Krawczynski is the local reporter who first broke the story (along with Shams) and is plugged in as anyone to this shitshow of an organization. So Thibs knew on SOME level that this was going to happen back in July and did nothing with the hope that he could maybe squeak out another playoff appearance (in the Western Conference with a team where half the players hate the other half) and save his job?
Apologies to Randy Wittman, Thibs is officially the dumbest non-Rambis coach in the history of this franchise.
It was just 15 months ago that Jimmy Butler walked into the Mall of America, wearing a sharp blue suit as he sat down next to his old — and new — coach, Tom Thibodeau.
Butler craned his neck upward, taking in the scene as hundreds of success-starved Wolves fans lined all three balconies that encircled the mall’s rotunda, eager to get a look at the All-NBA player that was there to vault their long-suffering team into relevance.
Butler smiled and put his right hand on Thibodeau’s left shoulder. The two ex-Bulls were together again, and the typically all-business coach relented to allow the introductory press conference to be pumped full of the pomp, circumstance and commerce-driven buzz of one of the Twin Cities’ defining, if uninspiring, venues.
In his opening remarks, Butler thanked Thibodeau, who had just finished an underwhelming first season in Minnesota. The mutual respect between the two was evident from the outset and served as the foundation for the optimism that said the Timberwolves were about to arrive.
“Thibs has molded me into the player that I am today,” Butler said that day. “He gets a lot of that credit. He really does. I don’t want to sit here and talk about him for 10 straight minutes, because I can.
“When I came into this league as a kid, that’s literally what I was. I did not know what I was getting myself into. Thibs let me know you have to work in order to make it, each and every day. When nobody’s looking, you’re working. When the cameras are on you, you’re working. I became a halfway decent basketball player because of that.”
Thibodeau wore a tie that was just a shade darker than Bulls red and a smile wider than anyone had seen during his first year in Minnesota, elated to be reunited with the living embodiment of his relentless mindset. Seated in the front row was Karl-Anthony Towns, Butler’s new running mate who was going to soak up his veteran knowledge and adopt some of Butler’s competitive edge to take his game to another level.
“Karl, for being here,” Butler said, locking eyes with Towns. “He did not have to be here. That just shows who he is, thank you for that.”
This was supposed to be the dawning of a new day in Timberwolves land, an emphatic sweeping away of the dysfunction, misfortune and losing that had plagued the franchise for so long. Butler was exactly what these young Wolves, and this grinder of a coach, needed to take the next step from up-and-coming to here-and-now.
The second season of this reunion hasn’t even begun, and all of that turmoil and hardship has returned. And Jimmy Butler is right in the middle of it all.
He has requested a trade from the Timberwolves less than a week before training camp begins, thrusting the organization, and his beloved coach, into chaos as a summer’s worth of whispers about chemistry issues, unhappiness and tension has finally spilled into plain public view. And just like that first press conference, drama-seeking fans, gossip-drunk players and executives across the league who smell blood in the water are crowding around the railings to get a glimpse of it all.
The enormous strides that many expected the young Wolves to take in Thibodeau’s first season were more akin to baby steps. Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine showed some improvement under Thibs in 2016-17, but the Wolves won just two more games than they did the previous year while being coached by Sam Mitchell. So the coach and president launched an ambitious plan to inject the team with veteran toughness and grit, and it started with Butler.
The franchise, including owner Glen Taylor and the business side of the operation, was eager to get back to winning as well. The Wolves had gone 13 straight seasons without making the playoffs, at the time the longest active drought in the NBA. Tickets were hard to sell, there were only so many times the marketing department could tout an exciting new rebuild, and Taylor wasn’t getting any younger.
On draft night in 2017, the Wolves sent youngsters LaVine and Kris Dunn along with the No. 7 overall pick to Chicago for Butler and the No. 16 pick. It was hailed as a heist at the time. Give up three unproven commodities in exchange for one of the best players in the league, who also happens to be incredibly close with a coach who didn’t exactly endear himself with many in the organization, and you another solid piece in the draft choice, Justin Patton? It was a no-brainer.
What followed was not a make-over, it was a full-on facelift. Ricky Rubio was jettisoned for Jeff Teague. Taj Gibson was brought in to supplant Gorgui Dieng in the starting lineup. Jamal Crawford was added to a bench that would eventually get Derrick Rose as well. The TimberBulls were formed with the express purpose of bringing Chicago toughness to Minnesota Nice.
And there were tangible signs that it was working. Their 47 wins were tied for fifth-most in franchise history. Butler and Towns were All-Stars. The Wolves sold out 18 games, more than any season since 1990-91 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004. But the concerns about sustainability have been there for months.
During that rollicking introduction at the mall, the one in which he gave out his phone number and challenged any of his critics to call him and let him know directly if they had a problem, Butler promised to help recruit “players a lot better than I am” and help Thibodeau remake the culture to transform the cute pups into real, snarling wolves.
Towns accompanied Butler on a flight back to Los Angeles after that press conference, and the two tried to start to build the foundation of what everyone expected would be a formidable pairing. Butler embraced the role of leader and tone-setter from the moment he hit the court.
