Against the displeasure of Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations and coach Tom Thibodeau, owner Glen Taylor has mandated that a deal needs to be negotiated to trade disgruntled All-Star forward Jimmy Butler in the next several days, league sources told ESPN.
Butler has likely worn the Timberwolves uniform for the final time, because Taylor has no interest in bringing Butler into the team’s training camp and threatening a bigger circus than already exists within the franchise.
Thibodeau has been willing to coach the Timberwolves through the dysfunction that has surrounded his star players, but Taylor has sided with Butler and agreed that the four-time All-Star should be away from the Wolves for the foreseeable future, sources said.
So far, few franchises, if any, are engaged in serious conversations with the Timberwolves on Butler, sources said. The list of organizations interested in talking further with Minnesota is significant, league sources said: Brooklyn, Detroit, Houston, the LA Clippers, Miami and Philadelphia are among the teams interested in probing for deals.
Taylor and Butler want a deal completed before the Timberwolves’ first day of practice on Tuesday, which would require the Timberwolves to use Sunday and Monday to become more aggressive in gathering offers. Taylor’s plan would be to sift through the offers, and bring those most appealing for Minnesota back to Butler and his agent, Bernie Lee. This way, the Wolves could learn which teams would interest Butler in signing an extension next summer, which is information that would allow the Wolves to get the best possible return on assets for Butler.
Several teams are willing to take Butler without an assurance that he would re-sign with them in the summer.
Thibodeau’s general manager, Scott Layden, had been shutting down trade inquires for Butler in recent days, and Taylor has demanded that Layden not only take calls on potential deals, but reach out to initiate conversations, sources said. For months, Taylor has considered making changes to Thibodeau’s front office structure, including Layden, and that scenario has been discussed again recently, sources said.
Taylor asserting his authority in the Wolves’ front office has been months in the making. As Layden was rebuffing trade calls on Thursday and Friday, Taylor found himself surrounded with owners and team executives at the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting in New York. They wanted direction on how to proceed with Butler, and Taylor told them: Butler is available in trade talks, and I want it done sooner than later, sources said.
“The owner’s trading him,” one Board of Governors source told ESPN. “That was made clear. It’s just a matter of when.”
“He basically said, ‘If you don’t get anywhere with [Layden], and you’ve got something good, bring it to me,” another high-ranking league official told ESPN.
Many of those attending the Board of Governors meetings are convinced that Taylor and top team business officials don’t want a prolonged saga with Butler, preferring to move him to a new team sooner than later.
Thibodeau — who oversees Layden, the point person on trade talks with outside GMs — wants to hold onto Butler and navigate the season with him. If Thibodeau is destined to be fired at season’s end, those familiar with this thinking say, he’d rather do so by reaching the playoffs for a second straight year with the benefit of Butler on the roster. The idea of missing the postseason in the aftermath of a trade that leaves the Timberwolves devoid of a short-term, comparable talent to his four-time All-NBA forward is fully unappealing to Thibodeau.
Taylor has far less of a stomach for a dysfunctional season of feuding among Butler, Towns and forward Andrew Wiggins and the damage that’ll do to the franchise’s image, league sources said. The franchise’s business operations want to limit the sullying of what had been until now a successful marketing campaign around the franchise’s starry young core, league sources said.
Taylor has overseen high-profile Minnesota stars getting traded in the past, including Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love. He plans to do so again with Butler, who has informed Taylor and Thibodeau that he will leave Minnesota in free agency this summer, sources said.
Butler has clashed with Towns and Wiggins as teammates, league sources said. Butler’s and Wiggins’ tension played out on social media in recent days.
Butler could be eligible to sign a five-year, $190 million contract extension with the Wolves, or a team that acquires him in a trade. He can sign a four-year, $141 million deal with a new team in free agency.
Butler told Thibodeau that he would like to be traded before reporting for Timberwolves media day on Monday.
The Clippers have two max-contract slots available in July. They are emerging as a front-runner for Kawhi Leonard when Toronto‘s All-NBA forward becomes a free agent in July, league sources said. The Nets’ ability to sign two max free agents in the summer will keep them in consideration for Butler, but he has prioritized the Clippers and Knicks over them, league sources said.
In any circumstance, Butler wants a trade to a team that plans to sign him to a five-year, maximum contract that could be worth $190 million in the summer, and his list could expand based upon the Timberwolves’ and rival teams’ willingness to negotiate a trade for him, league sources said.
Butler will join a free-agent class that could include Leonard, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan and Kemba Walker. The market for Butler will likely be the five-year, $190 million maximum extension that could come with a trade to a new team, which means a team would be committing $40 million-plus annually to Butler as he reaches his mid-30s.
Thibodeau traded recent first-round picks — including Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and the No. 7 pick that became Lauri Markkanen — in a 2017 deal with the Chicago Bulls to acquire Butler. Butler, a four-time All-Star, is one of the league’s elite two-way players. He averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists for the Timberwolves last season.