The uniquely Timberwolves’ pendulum that swings between merely irrelevant and utter dysfunction has once again reached the dysfunctional extreme. On the bright side, at least this is the entertaining end of things, as Kyle suggested this morning.
But let’s figure out what happened here and apportion some blame along the way.
We’ll start here: This is not a well run organization from the top. Glen Taylor oscillates between passivity and poor decision-making, the most recent of which was hiring Tom Thibodeau to be President and Head Coach.
To be fair, I endorsed the hire at the time. While I had some concern about the dual roles, I thought it was worth it to get a guy with his record of success on the sidelines, especially given the Wolves’ long playoff drought and previous difficulty in recruiting.
I was wrong. Thibodeau’s “culture” is not one of hard work and collective effort, as I envisioned, but rather one of paranoia and loud noises; He’s a non-communicative control freak whose constant yelling and player overuse sucks all the joy out of the game. It’s a dystopia of NBA basketball.
Even last season, as the Wolves were pushing for their first playoff berth in well over a decade, it was clear that nobody was really happy. Taylor didn’t, and doesn’t, like Thibs, the front office personnel were chafing, and most to the point, the players were generally unhappy with Thibs and with each other. Nobody was having fun. Jimmy Butler was consistently frustrated with the young players—as John Meyer pointed out in the most recent Wolvescast, he frequently looked ready to tear Andrew Wiggins’ head off in the locker room.
We’ve gotten some specifics since the end of the season, with Jamal Crawford opting out of his deal (he remains unemployed) and being quoted that it was not a happy place with the Wolves. Local hero Tyus Jones was on the verge of asking for a trade at the end of the year due to his limited opportunities, but was talked out of it.
Against the backdrop, a specific beef emerged between Butler and franchise centerpiece Karl-Anthony Towns. We’ve heard and seen the rumors, but what the beef actually is doesn’t really matter. What matters is this issue festered all summer and the organization did nothing to address it. Towns requested communication in July once his maximum contract extension was offered, but apparently never got it.
Thibodeau, not a fan of communication, and not a believer in the importance of personal relationships to a successful basketball team, appears to have figured that once everyone was back in the gym, everything would work itself out.
Eventually, KAT gave Glen Taylor an ultimatum: Him (Butler) or Me.
This was a power play by Towns and his circle, who knew he had the leverage. It was a strike directly at Butler’s wallet, and here’s how: In order to get the biggest contract he can, Butler has to be on a team that holds his Bird Rights at the end of the upcoming season, when he becomes a restricted free agent. That could have been the Wolves, but for Towns’ ultimatum.
Given that, Butler, who not only was frustrated with teammates, but rumors suggest perhaps has had enough of Thibs himself, did the only thing he could in order to maintain the possibility of getting a five year max deal next summer: He asked for a trade to a team that could give it to him, and also be in a position to perhaps bring in a second star as well.
So that’s where we stand right now, but wait! There are more twists and turns to discuss.
The first of which is Tom Thibodeau’s awkward and precarious position. Glen Taylor has not been happy with him for quite a while now, and contemplated making changes at the end of last season. One of the reasons he held off, however, was Thibs’ purportedly close relationship with Butler, and that Butler would be more likely to stay with Thibs’ still in charge.
Now that’s off the table. Thibs, who is leaking that he has “no interest” in trading Butler because what else is he going to do, remains, at least today, in charge. But is he the guy to oversee trading Butler? He is the lamest of ducks right now, and in an ideal world would not be in charge of important franchise decisions.
Of course in an ideal world, this would have been resolved earlier in the summer, with time to either try to work it out or move Butler without the pressure of training camp looming, and team rosters set around the league. But this is dysfunction junction, and ideal is rarely part of the vocabulary.
So what to do? It’s difficult to remove Thibs now, though not impossible. Taylor would have to find an interim coach, and probably retain Scott Layden (far from ideal) to head up the front office probably for the season. It seems to me this is the better course of action than letting Thibs continue on when it’s clear he isn’t the long-term answer in either job. But that would require a) Forceful decision-making from an owner who rarely engages in it, and b) cutting a pretty big check to get Thibs out the door.
Hopefully it comes to that, because nobody wants a miserable slog with a lame duck Thibs on the sideline.
The more important twist here, however, is the status of Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns is on the verge of getting what he wanted, Butler out, but still has not signed his extension. Throughout the summer, I’ve assumed that he would eventually sign. There is no precedent for a player turning down a max extension offer coming off his rookie deal.
I still think it’s far more likely than not that he eventually signs before the mid-October deadline, but I’m not as certain as I once was. His circle, I believe, is very concerned about his future and the direction of his career if he stays in Minnesota, understandable given the organization’s history and current state. It’s not impossible that he tries to force his way out one way or another, which would be the ultimate indictment of the franchise and the ownership of Glen Taylor.
The single most important thing over the next month is getting Towns’ signature on a five year extension; everything else pales in comparison. Failure to do so would be a disaster which the team simply cannot afford.
Once again we’re faced with the truth that the only thing the Wolves are good at under Glen Taylor’s ownership is screwing up. Short of selling the team, the best course of action for Taylor would be to cut ties with Thibs, get Towns signed by hook or by crook, find the smartest assistant GM in the league, hire him, and get out of the way.
I’m not holding my breath for that.
But at least we can enjoy the chaos.