“I hope that’s part of my role here, to make sure everybody’s doing the right things, playing with energy on both ends of the floor,” Butler said after an early-season win over Oklahoma City. “We’ve got a really talented group of guys. When everybody’s swinging the ball and team offense and team defense and team everything, we’re going to be all right.”
Fans gravitated to his unfiltered bravado and quotes like, “The lights are coming on now. This is when the real MFers come to play.” Early in the season, he took a deferential approach, preferring to hang back on offense and allow Towns, Wiggins, Teague and the rest of his new team the opportunity to shoot while expending more of his energy on the defensive side of the court.
“He’s a very, very, very unselfish player,” Wiggins told The Athletic in November. “I think he feeds off of other people playing well. He makes everyone play well. He gets us easy shots, just makes it easier for everyone around him. He’s the type of guy you need to win.”
He was a barker and a biter, never hesitating to forcefully challenge teammates to raise their effort, their work ethic and their defensive approach. Such was the case on a flight to New Orleans on Nov. 28, when Butler lit into his teammates after a 92-89 home loss to Washington.
“To tell you the truth, fear will make you do a lot of things that you don’t know that you could do,” Butler told The Athletic in January. “So if I strike fear in somebody and they know I’m not playing around, they’re going to do it. But if you just talk to them softly and all of that, the majority of the time it don’t work.”
As the Timberwolves started to climb the Western Conference standings in January and things appeared to be clicking, Thibodeau had a go-to phrase when asked about Butler’s contributions.
“He’s changed everything,” the coach would say, sending the clear message that everything in this franchise needed to change. There had been too much losing for too long, and Thibodeau wasn’t going to tolerate it any longer. This franchise, in the eyes of Thibs and in the eyes of Butler, needed to ditch the pleasantries, eschew the flowers and chocolates and start kicking some ass.
The Wolves reached as high as third in the West before things started to wobble. Butler’s sore knee flared up. He sat out four games in January, did not play in the All-Star game and then had surgery that caused him to miss 17 games down the stretch. The Wolves went 8-9 during his absence, causing them to lose ground in an air-tight playoff race.
Butler worked hard to get back before the end of the season, joining the team for the final three regular-season games, including a stirring overtime victory over Denver in the finale that propelled the Wolves into the playoffs.
The Wolves drew top-seeded Houston in the first round, an overwhelming mismatch for a team that had a star still working his way back from injury. They put up a fight in Game 1 in Houston and won Game 3 at Target Center. But on the morning of Game 4, the Chicago Sun-Times published a story in which Butler questioned the commitment of some of his teammates.
“I put so much into this game and I only play to win. I don’t play for any individual stats or accolades. And at times I get lost in how everybody is not built the way that I’m built,” Butler told the newspaper.
“The same with Thibs. People don’t understand that he puts so much time into his craft. He understands what it takes. But sometimes I just look around, and I don’t understand how or why you all don’t love to get better the way that I do.”
It had emerged as a recurring theme in the Wolves locker room. Some players respected Butler’s work ethic, admired how he came to NBA stardom through the back door — homelessness in high school, junior college, hardly playing as a rookie in Chicago. They appreciated his intensity and drive and didn’t mind if he called them out privately when it needed to be done.
Others grew tired of hearing Butler talk about how hard he worked and how much it meant to him and chafed at the implication that they didn’t take things seriously enough.
But there are personality conflicts on every team, and the belief internally as the season came to a close was that those would not be fatal. Sure, Butler was annoyed and Wiggins was frustrated, but a summer away from each other and a return to a team that had serious hopes of slugging it out in the West may have been enough to bridge those gaps.
As the season wound down, Taylor said he hoped that Butler would help recruit more players to the Wolves, just as he had promised in his opening press conference. But when his agent, Bernie Lee, told The Pioneer Press that it was the Wolves’ job to recruit him, not Butler’s job to recruit others, alarm bells started to go off.
After working his way back from the knee surgery and helping the Wolves into the playoffs, Butler was hopeful that the Wolves would renegotiate and extend his contract this summer, a move that would have taken significant roster moves to pull off.
Thibodeau and Taylor didn’t see that as realistic if they wanted to hold on to a playoff-caliber team. So they did the only thing they could do under the rules of the CBA: they offered Butler a four-year, $110 million extension. Butler could get a five-year, $188 million from the Wolves or a four-year, $139 million deal with another team after this season, so he turned that down.
The contract, the desire to play on a contender, the issues with Towns and Wiggins, the size of the market, there are so many factors that affect a decision like this for Butler.
Reports started to trickle out about Butler wanting to play elsewhere with other stars. Add to it Towns not immediately signing a maximum contract offer extended in July and there were reasons to be concerned about the volatility floating through the air. Thibodeau brushed aside those worries, chalking them up to baseless internet fodder.
“I’ve been around a long time; I don’t buy into any of that stuff,” Thibodeau said during an appearance at the Star Tribune booth at the state fair in August. “You have to distinguish what’s real and what’s not real. You never heard any of that come from Jimmy’s mouth. It’s always a source close to Jimmy. If Jimmy has something to say to someone, he usually says it directly. …
“The biggest thing is chemistry on the floor and winning. How efficient they are tells you there’s strong chemistry on the floor.”
