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Have That Same Energy

NBA All-Star, All-Defense Team member and Olympian Jimmy Butler, who’s in the final year of his contract this upcoming season, is apparently unhappy and has requested a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves (his current employer). With a situation similar to where Kawhi Leonard has the San Antonio Spurs (Kawhi was also in the last year of his deal — the Spurs traded him to Toronto), the Wolves are faced with two equally unpleasant options:

Keep the disgruntled player for the season, possibly poisoning team chemistry (since the player’s desire to be elsewhere is a badly-kept secret) AND losing a valuable asset for nothing when he walks as a free agent in the offseason
Begrudgingly trade the player whom they’d prefer to keep, but who has made clear he doesn’t want to be there

Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau, who also happens to be the team’s President (in charge of the wheeling and dealing, i.e. trades), is a practical guy who knows what all basketball fans know: The team Thibs is coaching is better off with Jimmy Butler than without him. But, any practical President also knows it prudent to get something for a soon-departing player (Butler has clearly communicated that he will leave Minnesota after the season if he’s not traded first) before he ups and leaves the team with no return compensation. While the team may be weakened in the short term in the event of a trade, the assets acquired in return— think young players and draft picks— will “restock the shelves” for Minnesota’s future.

Think of the Cleveland Cavaliers, when LeBron James initially left the Cavs for Miami (as this deal officially went down as what is known as a sign-and-trade transaction to make the financial math work for Miami): The Heat sent future draft picks to the Cavs in exchange for LeBron. Cleveland subsequently delivered a terrible product to the court for four straight years, but stockpiled draft picks from Miami and Toronto (for Chris Bosh), some of which were the Cavs’ own picks, and those picks became Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins, who was traded for Kevin Love mere days after LeBron decided to come back to Cleveland in 2014. Those three players were the three most important LeBron teammates during the Cavs’ championship run in 2016.

Long term strategy, executed properly with a dash of luck (you never know exactly how a draft pick will turn out), produces results.

Problem is, Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau is not in a position to be a practical President right now: Another badly kept secret is that Thibs is in danger of being fired — from both jobs — if the Wolves don't make serious progress in the standings this season. Practical Coach Thibs knows this as well as everyone else does — thus, Impractical President Thibs wants to convince Jimmy to stay in Minnesota for the season instead of being forced to trade him, but Jimmy reportedly is not at all interested in that.

President Thibs knows that there’s not much immediate help (read: Established star players) available in the trade market for Jimmy Butler. President Thibs doesn’t want to stockpile assets for the future, because he’s fixing to not even be a part of it.

All of this equals what usually happens when there are so many conflicting interests in a situation (even if all the conflicts are within the same person): Nothing.

Nothing has happened.

Jimmy is still a member of the Wolves, is still unhappy, and has sat out nearly all of training camp. Butler also isn’t the biggest fan of two of his teammates: Wiggins, and Karl Anthony Towns, who happen to have a combined $350,000,000 in guaranteed dollars invested in them by the Timberwolves.

Word is, though, that if Jimmy doesn’t get the trade he’s requested demanded, he would indeed suit up and play for the Wolves this season — he’s contractually due $19 million in this final year of his deal, and he wouldn’t be paid if he didn’t play in the games. Jimmy may not like playing for the Wolves, but he's a practical guy who seems to know math.

All of this came to a head the other day when Jimmy surprised everyone and showed up at a practice for the team he is signed to work for.

Word on the tweets (see what I did there?) is that Jimmy kicked ass all up and down the court —

A lot of Minnesota players left Timberwolves practice today energized by Butler's performance, mesmerized with him taking end-of-the-bench players and running the table on the regulars, sources said. At the end, he marched out like if a mic drop. Butler delivered a tour de force.

— While verbally challenging (and besting) teammates Wiggins and Towns, as well as coaches and team executives who were present, throughout the session.

At one point in a scrimmage, sources said, Butler turned to GM Scott Layden and screamed, "You (bleeping) need me. You can't win without me." Butler left teammates and coaches largely speechless. He dominated the gym in every way. Jimmy's back.

Reports say Butler left the facility without staying to talk to anyone or to stretch with the team.

The Minnesota Timberwolves organization is in trouble.

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