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Jimmy Butler Situation Remains Muddled

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As training camp starts, there is a lack of clarity about how the Wolves are proceeding on the Jimmy Butler trade front.

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Minnesota Timberwolves v New York Knicks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

A couple of days after it appeared there was at least some momentum in trade talks with teams around the league, with Miami emerging as a particularly insistent and intriguing suitor, reports today indicate that the Jimmy Butler trade saga is once again confused and confusing rival executives throughout the league.

Reports suggest that Tom Thibodeau still hasn’t given up in bringing Butler back into the fold, though Butler himself remains adamant about getting out. Jon Krawczynski in The Athletic among others report that prior to yesterday’s media day press conference, Thibs met yet again with Butler to try to persuade him to consider rejoining the team. This is apparently not a bluff.

The meeting made Butler skeptical of Thibodeau’s efforts to find a suitable deal and he sought out owner Glen Taylor to receive assurances that good faith efforts were continuing, sources told The Athletic.

An ESPN piece from Woj, which has been updated today reiterates how difficult teams are finding it dealing with the Wolves on this issue, with various teams getting little or no response from Scott Layden, and others trying to go directly to owner Glen Taylor.

Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden, who is the point man for trade conversations, continue to leave rival executives and owners unclear about both the specific players and broader kinds of assets that the Wolves value in a deal, sources said. Even more doubt exists about whether there is even yet alignment between Taylor and Thibodeau on a structure and timetable for a deal, league sources told ESPN.

Almost unbelievably:

...there is a belief among interested teams that Thibodeau is reluctant to bring strong offers to his owner for examination because he is still holding out hope to get Butler on the floor for Minnesota this season.

If this is true, and the front office and ownership are working at cross purposes a full week after Butler made his trade request, it is without question as bizarre a situation as we have encountered over a decades long relationship with this frequently clownish organization.

Of course it is possible that much of this is overstated; that it is being leaked to Woj and others either by Butler’s agent Bernie Lee or rival teams in order to put pressure on the Wolves to make deal quickly, but it is certainly true that Thibs met with Butler yesterday in an attempt to get him to change his mind.

I understand Thibs’ reluctance and his love for and reliance on Butler. But his responsibility is to the Wolves, and (not ideally) to Taylor. One of the more frustrating aspects of the entire saga is that Butler made clear at the end of last season that he was unhappy and wasn’t sure he saw a future for himself with the Wolves. Thibs’ failure to act on that or any of the surrounding issues through the summer was an abdication of responsibility to the team.

If we have now reached a point where teams are talking to multiple parties in the organization, where there is a lack of communication and a diversity of purpose, it’s not sustainable.

Again, perhaps the Wolves are feigning some of their reluctance in order to induce more attractive offers, but if so, it’s going about it in a bizarre way, with ownership making no bones about wanting to get something done quickly. Mostly it just appears confused.

Even with this apparent divergence on the trade front, there seems no indication that Thibodeau’s job on the sidelines is under any immediate threat. That’s understandable to an extent, with the season mere weeks away and Thibs under a long term contract, but if, as suggested above, Thibs is lying to and defying his owner, how can that possibly work?

Whatever is happening, it certainly feels as if trade momentum has slowed. After an unsurprising break for media days around the league yesterday, I expected things to pick back up today and was anticipating some real momentum toward a deal. Instead, things seemed to have stalled out in a morass of uncertainty about what the Wolves are trying to achieve.

With camps now open and Butler insisting he isn’t going to play for the Wolves again, that isn’t good news. The organization needs to get on the same page and move forward.