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Timberwolves Acquire Butler, Win Draft NIght, and Change Expectations

A culture changing move for the Wolves makes them instantly relevant.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

It certainly didn’t come out of nowhere. Rumors of the Wolves pursuing Jimmy Butler date back to last year at draft time, when apparently the teams were close to deal but ultimately did not consummate it.

For more than a year in charge, Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden did not execute any trades at all, biding their time, conserving assets, learning about their roster and the shaping the organization.

In truth, I was concerned that Thibs would be unwilling to move players he coached and grew to like. This is one of the problems that having one person in both roles of coach and president can create.

But tonight, they struck. Showing a willingness to move on from young, talented and popular players when the opportunity to acquire an All-Star caliber player, they parted with Zach LaVine, a supremely well-liked player among both fans and teammates, and Kris Dunn, their first ever draft pick for the Wolves from just a season ago. In addition, they swapped picks, giving up the seventh pick (Lauri Markkanen) in exchange for the 16th pick, with which the selected Creighton center Justin Patton.

It’s a price well worth paying. Jimmy Butler changes the outlook. He improves the Wolves biggest weakness, defense. He brings a diverse offensive game, and is a two-way wing player that is absolutely vital to win in the NBA. He changes the culture. He changes expectations. He changes the level of professionalism for the better.

Jimmy Butler makes the Wolves relevant. He gives them a chance to have two All-NBA players on the roster at the same time for the first time ever. He makes the playoffs not merely a dream for “someday,” but realistic today. The expectations for this group are now higher, and the holdovers on the roster will have to be ready to meet them.

This is not yet a finished product. The lack of three point shooting is now even more severe than it was before the trade, and that will have to be addressed. They have no depth on the wing (Butler and Andrew Wiggins are the only two under contract for next season.) There remain questions about whether Ricky Rubio will be the point guard when the season starts. Power forward could probably use some attention.

Those questions will be there tomorrow, and will likely start to be addressed in free agency, where the Wolves figure to be active with significant cap space still to use, and presumably increased respect from prospective signees.

For now, it’s enough that the Wolves made a big move that puts them back on the NBA landscape.

The Wolves have finally stopped kicking the can.