Welcome to the Friday edition of The Cooler, where you don’t need a prescription to use hindsight. Let’s get to it:
In the summer of 2017, the Timberwolves seemingly went “all-in” by trading two young players (Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn) as well as the No. 7 pick to Chicago for Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 pick.
In reality, though, all-in would have gone another step further: finessing a trade for Kyrie Irving, who was on the market. There were persistent rumblings that the Wolves were strongly in the mix for Irving — which likely would have involved trading Andrew Wiggins and plenty of future assets to Cleveland — and Tom Thibodeau even acknowledged it after Irving was eventually traded to Boston.
A Big Three of Irving, Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns would have been extremely expensive and tricky in the long-term since Towns would have been heading into the start of his max deal at the same time Butler and Irving were eligible for huge contracts as free agents this summer.
But it would have made the Wolves a legitimate contender in the short-term. If not for the looming presence of Golden State in the West, it would have been a slam dunk if an offer was, indeed, accepted by Cleveland. Even with the presence of Golden State, it seems even in hindsight like a worthy gamble.
Alas, the more organic Big Three of Butler, Towns and Wiggins was more like a Big Two last season, grinding its way to 47 wins, a drought-breaking playoff berth and a hasty playoff exit.
Butler managed to play 69 career regular-season games for the Wolves before he bulldozed a path out of Minnesota in November. While the whole Butler saga was playing out, Irving was projecting stability with the Celtics. “If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here,” he told fans at an event in October.
A few months later, there’s a loud record scratch and this from Irving, when asked Friday whether he still plans to re-sign with Boston: “Ask me July 1. … Just do the best for me. That’s what it comes down to.”
I’m trying to imagine an alternative season playing out in Minnesota, with Butler and Irving still here after two blockbuster trades, and with the Wolves facing the prospect of either losing both of them or paying three guys well in excess of $100 million combined per season for a bunch of years.
In that alternative universe, the Wolves would probably have one of the best records in the Western Conference, Tom Thibodeau would still be the head coach/president … and it would either all be about to fall apart or all be just crazy enough to work.
Instead, Butler is in Philadelphia, where he may or may not stay long-term. Irving is in Boston, where he may or may not stay long-term. They might wind up together next year — possibly in New York, which is creating two max salary slots after Thursday’s blockbuster trade — and fulfill Butler’s long-stated desire.
After being fired in January, Thibodeau is reportedly laying low and mulling his options, according to a report from David Shama: (Thibodeau) did say in a brief telephone conversation Wednesday that a national TV basketball role could happen for him. Since his dismissal by the Wolves he has spent time with family in Connecticut but was back in Minneapolis this week.
And the Wolves are still trying to gain traction on a reset from the Butler trade and the Thibodeau firing. Their current plan — a version of the pre-Butler plan — to build around Towns and Wiggins is probably the safest and most sustainable bet when factoring in finances and the landscape of the Western Conference.
But if you love drama and swinging for the fences, you can’t help but wonder what might have been.