MINNEAPOLIS — Everything is constantly changing with the Wolves, but there is never any real progress. That has been the last 13 years in a nutshell. Players, coaches, management. With all of the failure, maintaining some thread of continuity is understandably difficult. When entering the locker room at Target Center the first locker on the left, occupied by Jordan Hill this past season, is what I call the revolving locker. It’s symbolic of the dire times of the past decade plus; an endless list of players have come and gone as the organization continually failed to form a lasting identity and build a winning culture. Corey Brewer had that locker stall. Lorenzo Brown did too. Gary Neal and Tayshaun Prince. Each of their stays have been brief, and that’s over the past three seasons alone.
Why am I telling you this? Well, the Wolves unquestionably stole the show on Thursday night after Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden, also known as the New Wolves Order (or more simply as Thibsden), completed their first trade after 14 months on the job. The patience they exhibited month after month, waiting on the perfect moment to pounce on exactly the right deal, was likely frustrating to those who wanted quick and dramatic change, but it’s also the clearest proof they were well worth the $50 million investment over five years from owner Glen Taylor. That commitment allowed them to be patient and ultimately complete a game-changing acquisition last night.
The first trade in the new era wasn’t a homerun for the franchise, it was a walk-off grand slam. The ball was blasted so deep into the stratosphere it may in fact never land. Netting two-way superstar wing Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 pick in a loaded draft, which became mobile new-age Creighton big man Justin Patton, was a heist for the NWO. This was highway robbery. One of the league’s best players is heading to Minneapolis to team up with franchise cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, giving the Wolves the best big-three they’ve had since 2003–04 (KG, Cassell, and Sprewell).
“You’re getting a two-way player,” Thibodeau said. “You’re getting a guy who can score a lot of different ways. He can guard multiple positions. He can actually guard four positions well. He makes big shots late, plays the right way, he’s tough, practices hard, smart. So we’re excited to get him.”
Once the deal became official, I started thinking about what a blockbuster move like this means to the franchise, aside from the obvious fact they probably became a playoff team in one swift move. Adding a player of Butler’s caliber briefly brought me back to some of those cold mid-January night’s sitting at Target Center contemplating the future, staring at that revolving locker thinking about all of the losing, the constant change, and the disappointment of not making the playoffs year after year. Everything is always changing but the losing remains. Then all of a sudden an All-Star player that can elevate an entire franchise to a new level joins the fold and the past fades into the background as the enticing future takes precedence. What could this become? Jimmy (Buckets) Butler brings instant legitimacy to a franchise that was already on the right path. He is the dazzling change the Wolves have been unable to make since the playoff drought first started.
By now you likely know the Bulls return on Butler has received bleak reviews across the league. In return for a top-15 player, Chicago is getting breakout shooting guard, and fan favorite, Zach LaVine as the best asset in the deal. Before his season came to an unfortunate end this past February in Detroit, when he tore his ACL, LaVine had shown enough to warrant a major contract in restricted free agency this summer. He is unquestionably the best part of the deal for Chicago and should shine on the big stage once he fully recovers from injury. LaVine is a microwave scorer that can go off at any moment. His self-confidence and work ethic have helped him improve immensely every season since being drafted as a raw guard out of UCLA. He is dynamite in catch-and-shoot situations and a fanastic beast in transition, but shoddy defense remains his biggest flaw.
Over time, the Bounce Brothers pairing on the wing (Wiggins and LaVine) had revealed it’s warts, eventually becoming an unrealistic starting combination moving forward. Behind the scenes, this topic dominated conversations. Both players are best utilized at shooting guard and neither is strong enough to deal with bigger wings. The Wolves 112.0 defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) was 27th in the NBA in large part due to the complete lack of defense from Wiggins and LaVine and that was never going to cut it for a defensive minded coach like Thibodeau. He demands attention to detail, communication, playing on a string as one (as he says) and not going rogue (doing whatever you want and not sticking to the scheme) on that end.
