The Minnesota Timberwolves have generated more news this week than many NBA teams do in an entire season.
Saturday night provided two more morsels, one bad — that Jimmy Butler has been excused from the team’s media day Monday — and one good — that Karl-Anthony Towns had agreed to a five-year max contract extension.
The Towns news will be thankfully received by a Minnesota fan base desperate for positive news after several days of stories surrounding Butler’s desire to leave the team. A max contract has been on the table for Towns to accept for months, only for him to delay signing the deal.
That’s now in the past, with Towns agreeing to the deal, which could grow to as much as $190 million over the next five years if Towns reaches certain thresholds during this upcoming season.
That Minnesota got the deal signed without giving Towns a player option on the fifth year also has to be seen as a significant victory for the front office, led by Coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau and General Manager Scott Layden. No matter what happens with Butler, Minnesota will have one of the league’s top young talents under contract for the foreseeable future.
It appears the same can’t be said about Butler, at least in Minnesota. In fact, while Towns signing on to stay with the Timberwolves is a positive development, it should only accelerate trade talks involving Butler. Given the amount of tension among the team’s three core players — Butler, Towns and Andrew Wiggins — it isn’t a coincidence that with reports accelerating that owner Glen Taylor is pushing Minnesota’s front office to quickly move on from Butler, Towns agreed to sign his deal precisely when he did.
The question now is how long it takes Minnesota to move Butler. Thibodeau, a relentless competitor, would rather hang onto Butler. But Taylor, who has previously overseen the trades of star forwards Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love, wants to make sure Minnesota gets something back for Butler instead of letting him walk for nothing next summer.
He also seems to want to avoid an awkward situation stemming from Butler showing up Monday. It was a bad sign when this week’s meeting between Butler and Thibodeau was moved from Minneapolis on Monday to Los Angeles on Tuesday. Then Butler’s trade request became public.
Butler has given Minnesota three teams to which he’s interested in being dealt — the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers. All three of those teams have the cap space to sign Butler next summer, though, which will make it more difficult for Minnesota to get proper value back in a deal for the four-time all-star.
The Knicks have maintained both publicly and privately that they will remain patient in their pursuit of stars — a change from experience — and will not trade first round picks. The Nets seem unlikely to move on from any picks, as well, after they finally emerged from the hole they created by trading the rights to five straight first round picks earlier this decade.
The Clippers have expressed interest in Butler but have no interest in parting with prized rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. What Los Angeles does have, however, is a bunch of solid NBA players on good or expiring contracts that it could throw together in a deal.
Expect plenty of other teams to inquire about Butler. It would come as no surprise if this process plays out in a similar fashion to how the Kawhi Leonard saga ended, with Butler going to a team not on his list of preferred destinations.
Further complicating matters is the fact that Butler has missed at least 15 games in four of the past five seasons — including 23 last season, many of which came after a knee injury and subsequent surgery. Coupled with him having played heavy minutes for the past several years — mostly under Thibodeau — and approaching 30, there’s an argument to be made against giving Butler a five-year max in the neighborhood of $200 million.
The argument in favor, of course, is that Butler is a very good player when he’s on the court, one of the best two-way wings in a league where good play at that position is at a premium. His arrival turned the Wolves from a 30-win team to a 48-win team last year, a win total that would’ve been significantly higher had Butler remained healthy.
As of now, it seems only a matter of when — not if — Butler is moved. Until he is, the Timberwolves will continue to be a nonstop news machine.
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