The preseason is over and to say the Minnesota Timberwolves have had their ups and down would, of course, be an understatement.
Most of the chaos surrounding the Wolves is occurring off the court, but there are vacillating levels of intensity also happening on the floor. Even with the Butler circus steaming, the team looked objectively great in the first game of the preseason, defeating the Golden State Warriors in Oakland. In the preseason finale in Milwaukee, objectively awful would be fair.
The reason for this disconnect is obvious: it’s Jimmy Butler.
However, everyone in the Wolves locker room has too much pride to admit that Butler is the problem.
When Karl-Anthony Towns was asked Saturday night what the reason for the volatile levels of intensity are, his response was, “I really don’t damn know. If you find out, let me know.”
Derrick Rose parroted a similar response.
“It’s just like Jimmy don’t got nothing to do with how hard we play out there,” said Rose who once again led the team in field goal attempts Saturday night in Butler’s stead. “If he’s not there, or if he’s going to make up his mind soon, or if they’re going to make up their mind soon, it’s our job to go out there and make sure that pressure and intensity is there through the whole game.”
The disconnect is almost amazing. Of course, that disconnect spilled onto the floor Saturday.
Giannis Antetokounmpo came out roaring and did not stop because he can not be stopped by a group of individuals. The only thing the Wolves could do to stop him was to let Milwaukee get up by nearly 40 points so they subbed him out. Antetokounmpo had a triple-double halfway through the third quarter, accumulating 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in just his first 24 minutes of game action.
“The game is easy for him,” Tom Thibodeau said of Antetokounmpo. “He’s playing unselfishly. He does so many things for them.”
The Wolves’ group is playing selfish and they are not together. Worse: they’re running out of time. The regular season starts on Wednesday in San Antonio and this group is admittedly not ready.
“We don’t got no more time,” said Towns during his postgame media availability that included a bizarre amount of expletives — perhaps to signal his frustration. “We don’t got no more time to say, ‘Oh, it’s ok, it’s the preseason. It doesn’t count. We back to 0-0.’ Nah. This momentum we riding right now, this wave is not good. And it’s not good at all.”
Derrick Rose acknowledged the bad vibes too, yet he took the path of asking for more time.
“It takes time. We got a bunch of young guys. We’re trying to see who we are. Find our identity,” said Rose in a tone that was not defeated but recognized this situation is trying. “Be patient with us, man. It’s gonna take a little bit of time, bro, for real.”
Nothing makes sense because there is no connection. Exclusively disconnect.
Where To Go From Here?
Even though no one on the roster seems to want to acknowledge the elephant in the room, it’s not as if the elephant doesn’t exist. It’s hard to imagine that this is how the Wolves would be playing if Butler was simply injured. No, Butler’s absence for his personal reasons creates a reality in which he is almost playing against the Wolves.
If a move is not made in the coming days, it would seem to be a stretch to believe that this team will rebound anytime soon. Because of this, Minnesota’s management — whomever that may be — has two options that imply two very different things.
- Keep Butler and disregard the present product
- Trade Butler and start the path to reconciliation
Both paths have some logic. If they are going to keep Butler the only logic is that the present — the games at hand — are less important than securing better assets in a trade’s return. Those better assets, theoretically, become available as the season goes on.
The logic in trading Butler now is that the drama ends. Without the soap opera, in theory, things stabilize and the team returns towards a path that actually takes advantage of the talent that is on the roster. Sure, this desperation may decrease the quality of the return on a trade but will stabilize a team in shambles.
No one truly knows what’s going on. Even the players are confused about whose decision it is to be made — as Rose illustrated in his quote about Butler or management “making up their mind.”
For now, the drama continues. The latest act in Milwaukee was nothing but pathetic.
“If we have pride for ourselves you go out there and don’t get waxed like we did tonight,” said Towns who appears to not know that this team is incapable of taking pride so long as the Butler cloud looms over them.