Butler provides an immediate upgrade and understands exactly what Thibodeau is looking for defensively. There is also the upside that he can show Wiggins what it takes to defend at an All-NBA level. With all of that being said, LaVine will be missed. His work with the Metro Deaf School was inspirational, he was beloved by teammates, and he was easily the best pure shooter in the 612.
Along with LaVine, last year’s fifth overall pick, Kris Dunn, is heading to the Windy City. Dunn is a Tony Allen-like defender but probably not a true point guard—unless he goes 0 to 100 real quick. Questions surrounding his jump shot, ability to run an NBA offense, and his ceiling for being an older rookie (23) lingered on throughout his underwhelming rookie campaign. The No. 7 pick in the draft that became the sharpshooting but flawed freshman from Arizona, Lauri Markkanen.
Shortly after the 2017 NBA Draft got underway and Markelle Fultz became the latest addition to The Process, Lonzo and LaVar got their wish to play in La La Land, and Jayson Tatum landed in Boston to give the Celtics the dynamic wing scoring prospect they desperately needed, the Wolves were the team that stole the show in a move of epic proportions. Jalen Rose said the Wolves were the biggest winners of the draft on ESPN’s telecast only six picks into the night. “They are legit now in the Western Conference and in the NBA,” he said, and that assertion is tough to argue against.
In one move, the Wolves sent a loud and booming message across the entire Association. The pack is here, they are starving and thirsty to put the past behind them, and they are ready to compete right now. In the process, the organization pushed their timeline years ahead of the curve it was on. The revolving locker immediately came to mind. Are those days soon to be over? New faces arriving all of the time, only to be gone in the blink of an eye?
“He’s looking forward to coming here, I can tell you that,” Thibodeau said in regards to Butler at his late night press conference that finally occurred once the draft came to a close and the Wolves had left their footprints.
Trade rumors surrounding a reunion between Jimmy Butler and his old coach, Tom Thibodeau, swirled during the NBA draft last summer but as close as a deal involving Zach LaVine and last year’s fifth overall pick, Kris Dunn, might have come to being completed, the two sides could not come to an agreement. A year later, after the relationship between Thibs and John Paxson smoothed over in recent weeks, the Wolves and Bulls came together an agreement that sends both franchises in wildly different directions. Chicago goes into full rebuild mode under coach Fred Hoiberg while Minnesota becomes a legitimate playoff team in the West.
“As time went along we realized the depth of the draft and the activity that we were getting on the seven pick, so we were looking at all the possibilities, whether we would keep it, move up, move down, or make a trade,” said Thibodeau. “There were a number of possibilities. We felt if we had the opportunity to get a player of Jimmy's caliber that we would do it. Of course, we hated to part ways with Zach and Kris. To get a player like Jimmy you have to give good players up and we did, and not only are they good players, they are good people. That’s the tough part, but we felt it’s something our team needed and we’re excited. Jimmy is, as many of you know, just going into the prime of his career, so we’re excited about that.”
Butler is the total package for a team in desperate need of defense, toughness, and leadership. He is a game-changing acquisition that will help the Wolves take multiple steps forward next season.
Butler will be under contract for two more years before the two sides discuss what will likely be a MAX extension at age 29. As an NBA veteran, and Olympian, Thibodeau said Butler will be able to show the young Wolves the way. "A lot of the things that our young players are going through, Jimmy's gone through those things," he said late last night at Mayo Clinic Square.
Stories around the league today suggest that one of the reasons the Bulls didn’t get more significant offers for Butler around the league is that he’s a difficult personality, and his rocky relationship with Fred Hoiberg didn’t help. But Thibodeau knows how to work with Butler and how to get the best out of him.
After spending time apart, Thibs and Jimmy Buckets have finally reunited ... and it feels so good.
Welcome to Minneapolis, Jimmy.
Current mood of the fan base, according to Canis Hoopus sources: