Jimmy Butler trade: the Garnett trade of a decade ago, but in reverse

When evaluating a franchise like the Timberwolves that has missed the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons, there are plenty of checkpoints along the way at which you can stop and say in retrospect, “that was a reason things haven’t worked out.”

So indulge me for trying to pinpoint the one critical moment of failure in a 13-year history filled with missteps. But here it is: the trade of Kevin Garnett in the summer of 2007 to the Celtics.

That’s not to say the Wolves would have magically avoided their descent into awfulness had they held onto their superstar, who was 31 at the time and coming down the other side of his career. But it was a seismic shift that signified a rebuilding process from which the Wolves have never fully emerged. As long as they had Garnett, they had a chance — if only they could properly build around him, which they had a brutally hard time doing for so much of his career.

The Wolves actually got seven pieces from Boston in that deal, but the three most significant ones were Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair and their own 2009 first-round pick, which they had traded to Boston a year earlier in the Wally Szczerbiak/Ricky Davis deal.

Jefferson was a promising but raw young player whose early career had been marred by injuries. Telfair was a 22-year-old point guard who arrived in the NBA with great expectations but had yet to deliver upon them. The draft pick ended up being the 2009 sixth overall pick (which the Wolves used on Jonny Flynn, but enough about that).

Jefferson blossomed into a very good player in Minnesota, but he was never destined to be a star. Telfair had a long but not very distinguished NBA career. Draft picks are always a crap shoot.

In money terms, if Garnett was a dollar bill, the Wolves in exchange received a bunch of loose change — useful, but not even close to adding up to the equivalent value of one player.

If that trade almost a decade ago was the true beginning of the frustrating cycle the Wolves are still in, let’s look also for some symmetry and some hope: perhaps the Jimmy Butler trade was the Garnett trade in reverse, closing the loop and putting Minnesota back on a winning trajectory.

The Bulls received, in exchange, a Jefferson equivalent at a different position (Zach LaVine), their own Telfair (Kris Dunn, a point guard young enough to have promise but seasoned enough to have question marks) and the seduction of potential with the No. 7 pick. They got three quarters for a dollar, which sounds good in your piggy bank until it’s time to buy something.

There are clear shades of difference, of course.

Garnett went to Boston, formed a “Big Three” with two other veterans in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and immediately won a championship.

Butler arrives in Minnesota as the third member of a budding Big Three along with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butler is the elder statesman of the group at age 27, more than three full years younger than KG when he was traded. The Timberwolves are not going to win a championship immediately because they are young and Golden State is lapping the field, but the short-term expectation has been elevated to breaking the playoff drought.

The parallel grows deeper roots when you consider the types of players Butler and Garnett are. Both are tremendous two-way players. Both are unselfish stars who value work. Both have connections to Tom Thibodeau, who was a Boston assistant when KG’s Celtics won the NBA title. He was in Chicago when the Bulls drafted Butler No. 30 overall in the 2011 draft, starting a professional love affair with a player that continues to this day.

Thibodeau brought up the Garnett/Butler comparisons unprompted on Thursday when I talked to him after Butler’s introductory news conference at Mall of America.

Said Thibodeau: “I think (Butler) is a perfect fit for us. It’s exactly what we need. When you have talented players, they all have things they have to sacrifice to put the team first. The work part is equal. The defensive commitment has to be equal. There may be some different shot distributions, but you can’t compromise on the work. It’s not necessarily what he’s going to say to them, it’s what he’s going to do. I was around Kevin Garnett, and the thing about Kevin was not only his words but what he did — how he practiced, how he prepared, how he played. When he played in the game, everything he did was about winning — making the extra pass if a guy was open. As great a shooter as Kevin was, the next guy always got the pass from him. When you ask what a great defensive player is, it’s a multiple effort guy. That’s what Kevin was, and that’s what Jimmy is.”

That sort of deference to teammates, though, was used against Garnett just as it is Butler in describing why they are better suited for secondary instead of primary roles on great teams.

If the worst things you can say about Garnett and Butler are that they want to win so much that they might be a little abrasive in the locker room and they’re such good teammates on the court that they have a hard time being selfish … well, those are subjective faults at best.

There might never be another KG, but Butler is as close as they come to a shorter clone.

There’s no undoing the past, only learning from it. Maybe, just maybe, always maybe, this is the thing that breaks the cycle.

Jimmy Butler gives out phone number; fan flies in from Baltimore for news conference

Jimmy Butler has the work ethic, skills, defensive acumen and oratory skills to win over a fan base quickly. He already had almost all of Minnesota and its Timberwolves fans on board before even stepping foot inside Mall of America on Thursday for his introductory news conference attended by an estimated 2,500 onlookers, most of them Wolves backers.

But then he was asked by a Chicago reporter about comments made since the trade by Antoine Walker about his presence in the locker room and other “shots fired” by people in Chicago about his time with the Bulls.

His agent, Bernard Lee, was sitting in the front row, a couple seats away from Karl-Anthony Towns, and both were seated directly in front of the media row in which I was in.

Lee leaned over, smiled and said to Towns, “Watch.”

I asked if Butler was about to go off. Lee reiterated: “Watch.”

It appears Lee was prepared for at least some of what Butler was going to say (more on that in just a minute). What followed was essentially a far more eloquent version of, “come at me, bro.”

Said Butler: “It’s not frustrating. It’s expected. Somebody’s got to take the blame. I’ll be that guy. I’m OK with it.”

A fan shouted from high above, “Sour grapes!” causing Butler and Tom Thibodeau to pause and smile.

Butler continued: “I’m fine. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. But with that being said: My phone is in my back pocket right now. Whoever has something to say to me, feel free.”

