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The Timberwolves let Jimmy Butler embarrass them

It’s hard to imagine how this could all be worse for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The team’s veteran superstar, Jimmy Butler, asked to be traded after one season. (One season in which he helped break a 14-season playoff drought.) He’s a free agent next summer, so complying with his request is wise, if painful. Instead, the Timberwolves dug in and played hardball with both Butler and teams seeking to acquire him, all while coach-executive Tom Thibodeau kept trying to convince him to play out the season.

This all frustrated Butler to the point he felt the need to thoroughly embarrass the franchise, including its two most prominent young players, on Thursday.

How did the Timberwolves let this happen?

How did the Timberwolves let Jefe Thibodeau continue to run point on trade talks when Thibodeau consistently indicated he didn’t actually think Butler needed to be traded and could be convinced to stay? This is a pitfall of giving a hardheaded type-A like Thibs full control over basketball operations. Compromise is a last resort, and because he answers to no one really, compromise is rarely forced.

Thibodeau was always looking out for his best interests, which were not necessarily aligned with the franchise’s best interests. That is franchise owner Glen Taylor’s responsibility to monitor and control. It didn’t happen. It hasn’t happened in like 20 years for the Timberwolves. The history of the franchise under Taylor is one of egomaniac running amok.

How did the Timberwolves let Butler into practice on Wednesday? Jimmy had essentially threatened he was going to force the issue with Minnesota — that’s a pretty big red flag! With everything so volatile and the bad blood between Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins so thick — we remember the Twitter war that enveloped these guys plus Stephen Jackson and Wiggins’ brother, right? — there was nothing positive to come out of Jimmy showing up to practice right now.

Unless, of course, you’re myopic enough to think Butler can still be convinced to rescind his trade request and come back into the fold. But who would dare think that possible? Oh, right. The guy in charge.

How did the Timberwolves let Butler show up Towns and Wiggins for an hour? Were Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden enjoying the show too much? (Layden couldn’t have been, given reports he was getting plenty of attention from a belligerent Butler.) At what point do you end practice or pull Butler aside and into a back office?

This whole practice was a coup for the legend of Jimmy within certain elements of that locker room. But Jimmy doesn’t want to be there, and won’t be there. Towns will. Wiggins probably will. Letting the guy on his way out light them and the franchise up for an hour is just so incredibly foolish. Thibodeau had the power to stop the bleeding all along, and just … didn’t.

That neither Towns or Wiggins hit Butler back (figuratively or literally) will further erode their reputations in an NBA still devoted to machismo. It shouldn’t — Butler was obviously in the wrong here (as hilarious as his antics may be to us on the outside) and the Timberwolves, not Towns or Wiggins, are responsible for preventing this from happening. Yet the NBA is what it is, and it will take years for Towns and Wiggins to live this embarrassment down.


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The best response would be for the Wolves to actually win this season without Butler, for Towns to be on the All-NBA team again and an all-star again, for Wiggins to reach his potential (or get close), for Minnesota to prove Butler wrong when he says the team won’t win anything without him. But after Thibodeau and the team’s other veterans left them out to dry — and after they let each other get berated by Jimmy — it’s hard to see how this is a healthy environment suited to winning basketball. This whole thing could absolutely drain the team of joy, hope, and the ingredients for success.

Analysts slaughtered former Wolves general manager David Kahn for alienating his best player, Kevin Love, around the time that star was signing his rookie extension. Thibodeau is doing the same damn thing with Towns by refusing to stick up for him.

The common thread here is Taylor, who has never had control of this franchise. How did he let this happen? That’s the question he ought to be wrestling with as he decides to move forward.

Not only does Butler need to be sequestered from the team until he is traded, but Thibodeau needs to go. This isn’t about catering to Towns, it’s about protecting the future of the franchise. Right now, the future of the franchise is Towns.

The Timberwolves have done an awful job helping Towns and perhaps Wiggins reach their full potential. You can blame their personalities all you want, but that’s not actually going to help. Creating a positive, healthy environment stands a much better chance of allowing the Wolves to finally flourish.

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