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Decoding Jimmy Butler’s Frosty Relationship With the Timberwolves

The guard seems to want out of Minnesota just a year after joining the budding superteam. What’s next for the most important Timberbull?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Tom Thibodeau may never fully assemble his Timberbulls. Derrick Rose has been secured. Luol Deng has been signed. Taj Gibson has been reunited with Thibs and last season played, at 33, more total minutes than any teammate over 23. Even Joakim Noah could soon be within reach. But Jimmy Butler, Thibodeau’s most important former player, might want out of Minnesota. On Monday, reportedly, Butler will meet with GM Scott Layden and Thibodeau to “have honest conversations” about his future with the team. But how did we get here? Here’s an FAQ on Butler’s current state.

What’s the situation?

Training camp is eight days away, and the Wolves are in limbo. The front office won’t discuss an extension with Karl-Anthony Towns until after issues with Butler are resolved, per The Athletic. Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggins, whose contract is locked down — uncomfortably so, for a player who didn’t improve significantly after signing for the max last summer — represents another kind of standstill: Butler has to be wondering whether Wiggins will grow enough to warrant his cap hit. The rest of the roster remained unchanged as well; it was a quiet, disappointing offseason for Minnesota. The Wolves didn’t add any 3-and-D players, the acute need for which became evident during the 2017–18 season. Butler turned 29 on Friday and he’s made it clear that he sees this part of his career as his window to win a ring.

Oh, and did I mention that everyone hates each other? Included in the rumor mill this summer are reports of: Towns annoying Butler, Butler and Towns frustrating Wiggins, the front office pissing off Towns, Wiggins disappointing Butler, and owner Glen Taylor irking Butler after the former said on a radio show that Butler would be a key part of recruiting this summer. (“That’s not Jimmy’s role,” his agent, Bernie Lee, responded.)

Why does he want to talk now?

Reports of the meeting leaked two days after Minnesota signed Deng, who agreed to take the veteran’s minimum. That signing doesn’t necessarily put the Wolves in a significantly tighter cap situation than before, but it does matter on principle: From Butler’s point of view, getting Deng — a past-his-prime player — might make the franchise’s inability to sign an efficient player sting more.

What are his options?

Butler could resolve his issues with the team, stay, and re-sign when he hits free agency next summer. He’s eligible for a five-year, $188 million deal with Minnesota in 2019, or a four-year, $139 million deal elsewhere. If Butler is set on leaving, he could simply wait it out the old-fashioned way. (Begrudgingly.) Or he could hop on the force-a-trade trend. If Butler intends to sign elsewhere and is transparent about it, the Wolves are better off trading him and getting something in return rather being left with nothing a year from now. Butler was, after all, the key piece in the trade that sent away Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the seventh overall pick (now Lauri Markkanen, who might turn out to be the best of the three).

Who might be in the market for a 29-year-old, oft-injured, very good two-way player who is not always the easiest dude to play with?

Five teams come to mind: the Clippers, Blazers, Heat, Sixers, and Lakers. Both Miami and the Clips desperately need star power and have the tradable assets to get a deal done. Butler fits the win-now mold that Portland’s roster is built for. As far as Philadelphia and the Lakers go, adding Butler would be a step toward building a superteam. With winning it all being Butler’s top priority, the Sixers or Lakers would have the best chances of keeping him past this year. Funny, because if Minnesota’s plan for Wiggins to step up, Towns to sign an extension, and Butler to stay materialized, it might have been able to claim superteam status a couple of seasons from now.

An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the wait to start extension talks between Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves front office. Towns, as opposed to the front office, reportedly won’t start the discussion until the Jimmy Butler situation is resolved.