For Wednesday’s practice at Mayo Clinic Square, exactly seven days before the Minnesota Timberwolves season begins in San Antonio, Jimmy Butler returned to practice with the team. This development comes exactly 22 days after requesting a trade out of the Twin Cities.
While no local media had access to watch the portion of practice that Butler took part in, a swath of jarring tweets from ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski — who was plugged into the events remarkably quick, even by his standards — peeled back the curtain.
According to ESPN, Butler verbally challenged players, coaches and front office executives — specifically Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden.
Butler’s most vociferous attacks were directed toward Layden, the franchise’s general manager who is handling the trade negotiations.
“You f—ing need me,” Butler spewed at Layden, per Wojnarowski. “You can’t win without me.”
Those of us in the local media who were at the Timberwolves’ practice facility during the altercation did not witness the dispute. Under Thibodeau, media availability is restricted to the final portion of practice — Wednesday, Butler had already left the building by this point in time.
What we did have the opportunity to do was interview Thibodeau, Jeff Teague and Anthony Tolliver after practice — before the news from Wojnarowski had broken.
When asked, none of the three acknowledged that Butler did practice Wednesday when asked. Tolliver was the only one who acknowledged Butler’s presence at the facility.
“He was around,” Tolliver said. “That’s really all I got to say about that.”
Teague played coy, simply saying, “I’ve seen him.”
When asked if he would prefer Butler to be around, Teague did admit to being amiable to the idea.
“I love Jimmy, man. Him being around and his energy, he’s a good person and his energy is amazing. I mean, I can deal with anything, I can adjust to anything, I can adapt to any situation. So, I’m cool.”
But is it a distraction?
“It’s my 10th year so I been a part of teams where a lot of things have been going on,” said Teague who believes this part of the game. “I don’t think it’s distracting me, it may be distracting some other guys.”
Whether it is a distraction or not, one thing is clear: All of this is trying to be hidden. And in 2018, when it takes five seconds of keystrokes to break the internet, the process Thibodeau has implemented in an effort to control the narrative is just as antiquated as his coaching schemes.
(UPDATE: 7:00 PM, 10/10)
This day’s saga continues with Butler apparently having orchestrated the entire day; from a dramatic bullying at practice to allowing each and every detail of the closed practice being known and the culmination being a nationally televised interview with Rachel Nichols — who just happened to be in Minnesota on Wednesday.
"All my emotion came out at one time."
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 10, 2018
Then, in his interview Butler allows himself to be portrayed as the noble competitor who simply let his emotions get the best of him. His apology for the harsh language was empty and he directed the blame to his teammates for not attempting to reign him in.
Worse, he goes on to publically besmirch the face of the franchise’s future Karl-Anthony Towns by calling out Towns who understandably confronted Butler in practice.
— ESPN (@espn) October 10, 2018
Through this, Butler is being portrayed — on a very public stage — as the hero of the narrative while Towns looks like the paper-soft jester. The good soldier who has kept his head down despite having his own issues with the process, Towns, is now forced further into a position of having little leverage.
This public undressing of Towns is a terrible loss of control by the organization; a franchise that should be doing everything they can to embrace Towns. Butler is 29 years old and has one year remaining on his contract; Towns is 22 and is under contract for six more seasons.
What Is Butler’s End Game?
The single biggest factor in Butler returning to practice is money, league sources told Zone Coverage Wednesday evening. Not only will Butler start losing this season’s game checks if he does not continue to show up for practices (and games), but he wants to be taken care of beyond this season. He wants a maximum contract and he wants it now.
The issue is, the Timberwolves are currently restricted — by the league’s collective bargaining agreement — to offering Butler a four-year, $110 million extension. That is not enough for Butler. He turned that deal down on multiple occasions, according to league sources.
What Butler wants is what is called a renegotiated and extended contract; a deal that would raise Butler’s salary from $20 million to $30 million this season while also adding on another four years and approximately $140 million.
The issue for the Timberwolves is that they would need to create $10 million in cap space now to give Butler the raise he desires. With the Wolves sitting approximately $10 million above the salary cap, they would need to find a way to be rid of approximately $20 million if they wanted to meet Butler’s demands.
This was potentially possible during the summer, when they could have made a sequence of moves that would have almost definitely required the dumping of Gorgui Dieng’s $16 million he is due this season.
But that ship has all but sailed. With the other 29 teams in the league a week away from starting their own seasons, no even combination of teams has the flexibility — $20 million in cap space — to absorb contracts the Timberwolves would need to move.
If the move to renegotiate and extend Butler was to be made, the time was months ago. Now, this is all a fruitless soap opera that further pushes the Timberwolves into a place they are all too familiar with: being the laughingstock of the NBA.
The warning signs of this disaster have been months in the making. Butler first publically made his desires known Feb. 15 to David Aldridge of TNT prior to a nationally televised game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“In the most humble way possible, if they don’t take care of me this summer — or the summer after that — I’m going to play somewhere,” said Butler, leaving things open-ended.
The saga continues.