By: Jonah Sprinkel
On Monday night the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Los Angeles Lakers. The game itself was the most enjoyable game of basketball the Timberwolves have played this year. Target Center was nearly full of fans. It was possible to hear fans through the television! Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and LeBron James each demonstrated their basketball prowess. When the fat lady finally sang, the Timberwolves came out on top, 124-120. Jimmy Butler connected on a remarkable six of seven threes, including a ridiculously contested three over Rajon Rondo to seal the game. Karl-Anthony Towns busted his slump with 25 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and four blocks. The Timberwolves won a close basketball game against a team they could possibly be in playoff contention with. By every low standard the Timberwolves fans have, it should have been a feel-good night in Minnesota.
And yet, there is a lack of meaning to everything that goes on involving this organization.
Having your star small forward demand a trade, in a contract year, right before the season begins, is the NBA equivalent of having your friend jump off the seesaw when you’re at the top. The bottom drops out. Everything hurts. It takes a second to realize just what has happened. The pain from the seesaw accident is quick to disappear. Just as a preseason trade demand should be. Tom Thibodeau does not believe any of this should be short lived.
It has been 40 days since the news of Jimmy Butler’s trade request broke. Since then, the Timberwolves front office, and by extension, ownership, has absolutely dropped the ball on the entire situation. Butler made a joke out of the organization in one practice. Trades with other organizations have seemingly been in place more than once and yet, bafflingly, Butler remains on the roster. Championship dreams aside, these are not the normal goings on for a halfway competent franchise.
If Jimmy Butler is an injury to the metaphorical body of the Timberwolves organization, the doctors in charge (Thibodeau, Scott Layden and Glen Taylor) should, in theory, be quick to perform surgery. Continuing to run the team through Butler only serves to prolong the inevitable; turning the offense over to Karl-Anthony Towns. Included in that inevitable should be the development of the young players. Thibodeau is a firm supporter of the opposite. The longer the doctors allow an injury to fester, the worse it will affect the future of the body.
Thibodeau has never faced the future during his time in Minnesota. Every former member of the Chicago Bulls who went on to become a Timberwolf is a prime example of that. The significant moves Thibodeau has made have been successful. Derrick Rose is a capable bench player. Taj Gibson has been invaluable to the team. Jeff Teague has done well in his role. Anthony Tolliver is a savvy addition. All these moves are centered around the idea that the Timberwolves need to be successful now. If Butler is your centerpiece, that’s a fantastic approach. That is no longer the case. The Timberwolves must begin operating for the future.
It’s very apparent that this squad will not be in title contention this year or even next. Between the existence of the Golden State Warriors and the current state of the Timberwolves it would take a Minneapolis Miracle-type season for that to happen. That’s not to say the organization should throw their hands in the air forfeit the next couple seasons. They should be doing the opposite by doubling down and working harder than every other franchise to be ready to pounce when the title window opens. Towns needs to be instilled with confidence as a player and a leader. Someone needs to light a fire under Andrew Wiggins. The young players need to get quality playing time. A rebuild is not what is necessary nor required. A time of stability and growth is what this team needs.
So long as Butler remains a Timberwolf none of this can happen. The Timberwolves will be forced to suffer through the bipolar tendencies of a team that is aware it won’t be together much longer. Those tendencies manifest themselves in the shape of the dismemberment by the Milwaukee Bucks last Friday and the win over the Lakers on Monday. The drama of the Butler situation was likely a large cause for the Bucks loss. Butler was the reason the Timberwolves won the Lakers game. Thibodeau may see those wins as a bonus for keeping Butler around longer. But is the stability of the franchise and the growth of talent worth a couple extra wins in a meaningless year?