Throughout the past month, as the Jimmy Butler trade drama has swirled around the Timberwolves, coach Tom Thibodeau has insisted his team would be able to block out the noise and make sure Butler’s demands would not keep the team from winning.
Thibodeau would say that this happens to every team at one point or another, and that this is nothing new in the course of NBA events.
But after the Bucks dominated the Wolves 125-95 on their home floor and brought out the boos in the fans at Target Center, it was fair to wonder if the Butler chatter is beginning to overwhelm the team, considering Friday’s loss, the most lopsided of the Thibodeau era, came just a day after a report of a new trade offer surfaced from the Rockets.
Even Thibodeau himself seemed to acknowledge that it’s impossible to be the basketball-playing robots this situation might require to keep full attention on the court.
“You know distractions happen all the time in every industry,” Thibodeau said. “So when you lose focus you’re not going to perform up to your potential. … We have to guard against that. I think human nature says you have to guard against it if you study how this league works.”
It’s possible that Friday was just the proverbial one-of-those-nights for the Wolves. Forward Taj Gibson seemed to say as much after Saturday’s practice, considering the Wolves were without Andrew Wiggins for the second consecutive game and Butler was playing through an illness.
“It was a lot of different things going on, lot of different body parts moving around,” Gibson said. “It was a funky day.”
Gibson hasn’t been afraid of being candid since training camp. Everything seemed fine at practice Saturday as he and Karl-Anthony Towns engaged in a friendly shooting contest afterward. But Gibson wasn’t going to shy away from it — what the Wolves are going through isn’t normal, even if distractions are common.
“No team is ever going to go through a perfect season unscathed,” Gibson said. “Everybody has a story at the end of the year sometimes of triumph and sometimes falling down. We’re in a crazy situation, kind of difficult, but we have to push through it. That’s why we’re professionals.
“We have to go into every practice, into every game with a smile on your face and push yourself.”
Some, such as forward Gorgui Dieng, try not to think too much of Butler’s trade predicament, even if other players might get snared in the trade talks themselves.
“Me personally, I don’t care,” Dieng said. “If they trade Jimmy, then they’re trading him. If they keep him here, then they keep him here. It’s not my decision, it’s not something that I have a voice [in]. Most important is just what’s important for the team, and what I can do to help this basketball team.”
That has been the guiding mantra for every member of the Wolves throughout this saga, but perhaps that’s getting harder to do.
“Any time you get off of what you need to do, you’re not going to perform as well as you can,” Thibodeau said. “You have to understand what makes you successful, what makes the team successful and, if you shortcut any of those things, the result is not going to be the same.”