2017 Offseason, Miscellaneous News, NBA Free Agency, Transactions

INBOX: Amid Kyrie Irving Trade Rumors, What Comes Next for the Timberwolves?

So. Kyrie Irving.

Andy G: Let’s get through what we know before we dig into what it might mean: according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Kyrie Irving requested that he be traded from the three-time defending East Champion Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Minnesota Timberwolves are one of his four preferred destinations. Windhorst reported details on the Irving-Wolves potential link that are possibly more significant than the potential for a trade itself:

League sources told ESPN that both Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns have been doing their part of recruiting Irving on the idea of playing alongside them in Minnesota, and they’ve made it known to Wolves management that they want to add the Cavs star to the mix. Butler and Irving became tight in their time playing for USA Basketball together. Towns’ father, Karl Towns Sr., and Irving’s father, Drederick Irving, are connected through the basketball scene in northern New Jersey, where they both reside.

The elephant in this tampering room is Andrew Wiggins. On the current Wolves roster, richer than most teams with trade-chip resources, Wiggins is the only player — aside from the recruiters, Jimmy and KAT — whose value would approximate Irving’s in a realistic trade discussion. Put simply: if Butler and Towns are “recruiting” the still-under-contract-for-two-years Kyrie and making their desires known to Thibs-Layden, LLC, they are implicitly, if not directly, asking the team’s decision-makers to trade away their teammate, Wig.

Oh, and just to make things even more awkward: literally the day before the Kyrie stuff broke from ESPN, it was reported by Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune that the Wolves were working on a five-year contract extension for Wiggins; one that would make him one of the team’s two possible “designated players” and about $150 Million richer than he is right now.

In other words, while Thibs is telling the media that he is working on a huge Wiggins extension, Butler and Towns are working back channels to set up a Wiggins trade.

This is risky, isn’t it?

Patrick J: Not necessarily – especially if Thibodeau is conspiring with Butler and Towns to bring Irving to Minnesota. What struck me about the Wiggins contract extension news was that it seemed to get more media and internet play than it merited. Remember, Wiggins’ max extension is a deal everyone already expected in due course. So why make a big deal, now, about moving on it? When the Irving-to-Minnesota trade rumors got hot and heavy, one possible explanation is that Thibs wanted to signal to other teams that he believes Wiggins is a max player and has trade value representative of the same.

This is all speculation, of course. But hey, that’s July NBA. 

Andy G: While that is precisely the sort of conspiracy trafficking that I enjoy (see, this tweet from a few days ago)…

…I think the most likely scenario here is the simpler one: Thibs is serious about maxing Wig and keeping him around, and Butler and Towns went off script and thought they’d play Big 3 Recruiters behind the scenes. In this case, I think we can assume that no Kyrie trade actually happens (Thibs has been patient in his management of the Minnesota roster and flipping 6 years of Wig for 2 years of Kyrie would be a serious deviation from this trend) and we’re left with dissension in the Wolves new core.

Remember, this recruitment of Kyrie implicates not only Wiggins but also Jeff Teague whose sixty million dollar deal was just celebrated alongside Taj Gibson’s about two weeks ago. Of course, Kyrie is better than Teague, but that isn’t my point. I’m assuming Kyrie does not actually become a Timberwolf and the team is left wondering how to feel about itself after a failed covert operation planned and fumbled by its two best players.

I know that Kyrie is one of your favorite players ever — and I love his game, too — so you’ll err further on the side of, “of course the Wolves do everything they can to add him,” but I want to stay on this “Big 3” thing for a moment, because I think it’s a fascinating revelation to come out of all of this.

Leave the specifics out of it — Kyrie/Wiggins swap, what exactly remains, etc. — how do you feel about the Thibodeau Timberwolves dipping their toes into the waters of this new era of Player Power, Banana Boats, and friends recruiting friends? I understand that it isn’t entirely new to the 2010s — players have been forcing trades for decades (see: Stephon Marbury, Timberwolves) — but the back channel player-player scheming seems new, post-LeBron’s Decision. It hit a new level when Golden State lured Kevin Durant from their arch conference rival. Do you think that this is a good, bad, neutral twist in the state of the Wolves franchise? I personally don’t see how it reconciles with a heavy-handed boss like Thibs at the wheel. When he came here to run the franchise I envisioned a high level of organizational stability that would lead to long-term success; not short-term home run swings. I’m pretty conflicted about all of this if you can’t tell.

Patrick J: You can’t make the playoffs and win championships without great players. The Timberwolves need great players. The backchannel player scheming that leads to supergroup teams like LeBron’s Heat and Durant’s Warriors is the new normal. To me, it seems a bit juvenile. But if that’s what it takes, well, the ends justify the means.

