It seems that coach Tom Thibodeau, a former Celtics assistant, can’t seem to create a happy environment with the Timberwolves, and that starts with All-Star forward Jimmy Butler.
Butler reportedly requested a trade this past week with Thibodeau, who is also team president, and listed the Clippers, Nets, and Knicks as his preferences.
Butler wants to sign a maximum contract with his next team, and he made it clear to Thibodeau he isn’t interested in playing another season alongside Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The Timberwolves traded three prospects to the Bulls to get Butler last offseason, hoping he would galvanize a young team that is talented but wildly inconsistent.
Instead, Butler tried leading in his grinding way, and it didn’t translate well with Towns or Wiggins. Towns, as gifted as he is, is gaining a reputation for taking too long to develop into a superstar, although he reached the All-Star Game last season.
Wiggins, a former No. 1 overall pick, has long been labeled as lacking passion and desire, instead relying too much on his immense skill. After averaging 23.6 points the season before Butler arrived, Wiggins averaged 17.7 points last season, and that dipped to 15.8 during the first-round playoff series against the Rockets.
It seems that Wiggins is the biggest target of Butler’s ire because of his lack of improvement. And Thibodeau, along with team owner Glen Taylor, have to decide whether to appease Butler with a deal or hold onto him into the regular season.
Butler, 29, is considered a second-tier superstar, meaning he doesn’t quite compare with LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry. Butler may not get better in the coming years, but he still wants to take advantage of his free agency by signing a max deal with a team that has a chance to win.
It’s not that Butler wants to be the central figure, but he does desire to pair with another superstar. That’s why the Timberwolves acquired Butler, but he is a personality that may not blend well with younger players.
In Chicago, Butler and Dwyane Wade criticized the work ethic of the team’s younger players, while Rajon Rondo praised the youngsters’ enthusiasm and called out Butler and Wade for their lack of leadership.
So if the Timberwolves do deal Butler, they risk another rebuilding plan. Jamal Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract — and he remains the most marketable free agent available — because he was unhappy with the situation in Minnesota.
It seems Minnesota has been cursed since Kevin Garnett was traded to the Celtics. The organization has undergone at least five rebuilding plans in the last 10 years, have two No. 1 overall picks on its roster, along with other lottery picks, and can’t seem to find success or continuity.
Thibodeau was given the keys to the organization to help raise the Timberwolves to consistent contender status, and he added Butler for veteran seasoning. Now Butler wants out and it may be time to start over again for Thibodeau.
Meanwhile, Towns is eligible to sign a maximum extension in the coming weeks and the Timberwolves could have two major investments in players who may not be front-line stars. Butler may have noticed that and decided it’s time to get out.
Johnson’s Lakers have potential
Like many NBA teams, the Lakers have started to gather for pickup games. But these workouts have been more publicized than most because they include LeBron James, who signed a four-year deal with Los Angeles this offseason.
Two interested observers have been team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka, who drew some criticism this summer by signing mercurial personalities such as Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, and Michael Beasley.
Johnson, who staked his reputation on signing a premium free agent, and then landed James, has been impressed with how the new Lakers are blending with the returning ones.
“It’s something to watch,” he said. “I’ve watched LeBron from afar, I’ve been at many games, but to watch him in the gym is a whole different thing. How much he makes everybody better, but also how he raises everybody’s level of play. His basketball I.Q. and his leadership ability. It was all on display. Same thing with Rondo. The guy can create shots for his teammates and he’s smart, and it was just really a joy to watch all our players to go up and down and play.”
How will the Lakers fare this season in the competitive Western Conference? It will depend on how quickly the team meshes, how much responsibility James will have to bear, and how quickly the younger core of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram will improve and become more reliable.
This could be viewed as a transition year for the Lakers because, on paper, they do not have the talent of the Warriors and Rockets, or even perhaps the Thunder and Jazz. Finishing as a fourth or fifth seed may be James’s greatest feat.
“I’m cheering for him to bring us back to the promised land,” Johnson said. “I know we will struggle in the beginning because so many guys haven’t played with each other, don’t know each other. As I was talking to Luke [Walton, the coach], we said don’t worry about it if we get off to a bad start. You’re going to struggle because there’s so many new parts.
“I haven’t been this excited in a long time. We should be excited. We brought in champions. That’s what our young players needed. The right type of veterans to help them understand how to prepare for a season, for a game, and how to prepare for the playoffs.”
Rondo has become an integral part of the Lakers’ development. At 32, he still feels he’s a starter, and he’ll push Ball, last year’s second overall pick, for the starting job. The Lakers are hoping that Rondo will become a role model for Ball. In the last few years, Rondo has set aside his ego and bonded with younger players in Chicago and New Orleans.
“My main thing this offseason is how do we get somebody to mentor Lonzo?” Johnson said. “And we got the right mentor because Rondo, his basketball I.Q. is off the charts, and he’s in such great condition, too.”
Ball is facing pressure in his second season. Picks in his class, such as the Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell and the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, led their teams to the playoffs as rookies. Ball, meanwhile, was inconsistent and missed the final month after requiring knee surgery.
In the offseason, the Lakers asked Ball to get in the weight room and work on his jump shot.
“The good thing about Lonzo is he started early,” Johnson said. “We asked him to get stronger and he put in the time. He wanted to watch film. It can’t be us asking him to do that. He had to want it for himself. His shot has looked great. He’s going to be ready to have a breakout season and to build on what he did last season.
“We want him to drive it to the basket and finish. I’m excited for Lonzo and he’s going to be fine.”
Pelinka said Ball has been cleared to participate in five-on-five workouts but there is no timetable for a return to games.
