NEW YORK — As the Minnesota Timberwolves front office tells inquiring rivals that the franchise has no plans to trade All-Star forward Jimmy Butler, owner Glen Taylor had a different message for owners and executives at the NBA’s board of governors meetings: Butler is available, and prospective suitors should contact Taylor himself should they struggle to make progress with general manager Scott Layden, sources told ESPN.
The growing disconnect between Minnesota’s ownership and front office has created an impression for opposing teams that a showdown between Taylor and Tom Thibodeau, the Wolves’ president of basketball operations and head coach, looms as an increasingly plausible conclusion to Butler’s trade request.
“The owner’s trading him,” one board of governors attendee told ESPN on Friday. “That was made clear. It’s just a matter of when.”
“He basically said, ‘If you don’t get anywhere with [Layden] and you’ve got something good, bring it to me,'” another high-ranking league official told ESPN.
Taylor declined comment to ESPN on Friday as he left the midtown Manhattan hotel that hosted the league’s meetings.
Many of those attending the board of governors meetings are convinced that Taylor and top team business officials don’t want a prolonged saga with Butler, preferring to move him to a new team sooner than later.
Thibodeau — who oversees Layden, the point person on trade talks with outside GMs — wants to hold on to Butler and navigate the season with him. If Thibodeau is destined to get fired at season’s end, those familiar with his thinking say he would rather do so reaching the playoffs for a second consecutive year with the benefit of Butler on the roster. The idea of missing the postseason in the aftermath of a trade that leaves the Timberwolves devoid of a short-term, comparable talent to Butler, a four-time All-NBA forward, is fully unappealing to Thibodeau.
Meanwhile, Taylor has far less of a stomach for a dysfunctional season of feuding among Butler, All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns and forward Andrew Wiggins and the damage that will do to the franchise’s image, league sources said. The franchise’s business operations want to limit the sullying of what had been until now a successful marketing campaign around the franchise’s starry young core, league sources said.
Taylor has overseen high-profile Minnesota stars getting traded in the past, including Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love. He plans to do so again with Butler, who has informed Taylor and Thibodeau that he will leave Minnesota in free agency after the upcoming season, sources said.
Butler has clashed with Towns and Wiggins as teammates, league sources said. Butler and Wiggins’ tension played out on social media in recent days.
The 29-year-old Butler prefers a trade to the LA Clippers and has a strong interest with the New York Knicks as well as an interest with the Brooklyn Nets, league sources said. Those three teams have the salary-cap space to sign Butler outright next summer to a maximum contract extension. Those three teams — and many more around the league — could be willing to trade for Butler now under the right circumstances, league sources said.
Butler is eligible for a five-year, $190 million contract extension with the Wolves or with a team that acquires him in a trade. He can sign a four-year, $141 million deal with a new team.
He told Thibodeau that he would like to be traded before reporting for Timberwolves media day Monday, league sources said.
The Clippers have two max contract slots available in July. They are emerging as a front-runner for Kawhi Leonard when Toronto‘s All-NBA forward becomes a free agent in July, league sources said. The Nets’ ability to sign two max free agents in the summer will keep them in consideration for Butler, but he has prioritized the Clippers and Knicks over them, league sources said.
In any circumstance, Butler wants a trade to a team that plans to sign him to the five-year, maximum contract in the summer, and his list could expand based on the Timberwolves’ and rival teams’ willingness to negotiate a trade, league sources said.
Butler will join a free-agent class that could include Leonard, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan and Kemba Walker. The market for Butler will likely be the five-year, $190 million maximum extension that could come with a trade to a new team, which means a team would be committing $40 million-plus annually to Butler as he reaches his mid-30s.
Butler, a four-time All-Star, is one of the league’s elite two-way players. He averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game for the Timberwolves last season.