Jimmy Butler Crash and Burn

The 30th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft is attempting a palace coup. Except Jimmy Butler wants out of the palace.

Trying to manipulate where Tom Thibodeau sends him by giving him a list of three teams he will sign an extension with is NBA star 101. It’s how the game is played. The agent tries to saturate the market at a time when his client has the most leverage. For Butler that is now, a wink and a nod before training camp is supposed to start. The hope is the the Wolves front office will run scared and do a Cleveland 2017.

Butler’s ideal destination is the Los Angeles Clippers. If the Clippers were to land Butler it would probably make them the front runner for Kawhi Leonard and then Doc Rivers long suffering nightmare may in fact end; there would be light after the Chris Paul trade debacle.

But wherever Butler ends up, betting house money is extremely premature. The Timberwolves will probably wait. Blowing the team up ala Cavs 2017 who panicked is still a bitter taste. That led to a lot of Cavs dysfunction and disarray the Wolves want to bypass.

Neverthless, the truth always hurts. Teams that trade an All-Star usually suffer. Butler will be traded by February but it may not be where he wants. If Butler is going to be selfish, the Wolves have to be just as selfish. Get what you can get to fit the team they have.

It was always a fragile fit in Minny anyway. Butler’s leadership style is Kobe Bryant-esque.  Call out the lazy, the bored, the weak. Punish them in the media. Don’t hold back. Don’t pull punches. This isn’t show friends. It is show business. In Chicago, it alienated him from the young kids. In Minnesota, it has alienated him from the young kids. They aren’t ready for the Butler kind of tough love and selling everything out to win. Towns and Wiggins aren’t mature yet and their games can go to sleep at the worst time. Butler isn’t having it.

I’d love to see Butler and Doc butt heads. Doc is a control freak who had issues with Chris Paul, another control freak. Butler doesn’t have Paul’s finesse. He has no filter. The L.A. media will love his soundbites whenever the Clippers are underachieving.  Count on Butler and Rivers at each other’s throats and the world knowing about it.

But if you live in a glass house….

Jimmy Butler played 59 games last season. In seven years, he has played 75 games (or more) twice. He ends up hurt which is understandable because he plays so damned hard. But his stardom means the team depends upon him to give them 70 regular season games.

Everyone ripped on Karl-Anthony Towns in that playoff series against the Rockets in 2018 which was a disaster but Butler was a no-show. He averaged 15.8 points, seven points less than the regular season.  He took 12.6 shots, three less than the regular season.  His defensive rating was a catastrophic 117; he bills himself as a two-way player. Yes, Towns looked like a ghost out there but Butler wasn’t much better and his leadership was on vacation.

The problem is this. He’s not a number one. He’s a number two. He can’t be your best player because his leadership is antagonistic. He confronts instead of inspires. It rubs players who have been pampered all their lives the wrong way. They give less to spite him. He goes off more. They sulk and pout. He ramps up the volume. It is a never ending circle.

Butler will get paid and he will get a new address but it doesn’t mean he is on easy street to NBA title land. He needs a superstar to play off of. In the short term, there is going to be drama, particularly if the locker room is so messed up players are out for themselves. Luol Deng is a great addition to the Wolves. He’s a natural peacemaker but no one can make Jimmy Butler happy but Jimmy Butler. He exhausts his teammates with his maniacal focus. It is that focus that converted a rookie who scored two points a game into an All-Star. He supplanted local hero Derrick Rose as Chicago’s favorite son.

But Butler’s aggression is draining. The older he gets without a conference finals appearance, the more aggressive and driven he is going to become. Next year, he is 30.

The Timberwolves crash is way ahead of schedule. Now it is the burning. When they traded for Butler, the nuclear option was always present but NBA optimists felt Towns and Wiggins would mature. They haven’t. And so the star wants to eject the plane. The safe landing may not be quite as safe as Butler would like. He may be here in two more years absent the power and leverage at 31. But still salty.

It’s the Jimmy Butler way.