After an acrimonious partnership, one that has been chock full of drama the past two months, Jimmy Butler and the Timberwolves are rid of each other.
The Wolves on Saturday agreed to trade Butler and Justin Patton to the Philadelphia 76ers for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a second-round pick in 2022, a source confirmed to the Star Tribune.
Consider this Philadelphia freedom.
The deal ends a two-month saga that began with Butler making a trade request of coach and team President Tom Thibodeau in Los Angeles before training camp began.
After that, Thibodeau was reluctant to make a deal despite getting close to the finish line with the Heat on a package that revolved around talented young guard Josh Richardson in early October.
But after the team ended its recent West Coast road trip 0-5, Thibodeau read the temperature of a frustrated and fraying locker room after Friday night’s 121-110 loss at Sacramento.
“We’ve got to change it,” Thibodeau said. “We go home [Monday] and we have to get right, so we have two days to get ready and we have to change.”
Thibodeau finally made the big change he was reluctant to make. The 76ers will now retain Butler’s Bird rights and can sign him to a five-year deal worth up to $190 million should Butler opt out of his current deal this summer.
Any other team can offer four years and about $141 million. Butler made it clear to the Wolves he would not sign with them in the offseason even if they were the only team who could offer him the $190 million contract, and owner Glen Taylor vowed to honor Butler’s trade request.
Taylor on Saturday declined to comment on the trade, which might not become official until Monday.
In the interim, Butler’s situation with the team was less than cordial. In his first practice in early October, Butler blew up Wolves practice, shouted an expletive-laced brag at General Manager Scott Layden and criticized teammates.
Then Butler sat down with ESPN later that day to talk about it.
In a meeting with Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, shortly before the season, Butler committed to playing while Taylor committed to finding a deal for him. Butler, however, sat out three games for “precautionary rest” and to heal his “general soreness,” as Thibodeau termed it, in a move that was designed to help keep Butler from getting hurt and harming his trade value.
Reports surfaced that Butler’s resting was his attempt to leverage his way out of town, which he denied last week. The hope was that Butler’s presence would at least help the Wolves get off to a good start. The opposite happened.
The Wolves (4-9) suffered several close early losses and are still winless on the road. The team seemed to be handling the losing in stride — until Friday. Derrick Rose and Butler both said the team was in need of some tough love, that they needed to learn how to criticize each other constructively.
Butler said he agreed with Rose’s notion that the Wolves needed to be able to communicate frankly with each other through both good and bad stretches of play, but he added: “I don’t think everybody can handle it. I don’t. I know actually. But I’m with him on it. … Everybody got to talk to one another and be able to handle it if somebody says something they may not like. We’re all grown men.”
It seemed to be a shot at the younger, higher-paid teammates of Butler’s such as Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, who Butler has not been shy about criticizing in the past. But now everybody gets to focus on the future.
Covington and Saric were starters for the 76ers and figure to play prominent roles, while Bayless is out because of a knee injury. Covington is under contract for another three seasons after this one, and Saric has one more year left on his rookie deal.
The Wolves might look back and regret not taking the deal for Richardson, who is averaging 20.5 points per game for the Heat. That proposed deal also included a first-round pick.
But the trade they did make was focused on helping the Wolves stay competitive now. Covington, who is averaging 11.3 points per game, adds a deep threat to the lineup and was on the NBA All-Defensive first team last season. Saric is 6-10 and can also shoot from outside.
Butler’s arrival in Philadelphia shakes up a competitive Eastern Conference, which is where the Wolves were reportedly determined to send Butler. Butler joins a talented core that includes Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
The Wolves traded for Butler in summer 2017 and relinquished a good chunk of their future doing so, sending away Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and a pick that became Lauri Markkanen to the Bulls.
His arrival signaled a period of supposed optimism for the Wolves franchise, and the Wolves did make the playoffs for the first time since 2004. However, it was a season marked with consternation in part because of Butler’s strained relationship with Towns and Wiggins.
Over the summer, Butler made it clear he did not see a future in the Twin Cities.
Now everybody is parting ways.