Though it’s not quite the Dwight “Dwightmare” Howard trade request of yore, the Jimmy Butler saga in Minnesota reached its nadir Wednesday, when Butler basically used ESPN as his personal PR firm to accelerate his departure from the Timberwolves. Butler’s practice stunt was absurd. He (reportedly) teamed up with the Wolves’ third string so he could embarrass Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Wiggins in a scrimmage. Within seconds, news of Butler’s ass-whooping made it to Adrian Wojnarowski’s Twitter feed (Jimmy’s back!), and the farce ended with a sitdown interview with Rachel Nichols, in which Butler said the situation in Minnesota isn’t fixable.
No one particularly looks great after the recent events. Even before Butler’s trade demand, I thought Tom Thibodeau was doing a subpar job with the Wolves. The ongoing drama has only highlighted his stubbornness and inability to plan long-term. GM Scott Layden is obviously cut off at the knees because he answers to the head coach. Owner Glen Taylor clearly doesn’t have his organization on the same page. Towns and Wiggins have essentially failed at their first chance to play with a star. And wherever he ends up next, Butler will have to answer questions as to why he left his last two teams under clouds of negativity.
I don’t know how Thibodeau lasts past this season in Minnesota, and that is putting it generously. On the court, he can’t get his team to play defense, which is supposed to be his calling card. As an executive, he’s leaned heavily on Bulls retreads, and now he seems to be in open combat with his owner about how to handle Butler.
Taylor, however, doesn’t deserve a free pass. He was enamored enough with Thibodeau to give him all this power despite this exact situation almost always going poorly, and currently it’s unclear how much he’s actually willing to step in to get a deal done. This team is going to be awful as soon as Butler is gone, and I don’t know why an organization would want to hire Thibs in any capacity after this debacle.
Butler is doing what stars do, which is taking control of their future. It’s important to remember that he didn’t sign with Minnesota. Perhaps he never really wanted to play for the Wolves. And I definitely don’t doubt Butler’s passion or his work ethic. As much as we may want to criticize Butler for handling his eventual exit with sandpaper gloves, one thing he won’t jeopardize is his money. Teams will line up to pay him next summer no matter what, but it’s fair to ask if Butler’s actions have endeared him to anyone around the league. Maybe some players love his competitiveness. But others could just as easily be turned off.
If modern NBA title hunting depends on stars aligning for a common cause, it’s not impossible to think Butler could be costing himself a chance to form his own supersquad. Maybe Jimmy doesn’t care about linking up with other All-Stars, but fairly or unfairly, he’s going to earn some kind of reputation as a result of this summer, and it may not be universally favorable amongst players who can help him win.
Whatever the case, all of this just needs to end. I don’t know if epics or sagas are supposed to be longer, but the Butler story has dragged on beyond that point. It’s exhausting. While some of the details coming out are interesting—Seriously, Jimmy won a scrimmage with third stringers? The Wolves won’t accept Josh Richardson?—many more of the reports are mind-numbing. I’m tired of parsing cryptic Instagram posts and practice schedules. We all know Butler’s days in Minnesota are numbered. The faster we reach the point of his departure, the sooner everyone involved can start trying to rebuild their credibility. (Maybe even with a profile in a respected sports magazine!)
I’m sure news will continue to trickle out as the various parties involved try to play leverage games in the media. All of us (maybe it’s really only me) tired of this never-ending story can only hope this doesn’t endure into the regular season. Then again, it would be hilarious to see Butler try to balance his competitive nature with his open disdain for his teammates during games that actually matter (This looks more and more like a real possibility). Maybe the most entertaining outcome would be for Jimmy to remain in Minnesota. See? Now I’m part of the problem.