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Last week, Butler turned down a four-year, $110 million max contract extension offer from the Wolves. While that does not definitively mean he is not going to stay in Minnesota long-term, it also clearly is not a good sign for the team. Butler can opt out of his current contract at the end of this season and become a free agent. All signs point toward him doing so. Because max-level salaries are tied to the salary cap, Butler is betting on himself and looking for a bigger payday down the road. Next summer, the Wolves could still offer Butler more money at that point than any other suitor (five years, $188 million versus four years, $140 million), but he would also be an unrestricted free agent with an opportunity to play wherever he would like.
Butler’s contract situation makes this season incredibly important for the Timberwolves. The Wolves did not make any major splashes in free agency (unless swapping Nemanja Bjelica for Anthony Tolliver really floats your boat), so they are essentially running back the same roster as last year minus Jamal Crawford. If Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins do not make significant improvements, and if the team does not get production out of young players like Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop and Justin Patton, there is not going to be incentive for Jimmy Butler to stay other than one additional year of financial security on his contract. As we have seen multiple times in recent years with stars like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Kevin Durant, and here in Minnesota with Kevin Love, that extra financial incentive is often not enough to retain a star if the player is not in love with his current basketball situation.
I am torn on this issue. I appreciate Jimmy Butler’s work ethic and what he represents on the basketball court and in the locker room. However, an important aspect of leadership is creating an inclusive atmosphere, and it is obvious that Butler is not going out of his way to build any kind of positive rapport with Towns, Wiggins and the other young players on the Wolves. He takes thinly-veiled shots at them in the media and grouses on the court when they make mistakes. While those actions are understandable from a human perspective, they are not what the Wolves need from their de facto leader. I feel like Jimmy Butler could be doing more to connect his teammates if he were truly interested in building something positive in Minnesota.
With the NBA’s already-brutal western conference only getting stronger with the arrival of LeBron James in Los Angeles, the Wolves are going to need to play significantly better this year if they want to improve on last season’s cup of coffee in the playoffs. I do not know what it would take to convince Jimmy Butler to stay with the Wolves, but I am guessing another eighth seed and first-round drubbing at the hands of the Warriors/Rockets/Lakers will not get it done. Head coach Tom Thibodeau needs to find a way to get his players to connect in a positive way this season or else Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns are going to sign elsewhere over the next two summers. If that happens, it would relegate the Wolves back to the perennial draft lottery cycle they were stuck in since Kevin Garnett left town in 2004. I cannot imagine a more depressing scenario for Wolves fans.
Drama looms over Wolves off season
The 2017-18 season was a major success for the Minnesota Timberwolves. After adding all-star wing Jimmy Butler in a draft night trade, they improved their record by 16 wins and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. However, things were not quite as rosy as they seemed on the surface. Butler’s old-school, no-nonsense personality did not mesh well with the team’s young core – particularly Karl-Anthony Towns – and now it appears the Wolves may be at an impasse.
By Andy Thayer