After 14 months on the job, Timberwolves coach/president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau made his first trade and also got his man when he swung a seismic trade in Thursday’s NBA draft that reunites him with three-time All-Star and physical defender Jimmy Butler.
To get a 27-year-old star he coached for four seasons in Chicago, Thibodeau sent promising youngsters Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn as well as Thursday’s seventh pick to the Bulls.
The Wolves also received back the draft’s 16th pick, which the Bulls used to select Creighton 6-11 freshman center Justin Patton for Minnesota. The Bulls used the Wolves’ seventh pick to acquire Arizona 7-foot shooter Lauri Markkanen.
A year after the two teams discussed such a trade, Thibodeau and General Manager Scott Layden pulled off their first one together.
It’s a big one, too — just behind the one in team history that sent superstar Kevin Garnett to Boston in 2007 and probably even with the 2014 trade that sent away Kevin Love and brought Andrew Wiggins.
“We felt if we had the opportunity to get a player of Jimmy’s caliber, we would do it,” Thibodeau said. “Of course, we hated to part ways with Zach and Kris. To get a player like Jimmy, you have to give good players up, and we did. Not only are they good players, they’re good people. That’s the tough part. We felt it’s something our team needed. We’re excited.”
Butler gives the Wolves an experienced, physical defender to put beside young stars Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, both of whom could use some defensive tutoring from one of the league’s best in that department.
Given the NBA’s current economics, Butler is a bona fide star signed to a relative bargain contract that pays him $18.7 million this coming season and $19.8 million in 2018-19. He has a $19.8 million player option in 2019-20.
Apparently, Butler will be missed in Chicago.
Former Bulls star Scottie Pippen tweeted, “Hate to see Jimmy Butler go. One of the NBA’s best two-way player who has come a LONG way. Thibs is fortunate to get him back.”
To get Butler back, the Wolves traded LaVine, the 13th player taken in the 2014 and a two-time All-Star dunk contest winner who’s recovering from February knee surgery. They also dealt Dunn, the fifth player in last year’s draft whom the Bulls coveted when the two teams discussed a Butler trade on draft day in 2016.
Thibodeau lauded Dunn’s development more than once when he and Layden held a pre-draft media briefing on Wednesday.
During that briefing, Thibodeau identified the Wolves’ biggest needs as shooting, defense and toughness, and Butler provides all three, but those final two qualities in particular.
The last player (30th overall) selected in the 2011 draft’s first round, Butler will turn 28 in September.
“The thing I like about it is Jimmy’s age,” Thibodeau said. “We’re not getting a guy in his mid-30s. We’re getting a young guy who’s just approaching his prime. That’s why I thought it was a good fit. His age, where he is in his career and where our young guys are, I think this will help them and we’re excited about that. I think these guys are going to help Jimmy also. It’ll be a good fit.”
Butler and New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony were photographed together in Paris earlier Thursday, and within an hour of the evening trade, he had changed his Instagram profile to read “small town to a big city = tomball to Minnesota forever.”
He was raised in Tomball, Texas, and in Chicago wore uniform No. 21, which was former Wolves superstar Kevin Garnett’s number throughout his Wolves’ career.
When ESPN reached him by telephone about 2 a.m. Friday Paris time, Butler declined to comment. He’s expected to be introduced as a Timberwolf in the middle of next week.
Butler won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award in 2015 after he increased his scoring average from 13.1 points a game to 20 points a game.
He accepted that award about the same time the Bulls fired Thibodeau after five years as their coach. The divorce between Thibodeau and Bulls management ended messily, but the two sides came together enough Thursday to make a deal that fit a Wolves team prepared to make a leap forward and a Bulls team ready to rebuild without Butler challenging coach Fred Hoiberg’s authority, which Butler did regularly last season.
The trade was finalized, according to the Chicago Tribune, with a phone call between Thibodeau and Bulls VP John Paxson.
“We got a deal done, and if there was something between all of us two years later, then we may not have,” Paxson told the paper. “Everything was fine.”
Paxson called it “great” for a Wolves team that has accumulated enough young assets to make such a trade. He said he hopes his team will now do that, too.
“It sets our course and what we need to do,” Paxson said.
A 6-7 forward, Butler has played all his six NBA seasons in Chicago. He was named to the East’s All-Star team in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and was named All-NBA third team after this past season.