So. That happened.
In a move that can only be described as surreal, Tom Thibodeau and Scott Layden finally pulled the trigger on their first trade since taking over the Wolves in April 2016, sending Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the 7th pick (which became Lauri Markkanen, the stretch four from Arizona) for Jimmy Butler and the 16th pick (which became Justin Patton, the raw center from Creighton; more on him in a minute).
Like, what? I don’t really even know where to begin.
I guess to start off, this trade was a fleecing for the Wolves. Butler instantly gives the team a shot a making the playoffs for the first time in 13 years while simultaneously upping the credibility of Wolves in the eyes of potential free agent signings. His presence in the lineup allows Wiggins to shift to the two, arguably his most natural fit in the NBA, and gives the Wolves another established ball-handler next to Rubio. Additionally, his defense and veteran leadership will be a total boon for the Wolves.
As Thibodeau stated in his post-draft press conference,”[With Butler] you’re getting a two-way player; a guy who can score a lot of different ways; a guy who can guard multiple positions; he can actually guard four positions well; he makes big shots late; plays the right way; he’s tough; he practices hard; he’s smart. We’re excited to get him.”
He continued, “He’s not only a scorer, but he’s a great passer. He’s a playmaker. He’s unselfish and people like to play with players like that. With defense, whatever his assignment is, he’ll embrace it. He’s a bigtime multiple effort guy and, usually, that’s what it takes to win in this league. It’s defense. And good defenders do things in multiples and he’s the best at that.”
Thibodeau added on Butler’s leadership and how it’ll impact Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns,”I think a lot of the things our young players are going through, Jimmy has gone through a lot of those same things. When you see the projection of his career, his first year he played a little, the second year a little more. It was step after step. And I think our players are going through that; how to close games and things like that. I think that’ll be valuable for our players. The most important things, to me, are the things that he does every day. The way he practices, the way he concentrates in meetings, the way he prepares before a game, the things he does for recovery. I think he’ll show our players a lot of things he’s learned along the way.”
However, for as exciting as this trade is, the Wolves’ roster is still far from perfect. Rubio, Wiggins, and Butler, while otherwise being dynamic offensively, have suspect shooting histories, particularly from three. The primary focus in free agency figures to now shift to finding veteran shooters, at all positions, as well as adding bench depth. As of now, the Wolves’ depth chart looks something like:
That’s a strong foundation to build upon. Perhaps Shabazz Muhammad comes back. Perhaps Rubio gets traded still. But the core of the franchise moving forward is Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, and Karl-Anthony Towns. That’s scary.
Now. About Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. Both LaVine and Dunn will be deeply missed by many, present company included. In particular, LaVines’ personality, athleticism, and work ethic was second to none and was a joy to cover over the last three years. He has a very bright future in the Windy City and figures to be the centerpiece of Chicago’s rebuild. Dunn will provide his typical defensive grit and will potentially be handed the keys to the car that is the Chicago Bulls right away. Both players have the attitude and personality to be successful in Chicago.
Although splitting with both players is difficult, when you have the opportunity to obtain a player of Jimmy Butler’s caliber, you do that trade 10 times out of 10. As Thibodeau put it, “We felt that if we had the opportunity to get a player of Jimmy’s caliber that we would do it. Of course, we hated to part ways with Zach and Kris. In order to get a good player like Jimmy, you need to give up good players and we did. And not only are they good players but they’re good people. That’s the tough part. But we felt that it was something that our team needed. We’re excited.” Thibodeau later added, “It’s a good opportunity for Kris and Zach to go to Chicago and I think it’s a great opportunity for Jimmy to come here and getting Justin along with that is a big plus for us.”
Now for some words on Justin Patton. I’ll be first to admit that I don’t know the most about the reigning Big East Freshman of the Year. From what I’ve heard/read, it appears as though he’s a raw, athletic center with a ton of potential. The 7-footer from Creighton connected on 68.3% of his shots from the field and 72.7% around the rim. If I had to guess, I’d imagine Patton would see some time in Iowa this coming season.
Patton seemed very pleased to be joining the Wolves. He stated that upon finding out that he was headed to Minnesota,”The first thing I thought about was how close it is to Omaha and how much water there is there. And I get to experience more cold weather so I’m down for that.”
Patton believes he’ll be a good fit next to Towns going forward.“I think I’ll fit well,” he said. “Him being the smart basketball player he is, he can play multiple positions. It’ll be good to be alongside him. He’s going to definitely make me look good.”
He was also confident in his ability to play multiple positions, which may help his and Towns’ game function well next to each other. “I can put the ball on the ground and I can shoot the ball very well. I think me playing multiple positions is a big possibility.”