Jimmy Butler helped the Minnesota Timberwolves improve their win total by a whopping 16 games from the 2016-2017 season to last season. Playing with one of the NBA’s most promising young big men and surrounded by, umm, a familiar cast of playoff-tested veterans, it would seem that Butler has landed in a near ideal spot for the next phase of his career.
But Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic reported Saturday that Butler would meet Monday with Tom Thibodeau and Timberwolves GM Scott Layden to “have honest conversations” about Butler’s future with the organization, something that suddenly sounds like it might be in some doubt:
With the opening of training camp 10 days away, it appears the Wolves and Butler have reached a fork in the road, with months of tension and uncertainty involving Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Thibodeau possibly coming to a head, sources told Shams Charania and me.
It turns out the meeting was not held Monday—Butler says it’ll happen on Tuesday—but there seems to be an awful lot of smoke, here, enough that NBA-knowers are floating trade possibilities. It appears to be the case that Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins don’t much like playing together, which wouldn’t be such a huge deal on its own—LeBron James won a title with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love despite none of them much enjoying the experience of playing together—but there are pressing contract matters that directly affect both the immediate and longterm future of the organization.
Towns has been offered but has not yet signed a five-year max contract extension. He’s a 22-year-old superstar and the current face of the organization, and if part of the delay is concern over his fit with Butler, that’s a major problem. On the other hand, Butler is the only player in the bunch with any significant track record of success in the NBA. And on a strange, possibly alien third hand, Andrew Wiggins is already locked into place on a $150 million, five-year contract. The player the Wolves probably most want to keep is Towns; the player they have no choice but to keep is Wiggins; the player they probably most need to keep in order to stay competitive in the brutal Western Conference is Butler.
Krawczynski had the league buzzing with chatter about the uneasy combination of these guys over the summer, and Butler, at 29 years old, is at the stage of his career where his next long-term contract could be his last huge payday. This decision also has major implications for his chances of playing for a real championship contender during what’s left of his prime. It sounds like if the Wolves can’t convince him Minnesota is his best long-term home, they will need to immediately shift into figuring out what to do about this upcoming season:
Butler is Thibodeau’s greatest ally in the Wolves locker room, and the coach has surrounded him with familiar faces to try to entice him to stay, including former Bulls Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and now Luol Deng.
In the meeting Monday, the Timberwolves will have to lay out a plan that shows a clear path to contention that will get Butler to commit to plunging into another season in Minnesota.
Butler turned down a four-year, $110 million contract extension offer from the Wolves back in July, and will be eligible for a $190 million deal when he hits free agency next summer. It seems wild that a team coming off its first playoff appearance in 14 years could be teetering on the brink of an internal collapse, but then these are the Timberwolves we’re talking about. If you’re searching for a silver lining, at least if Butler leaves town they’ll still have three other members of the last good Bulls team on the roster.