It's Pure Chaos in Minnesota

Tom Thibodeau's reign in Minnesota has been nothing but messy. Ever since Jimmy Butler made his trade request public, the organization has reached new levels of dysfunction.

In an era where players have more power and influence than ever before, Tom Thibodeau is refusing to let the old ways die. Ever since Jimmy Butler requested a trade, Thibodeau has taken the route of stubbornness. With all the power in the front office, Thibodeau is able to take whichever route he likes. The issue is that he has constantly made the wrong turn at every stop and made this whole process a gigantic mess.

Thibodeau is the last of a dying breed; coaches who also have the title of President of Basketball Operations. This has been a consistent failure across the league regardless of which franchise has consolidated their front office power under one name. Since his time in Chicago, Thibodeau has had the reputation of being difficult to work with, brash, and old-fashioned. As a coach, he doesn’t believe in rest. He frequently plays his starters 40 minutes per game, conducts two-hour practices, and spits at the suggestion of taking a day off to rest. This mindset can work for teams but when it is the only voice and mantra coming from the front office, it can take its toll and cause dissension. These past few weeks for the Timberwolves have cemented Thibodeau’s place on Minnesota’s Mount Rushmore of dysfunctional front office leaders, joining David Khan, Kevin McHale, and David Khan again. 

Just ten months ago Minnesota was on pace for their best record in franchise history and really seemed to have turned things around. Sure, running the starters into the ground and not playing any defense wasn't ideal, but they were winning and primed for home court in the first round, so what was there to complain about? With Butler returning fully healthy this year, the expectations for the Timberwolves were high. That is until a few days before training camp when Butler sat down with Thibodeau to request a trade. This is when Thibodeau went full curmudgeon and made it clear that he had no intention of trading Butler. Thibodeau fully believed that he would be able to convince Butler to return to the team and eventually re-sign. The track record of this in NBA history isn’t great, and that is with executives who are much more charming. 

Generally, when owners get too involved, things become complicated and messy. To no one’s surprise that is exactly what happened when Glen Taylor joined the party. In a blatant act of undermining his front office, Taylor stated at the owner's meetings that Butler was available for trade and any requests should go through him if Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden were proving to be difficult. To be fair to Thibodeau, the Timberwolves have generally been one of the worst-run NBA franchises and a big factor in that is Taylor’s willingness to get involved at inopportune times. By making this declaration, Taylor instantly made this whole process more difficult. While it did make it clear to Thibodeau that he needed to listen to offers, it also completely destroyed any sense of power or authority he had in running this team. 

There have been numerous rumors about offers that the Timberwolves have gleefully shot down and teams like the Clippers, Rockets, and Nets have been in the mix. No team, however, seems to have been as involved as the Miami Heat. While the Heat doesn’t have any players to offer who are on the level of Butler, they do have some nice pieces that could help the Timberwolves in a post-Butler era and lessen the sting of losing him. Despite this, Thibodeau has continued to hang up the phone or ask for more. 

As the days have passed, the situation has bred nothing but pessimism and embarrassment. Two days before the Timberwolves final preseason game against the Bucks, Butler decided to return to practice in one of the most obvious media stunts in recent memory. His pretentious return consisted of showing up an hour late, subbing himself into a scrimmage, cussing out the front office, and targeting teammates with insults. Once practice concluded, he had a conveniently timed sit-down interview with ESPN.

Every step of the way Thibodeau has mismanaged this situation. He’s ignored Butler’s warnings that were apparently made right after the end of last season, he has refused to legitimately entertain offers, he has refused to envision a team not comprised of his former players, and by even allowing Butler back into the training facility he has enabled the heightened ill will. 

While Thibodeau’s management of this situation has been clumsy and a complete mockery, he also isn’t the only one to blame. Butler has treated this as a complete farce. He has every right in the world to request a trade but the manner in which he proceeded has been completely unprofessional. It is true that he did the Timberwolves a favor by requesting a trade instead of just walking in free agency but his timing could not have been poorer. This request came just days before training camp started. If this request would have come back in June, the options would have been greater and he wouldn’t have completely hamstrung the team. 

Butler has slowly but surely proven over his career that he is a cancer in the locker room. He had issues with teammates at Marquette. He publicly ridiculed coaches and teammates in Chicago and Minnesota. He does have an amazing story of a barely recruited high schooler to transferring to Marquette to working his butt off to be a top-15 player. That doesn’t, however, give him the excuse to berate the front office and attack teammates. I am a full supporter of passion and intensity but not when it is detrimental to the team. His completely staged return to the Timberwolves aimed to benefit only himself.

During his interview with Rachel Nichols, Butler hit all the buzz words but contradicted every action he has taken. A common theme of this interview was Butler’s desire for honesty, appreciation, and winning. All of those desires are completely respectable and legitimate but don’t mirror the actions he has taken. He wants more clear appreciation yet turned down the max contract that the Timberwolves were able to offer him this offseason. He claims he only wants to win yet he wanted the team to offer him money that could only be created by gutting the team to create cap space and requested a trade to the Knicks, Nets, and Clippers. 

Even though Butler’s recent unprofessionalism is unfortunate, the most illuminating piece from that interview was how emphatic he was that he told Thibodeau his feelings right after the end of last season. If true, which I don’t doubt, it is the millionth example that Thibodeau is in over his head. By ignoring this information, Thibodeau passed up an entire offseason where he could have moved Butler for valuable pieces.

Jimmy Butler is a very good player who made a massive impact on the floor for the Timberwolves last season. His passion and intensity can be infectious but he needs to learn how to control and employ it. I thoroughly enjoy watching Butler play basketball. He works his tail off and is a dynamic player that improves any team he is on. I hope he gets his money and success but his time in Minnesota needs to end.

Instead of looking into trade options, Thibodeau chose the path of ignorance which has led him to one of the most public practice fiascos in NBA history, division and contempt in the locker room, and a shroud of ineptitude. Thibodeau has an incredible mind for the NBA. Few coaches study as much tape or know more about the game than he does. Day by day though, he shows that the game may have passed him by. His outdated coaching tactics have now come second to how poorly he has managed the personalities in his organization. His stubbornness to win and ignore the long game has created organizational chaos. His hiring sparked a rare sense of excitement in Minnesota. After only two seasons, his constant missteps may see his short reign end.

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