If the Timberwolves win, say, 55 games, get a top-four seed in the Western Conference and win a playoff series, it will give them the best chance to convince Jimmy Butler to stay for the long-term.

But of two other potential outcomes, I would argue that the worst is the middle ground.

If the Wolves fall apart early, the decision is easy: Deal Butler and try to get as much back as possible from a team convinced that it would have an inside track on re-signing him.

If the Wolves are hanging around the No. 7 or 8 seed in February, the decision is complicated: Keep pushing and hope for a strong finish and playoff run that sways Butler? Or risk a quick one-and-done (or missing the playoffs) and possibly losing Butler for nothing?

Last year, the Wolves won 47 games and broke a 13-year playoff drought. That exact same season this year, though, would be the worst-case scenario for the future.

Read Michael Rand's blog at startribune.com/randball. michael.rand@startribune.com.