Taj Gibson was sitting across from Jimmy Butler on the Timberwolves’ charter home from California when they got word of Saturday’s trade.
This is something Butler wanted, something he waited for during the first few surreal weeks of the season as the Wolves tried to find a way to win with the prospect of a pending trade hanging over everyone’s head.
It was closure.
Still, Gibson said after practice Sunday, it was a strange scene. “Knowing him as long as I’ve known him, I think he was a little taken aback by it,’’ Gibson said. “Little bit shocked. Because no matter what, even if you want to ask for a trade, when you finally get traded it’s a weird feeling.’’
The deal sending Butler and Justin Patton to Philadelphia for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick is not yet official. It could become official Monday, but it might not happen in time for the new players to be part of the team Monday night against Brooklyn at Target Center.
So Wolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau couldn’t talk about the trade Sunday.
But after Thibodeau was done, a procession of players came up and talked about Butler, the trade, the Wolves as they stand now and the prospect of having this soap opera in the rearview mirror.
And while nobody was willing to blame the uncertainty surrounding Butler for the team’s 0-5 road trip or its 4-9 record, there was the sense that a fresh start is a good thing.
“I think so,’’ Gibson said. “I just think it was this stuff going back and forth. I thought the locker room was great. But when you’re trying to win games and you’re not winning games? In the locker room it’s kind of like a black cloud.’’
Guard Derrick Rose called it a “new start,’’ something, he said, the team might need.
“Hopefully, it gives us a burst of energy and somehow clears our minds so we can go out and play the right way,” he said. “Just play for each other.’’
So much has to happen, and in a short time. Adjustments will have to be made on the fly. Andrew Wiggins goes back to the off-guard position, and Thibodeau has to figure out a starting lineup. Does he bring Gibson off the bench?
Who will fill the personality vacuum created by Butler’s moving to Philly?
“We just have to come together,’’ Karl-Anthony Towns said. “We’re not doing well on defense so far this year, and we have to clean that up. That’s just cohesion and coming together. All of us combined.’’
Towns and Wiggins deflected questions on whether differences with Butler contributed to the team’s slow start.
“It’s never been something we were too worried about,’’ Towns said. “Me, personally, it’s something y’all kept writing about and trying to say we were having this problem. We weren’t winning games, not because of that, but because we weren’t playing no defense. That’s the problem.’’
Towns, Wiggins, Gibson and Rose all praised Butler’s game and wished him well in Philadelphia. But they said the new Wolves roster is capable of competing, that goals haven’t changed.
“At the end of the day we just want to win,” Wiggins said. “It’s not really having a chip on our shoulder that we can win without him. He’s a good player. Every team is going to be better with him. Now we’ve just got to go ahead and try to win. We dug ourselves a hole early and we’ve got to pick it up. That should be our chip, making the playoffs again when we’re counted out.’’
The deal wasn’t officially done Sunday afternoon, but the Wolves were moving on.
“It was tough,’’ Gibson said of the trade. “We had a goal set up to come to Minnesota, try to be competitive, push the team, do whatever it takes to win games. Change the culture. And the way things went, early this season, it’s disappointing. Nothing we can really do about it. I wished him well. We’re still friends off the court. It’s a business. We have to move forward.’’