The argument for the Minnesota Timberwolves not making a trade for Jimmy Butler, or any other superstar, was simple: you’re young as hell. Don’t rush this.
But for this price? Why the hell not.
The Chicago Bulls traded Butler and the No. 16 pick for Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick. LaVine’s a low-end starter coming off an ACL injury, Dunn had a disappointing rookie season, and Minnesota even got a first-round pick later in the draft in exchange for the one they gave up. (At No. 7, Chicago took Lauri Markkanen, a player whose name I recently learned is spelled with two K’s and one N, not the other way around. He’s a nice prospect but his ceiling doesn’t seem too high.)
It’s not nothing. Minnesota didn’t add Butler for free, but it was much cheaper than what early reports indicated the Bulls were interested in. The Timberwolves have team control over Butler for two seasons, which made him much more appealing than the other star wing on the open market, Paul George.
That’s why SB Nation’s Timberwolves site Canis Hoopus was so excited.
My immediate take: YES! This is the deal I wanted. As much as I admire Zach LaVine’s dedication, Jimmy Butler is a top-notch player. Pairing him with Karl-Anthony Towns makes for a very exciting future.
It’s time to go win.
This is Tom Thibodeau’s team, and he’s ready to win.
When Thibodeau took over the Timberwolves as head coach and president of basketball operations in 2016, it seemed obvious Minnesota was on the verge of playoff contention. Yet despite lofty expectations, last season wasn’t what the team thought it would be. The Timberwolves struggled — normal young player struggles, but struggles nonetheless — and only won 31 games.
Maybe the Timberwolves shouldn’t rush things given the state of the league, with the Golden State Warriors seemingly running things for at least a few seasons. But with that deal staring Thibodeau in the face, he clearly couldn’t say no.
Jimmy Butler makes the Wolves relevant. He gives them a chance to have two All-NBA players on the roster at the same time for the first time ever. He makes the playoffs not merely a dream for “someday,” but realistic today. The expectations for this group are now higher, and the holdovers on the roster will have to be ready to meet them.
Butler will kill it in Minnesota. He’s a modern star who would fit with anyone, really, but he’ll be especially great reuniting with Thibodeau. He’s a three-point shooter who can play on and off the ball, a three-time All-Defensive team member who can lock down any opponent’s best perimeter player, and really just a chill guy from all accounts. He can run a two-man game with Karl-Anthony Towns and occupy the defense on the opposite side of the floor while Andrew Wiggins breaks down a defender.
The fit with Butler and Wiggins will be the most interesting one. You can never have enough versatile wings, but Wiggins isn’t quite as modern of a player as Butler. You need to get Wiggins the ball for him to be most effective, and he needs it quite a bit. He can definitely score — there’s no doubt about that. But he’s not an elite defender, or passer, or three-point shooter, so whether he factors into Minnesota’s long term plans or becomes expendable might be the biggest question about their immediate future.
The best solution might be aggressively using Wiggins as a power forward while Butler slides to the three in a small-ball approach. (The Bulls should also use Wiggins to beat up second units, which just seems like a no brainer.)
The other thing Butler provides to the Timberwolves is an edge, an attitude. They lost games last season by lacking that, having a bizarre trend of collapsing in the third quarter. Their defense was a bigger problem than the offense, so Butler’s presence should help shore that up.
So ... now what?
The Timberwolves are reportedly still hunting for a Ricky Rubio trade so they can target one of this summer’s point guards. This is the summer to get one, after all. It’s hard to grade the team until that happens.
If they could grab a George Hill or a Kyle Lowry, the Timberwolves would certainly be a near-lock for the postseason. Right now, it’s unclear where they stack up. It depends on how the team comes together, and how the defense improves, and a hundred other things.
But that’s another week or two away. Minnesota made a deal for a top-15 player in this league while giving up a top-80 player (maybe) and two other dudes. They didn’t lose their chance to draft in the first round, falling just nine spots in the pick swap and selecting a high-upside prospect in Justin Patton. They won this trade as soundly as the Romans beat the Carthaginians. Look it up if you don’t get that reference, you not-knowing-your-Punic-War-history-ass self.
Chicago sold low, and the Timberwolves let them. They hopped all over this deal, and now they have themselves a superstar. That’s just smart basketball, and a fantastic way to start the summer.