Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor read his players’ comments in the media. He liked how they conducted themselves off the court since training camp began under the cloud of Jimmy Butler’s trade request, but it was how they interacted on the court that seemed off to Taylor.
Even though the Wolves vowed not to let Butler’s situation affect their play, it looked like it was, at least to Taylor’s eyes, before the Wolves dealt Butler to Philadelphia over the weekend.
“It just appeared that they weren’t working together as a team or as a unit the way that they should’ve. I can’t exactly answer why,” Taylor said. “The only thing that was different that we had was Jimmy’s position of leaving the team. Maybe that was affecting guys more than they even knew themselves.”
In a conversation with the Star Tribune, which Taylor also owns, he said the Wolves’ slow start and miserable 0-5 road trip wasn’t the main catalyst behind trading Butler. But Taylor added the trade might have gone down around this time anyway, the product of an agreement among him, the coaching staff and Butler to play at least 10 games of the regular season and evaluate where the Wolves were and what the league’s temperature was relative to making a deal for Butler.
“We have to play at least 10 games and then we would see which teams were meeting their goals, which teams weren’t and the teams that weren’t we thought we would have a better chance to negotiate,” Taylor said. “We were preparing ourselves to do this anyway. But certainly, I guess if we would’ve won all five games out there, it might have been different.”
Taylor said he was “not satisfied” with the 4-9 start of the season, though he added, “I don’t think it was all under our control. I wish it would’ve been more under our control, but I think we saw Jimmy had an agenda and we had to work around that.”
On the court, the Wolves couldn’t work around it. To Taylor, the most glaring problems came in the fourth quarters. He could sense the situation weighing on some of the Wolves’ younger players such as Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
“They were positive to Jimmy and positive about playing and working hard,” said Taylor, who sits at courtside near the team at Target Center. “But … just watching their action on the floor and dealing with the toughness of a fourth quarter, I don’t think it was quite there,” Taylor said. “The only thing I can relate back is they probably were under pressure they didn’t realize as young people. … It’s a negative environment.”
So Taylor, coach and president Tom Thibodeau and General Manager Scott Layden decided it was time to turn the page. Going forward, Taylor likes that the return for Butler — Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick — can help the Wolves stay competitive now. But what does the trade mean for Thibodeau’s job status? Thibodeau will have two years, $16 million on his contract after this season.
“He’ll be evaluated on how we go forward.” Taylor said. “The truth is, we dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, so it’s going to be harder than it would be if it was a true start of a season. We’re just going to have to make that up. That’s how I’m going to do it.
“Saying, ‘OK, you now have your team. We made the trades. These are guys that you like and let’s see what we can do.’ Now, I think we all know that it’s a little difficult. If you’d had [training camp], the couple weeks before the season, had these guys here, it’d be better than the way it is. But we have to deal with what we have and move ahead.”
Taylor wouldn’t put any benchmarks on what he thought would constitute a successful season, saying injuries can make it tough to do that.
But he added: “If we can stay healthy, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be a darn good team.”