In a telephone interview Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said disgruntled Jimmy Butler misled him and he regrets trading for the former Chicago Bulls star. Taylor, though, wouldn’t criticize the man who recommended the 2017 trade—Tom Thibodeau, his president of basketball operations and head coach.
Butler’s childish antics at an expletive-laced practice last month and refusal to play in early season games were centerpieces to his strategy of forcing the Wolves to trade him, which they did several days ago acquiring three players and a future draft choice from the 76ers. It was a difficult trade process for the Wolves and one that Taylor advised Butler about, saying he should play in the games instead of opting out here and there.
“I said it was just necessary for him to do that even if he wanted to be traded,” Taylor told Sports Headliners. “That if you wanted to be traded, you want to put yourself in the best light. Other teams can see your behavior here. And it certainly slowed down the process for us and hurt us in negotiating with other teams in that they were concerned if that behavior would continue on with their team.”
The Wolves’ longtime owner said Butler indicated to him he would play in the games, saying he planned to play with heart while inferring it would be business as usual. Instead, Butler’s theatrics, including his infamous October practice where he reportedly yelled at teammates and Wolves brass, created a drama that became a national story.
“It (the weeks of unpredictable behavior) was certainly something that shouldn’t have happened,” Taylor said. “There’s nothing positive about it at all. I think you just have to assume that type of action by anybody affects the other people on the team. It’s not consistent with team play.”
Upon joining the 76ers this week Butler pronounced himself “an incredible human being.”
Taylor’s reaction? “I probably don’t want to comment,” he answered.
The Wolves had a losing record of 4-9 while Butler was with the team. Minnesota qualified for the playoffs last season and the team’s early record was a disappointment to Taylor who gave up promising guards Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, plus the No. 7 first round pick in the 2017 draft, to acquire Butler.
“I would say it would never have occurred to me to give up those talented three young men that we did…if we were only talking about a year or two,” Taylor said. “I knew that he (Butler) was under contract for a couple of years and assumed that we would renew that contract.”
Butler was a controversial talent in Chicago who had played part of his career for Thibodeau. Should Thibodeau have known—or had assurances—that in acquiring one of the NBA’s best all-round players he was obtaining a talent who wasn’t making long-term promises of staying in Minneapolis?
“Maybe it just never really occurred to us to ask him that,” Taylor said. “Maybe we just made some assumptions that we shouldn’t have.”
Butler reportedly didn’t like his teammates and didn’t feel appreciated enough by the organization. A one season run was all the loyalty he cared to send Minnesota after the trade that brought him here.
Apparently Thibodeau and Taylor initially had other assumptions but the owner didn’t criticize his basketball leader. “Well, I probably shouldn’t point the finger at anybody else,” Taylor said. “Maybe I should have been as responsible for that as he.”
Taylor didn’t become a billionaire by being sidetracked with problems but he admitted to feeling some relief these days. “Well, I am much better now that it’s concluded (the trade),” he said. “During this whole last seven weeks it was time consuming and also unnerving in the sense that you didn’t know exactly what was going to be the final result.”
Worth Noting on Gophers & Vikings
It’s the City of Lakes versus the Windy City this weekend with the Gophers playing in Minneapolis on Saturday against Northwestern, and the Vikings in Chicago for a Sunday night assignment with the Bears.
Both the Gophers and Vikings were about three point underdogs earlier this week. That’s changed with the Gophers and Northwestern, and the game is now seen as closer to a tossup with wagers perhaps concerned about injuries taking a toll on the Wildcats.
The incentives for the Gophers and Vikings goes beyond Minnesota pride. The Gophers, with a 5-5 overall record, need a sixth win to earn bowl eligibility. The Vikings, 5-3-1, are trying to repeat as NFC North Division champions and four of their remaining seven games are against division rivals including two meetings with the Bears.
The question for the Gophers is what defense will show up at TCF Bank Stadium tomorrow? The unit that gave up 646 yards in a 55-31 loss to lowly Illinois? Or the group that limited explosive Purdue to just 233 yards in a 41-10 Minnesota win last Saturday?
It’s Senior Day tomorrow and among the Gophers playing his last game will be Eden Prairie’s Blake Cashman. His performance against Purdue has to be one of the most impressive ever by a Minnesota linebacker. The coaching staff graded him with a remarkable 58 points, the most ever during head coach P.J. Fleck’s nearly two seasons at Minnesota.
Former Gopher head coach Glen Mason, talking on the Big Ten Network this week, predicted Minnesota will defeat Northwestern and Wisconsin in its last two games of the season.
The Bears have lost three of their last four games against the Vikings but the 2018 Chicago team is revitalized with new or improved players. The Bears are 6-3 and whether the Vikings can leave Chicago late Sunday night in first place could come down to which quarterback is best late in the game.
The nationally televised game is a potential showcase for Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, playing in his first season with the Vikings, and Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky who at 24 is having a breakout season. Cousins has made some pressure plays already this year for the Vikings but in his previous seasons with the Redskins was 4-19 against winning teams. He is 0-2 with the Vikings after losses to the 9-1 Saints and 8-1 Rams. Trubisky, this week’s NFC Offensive Player of the Week after last Sunday’s career best 355 passing yards, talked this fall about the importance of the Bears developing a “killer instinct.”
