What does the Butler trade mean for the Wolves moving forward?

Nov 15, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) points during the second quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 15, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) points during the second quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports /

Tom Thibodeau and the Minnesota Timberwolves finally made their BIG move by acquiring Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls, but what does that mean for the Wolves moving forward?

I have to admit, heading into the 2017 NBA Draft, I was expecting much of the same. Countless Minnesota Timberwolves trade rumors with no results, ending with disappointment and broken dreams.

Fortunately, Tom Thibodeau, along with his right hand man Scott Layden, proved me wrong after finally trading for Jimmy Butler in a mega-deal that sent guard Zach LaVine, last year’s first round pick Kris Dunn and the no. 7 pick to the Bulls. Making the deal even sweeter was the Bulls’ inclusion of their no. 16 pick that ended up giving the Wolves a raw, but promising big man in Justin Patton, a 7-footer out of Creighton.

The deal made Minnesota relevant again, as I watched ESPN analysts discuss how the Wolves are now a player in the West behind the likes of the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. Additionally, the Wolves have largely been considered the winners of the 2017 NBA Draft with the additions of Butler and Patton, a great start to a crucial offseason for the club after a disappointing 2016-17 season.

But, now that the draft-day deal is behind us, what does this mean for the Wolves moving forward?

The Wolves have a new “Big Three.”

Let’s start with the obvious. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Jimmy Butler make up a new “Big-Three” in Minnesota that has real potential to break the Wolves 13-year playoff drought this season. Pending future moves, I could see the Wolves becoming a championship contender sooner than later, as the three stars develop and grow with each other.

Yes, Zach LaVine has crazy potential and the Wolves could have pushed for a 7 or 8 seed in the West this season. But, Butler presents a far better option for the immediate and long term future. This is no knock on LaVine, who I see becoming a star with the Bulls, rather a testament to what Butler has become.

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Minnesota Timberwolves

In fact, the 27-year old Butler is considered a top-15 player in the NBA, as well as a top-five wing defender in the prime of his career. Last season, Butler was fourth in the league in steals (143) and rebounded effectively for his position (6.2 rebounds per game), which should equate to his fourth straight All-Defensive Team.

LaVine could become a top-15 player in time, but I do not see him ever becoming a legitimate defensive presence, which is something the Wolves have been missing for years. In Butler, the Wolves get that elite defensive presence in the lineup, which should only help Towns and Wiggins step up their defensive games.

Of course, Butler is not just a defensive presence. He has also developed his offensive game over the years, ranking fourteenth in the NBA in scoring last season (23.9 points per game), while shooting a solid 36.7 percent from three. He’s also a great distributor at the wing, averaging 5.5 assists in 2017. Basically, he’s the definition of a two-way player in a league where two-way wings are a necessity. Just look at the NBA’s top teams. The Cleveland Cavilers have LeBron James, the Warriors have Kevin Durant and the Spurs have Kawahi Leonard, all elite two-way wingers.

Adding Butler to Towns, who is already a top-15 player in the NBA, and Wiggins, who has the potential to develop into a top-15 player with improved defense, makes for a dangerous core. A core that is far stronger than Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine, considering that LaVine likely never becomes the all-around player that Butler is.

The Wolves will find a new starting point guard to go along with their “Big-Three.” 

One would think that the Butler trade enhances the chances that the Wolves keep Ricky Rubio. With Kris Dunn leaving town, the Wolves don’t have another starting caliber point guard, so all signs seem to point to Rubio staying.

Yet, I strongly believe we haven’t heard the last of the Rubio trade rumors, as the Wolves allegedly offered BOTH Rubio and Dunn in a trade for Butler, according to a tweet by David Kaplan.

If the Wolves indeed offered both their top-two point guards, I’d assume that’s a hint towards the Wolves’ free agency plans. Recently, KSTP’s Darren Wolfson confirmed that the Wolves are interested in point guards Jrue Holiday, George Hill and Jeff Teague heading into free agency, further signaling Rubio’s end in Minnesota.

It is clear that Thibodeau wants a point guard that can distribute, but also score efficiently, so I would be shocked if Rubio is still on the roster heading into the 2017-18 season. After his strong performance at the end of last season, as well as reasonable contract, the Wolves should be able to sell high on Rubio in any trade offer.

The Wolves will be active in free agency to fill out their roster.

A day after the Butler trade, the Pioneer Press’ Jace Frederick tweeted some encouraging words from Glen Taylor:

Taylor, along with Thibodeau and Layden, look to spend money in free agency and should have more leverage this time around with the Butler addition. Even though Butler comes with a 19 million dollar cap figure, the Wolves have plenty of cap space to fill out their roster.

Mainly, the Wolves are in need of shooting and defense off the bench. Currently, the Wolves boast a bench of Tyus Jones, Shabazz Muhammad (if not signed away as a restricted free agent), Cole Aldrich, Justin Patton and Nemanja Bjelica. If they want to become championship contenders, they need a far stronger bench.

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Along with the trio of point guards already mentioned, names to watch in free agency would be Serge Ibaka, Andre Iguodala, Taj Gibson, J.J. Redick, and JaMychal Green. A couple of those names seem to be long shots, but I’d assume the Wolves will at least check in on these players.

Given the NBA’s high salary cap and player contract demands, I could see the Wolves sign a starting point guard and use the left over cap space to sign a role player or two for the bench.

Yet, the Wolves could make a big splash at the power forward position by signing a player like Ibaka, moving Gorgui Dieng to the bench. That alone would make Minnesota’s bench much stronger. In this scenario, I’d expect that Rubio would stick around considering the Wolves wouldn’t have the cap space to sign a starting power forward and point guard in free agency.

Nevertheless, I anticipate that at least one more key addition is made, likely a couple, that will bring further excitement to the coming Timberwolves season.

Get Ready! 

Wolves fans, be ready for further activity from the Timberwolves this offseason via trade and/or free agency. Although no move going forward may feel as sweet as the Butler addition, there are still moves to be made to make this Wolves roster look even better!

Next: Andre Iguodala joining the Wolves?!

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