MINNEAPOLIS – Just like last season, Jimmy Butler and the Minnesota Timberwolves traveled to San Antonio for their opener.
After all the disruption caused by Butler’s trade request that became public a week before training camp began, no deal has been made. So the four-time All-Star will be on the court facing off against the Spurs with his Timberwolves teammates on Wednesday, no matter the awkwardness and tension that might be lingering.
“I’m planning on playing him, and if he feels good he’ll be ready to go,” Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau said after an abbreviated practice on Tuesday, before the team departed for the airport for the trip.
Butler has only participated in four days of on-court workouts with the team, starting with his raucous appearance a week ago. Thibodeau canceled practice the following day, and Butler did not accompany the team to the preseason game on Friday because of what was officially announced as rehabilitation for his right hand that was surgically repaired in July.
After another day off for the team, Butler was back at it with the rest of the Wolves on Sunday and made available for questions afterward to local reporters for the first time. His first public comments on his status came in an ESPN interview a few hours after his demonstrative arrival last week.
“They want me to go out here and hoop to the best of my abilities,” Butler said. “Make sure I’m healthy, compete, because that’s what I love to do, and do it for the guys in the same jerseys as me.”
Whether the guys in the same jerseys are happy to have him around while simultaneously wanting out, well, that depends on the guy. Fellow All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns was clipped in his replies to questions about Butler’s presence.
“Having his talent on the court is going to give us a lot to work with,” Towns said on Monday. “We’re doing the best we can to make that adjustment and make sure that everyone’s comfortable.”
Newcomer Anthony Tolliver delved a little deeper into the topic of Butler on Tuesday.
“He’s going to say some words, but even if he doesn’t say a word, he’s a leader. He’s someone you can look at and say, `All right, I can rock with you,’ because I know what your intentions are,” Tolliver said. “Just being around him the last 10 days or whatever it’s been, I can tell instantly what type of impact he has on this team.”
There’s no doubt about getting Butler’s best on the court, at least, for as long as he’s still with the Wolves.
“It’s not in his DNA to slack,” Tolliver said.
The Wolves lost four of their five preseason games, allowing an average of 123.8 points per game. Meaningless exhibition or not, their performance left much to be desired while the Butler saga swirled around the team.
“We did not take preseason as seriously as we should have. That’s all of our faults. I’m not going to blame it on one or two people or three or four,” Tolliver said. “We should have just approached it a lot better. We didn’t, but we can’t control that now. All we can control is today, tomorrow and the future.”
Who knows whether Butler, who can become a free agent next summer, will continue to be a part of that?
“Everything’s fluid,” Thibodeau said. “We’re always looking to improve the club any way we can.”