The big-top circus blew into town Monday. The featured act had no desire to swan-dive himself into the Timberwolves’ ongoing melodrama.
So LeBron, any thoughts on the Wolves situation?
“Nope,” James said.
Have you ever considered making a trade request in your career?
“Uh, no,” he said.
He’s no dummy. LeBron James knows he has nothing to gain by offering his opinion on the Jimmy Butler saga because anything LeBron says on league matters makes headlines.
Didn’t matter. On a night when the NBA’s biggest star was in the arena, Butler still remained the top story. Weirdly, in a good way.
Butler stole the show with a shooting clinic in the fourth quarter to carry the Timberwolves to a 124-120 victory over James’ Lakers at Target Center.
Butler made five three-pointers in the final quarter, six for the game, and led all scorers with 32 points to reaffirm the organization’s Catch-22 position in dealing with this complicated situation.
Butler is a superstar. And as he noted rather bluntly in his infamous practice rant, the Wolves absolutely need him. Even the most fervent Butler-bashers must admit the Wolves are infinitely better with him than without.
But at some point the ride will end. Butlers wants out, and the team has promised to negotiate with potential trade partners in good faith.
Performances like Monday night leave you conflicted. The Timberwolves can’t risk letting Butler walk as a free agent after the season while getting nothing in return. But they likely won’t get the same immediate value that Butler provides in any trade.
Tom Thibodeau probably upped his asking price after Butler upstaged James in a highly entertaining shootout Monday that gave Wolves fans a rare viewing treat.
“Jimmy hit some big-time shots in that fourth quarter,” James said.
LeBron celebrated the 15th anniversary of his NBA debut Monday with a performance that was more muted than vintage. And yet he still finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
That shows the ridiculous standards James carries into every game. He started slow and never looked like he owned the game, but he still nearly posted a triple-double.
“We had a lead going into halftime, and I hadn’t played well at all,” James said.
His combination of size and athleticism have always been freakish in a sport filled with A-plus athletes. His versatility makes him unique, too. James recently moved up to No. 6 on the league’s all-time scoring list, but he objects to being labeled a scorer.
“I’m not a scorer, I’m a ball player,” he said. “I’ve always gotten a kick out of seeing my teammates succeed. If that comes from a pass from me or a hockey assist from me, I’ve always been more proud of that. I’ve been fortunate to put a few baskets in the hoop, but I’m not a scorer.”
The LeBron Effect was on full display. Target Center was sold out and lively, not a typical Monday night crowd. Lakers jerseys were spotted in large numbers.
“You’re always going to get the other team’s best shot now,” Los Angeles coach Luke Walton said. “We know that no matter who were playing — a great team or a team that’s struggling — they’re going to give us their best shot because they know everyone’s watching.”
James didn’t walk into a championship situation with the current roster. His free-agent signing was merely Step 1 in the creation of another NBA superteam. That process will take shape next offseason with the expected arrival of another superstar. Maybe Kevin Durant joins him. Or Kawhi Leonard.
Until then, the Lakers will take their lumps this season. They fell to 2-5 and one wonders how LeBron’s patience will handle a losing season.
“You probably don’t want to be around when my patience runs out,” James said after the game. “I’m serious.”
In the other locker room down the hall, patience with Butler’s status remains an interesting subplot. He is still here, but for how long?
Butler showed his value again with a terrific performance. But his trade demands makes it feel more like a tease.