That said, I have my doubts that Jimmy and KAT’s freelance recruiting of any player, including Irving, would get very far without Thibs’ approval.  Butler has built a reputation as an extension of Thibs’ right arm as a coach on the floor and a leader in the locker room and off the court, but Butler still answers to the man in what almost seems as much a father-son type of relationship as a mentor-mentee relationship.

Thibs and Butler presumably keep in touch during the offseason, and given that Kyrie demanded a trade privately about a week before the news of his trade demand was made public, there’s a reasonable chance that Butler–who is very close to Kyrie–knew Kyrie wanted to be traded before the public did and had plenty of time to plot strategy with Thibs.

Again, not saying this is how it went down. But it might be how it went down.

Here’s some lighthearted evidence of Jimmy and Kyrie’s bromance.

  • They sing together.

(Eds. Note: I don’t know for a fact that adding KAT to Jimmy and Kyrie would make for a great a capella trio, I just know it’s true.)

  • Jimmy goes on-the-record back in February saying he’d rather play with Kyrie than anyone else in the League.

(skip to 50 seconds in)

  • Jimmy is having his self some fun with the recent RUMINT.

Andy G: If Thibs really secretly deployed Butler as his soldier in this game of modern NBA offseason warfare, he might even be smarter than I realized. If the Wolves end up with a Kyrie-led Big 3, that’s the version of reality that I’ll welcome the most; that everything went according to plan. If, instead, it was Butler strong-arming his way to pair up with his best buddy for two years before who knows what else, I’ll be worried. And if instead of landing Kyrie, the plot fails, Wiggins hates his teammates, and this becomes Thibs’s Bay of Cleveland Pigs, I don’t even know what happens after that.

Patrick J: Andrew Wiggins doesn’t strike me as a hater. That said, the palace intrigue at 600 First Ave. is going to be interesting from multiple viewpoints, so stay tuned.

To wrap this up with a bow, here’s a PSA: Don’t sleep on a previously-unmentioned and underrated reason to dig on a trade for Kyrie -with Irving and Jamal Crawford, the Wolves would have the two filthiest ball handlers and bucket-getters in the NBA. Even if you’re a “No” vote on the issue of trading assets for Irving, the idea of seeing all of the crossovers 41 times a year at Target Center is super fun, if only at a theoretical level for the time being. Till next time.


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6 thoughts on “INBOX: Amid Kyrie Irving Trade Rumors, What Comes Next for the Timberwolves?

  1. I don’t see any signs this is likely to happen. It’s fun to speculate about, yet I don’t expect a whole lot to come of it. But something already has. I and many fans out there have expressed concern about Wiggins—the highness of the expectations and assumptions make us uncomfortable and his character versus the role he’s been expected to fill at various times doesn’t seem to fit (go to guy, leader, best defender on the team, max contract player). Butler and KAT trying to recruit Irving when Wiggins is the main remaining tradable asset suggests that Wiggins’ own teammates share similar reservations about the ‘potential’ or ‘ideal’ Wiggins versus the reality, and his ability to be a teammate with the same fire as they have. This could disappear after Irving finds a new home, being written off as ‘hey, just trying to get all stars to come here to play with us all’. Or it could cause a rift that is serious and creates chemistry issues (more so). But the second option might be a good thing, as it would deter Wiggins from being here long term if he’s not a good fit as a teammate.

  2. Here’s my conspiracy take: when Butler arrived here, he made promises to recruit great players. I’ll post the article link at the bottom, but here’s a quote:

    ” “My sense is that he’s a popular guy among players,” USA Today NBA insider Sam Amick said. “I covered Team USA in Rio, and he seemed to have a great way about him with those guys, and I think that stuff matters where you run in the highest of circles, the elite circles among players. So, he’s got those relationships.”

    “And isn’t afraid to use them when it comes to attracting big-name free agents to his new team.

    ” “I’ll be talking to a lot of really good players, much better than myself, I will tell you that,” Butler said Thursday, “and get them here to join what we have. I know that, with the support that I’ve already felt from this city, they’re definitely going to love it.” ”

    We all thought he was talking about Kyle Lowry or maybe a Paul Millsap, as it was just after the draft and on the eve of free agency. However, Butler himself never states that he’d be talking to free agents – all of the reporters and the rest of us made that assumption. Here’s another example:

    “Butler said his sales pitch to free agents is “for me to know, for you to find out at a later date.” ”

    Sounds an awful lot like the top players – especially (as Thibs is fond of repeating over and over again) Team USA guys – know each other and talk to each other a lot. If Butler is as close to Kyrie as it sounds, and if it is true that Kyrie was even thinking of requesting a trade last year, it seems reasonable to me to consider that one of his best friends (Butler) might have heard about it and blatantly told us of his idea to get Kyrie here, knowing we’d all think it was about some unnamed free agent instead.

