There is a long-serving pundit on the local sports scene who has been espousing this theory on the Timberwolves for several years: “Even when they do the right thing, it turns out to be the wrong thing.”
OK, the person is me and pundit might be generous as a self-description, but you have to admit: That oft-repeated theory on our Woofies came through in resounding fashion again Wednesday, as reports surfaced that Jimmy Butler wants to be traded.
This alone was enough to validate the punditry, but the reports came with the information there were three teams that Butler could be traded to with his assurance of signing a long-term deal:
Brooklyn, the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Presumably, this would mean the Wolves would get more in a trade for Butler from a team that knew it could keep him. Except, there’s the minor problem that there’s one player combined on those three rosters the Wolves actually would covet — and the Knicks aren’t going to trade that one, Kristaps Porzingis.
The Timberwolves have made plans to celebrate this as their 30th season and, really, none of us could properly celebrate if we were being deprived of the franchise’s strongest tradition:
It’s something in which the Woofies seem to take pride in. Just last month, they were pumping up the 30th season idea by having Tom Gugliotta make media appearances at the State Fair.
Googs was affable and all that, but he also was a player involved in those chaotic lockout months of 1998-99, when Stephon Marbury was demanding a trade, Gugliotta was a free agent and finally the Wolves signed Joe Smith and let Gugliotta leave for Phoenix.
Can’t you hear it: “Here’s Tom Gugliotta, fair goers. Hey, Googs, tell us about what a mess it was with Marbury, etc. before you signed with Phoenix.”
The happiest weeks in franchise history were the run to the Western Conference finals in 2004. It could have worked out even better than the six-game elimination by the Lakers, if the great guard, Sam Cassell, had not been hurt.
Anticipation was substantial as the Timberwolves prepared for the next training camp. And then we found out that Latrell Sprewell was offended by a three-year, $21 million offer for an extension, because he needed to “feed his family.”
Even when everything looked right for the Wolves it came out wrong, with Sprewell unhappy, and Cassell then saying, “Yeah, I’m unhappy, too,” and the next dozen seasons were spent without a playoff appearance.
That took the Wolves to the end of the 2015-16 schedule. There were a number of free-agent coaches with NBA résumés on the market. Owner Glen Taylor dropped Sam Mitchell in order to enter that market, and quickly hired the No. 1 coach on most lists: Tom Thibodeau.
To get this done, it took making Thibodeau the president for basketball operations, a five-year, $40 million contract, and another $2 million per year for Scott Layden to be the general manager.
It looked as if the Wolves had done the right thing. And then the 2016-17 Wolves went 31-51, a meager two-game improvement over Mitchell’s season, and on June 22, 2017, the local pundit wrote this for a Star Tribune column:
“Thibodeau’s vision remains clear as mud. It was supposed to involve defense, and the core players were as indifferent to that as when they were a year younger.
“Thibodeau and Scott Layden, his equally secretive general manager, came out of hiding Wednesday to entertain media questions for an alleged preview of Thursday’s draft.
“The boss said nothing of substance. He’s also done nothing of substance so far to sell the Wolves to the public, on the court or off it.”
You never know in the pundit business. That happened to be morning of the day when it was revealed that Thibodeau had traded Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and a No. 1 draft choice (Lauri Markkanen) for Butler, the man Thibs turned into an All-Star in Chicago.
The Wolves had received one of the NBA’s toughest, two-way guards for LaVine (occasionally dynamic), Dunn (easily replaceable) and the draft choice that became Markkanen.
Any team would love Markkanen — a 6-10 shooter — but Jimmy Butler! You have to give up some true value for Jimmy Butler.
It was the right thing to do for 2017-18, with 16 more victories, frequent sellout crowds at Target Center and a return to playoffs. And now, 15 months after the trade, it’s the wrong thing to have done.
What’s new? These are the Timberwolves, Season 30 and nothing’s changed.