For the past few decades, Timberwolves employees have tried to ascertain the origin of the team’s curse. The guesses range from the traditional (Target Center was built on an ancient burial ground) to the anecdotal (the Legend of Joey Two-Step).
In the early years of the franchise, the Wolves heard about an old guy who breakdanced in local clubs. They hired him to entertain at games.
Joey drew cheers, then made unwanted advances on female employees. The team fired him. He said: “No one fires Joey Two-Step. I am placing a hex on you.”
Joey Two-Step might have been the worst thing to ever happen to the Minnesota Timberwolves, until they experienced The Curse of Jimmy Two-Face.
Jimmy Butler calls himself a leader while proving he is not.
He calls himself a winner while trying to force a trade from a talented playoff team to any one of a handful of terrible teams.
Butler casts himself as a tough guy, yet he staged a two-act play on Wednesday that allowed him to avoid tough questions from local media.
Butler professes an admiration for Tom Thibodeau while destroying Thibs’ career.
The curse has become a contagion, the Wolves are once again an NBA punch line, and this is sad for any local who loves basketball.
The Wolves arrived at this post-apocalyptic hellscape by trying desperately to build a winner in a sensible if ill-fated way. Owner Glen Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, hired the most accomplished and expensive coach available, in Tom Thibodeau, and Thibodeau traded for the best player he could have possibly acquired, in Butler. Both moves were justifiable, even admirable, at the time, for an owner and coach who wanted to win now.
I wouldn’t begrudge Butler chasing the largest possible contract and playing in a city where he wants to live if he hadn’t sold himself as someone who cares most about winning. Listening to Butler talk about leadership is like listening to the “Duck Dynasty” crew talk about fashion.
Maybe Thibodeau didn’t know enough about Wolves history to understand the downside of faith. In their 30-year history, the Timberwolves have edged toward excellence three times, and three times they have been repelled by a gale-force ego.
In 1998, Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury led the Wolves to the playoffs, prompting Charles Barkley to predict greatness for the duo. Marbury decided he didn’t want to share the ball or the fame. He wound up in China.
In 2004, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, fresh off helping the Wolves to the Western Conference finals, realized that they were not going to reap massive financial rewards, trudged through their last season with Minnesota and got Flip Saunders fired.
In 2018, the Wolves prepared to improve on their first winning season in 14 years, and Butler became the former Bull in the china shop, reducing an entire franchise’s ambitions to dust.
Butler fooled Thibodeau into thinking Butler was an ally. Thibodeau misled Taylor, telling him that Butler could improve the character of the franchise. There is plenty of blame to go around, but only Butler misrepresented who he was.
Now the Wolves have no choice but to trade him, and now we know that they should have traded him this summer.
On Thursday, the Wolves canceled their scheduled practice and media availability, a day after Butler acted the fool during practice. They should have used that time to inject urgency into their trade talks.
Other teams won’t care much that Butler is disruptive in Minnesota. Pat Riley and James Harden aren’t afraid to work with someone who didn’t fit in elsewhere.
The greatest risk to the Wolves is that they will allow Butler to practice and play with them, and the knee injury that kept him from finishing last year’s playoffs will reoccur, preventing a trade and allowing Butler to leave next summer without the Wolves receiving any compensation.
It’s time for Taylor and Thibs to sideline Butler until they can trade him, time for them to take control of their franchise. Butler shouldn’t wear a Wolves jersey again.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org