The game’s outcome could turn on one play including special teams. Three years ago in Chicago Marcus Sherels ran a punt back 65 yards for a touchdown as Minnesota won 23-20. Sherels, 31, along with defensive end Everson Griffen, are the longest tenured players with the club after joining the Vikings in 2010.
The Minnesota Wild has been making owner Craig Leipold feel better as of late. Leipold, 66, is facing his fourth hip replacement in coming months and is still on crutches following replacement No. 3, but his spirits were lifted by the team winning five of seven games on its recent road trip.
“Boy, we’re all looking at this team right now going, man, they’re playing together,” Leipold told Sports Headliners on Monday. Last night, in the Wild’s first home game since the club’s longest road trip ever, Leipold’s boys lost to the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals. It was the Wild’s first home defeat of the season, and predictable against such a quality team and after a long road trip.
The Wild has a habit of earning its way into the NHL playoffs but then making an early exit. Leipold expects more than just showing up for the postseason like his franchise has done for six straight years. “We’re not playing to come in second or third or fourth,” he said. “We’re playing to win the Cup. That’s what we want to do. That’s our objective and I think if you asked our players, that’s the reason they play hard every night.”
The Wild has mostly been receiving quality play from all four lines, and goalie Devan Dubnyk has been sharp. Leipold knows after 18 games there is a lot of hockey remaining on the schedule but he is hopeful that among the reasons this team could avoid long losing streaks is team rapport. “We really do have outstanding leadership in the locker room,” he said.
Preseason concerns included not scoring enough goals but results have been better than expected. Mikael Granlund, long known for his potential, is part of the reason. He leads Minnesota in goals with 10 and also has eight assists for a Wild best 18 points.
“He’s a special player,” Leipold said. “I think a lot of people around the league have seen it. And now I think he’s believing it as well.”
Veteran stars Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, coming off injuries last season, are constantly scrutinized by interested fans to see if they appear healthy. They tell Leipold they are “100 percent” and even if they only currently check in at 90 the owner is happy. Suter and Parise have played in all the games so far, and Leipold praised their talent and work ethic.
After games Leipold can often be found sitting in a corner location at Herbie’s On The Park, the two-year old restaurant and bar located in the historic Minnesota Club near Xcel Energy Center. He enjoys watching patrons celebrate when the Wild win. He also allows himself to fantasize about being in Herbie’s after the Wild win the Stanley Cup.
“That is the ultimate,” Leipold acknowledged. “There is no finer dream that I could have.”
In 2008 Leipold bought the Wild from Bob Naegele Jr. who died last week. The funeral is next Monday in the Twin Cities. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” Leipold said. “Many Wild employees will be there. He was a very popular man and he was a mentor to me.”
Because of Mr. Naegele’s funeral, the date for the Old Timers Hockey Association Luncheon has been moved from next Monday to the following day. The Tuesday, November 20 event begins at 11:30 a.m. at Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul.
Bill Robertson, men’s WCHA commissioner, will be the guest speaker. Dick Jonckowski will emcee.
I was reminded this week how badly conference leaders and the NCAA needs to make improvements to the game of college basketball. A typical game like Monday night’s early season matchup between Minnesota and Utah was frequently slowed to a crawl at Williams Arena. In the first seven minutes, for example, there were two timeouts and two stoppages for officials to view replays on a TV monitor.
In the second half, Utah called timeout with 8:10 remaining in the game. About 22 seconds later the play on the court stopped again for one of the eight mandated media timeouts during a game. Along with the coaches’ and media’s timeouts, add in how the college game is over officiated with unnecessary foul calls. The result is a roadblock to allowing the flow and rhythm that is a natural part of basketball.
It’s way overdue for college basketball to adopt policies regarding both officiating and timeouts similar to the NBA. The pro league knows what it is doing. The college game is clueless. The NCAA is stealing a lot of showtime from its so-called student athletes while infuriating fans.
Gophers senior forward Jordan Murphy, who was a preseason All-Big Ten candidate, had 17 rebounds and 11 points Monday night. His total play looked even better than hyped. Freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur, who hit his first five three-point shots and finished the game with 19 points, might have the smoothest shooting stroke of any Gopher in a long time.
Murphy and junior guard-forward Amir Coffey received some of the most enthusiastic applause in the pregame introductions. Head coach Richard Pitino, coming off last season’s 4-14 Big Ten record, received a very quiet reaction from the fans.
The Twin Cities Dunkers hear from Gopher women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen on Friday. Then Hugh McCutcheon, the Minnesota volleyball coach, talks to the breakfast group later this month.
McCutcheon’s volleyball team, 16-0 in Big Ten matches, concludes its regular season conference schedule on the road the next two Fridays and Saturdays with matches against Maryland, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers. No Gopher team in any sport has been undefeated in the Big Ten since the wrestlers were 19-0 in 2001-2002.
