Jimmy Butler, the (self-proclaimed) best domino player in the world, might be the next domino to fall in the 2018 NBA offseason. Butler reportedly “has no intentions” of signing an extension with the Timberwolves because he feels his younger teammates (cough, Karl-Anthony Towns, cough) don’t share his desire to compete for championships, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. For the teams wandering the San Antonio desert in hopes of winning the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes, Butler has materialized as a plan B on the horizon.
Butler isn’t the only Timberwolf who has reportedly grumbled about his situation over the past few months. Darren Wolfson of KSTP in Minneapolis said on ESPN 1500 Radio in March that Andrew Wiggins was unhappy with being the third banana behind Butler and Towns. (Perhaps that’s because Towns shot nearly as well from 3-point range as Wiggins did from the floor.) Wiggins signed a five-year, $146.5 million extension in October, Towns is still in the best-unicorn conversation, and Butler can opt out of his deal after this season. Minnesota is a big place, but if it isn’t big enough for all three of them, the 28-year-old Butler seems like the clear odd man out—except to maybe Tom Thibodeau, who values his old Bulls players above all.
Butler isn’t quite the force on either side of the ball that Kawhi is. He’s also more than a year older, and coming off his own serious injury. But Butler’s availability, either as a free agent next summer or as a possible trade target this season, could undercut some of the Spurs’ leverage in negotiations with the Lakers and other teams on Kawhi deals. And while Leonard has remained silent amid Stephen A. Smith’s report that there’s a possibility that Leonard could sit out the 2018-19 season if he doesn’t get traded to the Lakers, Butler isn’t one to hold back his feelings.
“I just don’t think there have been many people that have understood how important winning is to me, man,’’ Butler told the Sun-Times with one week left in the regular season. “I just had a conversation about that very thing with somebody—not important who—but I put so much into this game and I only play to win.”
The Lakers, Celtics, Lakers, Sixers, and Lakers (in that order) are reportedly the favorites to land Kawhi, but three days into free agency and still no word. By adding Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and JaVale McGee, the Lakers have chosen to put placeholders around LeBron James rather than the kind of supporting cast that can help him beat the Warriors. Butler, however, is the type of All-Star sidekick James needs. But the Celtics may have an advantage should they want to add Jimmy. Kyrie Irving reportedly had Minnesota on his list of preferred destinations when he asked out of Cleveland, and the Sun-Times’ report stated that Butler and Irving still hope to play together, though it’s unclear whether Butler is a strong enough upgrade to justify dismantling Boston’s young core.
Only time will tell whether Minnesota can recoup the haul it paid when the team flipped Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn for Butler and a lower first-round pick on draft day last year. The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski reported Saturday that Thibodeau was hoping to reunite with two of his former Bulls (surprise!) in Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, should they get bought out. If the Lakers can somehow convince Thibs to take Deng’s $36.8 million over the next two seasons in a trade for Butler, it might be more impressive than signing LeBron.