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Thumbs Down on Wolves’ Jimmy Butler

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September 23, 2018

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The Timberwolves play a preseason game at home on October 5. Their first regular season game at Target Center is October 19.

Jimmy Butler should get an earful from fans at those games—if he is not traded to another NBA team by either of those dates.

The Wolves’ mega-paid star (reportedly near $20 million for the coming year) has decided after one season in Minnesota he doesn’t want to play here and wishes to be traded. Jimmy, where’s the loyalty in honoring the commitment the Wolves organization made to you including the remaining year on your contract?

It was about 15 months ago that this town first embraced Butler with a huge fan turnout and welcome event at the Mall of America. Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said then of Butler: “He’s a great person. He’s a great leader. We’re thrilled to have him.”

A few years ago Thibodeau coached Butler with the Bulls and helped take him from a late first round draft choice to an All-NBA guard. “Thibs has molded me into the player that I am today,” Butler said at the MOA event.

Butler is not expected at media day on Monday and it will not be surprising if he doesn’t report for the team’s first practice on Tuesday. Internet accounts say Butler’s unwillingness to play for the Wolves is motivated by his dissatisfaction with younger teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Butler, 29, also reportedly was critical of younger teammates when he played for the Bulls. Apparently, instead of being a role model for less experienced players, Butler prefers to move on from teams where he doesn’t like the locker room.

Maybe Thibodeau should get Butler, Towns and Wiggins in a room for a “come to Jesus meeting.” That’s what former NBA champion coach Bill Fitch told Sports Headliners he would do.

Fitch suggested he would meet all day, if necessary, with the players. They could even “agree to disagree” on things but the outcome would be to reach a place where the players could make the team better.

Fitch was an old-fashioned taskmaster when coaching the Celtics to an NBA title. He didn’t hesitate to command players to do extra running for their transgressions. He suggested that measure could be appropriate with the Wolves’ soap opera.

What if Butler doesn’t report to training camp because of his trade wishes? Fitch said the Wolves should start fining Butler.

A couple of days ago Thibodeau reportedly didn’t want to trade Butler, while owner Glen Taylor was supposedly telling other NBA teams to call him for such talks. If true, that kind of split in the organization is dysfunctional. Taylor hired Thibodeau as president of basketball operations and coach to make the difficult decisions, even in times of crisis.

Now it’s said the two are in agreement they need to scramble to trade Butler, who becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season. He has left the Wolves with minimal leverage in trade discussions with teams knowing they could get him next summer without having to give up players they have now.

The best chance of moving Butler soon, or even in coming months, could be to a bubble team that sees acquiring him as a big move toward advancing into or going deep in the playoffs. But that raises the question of whether a team with an already talent-shy roster has enough assets to interest the Wolves.

The Wolves’ best move might be to dump Butler soon in exchange for draft choices. Getting him out of the locker room and off the court looks like it will bring peace among players and fans. At that point the Wolves would have to conclude their 2017 trade bringing Butler here from Chicago was a mistake, sending three players and a high first round draft choice to the Bulls.

When Butler came to Minneapolis it looked like a big part of his motivation would be playing on a winning team. The Wolves were a much better team with him in the lineup and they made the playoffs last spring for the first time since 2004. Minnesota had a 47-35 regular season record. In the 59 games Butler could start when not injured, the Wolves’ record was 37-22.

Butler’s minutes per game of 36.7 were third most in the NBA. He ranked 15th in league scoring (22.2 points per game), 29th in assists (4.9) and fourth in steals (a career-best 1.97). After Butler’s seventh NBA season and first with Minnesota, he was named to the NBA All-Defensive second team.

There’s no doubting Butler’s all-around skills and value. The doubting now is about his loyalty and accountability to the team and fans. The Wolves invested heavily in Butler and so too did the fans, including season ticket holders who paid thousands of dollars and a lot of time to watch him and teammates.

The LA Clippers, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, the three teams Butler reportedly has expressed interest in being traded to, all missed the playoffs last season. If the Wolves have Butler, those teams don’t have the potential to win this coming season like Minnesota does.

Maybe Butler wants to be in the glamour cities of Los Angeles and New York to do something in business related to his interest in clothing and fashion. All I know is he didn’t take long to surprise and disappoint a lot of people inside and outside Target Center.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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