Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Cooler, where you can’t win without me. Let’s get to it:
It’s one of those single-subject days here because, really, what else is there to talk about aside from what transpired with Jimmy Butler on Wednesday?
Given everything we know about about Butler’s stated desire for a trade and his scorched earth return to practice, let’s let five scenarios play out:
*The logical conclusion: Butler gets his wish soon and is traded by the end of the weekend, in time to join a new team — presumably the Miami Heat — by the start of the regular season.
The Wolves already canceled practice Thursday — they had been scheduled for a session this morning before leaving for Milwaukee, where they have their final preseason game Friday — so maybe something is in the works?
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau agrees to the deal somewhat grudgingly, but even he comes to realize that Butler’s presence is going to be problematic. The Wolves get a decent return, centered around wing Josh Richardson, and try to move forward building around Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. This is probably what should have happened a while ago, but better late than never?
*The uncomfortable compromise: The Wolves continue to play hardball even while being earnest about making a deal, and Butler remains on the roster as they head into the start of the regular season. Butler dials back his intensity, or at least doesn’t go running to ESPN every time he wants to rip Towns and Wiggins, understanding that being a constant pain in the butt might not be a marketable skill other teams covet in a trade.
A contending team gets off to a slow start and makes a move for Butler sometime between now and the trade deadline. In the mean time, Butler plays and probably helps the Wolves on the court — but makes Towns and Wiggins either mad, uncomfortable or both in the process. Target Center is a chorus of nightly boos, even in victory.
*More gasoline on the fire, Part I: Butler continues to pull his same routine. Rachel Nichols has presumably left Minneapolis, so he probably doesn’t get to do another ESPN miniseries, but he stays visible enough to completely overshadow anything else going on with this team in an attempt to force the Wolves’ hand. The Wolves respond by either paying Butler to sit out while they shop him or they find a reason to suspend him in an attempt to regain some control and leverage. But the situation overall gets uglier and nobody is really happy.
*More gasoline on the fire, Part II: Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, evaluates the entire situation and how it has played out. He takes control of trading Butler and gets a deal done with Miami very quickly. But he doesn’t stop there, firing Thibodeau and perhaps GM Scott Layden on the eve of the start of the season while naming Ryan Saunders, son of Flip, as interim head coach. That would be a bit of scorched earth and would throw a lot of things about the direction of the franchise into question, but it could happen and might buy a certain measure of good will with Wolves fans.
*The conspiracy theory: There won’t be a trade because there was never going to be a trade. Everything that has happened in the last three weeks was a ruse concocted by Thibodeau and Butler in order to get Towns to sign his contract extension — which he agreed to, if you’ll recall, basically on the same day it was reported that the Wolves were on the same page about moving Butler. They made it look like they actually tried to trade Butler in order to not rouse KAT’s suspicion, but when the time was right — Wednesday, with a few practices and one preseason game left before the season starts — Butler returned and lit up practice while Thibs smiled.
It should be noted that I don’t believe this last thing, but I also don’t think anything in the NBA soap opera is out of the question.