A meeting set between Minnesota Timberwolves four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler and president of basketball operations/coach Tom Thibodeau is expected to set the tone for Butler’s final season under contract — and his impending free agency in July, league sources told ESPN on Saturday.
Just days before the start of training camp in Minneapolis, Butler and his agent, Bernie Lee, are planning to meet with Thibodeau on Monday in Minneapolis for what’s expected to be a serious conversation on the franchise’s fragile state, sources said.
“Whatever needs to be communicated … will be,” one league source briefed on the meeting told ESPN.
The Athletic first reported the scheduling of the meeting.
The Thibodeau-Butler relationship has been largely strong since the Bulls drafted Butler in 2011, but Butler’s partnership with young star Karl-Anthony Towns has been strained and remains an obstacle to the 2018-19 team’s success — and perhaps the ability to sign Butler to a new contract next summer, league sources said.
Minnesota can offer Butler a five-year, $189.7 million max contract — with a max deal elsewhere worth four years, $140.6 million.
The Timberwolves are negotiating a rookie extension with Towns that could be completed before the start of the season. Rival executives believe that Butler could come available on the market by the February trade deadline if Minnesota fears that it will lose him for nothing in July free agency.
Butler, 29, will be the subject of an intense recruitment in July free agency, which includes the possibility of six maximum contract slots among the four New York and Los Angeles teams. Butler has never been enamored with the idea of a big market, but rather with feeling that’s he’s surrounded with like-minded players who’ll give him a chance for annual postseason success.
The Butler-Towns tension is paramount, but it’s hardly the only organizational drama that’s threatening to undermine the franchise’s current structure. Owner Glen Taylor has significant concern with the broader franchise culture under Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden — so much so that Taylor considered changes in the offseason, league sources said. Taylor has privately second-guessed his decision to give Thibodeau full control of basketball operations as a part of hiring him as coach, league sources said.
From friction within the locker room to the basketball operations group’s poor relationship with the business side, Butler’s looming free agency only elevates the stakes for Thibodeau’s future. Thibodeau is starting the third year of a five-year deal.
The Timberwolves qualified for the playoffs on the final night of the 2017-18 regular season, reaching the postseason for the first time in 13 years.