In a move that likely will reshape the course of the NBA and the Timberwolves, guard Jimmy Butler has requested a trade from the team, according to multiple media reports.
Butler, who at times has expressed frustration playing alongside the Wolves’ two young cornerstones, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, has reportedly made up his mind on his future — and it likely won’t include the Wolves. ESPN reported that Butler’s desired trade destinations are the Knicks, Nets and Clippers, but that list could change based on teams’ willingness to trade for and sign Butler.
With training camp set to open Tuesday, it’s unclear what the Wolves and Tom Thibodeau, the team’s head coach and president of basketball operations, will do next. The Wolves are coming off a 47-win season and their first trip to the playoffs in 14 years, fueling hopes within the organization of even bigger things this year.
Wolves owner Glen Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, would not comment when reached Wednesday night. Butler’s agent, Bernie Lee, and Thibodeau were not available for comment.
Butler, an All-Star last season, can become a free agent after next season by declining the player option of the last year in his contract. He then would be eligible to sign a maximum five-year deal with the Wolves worth close to $190 million. Butler turned down a four-year, $110 million deal from the Wolves, the maximum extension they were allowed to offer, this offseason.
If the Wolves trade Butler to another team, he would be eligible to sign that max deal. If the Wolves don’t trade him and he declines to re-sign with the Wolves, he is limited to signing a four-year, $141 million deal with a new team.
Even though the season is still weeks away, there are elements of timing involved in a trade of Butler — specifically how a potential trade relates to the contract extension of Towns.
Towns has yet to sign the maximum deal the Wolves have offered him, and what happens with Butler could play into Towns’ decision. Towns has until Oct. 15 to sign the deal, worth up to $188 million over five years, or become a restricted free agent. If Butler is gone by then and friction between the two is a real sticking point, it could make Towns’ decision to sign the extension easier.
In that way a trade of Butler could represent a hit of the reset button for the franchise, at least with Towns locked in place for years to come.
But that assumes Thibodeau is willing to deal Butler, a player with whom Thibodeau has had a good relationship throughout Butler’s career. Thibodeau might not want to trade Butler, especially if he thinks he is coaching for his job and needs to win. But doing so would risk Butler walking away for nothing after the season while potentially influencing a Towns extension. ESPN reported Thibodeau is reluctant to deal Butler.
If Butler isn’t traded, he will come back to a team that performed well enough on the court last season to be on track for the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed before a late-season Butler knee injury knocked the Wolves back to the No. 8 spot.
Off the court, the Wolves have shown signs of being fractured. In a tweet that could be indicative of the tension between Butler and the team’s younger stars, Nick Wiggins, the brother of Andrew Wiggins, tweeted “Hallelujah” while quoting a tweet from the Athletic, which first reported Butler’s request for a trade. Nick Wiggins later deleted the tweet.
Butler remade the Wolves last season and helped them reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004. But instead of the season being one of promise and hope for the direction of the franchise, offseason reports emerged of Butler’s unhappiness playing with Towns and Wiggins.
Thibodeau and Butler remain close dating to Butler’s development under Thibodeau in Chicago, but Wednesday’s news makes it clear Butler doesn’t see his career advancing in Minnesota after the Wolves acquired him the night of the 2017 draft along with the No. 16 pick of the draft from the Bulls in exchange for Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and the No. 7 pick.
If Butler wants to get out of Minnesota to go to a title contender, his list of teams is a curious one. The Nets, Clippers and Knicks missed the playoffs last season and aren’t likely one player away from title contention. Butler, instead, is indicating he wants to play in one of the NBA’s two biggest markets, perhaps to expand his personal brand.
Or Butler could be banking on those teams having the salary-cap room and pull to add another star next offseason, such as Kyrie Irving, someone Butler reportedly would like to play alongside. The two won a gold medal together for Team USA at the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.