A meeting set between Minnesota Timberwolves four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler and president of basketball operations/coach Tom Thibodeau is expected to set the tone for Butler’s final season under contract — and his impending free agency in July, league sources told ESPN on Saturday. Just days before the start of training camp in Minneapolis, Butler and his agent, Bernie Lee, are planning to meet with Thibodeau on Monday in Minneapolis for what’s expected to be a serious conversation on the franchise’s fragile state, sources said.
The Thibodeau-Butler relationship has been largely strong since the Bulls drafted Butler in 2011, but Butler's partnership with young star Karl-Anthony Towns has been strained and remains an obstacle to the 2018-19 team's success --- and perhaps the ability to sign Butler to a new contract next summer, league sources said.
The Timberwolves are negotiating a rookie extension with Towns that could be completed before the start of the season. Rival executives believe that Butler could come available on the market by the February trade deadline if Minnesota fears that it will lose him for nothing in July free agency.
The Butler-Towns tension is paramount, but it's hardly the only organizational drama that's threatening to undermine the franchise's current structure. Owner Glen Taylor has significant concern with the broader franchise culture under Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden -- so much so that Taylor considered changes in the offseason, league sources said. Taylor has privately second-guessed his decision to give Thibodeau full control of basketball operations as a part of hiring him as coach, league sources said.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Jimmy Butler's meeting w/ Minnesota management early next week as @ Jon Krawczynski reports. Butler, Tom Thibodeau have had a strong relationship for years, but there are organizational issues that need to be sorted. Source on meeting: "Whatever needs to be communicated...will be."
With the opening of training camp 10 days away, it appears the Wolves and Butler have reached a fork in the road. He can become an unrestricted free agent next summer and has long said that playing for a team that can contend for championships is his highest priority at this stage of his career. It’s widely known how close Butler and Thibodeau have been ever since Butler was drafted by the Bulls, so the assumption can only be that he wants to hear the coach’s vision for how the upcoming season will play out.
In the meeting Monday, the Timberwolves will have to lay out a plan that shows a clear path to contention that will get Butler to commit to plunging into another season in Minnesota. But the Timberwolves will also have an enormous decision to make. If they don’t believe Butler is committed to be in Minnesota long-term, they would have to at least consider moving him. Thibodeau traded Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick (Lauri Markkanen) for Butler and the No. 16 overall pick (Justin Patton) last year.
Media reports throughout the summer have, using unnamed sources, suggested Butler is unhappy with his young teammates’ will and dedication and has decided he won’t play in Minnesota after this season and wants to unite with pal Kyrie Irving or other stars elsewhere. “I’ve been around a long time; I don’t buy into any of that stuff,” Thibodeau said. “You have to distinguish what’s real and what’s not real. You never heard any of that come from Jimmy’s mouth. It’s always a source close to Jimmy. If Jimmy has something to say to someone, he usually says it directly …
Adrian Wojnarowski: "Jimmy Butler in Minnesota: Who knows how it starts out this season there, but they may have to look at doing something with him. If they don't have a commitment from him, do they have to look at doing something with him by the trade deadline? Do they risk losing him for nothing? You look back, they gave up a lot for him. That deal with the Bulls at the time, they gave up some really good pieces. It's hard to let that walk out the door for nothing."
What's the feeling you get about KAT - amendable situation or not? Jon Krawczynski: I don’t think we’ve reached a breaking point between Towns and the organization. Had that been the case, I could have seen him canceling the Minnesota basketball camp to avoid coming back to town. As reported at The Athletic during summer league, the Wolves have put a max contract offer in front of his representatives. But as KAT first made clear to me in a phone call from Italy, and as he reiterated last week in Plymouth, there is still some communication that needs to take place before pen is put to paper.
Jon Krawczynski: Everyone in the organization expects Towns to sign the extension. No rookie has passed up this much money before and Towns doesn’t figure to be the first. While he has not provided specifics on what he wants to discuss, one would think Tom Thibodeau’s decision to fire Legarza, a close confidante of KAT’s during his first three NBA seasons, would probably be on that list.
Darren Wolfson: We were warned that #Twolves All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns would only take questions about his camp today. So specific questions about Butler, Legarza, Thibs, contract extension, etc. were tough. But he did offer up a little something at the very end [when Towns concluded, "I'm very proud of the things I've been able to do so far [in Minnesota], but I [have] a lot of things that need to be talked about."]
Sources familiar with the situation told Sporting News that Butler is uncertain about playing with Wiggins — Butler had problems last season with Wiggins, his work ethic and his approach on the defensive end of the floor. Thibodeau has had similar problems with Wiggins in the past, too, and he had some hope that bringing a tough-minded veteran like Butler into the locker room would spur Wiggins to improve. It didn’t.
Another source of friction with the Wolves has been the way that Thibodeau used his bench last season, which has long been a criticism of Thibodeau, carried over from his time in Chicago. He rides his starting unit hard, and all five Wolves starters averaged 33.0 minutes or more. The Wolves had three players — Butler, Wiggins and Towns — in the top 14 in minutes per game last season.
Brian Windhorst: "Has anybody noticed what's going on in Minnesota with Karl-Anthony Towns and that organization?" Zach Lowe: "Darren Wolfson [veteran reporter in Minnesota] alluded to a lot of it on a podcast a couple weeks ago. I said on a podcast recently that I just have a gut feeling something crazy is gonna happen there this summer. It's not in a good place right now internally." Windhorst: "If I were the Celtics, I would make a quiet call to Minnesota."
