At one point during the Timberwolves’ 25-minute media day news conference Monday, General Manager Scott Layden picked up his phone and showed it to those in attendance.
Layden said it has been buzzing frequently since other NBA teams learned of Jimmy Butler’s desire to leave Minnesota.
“When you have a player like Jimmy who is clearly a top-10 player and All-NBA player, the phone is ringing,” Layden said. “That’s why I brought it up here.”
Layden, Thibodeau and the rest of the Wolves carried on with the official media day business while Butler, who was in town to take a physical, did not speak. Media day was a chance for the Wolves to try to put a positive spin on Butler’s trade request and losing someone they referred to multiple times as a “top 10” player.
That was directed at the rest of the league as a bargaining ploy for the kind of offers the Wolves are hoping to make for Butler. Along those lines, Tom Thibodeau, the coach and president of basketball operations, said the Wolves are open for business, but they aren’t going to sell Butler until the offer is right.
“We’re not going to make a bad deal,” Thibodeau said. “If it’s a good deal, we’re interested. [Owner] Glen [Taylor], Scott, myself I think we’ve made that clear to everyone. I think Jimmy understands and the team understands. But you have to take the team first.”
Thibodeau also said the Wolves won’t necessarily cater their deals to preferred destinations of Butler, which include the Nets, Knicks and Clippers.
“I made it clear to Jimmy that we have to do what’s best for us,” Thibodeau said. “If there’s a deal and it’s not good for us, we’re not interested. If it’s good for us, then we’re interested. It may not be a team that you feel you wanted to go to.”
Thibodeau said Butler still needs a week to rehabilitate his shooting hand after offseason surgery he had in July. That week is a convenient amount of time for the Wolves to make a deal. Trade markets can take time to materialize, but the Wolves are betting they can find a suitable offer for Butler soon.
While the drama unfolds, Butler’s teammates will prepare for the season.
Some said Butler’s inevitable departure wasn’t a problem, but Taj Gibson, who said he was “in shock” when his good friend Butler made the request — told it as he saw it, that it was a distraction.
“You look at the strides we took last year just to get to the playoffs and so many up and downs and you get hit with a right hook right before training camp …” Gibson said. “It’s weird. It’s hard to explain but it’s a weird feeling right before training camp.”
The franchise’s two young cornerstones, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, downplayed their reported tension with Butler.
Towns said his signing of a five-year, $190 million extension on Sunday “never had anything to do with Jimmy” and the delay of signing it until now was a result of ongoing talks with the Wolves and Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune.
“There’s nothing but respect from both sides and admiration and love for each other,” Towns said of negotiations. “We have to find common ground, and we finally found common ground at a very awkward time.”
Wiggins said Butler was a “positive” addition to the team last season in helping the Wolves make the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and said he didn’t have any issues with Butler.
“Not everyone is going to like each other but you have to respect that person,” Wiggins said. “Respect their grind. Respect how they play, but me? I never had no problems with anyone in the locker room and even now I’m all positive.”
Added Towns: “Jimmy’s an amazing player, and it’s on all of us to pick up the pieces.”
That’s a fitting image after the week Butler has put the Wolves through.
Layden’s phone will keep buzzing as he fields offers from several interested teams.
Thibodeau added that last week was the first time Butler made a trade demand, contradicting what a source confirmed to the Star Tribune that Butler had made his desire known earlier in the summer.
Layden said reports that the Wolves were shutting down previous trade calls didn’t have to do with unwillingness to deal Butler but rather the kind of offers teams were making.
“Every team can’t participate in these sorts of deals because there’s not enough of what we perceive of as assets that we could get back,” Layden said. “Sometimes there’s frustration in the dialogue with teams.”
Part of the dialogue will be Taylor, who has overseen major trades involving franchise players in the past. If a week goes by and Butler is still a member of the Timberwolves, Thibodeau expects him to practice. But until then the Wolves will be trying to make a deal.
“If something is good for us, then we’re interested in doing it,” Thibodeau said. “If not, we’re ready to move forward the other way.”