With the Timberwolves being one of the more youthful talent-rich teams in the Western Conference, this matchup was going to garner plenty of attention to begin with.
Karl-Anthony Towns is among the top big men in the sport, averaging a double-double in each of his first three NBA seasons, while Canadian Andrew Wiggins always generates buzz when he plays the Raptors. That it’s occurring in the midst of all this Jimmy Butler drama, however, adds an extra layer of intrigue.
So, to get you caught up before Wednesday’s game — for all we know it could be Butler’s last with Minnesota — here’s a brief timeline of Butler’s tumultuous tenure with the Timberwolves.
June 22, 2017
Butler was reunited with Tom Thibodeau after being acquired by Minnesota in a draft day deal with Chicago.
The Timberwolves sent the seventh-overall pick, plus Kris Dunn and superdunker Zach LaVine to the Bulls for Butler and the 16th pick. Butler was easily the best player in the deal and the fit was ideal as Thibodeau was Butler’s coach on the Bulls from 2011 to 2015.
Things were looking up for the Timberwolves and, overall, Butler’s first year with the team was rather successful on the court. He led the team with 22.2 points per game and was an all-star selection for a fourth consecutive season. He even decided to sit out of the 2018 NBA All-Star Game because he wanted to rest his body in preparation for Minnesota’s stretch run. He also missed a chunk of the second half of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a meniscus in his right knee.
The Timberwolves ended up making the playoffs as the No. 8 seed but lost an opening-round series to the Rockets in five games, during which Butler averaged 15.8 points in 34.1 minutes per game.
July 13, 2018
Following the season, Butler reportedly turned down a four-year contract extension worth more than $100 million. Team owner Glen Taylor confirmed the lucrative offer to ESPN 1500, saying: “They said, ‘You guys have done everything and we’re very appreciative, but our bet is that we should wait ’til next year and we could get ourselves a better deal.’ … We did everything we could, and they want to do what they think is right for Jimmy.”
Multiple reports surfaced indicating Butler had requested a trade. His preferred destinations at the time were reportedly the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers.
One day after the trade request reports surfaced, Andrew Wiggins’ brother, Nick Wiggins, took an online jab at Butler by quote-tweeting the original report and writing one simple word: Hallelujah.
Butler noticed and responded in an Instagram story video then, for some reason, former NBA star Stephen Jackson got involved and it became a whole thing.
With rumours swirling and new ones popping up each day, one report suggested Thibodeau would rather leave the team than trade Butler for “young, rebuilding-type pieces.” Team general manager Scott Layden is also hesitant to trade Butler, yet team owner Glen Taylor continues to push for his team to make a deal.
In the following days, the Miami Heat, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, Portland Trail Blazers and Detroit Pistons emerged as potential suitors for Butler. During this time, the Heat emerged as Butler’s preferred destination and the Timberwolves were reportedly seeking a package that included forward Josh Richardson, centre Bam Adebayo, a first-round pick, while also wanting to unload Gorgui Dieng’s contract.
With Butler continuing to sit out as his team prepared for the upcoming regular season, Thibodeau spoke with reporters and said trade discussions were ongoing and that “we’re trying to do what’s best for the team.”
This is when things really picked up. Butler returned to practice where he reportedly caused a scene by embarrassing and dominating his teammates during a scrimmage, at one point turning to Layden and yelling, “You [expletive] need me! You can’t win without me!”
Butler corroborated many of the reports in a sit-down interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, saying: “All my emotion came out at one time. Was it the right way to do it? No. But I can’t control that when I’m out there competing. That’s my love of the game. That’s raw me. Me at my finest, me at my purest. That’s what you’re going to get inside the lines.”
Butler seemed pessimistic when asked if the situation with him and the team could be fixed.
The outburst even inspired a funny online game.
On the eve of his team’s regular-season debut, Taylor said in a lengthy interview with the Star Tribune that he remained committed to trading Butler.
“I think [Butler has] made it very clear that he would not re-sign with us at the end of the year and therefore it is in our interest to get a trade so that we can get a player or two to replace him that helps our team,” Taylor said.
Despite all the drama, Butler was in Minnesota’s starting lineup for the team’s season opener. The four-time NBA All-Defensive Second Team player led his team with 23 points and four steals in a 112-108 loss to the Spurs. Butler followed that up with a game-high 33-point effort in a win over the Cavaliers before sitting out in a loss to the Mavericks then leading his team in scoring yet again with 20 points in a win over the Pacers.