The Timberwolves are in a tough situation, but would Tom Thibodeau really leave the franchise rather than trade Jimmy Butler?
For a franchise that finally ended a long playoff drought last spring, there are no positive vibes surrounding the Minnesota Timberwolves right now. The latest is a reported trade demand from Jimmy Butler during a meeting with coach Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden, as rumors of Butler’s discontent with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins have been confirmed.
Thibodeau was hired to a dual role as coach/president of basketball operations of the Timberwolves in April of 2016. His biggest move as the front office lead was the 2017 draft night trade with the Chicago Bulls for Butler, which sent Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the pick that became Lauri Markkanen to Chicago.
That move yielded 47 wins and a playoff spot last year. If Butler had not missed a chunk of games with a knee injury, the Timberwolves may have been the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
The Timberwolves are now left to fulfill Butler’s trade demand, or run the near-certain risk he’ll leave for nothing next summer. A return in a trade could be anything from younger players and draft picks to some proven veterans, depending on an honoring of Butler’s preferred trade destinations or not.
Thibodeau is clearly not a coach that wants to undertake a rebuild, and he reportedly doesn’t want to honor Butler’s trade request at all. But if he does make a deal to send Butler out of town, it’s not too shocking to find out the return he’d prefer.
According to Sean Deveney of Sporting News, Thibodeau has no intention of letting Butler go for “young, rebuilding-type” pieces. But here’s the punch line.
“No one expects Tom to coach a 25-win or even 35-win team,” one front-office executive told Sporting News. “Even if he has to agree to dissolve the contract, they’d do that before they go and trade Butler for draft picks.”
Rather than trade Butler for draft picks/young players, and thus foster some sort of reset, Thibodeau would apparently consider leaving the Timberwolves. Owner Glen Taylor may already be regretting hiring Thibodeau to a now virtually extinct dual role, so a change could come anyway if things go off the rails this coming season.
Thibodeau is entering the third year of a five-year contract worth about $40 million. He surely isn’t going to willingly leave $16 million on the table, assuming one more season, a refusal to trade Butler throughout and then they both leave practically together. But as tied at the hip as Thibodeau seems to be with the current best of his former Bulls players, leaving on his own might be preferable to being fired if that talk picks up steam over the next several months.