Swept up in the undeniably optimistic time following the Wolves’ acquisition of Jimmy Butler last summer, I declared that the move had the potential to be the Kevin Garnett trade in reverse.
The thought was this: The Wolves were uniting a big three, just as Boston had in acquiring Garnett in 2007, and they were getting a player in Butler who seemed to have similarities to KG.
In a one-on-one interview with Wolves coach and president of basketball operations Thibodeau at Butler’s raucous introductory news conference at Mall of America, Thibodeau brought up Garnett unprompted in making a comparison to Butler.
“I was around Kevin Garnett, and the thing about Kevin was not only his words but what he did — how he practiced, how he prepared, how he played. When he played in the game, everything he did was about winning — making the extra pass if a guy was open,” Thibodeau said. “As great a shooter as Kevin was, the next guy always got the pass from him. When you ask what a great defensive player is, it’s a multiple effort guy. That’s what Kevin was, and that’s what Jimmy is.”
The on-court comparisons proved apt during Butler’s first season for the Wolves, when he was the main component in helping Minnesota improve from 31 to 47 wins and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
But as details of reports have emerged in the wake of Butler asking the Timberwolves to trade him after one season in Minnesota, it’s time for a different comparison.
Butler seems to be acting and thinking far less like Garnett and far more like Stephon Marbury.
Garnett is fiercely loyal and stuck it out for 12 seasons with the Wolves before asking to move on. If the assumption was that Butler was similarly loyal to Thibodeau, his old coach from Chicago, that assumption is being very much challenged.
And if the assumption was that Butler valued winning over all else, that too is being challenged.
As first reported by ESPN, Butler covets a trade to the Clippers, Nets or Knicks — with the Clippers apparently being his top choice. None of those are contenders, though it is feasible that with Butler on board and cap room to add another max player next offseason — like, say, Butler’s pal Kyrie Irving — those teams could improve quickly. They also have the ability to give Butler a full five-year, $190 million extension.
A bigger indicator, though, is this paragraph from an earlier version of that above-linked ESPN piece from Adrian Wojnarowski:
Butler had once imagined playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, but LeBron James’ arrival as the franchise’s cornerstone made it less appealing for Butler in the prime of his career, league sources said.
If you don’t want to play with LeBron — the best player on the planet, and a man who has gone to eight straight NBA Finals spanning two different teams, winning three rings — you clearly don’t place winning above all else.
Instead, it appears Butler is valuing a big market, the ability to shine brightly in a spotlight and a big payday.
That’s a page straight from the playbook of Marbury, who broke Wolves’ fans hearts when he forced his way out of Minnesota — and a budding dynamic duo with KG — in 1999.
Butler is obviously more established than Marbury was at the time, and he might have arrived at his apparent decision in a different manner.
But it still feels very familiar, right down to the Nets — where Marbury landed — being one of the teams for which Butler reportedly wants to play.