It is an understatement to say that the Minnesota Timberwolves have had a tumultuous past couple of years. Since the appointment of Tom Thibodeau as president and head coach in 2016, the Timberwolves have recorded multiple winning records and have reached the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. However, this success has decreased recently, and fans have become anxious for a return to form.
One of the main reasons the Timberwolves have lacked consistency is because of the distraction provided by All-Star guard Jimmy Butler, who Timberwolf fans and players alike regarded as a sort of “basketball messiah” for the team from the Twin Cities.
Since arriving in Minnesota with Thibodeau, Butler seemed to live up to the hype, taking the Timberwolves from a 31-win team to a 47-win team in his first season. Coupled with the young, exciting promise of players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Butler provided fans with the taste of a basketball powerhouse.
Recent injury problems alongside a blindsided trade request has flipped this narrative, creating a volatile and contentious situation in Minnesota.
Through his dramatic exclamations of executive mismanagement and lackadaisical on-court performances, Butler has managed to successfully derail the young, promising Minnesota team, causing locker room chaos and a shift of emphasis from the team’s performance as a whole to his own personal saga. This has proved completely detrimental to the Timberwolves who have started the 2018-19 season with a 4-9 record, just a year after their most successful season in team history.
Clearly, a change had to be made, and after his most recent stint of boycotts and poor in-game performances, Thibodeau and fellow Timberwolf executives decided to finally make the trade, sending Butler to Philadelphia in exchange for three players and a future second-round draft pick. Time will tell whether or not this trade was good for Minnesota. Instead, it is important to look at where the team currently sits and what the realistic goals should be for a team that is looking to make a fresh start with a clean state.
The highlight of Minnesota’s season so far, and a player who the franchise can look to build around, is point guard Derrick Rose. Part of Thibodeau’s early 2010’s Bulls team, alongside teammate Luol Deng and former teammate Jimmy Butler, Rose suffered a terrible ACL injury just one year after becoming the youngest MVP in league history. Since the injury, Rose has not found a place in the league, bouncing from team-to-team, never able to regain his Chicago form – until now.
Rose put up a career high of 50 points against the Phoenix Suns earlier in the month and he has improved many different facets of his game, including three point shooting and passing. Instead of playing as a high-flying, to-the-rim type of elite scoring point guard as he did early in his career, Rose has shifted his gameplay, instead focusing on his shooting and passing capabilities.
This shift of emphasis is noted in Rose’s stats so far this year. The point guard is shooting 46 percent from behind the arc, which is up from his career average of 30 percent. Rose has averaged 4.7 assists as well, up from previous years, highlighting his ability not only as a scorer but also as a facilitator.
Rose’s position as a starting point guard alongside proven guard Jeff Teague, has provided a much needed sense of stability for small forward Wiggins and center Towns. While still young, these two exciting and promising NBA players will be given a new chance to fulfill their potential without the harmful distraction of Butler. Instead of choosing to focus on the performances of one superstar, Wiggins and Towns will benefit from a more team-oriented approach, one that Thibodeau has practiced throughout his coaching career.
It is through the consistent performances of Rose and continual growth of Wiggins and Towns that the Minnesota Timberwolves can find success this season. With the weight of Butler off their shoulders and a promising young cast of players, the Timberwolves can look to turn their season around and begin developing a new, exciting team in the state of Minnesota.