AMES, Iowa (AP) — Jimmy Butler may or may not be traded before Minnesota opens the season on Oct. 17 at San Antonio.
However, it appears increasingly inevitable that the Butler won't be with the Timberwolves this season — and they've only got one more chance to start learning how to play without the four-time All-Star before the games start counting.
Minnesota played its second-to-last preseason game on Sunday night at Hilton Coliseum, Iowa State's home floor. The Timberwolves' G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves, play roughly 30 miles away in Des Moines. It was the first game at Hilton, one of the loudest arenas in all of college basketball, since 1999 — and it drew a near-capacity crowd.
From there it's a trip to Milwaukee's new arena on Friday and then a few days off ahead of the opener. And although the Butler drama has seemingly put the organization in a bind, Thibodeau warned against letting it become more of a distraction than it already is.
"Focus on the people that are here and get ready to play. That's it," Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said before the game. "We've got a long season, and if you look you can get distracted very easily, so focus is very important. This team has been through a lot in the last year. I think they're ready to handle whatever is thrown our way."
Butler has told the Timberwolves that he has no intentions of re-signing with the club next summer, leaving them with little choice but to explore a way to get some value for him now or risk losing him for nothing in 2019. The Athletic first reported Butler's decision.
Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau on Friday acknowledged the team's efforts to grant Butler's trade request, saying that the team is "trying to get something done."
Butler, 29, averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists in his first season for Minnesota a year ago, helping the Timberwolves snap a 14-year playoff drought. Butler then shot 44 percent from the floor and 47 percent on 3s against Houston in the playoffs, a series the T-Wolves dropped in five games.
Minnesota still has plenty of options, notably star Karl Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggins and a reinvigorated Derrick Rose. But a team that won 47 games and appeared to be among the up and comers in the Western Conference is in an unusual amount of flux with the season just nine days away.
There was also a bit of irony in the fact that the game Butler missed on Sunday night was at Iowa State.
That's where Fred Hoiberg coached before leaving to take over for Thibodeau in Chicago — and he and Butler butted heads for two seasons before Butler was reunited via trade with Thibodeau in Minnesota.
"That's what preseason is for, obviously, to help you get in shape. But it's also to help you build your identity, and to learn who you are, establish who you are," said reserve guard C.J. Williams.
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