Derrick Rose took the long walk from the Timberwolves’ locker room to the tunnel leading under the stands to the Target Center court. He stopped, alone except for ushers and security guards and, minutes before the game, unleashed a primal scream into the arena.
Rose would hear and awaken echoes all night. As Jimmy Butler sat out with “general soreness” amid reports that his egomaniacal Minnesota reign will soon end, another former Bulls star brought to Minnesota by Tom Thibodeau demonstrated that you can choose to play the game with joy.
Two nights after scorching the Lakers, Butler did not wear a Timberwolves uniform. He sat in the locker room, lounging in jeans, whining about media coverage. The Star Tribune is reporting that Butler is indeed “sore,” as Thibodeau says, and being rested as part of the team’s plan to keep him healthy, although that could be prelude to a trade.
Thanks to fan anger at Butler, Target Center was about one-third filled. It took Rose’s Cirque du Soleil act, a career-best 50 points and a 128-125 victory over Utah to enliven the crowd.
Once the cheers fade, the Wolves should trade Butler, if he’s healthy enough to pass a physical.
Butler scorched the Lakers on Monday, providing a reminder that he remains one of the league’s best players. At a time when even the Wolves’ most loyal fans are contemplating writing off the franchise for good, Butler is treating the circus he created like it amuses him.
Which is annoying but ultimately inconsequential. Everyone knows what needs to happen next, and that most conceivable trades will leave the Wolves with an average team and a crater where they kept their most ambitious plans.
The word “culture” has become omnipresent in the sports world. It’s popular because it’s meaningless. Organizations can apply it to anything they see as a positive. It’s as nebulous as “elite.”
If there is such a thing as a sporting culture, Thibodeau destroyed the Wolves’ by trading for and kowtowing to Butler.
Thibodeau’s strength was supposed to be tough-love coaching, the ability to push his players in a way that worked with so many of his Bulls. Rose said Wednesday night that when he won the MVP award in Chicago, Thibs didn’t compliment him until the offseason.
By aligning himself with Butler even as he planned to force a trade, Thibodeau has cost himself credibility with his own locker room, as well as in this market.
How does Thibodeau get the most out of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins after this? Why would they listen if he tells them they need to play harder or more unselfishly?
Why would they accept that message from the coach who made Butler his general and consigliere, then tolerated him skipping as much training camp as he liked, screaming at team leadership, demanding a trade for illogical or purely selfish reasons, taking games off early in the season because he didn’t get in shape and berating teammates publicly?
Why would Wiggins or KAT listen to a lame duck who backed the wrong horse?
Picture this: Thibs approaches Towns at practice, telling him he needs to run the floor harder. Towns looks over his shoulder and sees Butler, who does as he likes when he likes. In a league where the players wield the power, does Towns laugh? Or sneer?
As the Wolves spring leaks, Thibodeau sticks to his book of traditional coaching quotations. While discussing Butler’s “soreness” before Wednesday’s game, Thibodeau said the organization has to “trust the player.”
That, like the word “culture,” is the kind of cliché you may get away with if your franchise isn’t imploding. When your best player, the player you placed your faith in, has betrayed you, using the word “trust” is laughable.
So was Butler’s last public appearance Wednesday. He popped into Rose’s news conference, yelled something about “50’’, then said, “Sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt.”
It’s almost as if Butler isn’t sincere.