Jimmy Butler wants out of Minnesota. The four-time All-Star is the latest player to exert his pre-agency and request a trade before he hits the free-agent market, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Butler wants to be traded to one of three teams: the Brooklyn Nets, the New York Knicks, and the Los Angeles Clippers — all big markets that would have max cap space to sign Butler outright in the summer of 2019. The trade request appears to have been the result of a meeting between Butler and Timberwolves coach/president Tom Thibodeau. The timing is less than ideal for Minnesota.
The Timberwolves will hold their media day on Monday and start training camp for the 2018–19 season on Tuesday; the NBA regular season will start in less than a month. Though Thibodeau is reportedly “resistant” to the idea of trading Butler, the star has essentially put Minnesota on a timer, and the clock is ticking faster than usual.
Butler is 29, and coming off a season during which he underwent surgery for a right knee injury that sidelined him for 17 games. He can opt out of the final year of his contract and enter free agency next summer, but it appears he wants out of the Twin Cities now. In July, he turned down a four-year, $100 million extension from the Wolves, banking on making more money in free agency in 2019, whether or not he stayed or left. But why wait a year if you’ve seen fellow All-Stars like Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard get out of situations they didn’t want ahead of schedule?
There have long been rumors about Butler’s inability to get along with the younger players on the Wolves, specifically Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Though The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski reported that the trade request is more based on “contractual matters,” Wiggins’s brother may have just showed us all the cards:
It seems that Nick Wiggins (brother of the Wolves SF Andrew Wiggins) is quite excited to hear Jimmy is leaving town pic.twitter.com/xyxXaQhfeH— •Association Addict• (@AA_BallTalk) September 19, 2018
There’s no doubt that Thibodeau’s decision-making skills factor in as well. Sure, Thibs was the one who traded for Butler on the night of the 2017 draft, a move that set up the Wolves to earn their first playoff berth in 14 years. But Thibs has prioritized reuniting the 2012 Bulls roster instead of attempting forward-looking moves that would put the Wolves on a path to true contention. If Butler is traded before this season begins, the Wolves will have essentially given up the rights to Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn for one season of Butler. Thibs probably wasn’t prepared for Butler to want out after one season, but his own actions may have had a part in forcing Butler’s hand. It’s all part of the cycle of mismanagement that began when the Wolves decided to give Thibs total power in 2016.
It’s interesting to juxtapose Minnesota with one of the teams on Butler’s list — the Brooklyn Nets. Though they’re still slowly getting out from under the 2013 trade with the Celtics that forced them to rebuild, the Nets have managed to instill a new culture full of young guys whom they’re developing as well an infrastructure that could one day attract superstars looking for a new home. That time seems to have come sooner rather than later. Butler’s request may change how the Nets and Knicks look at their future as they rebuild. As recently as Monday, Knicks team president Steve Mills said the franchise won’t trade draft picks for players they can get in free agency. With Butler likely available, it will be interesting to see whether that holds.
While Irving and Leonard weren’t traded to any of the teams that were on their original lists, they ultimately got what they wanted. Butler is the third star to follow that path in just over a year, and three makes a trend.