The Big Ten Network reported Monday that among major college football teams there are only four who are 13-1 in their last 14 conference games. Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Northwestern who the Gophers play on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Northwestern Wildcats, 6-1 in league games, have clinched at least a share of the Big Ten West Division title and are playing for the best bowl game invite in their remaining games. Minnesota, 2-5 in the conference standings, is averaging 452 yards of offense in its last four games. This is Minnesota’s longest streak of at least 400 yards of offense since it went seven straight games over the 2005-06 seasons.
While the Gophers were surprisingly beating up on Purdue and the Vikings had their bye date, I was in Southeast Conference football country watching the No. 5 ranked Georgia Bulldogs and No. 24 Auburn Tigers in Athens, Georgia. It was my first SEC game ever, and kind of a bucket list thing.
Being in Uga land a few days before the Saturday night game got me ready for the Bulldogs and Tigers. Athens makes many a short list of America’s best college towns, and among its proud citizens is Uga, the University of Georgia’s popular bulldog mascot. While the real Uga watches each home game from the sidelines, there are replicas of the famous dog around town including one creation that wears glasses and is positioned outside an eye doctor’s office.
Word is you don’t want to mess with the real Uga. I am told that years ago an Auburn player was showing off after a touchdown. He spun the ball on the ground near Uga, who then lunged toward the player showing disapproval. Presumably the charged-up Georgia players took their cue from Uga and won the game!
While Sanford Stadium is a scene of pom-pom waving, madly cheering Georgia fans on game night, there are a few detractors. Near the stadium I encountered a proselytizing Baptist minister who preaches the game of football is a false idol that besmirches the Lord. The minister seemed to be a lone voice in the wilderness as game time approached and throngs of fans marched toward the stadium gates, completely ignoring the preacher.
No, the minister didn’t have many converts. This is not to say religion isn’t important in the South. It certainly is, but college football is—to put it mildly—about as important as life or death. College football Saturdays down in Dixie can be labeled High Holy Days.
Southern college football authority Paul Finebaum wrote a story for Time magazine last August headlined the “The Holy Game.” Finebaum said: “If college football is America’s lay religion, the South is its ecumenically evangelical center. Nowhere is the passion more intense than on the campuses of the 14 colleges of the Southeastern Conference and among their fans.”
Along with the fervor can also come Southern hospitality and civility. Matt Hall, my game companion on Saturday, got an unexpected offering of that after he realized he lost one of his season ticket passes. He concluded this occurred at a spot in the concourse after he had reached into his pocket to give me a ticket. Returning to the suspected site of his loss, he immediately saw a stranger holding the ticket, with intentions to turn it into fan relations. Now that’s good timing.
Georgia fans were happy Saturday night as their beloved Dawgs won another game in the oldest college football rivalry in the Deep South. The two SEC powers have been playing each other since 1896 and they have won not only league titles but national championships.
The Bulldogs, now 9-1, were pretty much on cruise control Saturday night. Georgia led 20-10 at halftime and added a second half touchdown to make the final score 27-10. Just as important the Bulldogs held fast in the chase for an invitation to the four-team playoffs.
The Bulldogs showed an aggressive defense and balanced offense. Auburn, now 6-4, couldn’t match Georgia’s productivity on the ground including D’Andre Swift’s 186-yard rushing performance.
My guy Matt is a professor at Georgia so he’s on board with the Dawgs. Georgia is just behind No. 4 Michigan in the four-team playoff race. Matt grew up in Ann Arbor so he’s all in on the possibility of the Wolverines getting a shot at the national title. Either Dawgs, or Wolves, Matt is well positioned.
College Football’s Shrine
For many years I have wanted to visit the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. Mission accomplished.
Entering the building’s lobby fans are greeted by over 700 helmets representing every level of college football including NAIA schools. While registering, each Hall of Fame guest can identify a favorite team, and then that team’s helmet lights up on a giant wall. Technology also allows highlighting of your favorite team at exhibits.
Much of my focus in touring the facility was on the Gophers. There are 22 individuals with Gopher ties in the shrine including Lou Holtz, who coached only two seasons at Minnesota.
I told fan experience senior manager Robert Bready that there are still copies of a Hollywood movie from the 1940’s about Bruce Smith, Minnesota’s 1941 Heisman Trophy winner. “Smith of Minnesota” starred the hero from Faribault, Minnesota, and was as wholesome of a production as Hollywood has ever produced.
I also shared a mythic tale about the legendary Bronko Nagurski, the Gophers’ fullback and tackle from the 1920s who made All-American at two positions in the same year. Nagurski was said to be strong as an ox, and legend has it that a Gopher coach discovered him on a farm near International Falls. Bronko was using a large plow to dig up the earth when the coach drove by and stopped to ask for directions. The mighty Bronko gave directions by lifting the plow into the air and pointing toward the road the coach should follow.
That was enough for the coach to direct Bronko to Minnesota.
Former Vikings wide receiver Terry LeCount works at the Hall of Fame. He played for the Vikings from 1979-1983, and in 1987.
More on the Hall of Fame at cfbhall.com.