Jon Krawczynski: Butler also went to bat for Thibs: "Ain’t no coach in the world that can make somebody play hard. Ain’t no coach in the world that can make anybody want it."
Jon Krawczynski: More Butler standing tall for Thibs on the defensive issues: "To tell you the truth, we haven’t done it all year. ... All in all, we’ve just got to want to play defense. Thibs, he don’t got too much to do with that."
After some hours to reflect, and after a lengthy film session, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau was still talking about toughness — or the lack thereof — in the way of Monday’s loss to Memphis.
“There is a preseason intensity,’’ he said. “Then there is the start of the regular season. And now you have a playoff racing going on. You’re facing a guy like [Grizzlies center Marc] Gasol, who has a lot of pride. And the physicality? We didn’t do a good job with that.’’
Nate Duncan: Do you think that Andrew Wiggins, a couple of years from now, is on [the Minnesota Timberwolves]? Do you think there's a chance they might move on from him, given how he's played this year? Marc Stein: I think that's something that people will be looking at and I think other teams will be coming after him. Because he's, at best, gonna be the third option if you're playing with Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns. [....] I don't think there's any question that Wiggins' future is gonna be talked about. He's under contract now—it's a big number but for some teams, that appeals, to be able to get a guy when there is contract certainty and you know you've got him, there will be teams who want to trade for that.
On Wednesday, a radio remark on 1500ESPN that said Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins has whispered to teammates he’s unhappy being a third option behind Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns ricocheted around the internet. After Thursday’s practice, Thibodeau called the claim and its sourcing “total nonsense” and said, “I know Andrew’s character. There’s no way in the world Andrew is saying any of that, particularly from a guy who’s taken the most shots on our team.”
Kevin O’Connor: And not only that, it's more than that...yes, you're playing these guys for a ridiculous amount of minutes, but you know what else you're also doing? You're really disrupting the locker room. A lot of the guys in that bench who probably deserve to play, or thought that they have may have been getting opportunity and minutes, especially when there have been injuries? I've heard rumblings that there's some chemistry issues in that locker room, maybe a little bit with guys against Towns a little bit because of his effort, maybe a little bit with some of the guys on that bench unhappy with playing time and opportunity. There's issues there and it all, in my opinion, from what I can tell, derives from Thibs with the usage, with the system, with the opportunity.
On Sirius XM Radio, Sam Mitchell said he thinks it could influence Kevin Garnett's decision to retire, but as of the last time they spoke, K.G. remained undecided. "Last time I talked to him, he hadn't made up his mind. I just think the way last year ended with the owner at the very last minute -- and people don't understand, we all felt pretty good about us. Myself, Milt Newton, and the coaching staff, we all felt pretty good about us coming back. We felt like we did a good enough job to at least earn us a couple of years, a year or two, to keep that thing rolling. And I just think KG was just so hurt by the way things happened."
"For people to send you messages as if you were going to be back and your staff was going to be back and we had everything going in the right direction, and to get a phone call [from owner Glen Taylor] two hours before your last game basically saying, 'I've changed my mind and I'm going in a different direction,' it just kind of knocked us all for a loop. We've all recovered from it and moved on but if you know Kevin, Kevin is very sensitive and he's very loyal. And there was a lot of people in that organization that was let go, and the way it was done just left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouth."
"To be honest with you, I don't know how he's going to deal with that. Kevin takes that stuff personally and it's going to be interesting to see ultimately what he decides to do. It's a shame that if he doesn't come back and play, that his last year in Minnesota ended the way it did."
June 25, 2021 | 4:16 am EDT Update
What does Lacob think of reports from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that LeBron James has essentially been recruiting Curry to the Lakers for months now? “Look, Steph Curry, if he really wanted to leave at the end of his contract, he’s a free agent, he’s earned the right, he can do it,” Lacob said. “I said that with Kevin Durant. I’m still friends with Kevin Durant and I still really like him. And I will always love him for what he did for this franchise. By the way, he took less money when he was here. He really helped us. We were able to get a couple of other players. … Players don’t usually do that and he did that. So I have great respect and admiration for that for Kevin. And I would for Steph no matter what he does, too. He’s done a lot for us, we’ve done a lot for him. I would hope that we provide the environment for him that he wants to be at for the rest of his. … “I’m certainly not worried about the guy you mentioned recruiting him. I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Kellan Olson: Chris Paul said he messed around a bit on the court at his house but other than that didn’t do anything while he was under health and safety protocols. On testing positive for the virus: “Shit happens.”
Gina Mizell: Chris Paul said that a few “stars in our league” called to check on him while in protocols and told him “they just love the way our team is” as far as playing together and for each other #Suns
Gerald Bourguet: Devin Booker on adjusting to the mask: “It’s fine, honestly. I honestly don’t see it, and it doesn’t affect me.” Said he talked to Rip Hamilton and got some advice on playing with the mask. Book’s not making excuses
Dave McMenamin: Devin Booker elaborated on @Rachel__Nichols’ report about his nose being broken in three places and needing to get it set back into place. He said normally a patient is put under for the procedure, but there was no time for that. He got 8 shots of numbing agent and it was go time