If you haven’t noticed, the leverage that management once enjoyed over players, the take-it-or-leave-it mentality, has slowly shifted to the side of the star player. More times than not, the superstar calls the shots – and we don’t mean in the H-O-R-S-E sense.
As the start of the 2018-19 NBA season approaches, one of the most bizarre and prolonged sagas of the preseason continues in Minnesota, involving four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, his teammates and team management.
Butler does not want to play for the Timberwolves anymore. He said so for the first time on Sept. 18. That’s about the only thing that seems clear about the situation. He has reiterated his request, his voice rising and his antics intensifying, incrementally since then.
Despite his point of view, Butler decided to show up for the first day of practice and announced his presence by screaming at his teammates and cursing out a team staffer working on a much lower pay scale.
The concept is simple. It’s the squeaky wheel gets the grease thing. Butler thinks the more obnoxious and disrespectful he is, the quicker the Wolves will want to find him a new zip code. He averaged 20.4 points in his first season in Minnesota last year and he’s getting paid quite well ($20.4 million) this season. But hey, what’s money?
You can’t blame Tom Thibodeau, the team’s coach and president of basketball operations, or Glen Taylor, the team owner, for not allowing Butler to intimidate them. While it makes sense that they wouldn’t want a pain in the butt like Butler on their team, they are smartly refusing to short-change their possible return on the trade market.
You might have thought Thibodeau and Butler would have been able to build some equity in their relationship during the time they spent together with the Chicago Bulls. If it wasn’t for Thibodeau, who traded Kris Dunn for him on June 22, 2017, Butler would have never come to Minnesota in the first place.
But sentimentality was at a minimum when Butler took the floor at practice for the first time. He looked in the direction of GM Scott Layden and said, “You (expletive) need me. You can’t win without me.” Now, if this was LeBron saying those things, you might agree with him.
But this is Jimmy Butler, a former junior college player [he played three seasons at Marquette] with a chip the size of a boulder on his shoulder. Butler also started jabbing at Karl-Anthony Towns, the former first-rounder pick from Kentucky. Word is, Butler doesn’t care for Towns or guard Andrew Wiggins. The Wolves certainly do. They have invested $338 million in their futures.
Butler then sashayed out of the gym. Several people who saw what happened said that he punctuated his departure by reminding everyone that “I run this s**t.”
If you check the Wolves roster today, you will still see his name. The team opens the season Wednesday against San Antonio and there is no reason to believe he will not play. That doesn’t mean he will play for them for long. The Wolves have every intention to move him as soon as it makes for good business.
The Athletic reported that Butler met with Taylor over the weekend and the two hammered out the logical compromise – Butler agrees to play hard, Taylor agrees to facilitate a deal. In fact, it looks like making the deal now rests in Taylor’s hands.
“They (management) want me to go out there and hoop to the best of my abilities,” Butler said Sunday.
From a competitive standpoint, you can understand Butler’s impatience. Minnesota, which lost the Western Conference quarterfinals to Houston in five games last season, isn’t considered a playoff contender, unless you want to take Luol Deng, Derrick Rose and Gorgui Dieng to the bank.
Last year, was Minnesota’s first postseason series since the Western finals in 2004 when Kevin Garnett was running the show.
Butler wants to play for a consistent winner or, at least, a high-profile market where he can feel the love. And he missed the first two weeks of training camp and the preseason to prove his point.
He thinks he has he leverage. We will see.