Thursday Thoughts: Empathy for Thibs

There’s trouble in Minnesota. All-star wing Jimmy Butler wants out of town, unable to mesh with teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. He has demanded a trade, with several preferred destinations in mind, and is refusing to play unless his demands are met.

At the outset of the announcement, owner Glen Taylor has been willing to oblige Butler. However, head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden have been more hesitant to fulfill the request.

Honestly, I can’t blame them.

Now, I have zero issues with Butler wanting out of town. If he feels it isn’t working out, then he is more than within his right to feel that way. I hope he ends up on a team he can be proud to play for. The Miami Heat — the team that is in the deepest talks with Minnesota — seems like just the exact organization to fit Butler’s personality and work ethic as a player.

However, I can also totally empathize with Thibodeau and Layden and their predicament. The thought of giving up on Butler is probably unbearable for Thibs because of how much he believes in and has invested in him.

Thibs probably cares a lot about Jimmy, as their relationship goes all the way to their time with the Chicago Bulls during the early-to-mid part of this decade. He also gave up high-potential players Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and Lauri Markkanen just to bring Butler into the fold — marking the beginning of the construction of what has become a 2012 Chicago Bulls reunion squad.

Additionally, we know that Thibs is nothing if not competitive. He runs a “48-minute organization”: he coaches hard and wants his players to play hard for the entire game. It’s why he tends to have tight eight-man rotations from opening night through the elimination game. He wants his best players on the court at all times, and Jimmy Butler is one of his best players.

Butler accounted for 8.9 win shares in 2017-18, and could have picked up more if a meniscus surgery didn’t sidetrack him late in the season. Minnesota needed every bit of those win shares, as their playoff fate came down to the final game of the regular season.

Losing Butler would absolutely set back Minnesota and their hopes for playoff contention. Thibodeau has only missed the postseason once in his head coaching career — 2016-17, his first year in the Twin Cities — and he likely doesn’t intend to miss another one.

So how will he go about doing that? By going into overdrive convincing Butler to return to the court for Minnesota before the regular season gets underway.

When this saga began, I initially thought Thibs and Layden were delusional for trying to keep a disgruntled superstar, especially when the owner was willing to let him walk. However, I kind of respect that Thibs wants to smooth things over.

Sometimes, even pro sports, reconciliation works. With enough communication and discussion, Butler may warm up again and want to give things another shot. With him, the Timberwolves are definitely a playoff team. Without him, they are almost certainly a lottery team, barring next level improvement from Towns and Wiggins.

But while I understand Thibs’ stance in this saga, the trade talks continue. We’ll see how this saga concludes: Will Jimmy Butler play this season in a new uniform, or if he will be leading the Timberwolves on another playoff push?

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