Jimmy Butler is at it again. The former Bulls superstar is making his unhappiness with his teammates known very loudly. Him and Dwyane Wade famously created a rift in the Bulls locker room two years ago when they teamed up to call into question both the intensity with which Fred Hoiberg coached, and the commitment that they were receiving from their younger teammates.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski penned an article Sunday detailing a “clear the air” meeting Butler and former Bulls coach turned Timberwolves Coach/President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau were set to have. The meeting is supposed to “set the tone” for the Wolves 18-19 season. If Butler’s history is any indication, this is not a good meeting to be having. With free agency looming, and the Western Conference as difficult as ever, this may be a last-ditch attempt to salvage a relationship that appears to be coming to a rapid end.
This is certainly not what Thibodeau and the Wolves had in mind when they traded Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn to the Bulls on Draft Day 2017 in exchange for the services of Butler. At the time, the move was much maligned by critics everywhere. Everywhere you looked the Bulls were being criticized for either not receiving enough for their superstar, or for initiating a rebuild that should not have been initiated. The Wolves felt that in trading for Butler they were putting themselves on the map in the treacherous Western Conference, and that with top picks Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns in the fold, Butler would elevate them into the league’s elite. But a year later, the narrative of the trade seems to have flipped entirely on its head.
Butler is preparing to face Thibodeau, presumably to air his grievances against his young teammates. While the Wolves surely hoped Butler would instill into his young teammates some of the hard-nosed, grinding defense on which he made his name in the NBA, it has not worked out that way as both Wiggins and Towns failed to take noticeable steps on the defensive end of the court this past season. While Tom Thibodeau’s famously aggressive and brutal practices may have resulted in some wonderful years for Bulls fans, it appears his approach is teetering on backfiring in Minnesota. It was even reported by Wojnarowski that Wolves owner Glen Taylor is second guessing his decision to give Thibodeau full control over the roster to the point of nearly firing him this off-season.
The Wolves are at a crossroads, and their handling of Butler and the locker room environment he seems to create could dictate the next decade of Minnesota basketball. Should Wiggins and Towns continue to fail in their progression under Thibodeau and clash with Butler, the Wolves risk remaining in the basketball hell they tried desperately to escape with the Butler trade.
Meanwhile in Chicago, the narrative on the trade has changed as well. Markkanen appears to be a piece the team can build around moving forward, Kris Dunn flashed much of what made him a top five pick in 2016, and the Front Office still felt strong enough conviction in Zach LaVine despite a down year while recovering from ACL surgery, to extend him for north of $75 million. Some of the same young players that drew the ire of Butler, such as Cam Payne, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis took large strides this past season with Butler removed from the equation. The locker room in Chicago has been a much happier place sans Butler, and now appears to be something people are happy to be part of.
Whether or not the three players acquired for Butler will ever be the core of the next Bulls championship team is still up in the air. But what is clear now is that Jimmy Butler is a locker room cancer that the Bulls were fortunate to rid themselves of. As much talent as Butler brings to the table, he needs all of his teammates to demonstrate what he views as appropriate work ethic, or else he will create a rift in the locker room that cannot be repaired. Just as he has done in Minnesota, just as he did in Chicago. The development of this young Bulls core is something Bulls fans can look forward to, and as Butler prepares his inevitable Minnesota departure, be thankful the Bulls pulled the trigger at the right time. Had the Bulls not pulled the trigger on the Butler deal at the right time, they can look no further than the Timberwolves debacle to get an alternate reality version of what would have been in Chicago.
Follow David Wildman on Twitter–Feature Photo Credit: ESPN.com
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