchise. Unfortunately for the Wolves, Butler’s contentment and loyalty was not part of the trade package.
The Wolf of Wall Street
While Butler was already able to establish himself as the unquestionable number one option for the Bulls in previous years, it was quite a different scenario for him in Minnesota. Karl-Anthony Towns was the franchise star, and as early as then, questions were already raised whether Butler would be able and willing to play second fiddle to Towns.
Interestingly enough, Butler led the team in scoring last season with 22.2 points per ballgame on 15.6 shot attempts. For his part, Towns saw his numbers dip to 21.3 points per contest on 14.3 attempts, vis-a-vis his 23.9 points on 18.0 shot attempts the previous year, sans Butler. In this respect, it appeared that it was Towns who took a step back.
Then again, the transformation paid dividends for the team. They finished the regular season with 16 more wins than the previous year, which sent them off on their first postseason appearance in 15 years. Along with Butler, Towns was also voted as an All-Star — a first in his young career.
It appeared that all was well for the Wolves. A playoff run, albeit short and not so sweet, should only work in the team’s favor as they acquired the necessary experience to take their side to the next level. Right? Well, that’s what we thought.
The Current Conundrum
When Butler turned down the extension deal this summer, most considered it to be a sign of bad fate. He will be entering the fourth year of his five-year deal, which he originally signed with the Bulls back in 2015. The issue for the Timberwolves is Butler’s deal stipulates that the final year of his contract entails a player option. Simply put, should he decide to do so, Butler can walk away next summer and leave Minnesota with nothing to show for.
Butler is in the prime of his career, and there will be no shortage of suitors once he becomes a free agent next summer. Teaming up with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers has been rumored to be a preferred destination for Butler, as well as a potential move to the New York Knicks to join forces with fellow potential free agent Kyrie Irving.
The motivation behind Butler’s reported desire to jump ship is currently unclear. However, there are some who believe that he does not see eye-to-eye with Towns. In an excerpt from his piece for the Chicago Sun-Times, Joe Cowley detailed how Butler does not appear to be on the best of terms with Towns.
“A league source said Butler, who has been frustrated with the nonchalant attitudes of younger teammates — specifically Karl-Anthony Towns — does not intend to sign an extension with the Timberwolves,” wrote Cowley.
Whatever the case may be, what is clear is that this issue runs deep for Butler, and if it has indeed reached a tipping point, then it may prove to be an irreparable conundrum.
If the Wolves wish to get as much value back as they can for Butler, then now would be the most opportune time to try and find a trade partner/s. The longer they wait, the more Butler’s value decreases.
According to Timberwolves insider Nick Friedell, the process will have to start with head coach Tim Thibodeau.
“Being around that [Timberwolves] team a lot last year, I think Jimmy is probably going to be gone a year from right now some where else and there is the problem,” said Friedell as a guest of ESPN’s The Jump. “I think [head coach] Tom [Thibodeau] is gotta have that honest conversation, whether it comes now or in a few months and say ‘Do you really wanna be here?’ and if Jimmy is kind of like ‘ehhh, we’ll see,’ then I would make the move. Knowing how Tom the way I have been covering him the last few years, I don’t think he would do that.”
At the end of the day, it is Thibodeau’s team and any potential move must be sanctioned by the team’s head coach.
Nevertheless, it is not going to be a walk in the park for the Wolves. Trading an unhappy star who seems to have already set his mind on his next team is going to be a monumental task for the Minnesota front office. Is there going to be a team that is willing to take on such a risk?
Perhaps. After all, the Oklahoma City Thunder did the exact the same thing last summer with Paul George, and we all know how that paid dividends for their side.
Well, as it turns out, the Dallas Mavericks appear to be interested. The offseason additions of DeAndre Jordan and Luka Doncic have propelled the team to become a formidable contender in the West. Adding a proven superstar in the form of Butler should take them to the next level. Maybe there’s a chance their willing to part ways with Harrison Barnes and/or future draft picks to acquire Butler? Then again, this would be a best-case scenario for the Timberwolves.
This dilemma has the makings of a long, drawn-out issue that could potentially turn ugly. If Butler is indeed unhappy with his current situation, then it would be far from beneficial for a young team that is looking to take the next step. If somehow the Wolves are able to find an early exit strategy for Butler, then they should not hesitate to pull the trigger.