Jimmy Butler does not want to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s made this desire perfectly clear, first by demanding a trade and then by staging a media circus built on the one-two punch of humiliating his teammates in practice and then going on TV immediately afterwards to continue shitting on them. Now would definitely be a good time for Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau to prepare for life post-Butler by reiterating his confidence in the players that the disgruntled star is so eager to get away from, just given that Thibodeau will continue to coach them once Butler is gone. But he didn’t really do that when given the chance today.
Thibodeau spoke with reporters for several minutes before tonight’s preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks, which Butler will not be playing in because he did not travel with the team. In that conversation, Thibs does not come across as someone who thinks Butler crossed any lines over the last few days.
When asked about the pointed and public criticisms Butler has made about Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and whether he thinks it’s constructive for players to do that to their teammates, Thibodeau had this to say: “Well, it’s how you view, like what you want to pick and choose what people say. So I’m not gonna comment on any of that, because he’s also praised a lot of guys and that’s never reported.”
Thibs was then asked what he thought of Butler going on ESPN to air his grievances right after Wednesday’s infamous practice session, and replied, “It is what it is. In today’s world, it’s a different world... I have no problems with a guy doing interviews, it’s what happens, and I want the team to be first.” He then completely evaded a question about whether Butler’s actions qualified as putting the team first.
This is all very weird. Jimmy Butler is as good as gone and seems set on sowing as much discord within the T-Wolves organization as he possibly can on his way out the door. Thibs should be concerned with rallying the players he will be left with, if only because that’s the team he’s in charge of, minus whatever he gets back for Butler. But instead of, say, praising Towns and Wiggins for their talent or professionalism throughout this process, he seems more concerned with taking the heat off Butler. What’s the endgame here? To somehow woo Butler back while simultaneously alienating the team’s actual young core even further?
This means that Towns has been left to stick up for himself, and that’s not something he seems all that interested in doing. He was visibly uncomfortable while talking with reporters today, and awkwardly dodged every single question about Butler.
This mess started with one star player wanting out of Minnesota, but given how poorly Thibodeau has played things, it could easily end with two more eyeing the exit.