Until recently, reading reports of the friction between Jimmy Butler and the Wolves has felt like the dirtiest type of eavesdropping. The fracturing relationship between Jimmy and Tom Thibodeau, whom I’ve always thought of as brothers in monomania. The sudden demise of an interesting team capable of taking a sizable step forward in 2019. The Karl-Anthony Towns love triangle rumor. It’s engrossing stuff, but it’s all kind of a downer. I like the idea of Butler joining the Heat or the Clippers just fine, but I was eager to see him try to make it work in Minnesota for at least another season, in a front of a long-suffering fan base that would massively appreciate a 50-plus win season. That dream has been inundated with toilet water for a few weeks now. Butler appears dead-set on leaving the Twin Cities.
Obviously, we don’t know what will happen until it happens. It seems like there’s a fundamental disagreement between Thibodeau and owner Glen Taylor about whether or not Butler can be calmed down and convinced to stay, but also, uh:
All-Star Jimmy Butler participated in Minnesota's practice, a session that included him verbally challenging teammates, coaches and front office, league sources told ESPN. Butler was vociferous and emotional at times, targeting Thibodeau/Layden/Towns/Wiggins. Story soon on ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 10, 2018
And, okay, wow:
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.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 10, 2018
We’ve blessedly reached the point in this story where things have gotten hilarious. Butler has always been an eccentric—he once removed the rearview mirror from his car because, I kid you not, he never looks back—which most folks chalk up to his extremely difficult upbringing. To make it out of deeply lousy circumstances, maybe it helps to be a little bit crazy. That is not, unfortunately, a trait that makes you a fun person to work with, and it turns out we all might have underestimated the sprawling extent of Butler’s wild hardheadedness. As one NBA GM recently put it: “everywhere he goes, it becomes about Jimmy.” As Butler himself might say: “GRRRRRRAAAAHHHHH!”
To be fair to Jimmy, he’s justifiably frustrated. He carried subpar Bulls squads for years, then forced a trade to the Wolves, who were supposed to be young upstarts, maybe even fringe title contenders, and they weren’t that at all last season, consistently choking away games in the fourth quarter and playing shockingly bad team defense. Karl-Anthony Towns, hailed as recently as last summer as a kind of evolutionary Chris Webber, one of the most desirable franchise cornerstones around, didn’t deliver on the hype as he struggled to figure out his role alongside the ball dominant Butler. Jimmy’s a borderline top ten talent who recently turned 29, is entering a contract year, and has never played for a winner. He’d like to see that happen before he ages out of his prime, and he thinks that’s an impossibility in Minnesota.
So that’s the rational aspect of why he showed up for work rabid on Wednesday, why he cussed out his general manager and did his best to turn his teammates to ash on the practice court. It doesn’t fully explain going I Will Show You The Life of the Mind! on, like, Tyus Jones, but Jimmy is a tiny bit in the right and this is obviously part of a ploy to act so obnoxiously that the Wolves are forced to trade him.
The question, now, is who would do so. Minnesota tried to send him to the Heat, but that deal fell apart over the past weekend due either to Miami’s unwillingness to take on Gorgui Dieng’s bloated contract, their inability to get a decent draft pick for Dion Waiters in a three-way swap, or some late-in-the-game alteration of terms by the Wolves. At any rate, the Heat didn’t go out of their way to get the trade done. The Wolves and Rockets have reportedly kicked around some ideas in recent days, but Daryl Morey doesn’t want to give up both Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker, so those talks have cooled too.
In other words, Jimmy Butler’s trade value is pretty damn low at the moment, due both to the desperate situation his public unhappiness has put Minnesota in and the fact that GMs around the league are probably deeply skeptical about adding him to their locker room. If you’re, say, the Brooklyn Nets, you have the assets to tempt the Wolves and the available money to re-sign Butler, but why bother, even if he wants to come, shelling out much of anything for a player who might lose his cool in the middle of a five-game losing streak and detonate your squad’s morale? There’s a non-zero risk of him unhinging his jaw and devouring D’Angelo Russell whole, which Sean Marks would likely factor into any offer he made.
It doesn’t totally matter where Butler ends up anymore. The main thing about this saga is not what the new-look Heat (or whoever) will look like once they add him to their roster, or how the Wolves are going to navigate the season with an intensely miserable starting wing in tow. This is now more about Jimmy Butler crossing some blood-red rubicon into Latrell Sprewell territory than anything else. He’s been prickly; he’s been odd, but this is next-level psychosis, the likes of which we rarely see from the league’s very best players, who are mostly savvy and well-behaved these days. We didn’t realize how starved we were for an old-fashioned superstar tantrum until Jimmy Butler breezed into practice late, torched his teammates, and walked out with metaphorical (and perhaps literal) double birds held high. Jimmy’s back, and so is a long-dead brand of NBA lunacy.