    Butler doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to mince words too much. Not like Iguodala does (says an inflammatory thing, then backs off 24 hours later and says it was all a joke). In the clip about wanting to play with Kyrie, he follows it up by saying a shooter is the kind of player who’d make him better, and names Kyle Korver as an example. When the other people bring up KD or Steph, he says they’re good shooters too. It’s a funny moment, but I’m totally going to over-read into it that what matters to Butler is the results. He’s a guy who earned everything he got, is a Thibs disciple, and that strongly suggests a very pragmatic mindset – disciplined, determined, not likely to mince words (‘I think Hoiberg needs to coach us harder’).

    Maybe that does suggest that he’s not sold on Wiggins. Most likely, tho, he sees an opportunity to get a young player who’s already a legit NBA star at the cost of a guy who could be but certainly isn’t right now.

    I’m all in on the idea that Butler’s had Irving in the back of his mind for awhile. It’s only out now because Irving’s heretofore secret desire has been made public.

    In a dream scenario, I’d also love to get Irving without giving up Wiggins. I don’t know where all the shots would come from, but that seems like a really fun team.


  3. I don’t think Kyrie will be coming to Minny any time soon, First, Wiggins is still way too young to give up on when he is a top scorer and maybe reaches his potential defensively with Jimmy to take the load of guarding the best wing player on each team night after night. Second, although Kyrie has become a more complete player than when he started, his defense is next to non-existent and his rebounding and assists are not what an elite point guard should have. He is purely a scorer, which isn’t bad, but why give up Wiggins scoring 21 points a night and maybe getting a more rounded player the next couple years for a guy who scores about 26 points a night and will take the ball out of KAT and Jimmy’s hands. Every player wants all their all-star buddies to join them, but that doesn’t mean they can play well together. My hope is that he goes to NY and drives Kristaps Porzingas nuts with his ball hogging ways and Zinger wants out.

  4. The less-covered aspect when it comes to value on this trade that needs to be factored in is how much/little they’d get for Teague, whether that trade happened at the earliest legal moment or next offseason. Additionally, Wiggins has missed 1 game in 3 seasons. Irving’s missed 15, 23, 11, 7, 29, and 9 games.

    It’s great that they’re in the conversation on Irving, but Zgoda of the Strib called him a “top 3 PG” and several guys have called him a “top 15 player.” Nope. With PGs, at least Curry, Westbrook, Wall, Paul, and Lillard are better. As for top 15 player, LeBron, Kawhi, Curry, Westbrook, Paul, Wall, Harden, George, Durant, Greek Freak, and the Brow are all clearly better, and I’d rather have Butler, Towns, Cousins, Griffin, Gasol, Conley, Draymond, and Klay right now. I’m not totally sure Wiggins is even a top-50 player, but their value is closer than perceived.

  5. Don’t don’t… Wiggins has age/size and is a better fit with a higher ceiling than Irving. Today – Irving more experienced, likely a better scorer – but with Wiggins moving to off guard – he will continue to develop as well as have improved defense against smaller players. KAT/Gibson/Butler/Irving/Teague – as a lineup? Who is willing to pass to the open man?, Gibson a great defender, can rebound, score for inside, pass out on offense or start a fast break, but Irving/Teague are both likely to be one on one, looking for their shot first while the ball stops moving. Wiggins leans that direction – however, he is still willing to give up the ball to the open man. Rubio was a master at assists – but often passed up an open look – and his man often cheated to double Wiggins or LaVine – KAT is a much improved passer – with KAT/Butler/Wiggins spreading the floor, Gibson crowding the edge of the paint – their double on Butler and KAT will leave either Gibson open underneath or Teague or Wiggins on the corner. Turn the Aldrich contract into two additional wings – and another 2-way PG for depth. With Patton healthy in 2018 – another year experience for Wiggins – some history of the blend of Butler/Teague and answers as to Jones as backup PG, and Bjelica’s ability to return healthy, the wolves can begin to consider the next top 6 upgrade – Dieng/Wiggins/Teague/Gibson/Bjelica/Jones – someone will be on the bubble, but let’s see who performs best with the new talent. Butler/KAT/Crawford or Patton will not be going anywhere – if we are very close Teague/Dieng/Wiggins and Gibson could join that group – really close Jones and Bjelica could also be safe. Mid-season might even give some answers – but Irving would be a problem not a solution, as good a player as he is… we have to build a team.

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