In an expansive interview with Glen Taylor on Tuesday, the Timberwolves owner said he has reached an understanding with four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler and will continue trying to trade him.
Taylor said Butler told him he will play to his full ability, as he did last year when he was healthy, and go all out until that trade is made.
There is no doubt Taylor is in a tough position with Butler, who doesn’t want to play for the Wolves, and realizes he has no choice but to trade him unless, for some reason, the outstanding guard changes his mind.
Butler met with Taylor this week, and they reached an agreement.
“The latest is he is going to be going to practice every day, which he has been, and plans to play in games,” said Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune. “He will be a regular team player. What I said to him in the meantime is our GM, Scott Layden, will be talking to other teams to see if there is a trade that works.”
When asked if he believes Butler will give 100 percent, Taylor said there is no question. He added that Butler will be ready for the season opener Wednesday at San Antonio and the home opener against Cleveland on Friday.
“[Butler] said that is the only way he knows how to do it,” Taylor said.
Butler came to the Wolves from the Bulls in a draft-night trade in June 2017, along with the No. 16 draft pick that became center Justin Patton, for Wolves guards Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick the Bulls used to select forward Lauri Markkanen.
Taylor said that as far as he can tell, there is no chance Butler will remain with the Wolves beyond this season.
“That is not part of the plan, but as you know, things can change,” Taylor said. “But that is not what we have agreed to.”
Is Taylor committed to trading Butler?
“Yes. I think [Butler has] made it very clear that he would not re-sign with us at the end of the year and therefore it is in our interest to get a trade so that we can get a player or two to replace him that helps our team,” Taylor said.
Here’s another complicating factor: Butler could command a five-year, $190 million contract after this season.
Taylor already has signed off on two huge contracts for forward Andrew Wiggins, (five years, $147 million beginning this season) and center Karl-Anthony Towns, (five years, $190 million starting next season). Could Taylor pay Butler the $190 million he could attract from another team?
“We would have to make some changes on our team in order to keep Jimmy,” Taylor said.
Thibodeau’s job safe
Taylor was asked to assess how Tom Thibodeau, the Wolves coach and president of basketball operations, has handled the Butler situation.
“Well, I’m OK with it,” Taylor said. “Initially, when Butler told [Thibodeau] he wanted to leave, you know Tom did everything he could to try to keep Jimmy here and I understand that. They have a close relationship.
“Thibs brought him here so that he would stay here. But eventually I think that in listening to Jimmy, Thibs and I are lined up on this. We need to be looking at a trade.”
Thibodeau has three years left on a five-year contract worth about $40 million. Is he coaching for his job?
“No, no, the only thing now is that we are starting to play games and I am asking him to concentrate on coaching,” Taylor said. “GM Scott Layden will help to see if any trades are available.”
Some media outlets this week reported Butler requested a trade immediately following the Wolves’ exit from the playoffs last season. Taylor said as far as he knows, that is incorrect.
“Back about three weeks ago, when [Butler’s request] came out in the news, Thibodeau called me and said that he had a meeting with Butler out on the West Coast, and Butler had told him at that time he wanted to be traded,” Taylor recalled. “That was the first I had heard anything about it.”
While supposedly the reason Butler wants out is because he questions the work ethic of Towns and Wiggins, Taylor said all three players have told him they can collaborate on the court.
“When I ask them, they all have said they can play together in the games,” he said. “I don’t know why they wouldn’t be telling me their true feelings.”
Is Taylor still happy he hired Thibodeau in April 2016?
“Yes, yes, he is a good coach and I have faith in him,” he said.
No thoughts of selling
Taylor, who has owned the Wolves since 1994, said Butler’s demand has not made him consider selling the club.
“No, no, we will get through this,” he said. “The changes we have to make, we will get through this. I’ll just keep working and doing the best I can on it to keep our team very competitive.”
And while he said he hasn’t seen any adverse effect on ticket sales, he realizes this is a delicate situation for the franchise.
“I think that we have probably pretty well already sold the [season] tickets,” he said. “I just think a lot of people are concerned as to how this will affect the team, and I understand that. That is why if we’re going to do a trade, it’s important that we do a trade that helps our team and keeps us competitive.”
Taylor said he still thinks the Wolves — who finished 47-35 last year, were in competition for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference late in the season and made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade — can be competitive this year.
“As the year goes on, we will find out,” Taylor said. “I think we are a stronger team this year than we were last year.
“Based upon how well we did last year, we should play better than last year. But that is also true of some of the other teams in the West that have improved.”