Despite stockpiling lots of young talent over the past few years, the Minnesota Timberwolves have yet to turn it into wins. In fact, their 31-51 record in 2017 is their best mark in the last three seasons.
But Minnesota traded for Jimmy Butler – a proven winner – and have suddenly upgraded their roster big-time.
It wasn’t cheap to get Butler since Minnesota gave up the No. 7 pick (Lauri Markkanen), Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn. But the return is a 3-time All-Star who’s coming off averages of 23.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.5 APG, and 1.9 SPG.
Getting Butler doesn’t mean that the T-Wolves are suddenly poised to contend with the Golden State Warriors. But as we’ll discuss below, it means that Minnesota could very likely contend in a few years.
Butler Joins Towns, Wiggins & Rubio
Minnesota already had a good core in place before trading for Butler. Karl-Anthony Towns is on the verge of stardom after averaging 25.1 PPG, 12.3 RPG, and shooting 54.2% in his second season.
The team could still use a deeper bench and veteran role players. But with a rising core in place, and Butler bringing a winning pedigree, the hard part is done.
Butler Reunited with Thibodeau
But the newer NBA coach never impressed Butler as much as Tom Thibodeau, the hard-driving former coach of the Bulls.
Thibodeau is now in Minnesota with both coaching and GM responsibilities. And he used the latter role to bring in his former star shooting guard. Thibs was instrumental in developing Butler into one of the league’s top 10 players. And he’s no doubt happy to see the finished product rejoining him in Minneapolis.
Expect a Defensive Upgrade
The Wolves didn’t have trouble scoring last season, ranking 10th in the NBA in points per 100 possessions. But as good as they were offensively, they were even worse defensively. Minnesota ranked 26th in defensive efficiency, something that should change with the addition of Butler.
The 27-year-old came into the league with a defensive reputation, only to later develop the offense to go along with it. He hasn’t lost the defensive fire either, finishing on the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team the last three seasons.
Happy to be Leaving
Leading up to the 2017 NBA Draft, Butler was involved in numerous trade rumors. And he even seemed interested in going to a contender like the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Butler ultimately told the Cavs that he’d like to stay in Chicago, namely over concerns regarding LeBron James’ future in Cleveland.
This is why it was surprising to hear that he was heading to Minnesota. Butler himself was surprised, telling the Chicago Sun Times that he felt betrayed. Here’s a look at his statement:
“It doesn’t mean a damn thing. I guess being called the face of an organization isn’t as good as I thought. We all see where being the so-called face of the Chicago Bulls got me. So let me be just a player for the Timberwolves, man. That’s all I want to do. I just want to be winning games. Do what I can for my respective organization and let them realize what I’m trying to do.
“Whatever they want to call me … face … I don’t even want to get into that anymore. Whose team is it? All that means nothing. You know what I’ve learned? Face of the team, eventually you’re going to see the back of his head as he’s leaving town, so no thanks.”
Butler’s trainer, Travelle Gaines, took an even more aggressive tone, offering the following now-deleted tweet on Bulls GM Gar Forman:
“0-82.worst culture in the league.I met drug dealers with better morals then their GM. He is a liar and everyone knows”
Bulls Finally Enter Rebuild
The team has mixed a number of young players with veterans Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, and (formerly) Butler. The result was a 41-41 regular season and first-round playoff exit.
Now, Chicago has finally embraced a rebuild – although they’ll still have Wade and possibly Rondo. Wade opted into the final year of his $23.8 million option, while Rondo is waiting to see if the Bulls will exercise a $13.4 million option on his contract.
It’s possible that Chicago doesn’t pick up Rondo’s option because this will give LaVine more floor time. The third-year point guard had his best season in 2017, averaging 18.9 PPG, 3.0 APG, and shooting 38.7% from the three-point line. But if the Bulls do bring back Rondo, LaVine can also play off-guard, as he did next to Rubio.
The only problem with LaVine is that the explosive dunker is coming off a torn left ACL. And the Bulls only have one season to re-sign him before he becomes a restricted free agent. But the risk seems worth the reward.
As for Dunn, he struggled during his rookie season, averaging just 3.8 PPG and shooting 37.7% from the field. But he was also the fifth-overall pick in 2016 and highly regarded as a two-way player – one the Bulls coveted. Dunn still has a lot of time to turn things around in Chicago.
The Bulls got one more important piece in their rebuild with Arizona 7-footer Lauri Markkanen. The No. 7 overall pick this summer can shoot outside, making him a solid stretch big.
“I’m just excited to get to Chicago, and I’m going to bring a lot of energy,” said Markkanen. “I can do a lot of things for the team, and not just shooting the ball. I can stretch the floor a lot and I can help the team on rebounding.”
Chicago had to Trade Butler Now
Butler has two years remaining on his deal, which made him a more-attractive trade chip than the Indiana Pacers Paul George – who’s on the last year of his deal.
If Chicago was going to get maximum value for Butler, they had to do it now. And they found a great team to make the trade with, given that Thibodeau can convince Butler to sign an extension after two years. In return, they got the assets they needed to make a real rebuild.
As for Minnesota, they add a proven winner who can play defense. That said, look for Minnesota to make the playoffs next year.