The Timberwolves finally said good riddance to their malcontent on Saturday, but not before allowing Jimmy Butler to drag the entire organization through a swamp of dysfunction.
But, hey, better late than never, right?
Tom Thibodeau came to his senses and traded his favorite son to Philadelphia in a deal that includes a lot of pieces and finalizes an inevitable divorce.
Apparently the tipping point was a disastrous 0-5 West Coast road trip, as if there weren’t any number of embarrassing moments previously that should have pushed them to this conclusion.
If the Wolves couldn’t win with Butler, even Thibodeau had to get past the foolish belief that Butler was worth keeping and that his star guard’s insubordination was somehow acceptable.
People will dissect whether the Wolves received enough value in return, but anyone even half-interested should feel grateful that this nightmare is finally over. Let’s call it General Exhaustion.
Butler is gone, the damage remains. The Wolves might not be as dysfunctional, but what exactly is their organizational plan now? And does anyone actually trust Thibodeau to provide the leadership and personnel blueprint necessary to forge a new path after he helped create this mess?
If the Wolves continue to struggle and return to lottery land, will owner Glen Taylor (who also owns the Star Tribune) stick by Thibodeau with complete confidence?
Here’s guessing that boos directed at Thibodeau during pregame introductions won’t disappear. The Wolves remain one of the NBA’s worst defensive teams, which allegedly is Thibodeau’s area of expertise. They are one of the worst rebounding teams. Andrew Wiggins, armed with his $148 million contract, continues to look disinterested.
Thibodeau ripped up the organizational blueprint in favor of an accelerated timeline by trading for Butler as part of his roster makeover. Without Butler, the Wolves are back to their original plan, minus Zach LaVine.
No, not the Timberpups, but the focus once again shifts to Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins and hoping they mature into cornerstones of a championship nucleus.
That remains a big if at present.
Wiggins’ brother Nick tweeted “Hallelujah” when Butler’s trade demand became public in September. Nick Wiggins got his wish, but his brother and Towns won’t have Butler’s presence as an excuse anymore.
Butler won’t be there to berate them. Or criticize their effort and defense through the media. Or suck the flow out of late-game offense with hero ball.
The organization’s future rests on the shoulders of Towns and Wiggins again, options 1 and 1A. And Thibodeau, assuming he survives as coach and basketball boss. That, too, remains a big if.
Thibodeau probably needs to repair relationships — if possible — after giving double-standard treatment to Butler. It was hard to know who was boss the past two months. That’s no way to build chemistry or galvanize a locker room.
The Butler soap opera also turned off fans who have made their feelings crystal clear by not going to games.
Saturday marked the end point of a short-lived experiment that began with jubilation and hope. Lots of hope.
Remember Butler’s welcome to Minnesota? That euphoric pep rally masqueraded as a news conference at Mall of America. Fans flooded the rotunda, level after level, to get a glimpse of Butler, who made us all laugh when he gave out his phone number.
Ha, ha, ha.
The Wolves finally felt credible, a legitimate player in the new-look NBA. This had the makings of something special, we thought, never pausing to consider worst-case scenarios.
“This is what dynasties are made of,” Towns said that day.
“I think what we have here is very attractive to other players,” Thibodeau said.
It’s staggering to consider how much things have changed in 16 months. From envisioning a dynasty to trading Butler with the organization in crisis.
Sixteen months. So much dysfunction.
Butler’s tenure had an expiration date once he told Thibodeau he wanted out. Moving him took longer than necessary, but everyone should be happy now. Well, maybe not Thibodeau.
Wolves players can smile and shout hallelujah. They will have some normalcy again. Now let’s see what they do with it.