“With all our multiple ballhandlers, he’s going to have to be ready to play off the ball and catch and shoot, so he has worked hard on that,” Pelinka said. “So we have seen advancements on all things.”
Johnson said he has no regrets about signing so many strong personalties who could affect chemistry if they don’t get enough minutes or shots. Johnson is trusting that James will be the leader and locker room policeman, while Rondo, McGee, Stephenson, and Beasley will cooperate to help foster a winning environment.
“Rondo’s still a champion, and you saw what he did for New Orleans last season,” Johnson said. “We’re excited to have Lance because he’s been great out there. We don’t care about what happened in the past. They know what they need to do. They know how to act as a professional. We don’t want nobody to change. We haven’t had a JaVale [type of center] around here for a long time.”
Said Pelinka: “This group of guys is as competitive as you can imagine. The gene of being a competitive individual is something that gets multiplied when you have competitive guys in the gym. What we’ve seen early, when you have LeBron, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, the gene of being competitive starts feeding off and it blows up exponentially.”
Pelinka and Johnson are taking a big chance, but Pelinka said that’s the only chance they have to unseat the Warriors in the coming years.
“A lot people have said this is one of the deepest rosters in the NBA, and that is an extreme strength for us,” he said. “If you look at the road to winning a championship, there’s obviously a dominant team that’s been in the Finals the last four years and won three. You have no shot at beating them unless you’re deep and you come at them in waves.”
Pelinka described a morning recently when he walked into the gym and saw James already there, waiting for his teammates and coaches to arrive for a workout.
“He sat in a folding chair underneath all the banners,” Pelinka said. “You have to think he was reflecting on the history of the Lakers and the great players and the championships and the respect he had for all of the numbers that are retired on the wall, and now thinking it’s his turn to etch his name in this storybook franchise.”
Mavs’ misconduct detailed in report
Following a Sports Illustrated story in February that detailed alleged workplace misconduct by members of the Mavericks, the NBA hired an independent investigator to look into the organization.
The investigator’s report exposed the Mavericks as being insensitive to the victims, while being slow to address the concerns of female employees, and continuing to employ those responsible, including ex-team president Terdema Ussery, who remained on the job years after the allegations.
As part of the NBA’s penalty, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was instructed to contribute $10 million to women’s causes.
The report recommended: increasing the number of women on staff, including in leadership positions; enhancing formal reporting processes for victims of misconduct; implementing regular anonymous employee surveys to evaluate workplace culture; and expanding and improving the Mavericks’ human resources department and instituting clear protocols for investigating workplace misconduct.
Additionally, the NBA is requiring the Mavericks to: provide the league office with quarterly reports regarding the recommendations set forth in the report and their implementation; immediately report to the league office any instances or allegations of significant misconduct by any employee; continually enhance and update annual “Respect in the Workplace” training for all staff, including ownership; and implement a program to train all staff, including ownership, on issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual harassment.
Said commissioner Adam Silver: “The findings of the independent investigation are disturbing and heartbreaking and no employee in the NBA, or any workplace for that matter, should be subject to the type of working environment described in the report. We appreciate that Mark Cuban reacted swiftly, thoroughly, and transparently to the allegations first set forth in Sports Illustrated — including the immediate hiring of Cynthia Marshall as CEO to effect change, but as Mark has acknowledged, he is ultimately responsible for the culture and conduct of his employees. While nothing will undo the harm caused by a select few former employees of the Mavericks, the workplace reforms and the $10 million that Mark has agreed to contribute are important steps toward rectifying this past behavior and shining a light on a pervasive societal failing — the inability of too many organizations to provide a safe and welcoming workplace for women.”
The NBA is cracking down on any hint of domestic violence by players or in the workplace. The league and players’ union passed a new domestic violence policy in the latest collective bargaining agreement.
Perhaps Jimmy Butler’s trade request would be viewed differently if the Timberwolves had gotten more out of the deal with the Bulls. Minnesota was able to get back a first-round pick and took Creighton center Justin Patton, who played one game last season because of a broken foot. Well, he broke the same foot in recent workouts, underwent surgery, and is out indefinitely.
The Timberwolves meanwhile, sent prospects Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, and Zach LaVine to Chicago for Butler and the rights to Patton. The Timberwolves passed on Justin Allen, John Collins, and Kyle Kuzma to take Patton in the 2017 draft . . . By naming former No. 1 overall pick Elton Brand their GM, the 76ers offered hope for ex-players to gain front office positions without waiting a long time. Brand retired after the 2016 season, in which he served as more of a player-assistant coach with the 76ers, before becoming GM of the team’s G-League affiliate. There has been a perception among former players that they have been edged out of front office opportunities by candidates with more analytical backgrounds. The fact that Brand was given a GM position before his 40th birthday is a testament to his talent and potential. Brand’s basketball acumen is high and he gets a chance to run a team that could be challenging in the Eastern Conference for years. The 76ers conducted an intense search after firing Bryan Colangelo for a series of tweets criticizing players that were linked to his wife. And while he was once a candidate for the 76ers GM position, Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren appears ready to stay in Boston for the long term, which is a relief to president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
The Celtics will have some hard decisions to make with guard Terry Rozier up for an extension in the coming weeks, followed by Kyrie Irving and Al Horford likely opting out of the final year of their contracts, which would make them free agents next summer . . . The Pelicans waived center Emeka Okafor, after he returned from four seasons off to serve as a backup to Anthony Davis, but the 76ers signed Okafor to their training camp roster Friday. He appeared in 26 games with New Orleans last season. The Pelicans signed Jahlil Okafor, a former No. 3 overall pick, giving him another chance to crack an NBA rotation.