With all of the rumors in the air, at least one team reached out to the Timberwolves in July to ask about Butler’s availability, sources said. But they were quickly rebuffed.
All of the while, Butler stayed away from Minnesota, traveling overseas and spending time at his home in California. When the calendar turned to September, only a few of the Timberwolves trickled into Minneapolis to start preparing for camp, including Minnesota native Tyus Jones, free-agent addition Anthony Tolliver, Teague and rookies Josh Okogie and Keita Bates-Diop. Another red flag.
With less than one week to go before media day on Sept. 24, Thibodeau was summoned to California for a meeting with Butler. He was planning on asking to be traded, but in the days leading up to the meeting several wondered if he would stick to his stance or soften it when Thibodeau charted his vision for the upcoming season.
As Thibodeau laid out his plans, Butler told his coach that he wanted to be elsewhere. Thibodeau resisted, saying he couldn’t trade him because he wanted to make another playoff run this year. But Butler held firm.
When the news went public, Wiggins’ brother Nick tweeted “Hallelujah!” touching off a social media skirmish with Butler and Stephen Jackson, of all people. Timberwolves players, staff and officials throughout the league watched in amazement as some of the issues that Thibodeau downplayed for months were laid right out in the open.
The four-time All-Star has received a torrent of criticism for the timing of his request. It has put Thibodeau in an incredibly difficult position with little leverage as other teams start to swoop in to try to take advantage. But sources say this week was not the first time Butler made it known to Thibodeau that he was unhappy and did not see a long-term future with the franchise. When it became clear early in the summer that he was not going to get the renegotiation and extension, those feelings were made known to Thibodeau, sources said.
What remains unclear is how definitive Butler was in his earlier remarks. Did he say that he wanted a trade? Did he say the he did not intend to sign an extension with the team when he becomes a free agent on July 1, 2019? Or did he merely convey some disenchantment at the current state of the situation?
No matter how strong the message was, it was unlikely to be granted by Thibodeau, who is so closely aligned with Butler that any steps he takes forward in Minnesota without Butler by his side could weaken him to a degree that will be difficult to overcome.
The Timberwolves have been quiet through all of this, stunned that it has gotten this far, fuming at Butler’s abandonment of a coach he respects and privately wondering just how ugly it’s going to get.
Thibodeau has rebuffed trade calls to this point, even of the informal “what would it take?” variety that several teams have started to initiate, sources said. His hold on both positions in the organization hasn’t been strong for quite some time and it’s well known throughout the franchise that his relationship with Taylor got off to a bit of a rocky start.
By all accounts, Thibodeau has been much more accessible and engaging with Taylor, and many in the organization, this summer. He has been working to establish relationships that he simply ignored in his first two seasons on the job, knowing full well that Year 3 could be considered make or break for the Thibodeau-Layden pairing.
Any signs of momentum or positive vibes were extinguished this week, and no one knows how this ends.
For Thibodeau, this is far worse than the deterioration of his relationship with Rubio, a favorite of Taylor’s but one Thibodeau inherited who didn’t fit his style or his mentality.
This is Jimmy Butler. Thibs’ hand-picked pride and joy. The one who pledged to have his back through thick and thin and drag this woebegone franchise out of the dank cellar and into the spotlight.
Now he wants out. And there remains a real possibility that he will not report to training camp next week if a trade has not been consummated, sources said.
Trading Butler likely would mean a step back in the upcoming season, which would put Thibodeau’s job in jeopardy. But keeping him, re-inserting him into a locker room that has only grown more volatile with the events of this week, and risking losing him for nothing at the end of next season would be an equally big risk for the franchise’s long-term future.
In the past, as ESPN alluded to on Friday, Taylor has not hesitated to get involved in these kinds of scenarios. He was integral in working with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to help Flip Saunders trade Kevin Love to Cleveland for Wiggins. He resisted Thibodeau’s urges to trade Rubio until Rubio himself went to Taylor and asked out. He has also ushered other players out who have been looking to move on including Al Jefferson, Mike James and Corey Brewer.
Now, if Thibodeau continues to hold the line, Taylor may have to do it again. Rival teams are aware that they may have to go through the owner to get any traction on a deal and Butler may have to engage Taylor personally as well to see this through. Taylor is in New York this week for league meetings, and at least one team approached him but was told to funnel their inquiries to the Wolves’ front office, sources said.
Whatever happens, Thibodeau will have an enormous task on his hands when it comes to simply coaching a team full of players who know that his most trusted lieutenant, the one he empowered like no other in the organization, has turned on him and the franchise.
Fifteen months ago, Tom Thibodeau and Jimmy Butler reunited in an attempt to roust a forever-slumbering franchise. Instead, the marriage hasn’t even made it past the honeymoon phase.
Now, with training camp right around the corner, chaos has descended upon Minnesota again. Thibodeau is backed into a corner, and Butler was the one who put him there.
12 play and 12 planets are enlighten for all the Aliens to Party and free those on the Sex Planet-maxxx