First, let me apologize if you already read this piece a couple days ago with a slightly different headline: Five reasons why this would be a good time for the Wolves to trade Jimmy Butler.
It seems the Wolves agreed, since they made the deal Saturday to send Butler to Philadelphia.
When news broke more than seven weeks ago that Butler wanted to be traded from the Timberwolves, conventional wisdom was that a deal could come together quickly despite the poor timing. It lingered on for longer than many would have liked, but here's why now was the time:
1 The perception (and reality) of dysfunction was not healthy and needed to stop.
Within the team, it’s impossible to know what impact Butler’s drama was having in the locker room, but at the very least we can say it was not helping. Karl-Anthony Towns looked out of sorts for much of the first 13 games. The team entered the weekend last in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage, which is a stat that takes aim at their collective effort.
Outside the locker room, the Wolves became punchlines throughout NBA circles. The way Butler seemingly called the shots at every turn, with little resistance from coach/basketball president Tom Thibodeau, was unhealthy.
If there was any internal hope that Butler being on the team could somehow work out well — a hope that ran contrary to what almost every rational person would conclude — that hope evaporated as the season unfolded.
2 The one potential benefit of holding onto Butler — that he might help the Wolves win some games and get off to a hot start — did not prove to be true.
Sure, Minnesota has played one of the toughest schedules in the NBA so far this season. But a team coming off a 47-win season would reasonably hope to be at least .500 right now. Instead, Minnesota is 4-9 — including a ghastly 0-8 mark on the road.
The Wolves are third-to-last in the NBA in defensive efficiency, and while they have only looked truly awful in two games this year — blowout losses to Milwaukee and Portland — I can think of just one game this year (a home win over Indiana) where I came away impressed by the overall team effort and output.
There have been other memorable individual performances (hello, Derrick Rose’s 50-point game and Butler’s lights-out shooting vs. the Lakers in Minnesota) but if the feeling last year was this was a collection of individuals that feeling has only been magnified this season. The Wolves have been better when Butler plays, but they still were just 3-7 when he was on the court vs. 1-2 when he sat out.
3 Keeping Butler meant the constant risk of Butler sustaining a serious injury — the worst-case scenario for both the team and player.
The bigger issue was that when Butler wasn’t resting, he was one bad step away from catastrophe. This isn’t some iron man — Butler, for as competitive as he is (and perhaps as a result of it in some ways), routinely misses about 15 games per NBA season with various ailments. He missed 23 a year ago, the bulk of which came after a meniscus injury.
Any sort of meaningful injury would have impacted the Wolves’ ability to trade him at all or at least diminished the potential value they got in return.
4 The trade market wasn't bound to get any better.
The Heat made its big push for Butler before the season started, reportedly relenting on including Josh Richardson in a potential deal. Richardson is now off to a strong start (20.7 ppg) at a fraction of Butler’s projected cost.
The Rockets’ offer of four first-round picks came in the midst of a 1-5 start. They’ve since rebounded, and the longer they played well without Butler the more they might have wondered if they are just fine without him.
There was a sweet spot to make a deal in which the Wolves had some leverage. That leverage wasn’t all gone, but it was going to slip away the longer they held onto Butler.
5 There’s a chance to frame this trade as an immediate success and change the narrative of the season.
Here’s my bonus reason, thinking like a Wolves executive — maybe not Thibodeau, but someone else who could have the ear of owner Glen Taylor.
The start of the season has been in many ways a disaster. The Wolves went 0-5 on the road trip, are 4-9 overall and are already falling behind in the playoff race of a brutal Western Conference. They have been booed at home — both Thibodeau and Butler — where they have played to two crowds barely topping 10,000, both of which were smaller than any crowds a year ago.
But they also haven’t been home since Rose dropped 50 on Halloween, so the recent dysfunction has played out away from the local fan base.
But starting Monday against the Nets, 10 of the Wolves’ next 12 games are at Target Center. Quite a few of those are beatable opponents, as a brutal early schedule eases up.
Trading Butler now means the Wolves avoid Butler playing another game at Target Center, where even when he performed well and was cheered things feel weird.
You bring in some useful players from Philadelphia -- Robert Covington and Dario Saric can make the Wolves competitive again -- and give fans a long look at them while also clearing the air. And you perhaps manufacture (or genuinely create) the impression that the trade has paid immediate dividends because you’re suddenly winning games against a softer schedule.