With the Target Center approximately one-sixth as populated as it was for the last Minnesota Timberwolves home game, the lights dimming for pregame introductions paired with relatively faint clapping almost perfectly encapsulated the recent arc of this franchise.
It was only five-and-a-half months ago that a Jimmy Butler-led Wolves squad had a fanbase high on an emotion they hadn’t felt in over a decade. Now, the feeling of meh has returned in what is an all too common refrain in the grander arc of Timberwolves basketball.
Butler is no longer here to lead and there is a void. Karl-Anthony Towns has been saying all the right things a new leader would say and his teammates are backing him. But it’s almost as if there is a systemic preclusion of allowing KAT to absorb the role.
Simply put: Thibodeau is saving a spot for Jimmy — or something that is currently here.
“We went through playing without Jimmy last year,” Thibodeau said after a game in which the Wolves came out flat and sustained said flatness for 48 minutes. “In this league, that’s part of it. There are times you have guys and there are times you don’t.”
Maybe Thibodeau can compartmentalize Butler’s absence and view it in the same vein as an injury. However, it appears clear that his players can not.
The occasionally flaccid Andrew Wiggins has put forth three deflating performances since Butler’s trade demand. (Also the first three games of his new $150 million contract). Friday night was his most apathetic: four points, one rebound and one assist in 28 minutes of action.
Sure, it’s preseason but it is also a squandered opportunity.
When asked about Wiggins’ seemingly stalled motor, Thibodeau acknowledged the dismal play but also sprayed the blame elsewhere.
“When you play like we’re playing, no one looks good.
“We have to sort of circle the wagons and we gotta get it going,” Thibodeau continued.
While this is not only the earliest alarming of the “circle the wagons” alarm perhaps ever, it also deflects blame.
Thibodeau is not the type to ever say “this is on me,” but if there was ever a time to wear it, the time would be now. His consistent deflection of Butler trade questions in front of the camera appears to have worn. Not only has he lost the locker room, but the fanbase is also so very fed up with him.
In the quietest night in my personal memory bank of Timberwolves games, there is one moment of the night that the crowd felt alive. It was when Thibodeau’s name was announced during pregame introductions and boos rained down on the coach as the in-stadium deejay quickly turned up the volume of his “pump-up” music.
It was hard to take in the game and not leave thinking the urgency level of needing to convert on a trade has been ratcheted up. Thibodeau may be captaining the wagon that needs circling but, at this point, I’m not sure who is on the bandwagon with him.
Josh Okogie: A Butler Distraction
Amidst the disarray, somehow, the Josh Okogie experiment has exceeded expectations. For a late-first round pick that came with the tag of “raw,” the precision that the 20-year-old has exuded is nothing short of a windfall. The fanbase needs something new to latch onto and Okogie has provided an out-stretched hand.
Even the historically opposed to rookies Thibodeau has been enthused.
“I didn’t like our bench tonight. I didn’t think they played well. I didn’t think our starters played well. But the thing that I do like with Josh is the energy. Like tomorrow he’ll bounce into the gym and he’ll be ready to go in practice. And to me, that’s an important step.”
It’s a funny juxtaposition, really. The only other two assets on the payroll that rival the disdain Thibodeau absorbs are Butler and Derrick Rose. Ironically, it is Butler and Rose that sit above Okogie on the shooting guard depth chart. Which brings up a few interesting questions.
- Would Okogie be in the rotation if Butler were still here?
- Does Thibodeau go back to his “no rookies” mantra when the regular season rotations set?
- If a Butler trade happens and brings back a wing, does Okogie lose any of the ground he has gained?
There are questions because of course there are. The Timberwolves can’t seem to have nice things.
As the final buzzer sounded Friday night, the same deejay that drowned out the fans booing Thibodeau reminded the fans that the home opener is in two weeks. These words were greeted with the only sound more cutting than a boo: silence. Everyone had already left.
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