The immediate future of the Timberwolves is messy.
The Wolves are headed toward a divorce with Jimmy Butler that is going to sting everybody involved. It’s a matter of when, not if, the Wolves are going to deal Butler, who made a request last week in a meeting with coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau for the Wolves to trade him.
But as the organization prepares to host media day without Butler on Monday in advance of opening training camp Tuesday, at least Wolves fans were able to take solace in another bit of news that secured the long-term future of the franchise.
Karl-Anthony Towns signed his five-year, $190 million super maximum contract Sunday, a deal Towns had agreed to late Saturday night. With the signing, the organization is signaling its future rests, for better or for worse, with Towns and Andrew Wiggins, who is entering the first season of the maximum deal he signed before last season.
“Since Day 1, I always said I was going to do something special,” Towns said in a video posted to the Wolves’ official Twitter account shortly after the signing, “and I tend to keep my word.”
Towns’ signing and Butler’s inevitable unceremonious exit essentially reset the Wolves to where they were before Butler arrived. They were a team tlooking to build around two young cornerstones, and Butler was supposed to help take the team to a higher level. He did, if only for one season.
Now the Wolves are back to where they were before the 2017 draft night Butler trade with Chicago — dependent on Wiggins and Towns, albeit with other key veterans — among them Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose and Anthony Tolliver — in the mix who weren’t here the last time the focus was on the two youngsters.
In a way Butler is doing the Wolves a favor in the long term. If his relationship was strained beyond repair with Towns and Wiggins, Butler’s trade demand put the future in focus for the Wolves and Towns.
Wiggins is still a wild card. If anything, the Butler saga put a public face on the tension that existed between Butler and Towns and Wiggins, with Nick Wiggins, Andrew’s brother, tweeting “Hallelujah” on Wednesday in response to the news that Butler wanted out of town.
Perhaps Butler’s presence was stifling Wiggins’ development. If Butler leaves, Wiggins will have no excuses. He is a maximum-salary player and will need to produce like one to help restore that reputation of the Wolves as a franchise with a bright future.
There are fewer questions with Towns. He earned his first All-Star selection last season in averaging 21.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. The ceiling on his career is still immense.
There are teams interested in Butler — those looking for someone around whom they can build a contender. The Wolves have that in Towns, and over the next few years they can still attempt to find the right fits with him, regardless of Butler’s status. The Wolves may not make the playoffs in the short term once Butler leaves, but depending on the kind of deal they strike for him, perhaps they can set themselves up well in coming years.
On that front, the Wolves are fielding interest from teams after owner Glen Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, got Thibodeau and General Manager Scott Layden on his wavelength to deal Butler instead of keeping him and trying to make the playoffs this season.
ESPN reported several teams are interested in Butler, even those outside of the three Butler prefers (Nets, Knicks and Clippers). Along with Butler’s short list, among those interested are the Pistons, Rockets, Heat, 76ers, Trail Blazers and Kings. Miami has been especially aggressive in making a play for Butler, according to the report.
Perhaps the trade market isn’t as bleak as reports indicated upon Butler’s request.
And perhaps there is enough of a demand that the Wolves can use this trade as a springboard for their future, which looks a lot like it did before Butler ever came to town.