It wasn’t quite the bravado of the “My arms are more powerful than
your guns” quote attributed to former Viking Keith Millard in a run-in with police a few decades ago, but it had a similar effect. Butler is not a man to be messed with, and he will let you know it.

To fully add to the lore, though, Butler then proceeded to give out what appears to be his actual cell phone number.

Lee tweeted later, “So this is why in movies people give out numbers as ‘555 1212’ huh? Turns out ppl actually call… .

I admit I called a few times but always got a busy signal. A Bleacher Report writer had better luck:

 

It was the signature moment of a eventful day. Thibodeau couldn’t stop smiling and probably hasn’t been this happy since … well … ever? Wolves fans had a hard time containing themselves, too.

One of them, Justin LaRue (pictured), took a selfie with Thibodeau and casually mentioned that he had flown in from Baltimore just to be at the news conference. Overhearing this, I had questions. One of them was: Wait, seriously?

He was serious. LaRue is a longtime Baltimore resident who started following the Wolves when they were an expansion team. He fell in love during the Kevin Garnett era, and he’s stayed true for 13 playoff-less seasons. When he found a cheap last-minute flight, he decided to make the trip to see Butler introduced.

How do you think the Wolves will do this year, Justin?

“Decent,” he replied. “Playoffs, obviously. Maybe somewhere in the 4-8 seed. They might not be ready for the top three yet.”

Try telling that to Jimmy Butler. Go ahead. Call him. He’s waiting.

Mejia, Gibson have given Twins a chance since returning

If we can accept that “decent” pitching for the Twins might be a different standard than it is for other teams with better options, we should take a minute and note this: Adalberto Mejia and Kyle Gibson, who had rough starts to this season in Minnesota’s rotation before being sent to the minors, have been downright decent since returning a little over a month ago.

In the big picture of what has held this Twins season together and kept Minnesota in the playoff race as we approach the midpoint, Mejia and Gibson stand out as two important pieces of duct tape. They are not perfect and might not be ideal solutions, but they have worked for a rotation in desperate need of stability after inconsistent performances and injuries to Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago.

Consider: Mejia has made eight starts for the Twins, the first of which was May 21, since returning from the minors. In those eight starts, he has compiled a 4.07 ERA, and the Twins are 5-3 in games he has pitched. He helped the Twins snap a four-game losing streak June 1 with six good innings against the Angels. He started their sweep of Cleveland last weekend with five shutout innings. And he got the Twins on track against Boston on Wednesday with 5 2/3 shutout innings. It’s not always pretty, and Mejia’s pitch count climbs higher than most would like, but the results have been important.

Gibson, meanwhile, has made seven starts since coming back, the first of which was May 22. He’ll make another big one Thursday in Boston. The first of the seven was bad (five innings, six runs), but he has a 4.01 ERA in the last six. Overall, the Twins are 5-2 in Gibson’s seven starts since returning.

Run support has played a role in the Twins going a combined 10-5 in Mejia/Gibson starts since their return, but so have the pitchers themselves. They’ve only had three legitimately bad starts out of their 15 combined outings — and two of those (both by Gibson) the Twins won anyway in slugfests.

Ervin Santana has been the rotation rock all season. Jose Berrios has been a revelation since his call-up. Mejia and Gibson? They’ve been functional. On this staff, that’s something to appreciate.

The Twin Cities have too many stadiums, but they are in the right places

At the intersection of Snelling and University Avenues in St. Paul on Tuesday around 6:30 p.m., I was stopped at a red light in the left turn lane. A man with a sign simply asking “please help” stood in the median. My 3-year-old daughter started to wave to him from the back seat while my 7-month old daughter drifted off into sleep. I froze for a couple seconds, then contorted in my seat to try to get my wallet out of my pocket to give him a dollar (knowing full well I could give him more, which is a different level of guilt). But the light turned green with a row of cars behind me. I made my left turn as the man stared blankly ahead.

My 3-year-old asked what the man had been doing there. I told her that he was asking for money because he was having a hard time — that he probably didn’t have enough money to afford a place to live or perhaps even buy food to eat. She replied that it was OK, he could just live under the stoplight. I told her that he was dry and warm for now, but in Minnesota it gets cold and rainy — and worse. Overnight, in fact, it did rain. I told her that I was going to try to give him a little money so he could buy some food, but that the light changed too soon. She thought about it for a few seconds and said, “When people don’t have enough money to buy food or a house, we should give them money.”

Two minutes later, we were inside a store where we bought $200 worth of groceries and other things. We went back to a house full of beds and comforts. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the exchange with my daughter, but it wasn’t until many hours later that I could attempt to connect the dots between what happened at that intersection and some other thoughts rattling around in my head about sports stadiums. Bear with me:

*The Twin Cities area has spent a lot of money — some might say too much — on many new and/or refurbished sports stadiums. This is not the fault of any one team — rather a one-by-one reflection of the times we live in — but it’s pretty staggering.

Consider that from 2009 through 2019 — a span of 10 years — the metro area did or will open a new college football stadium (TCF Bank Stadium, 2009), a new Twins ballpark (Target Field, 2010), a new St. Paul Saints ballpark (CHS Field, 2015), a new Vikings stadium (U.S. Bank, 2016), a remodeled Wolves/Lynx arena (Target Center, 2017) and a new United stadium (2019). Add in the new Gophers practice facilities/athletes village and don’t discount how nice Xcel Energy Center still is almost two decades after opening, and look at what we’ve done. It’s beautiful and staggering. It’s too excessive, however you choose to view the word. Whether the money was public, private or some combination, there was a choice made to spend billions of dollars on places for teams to play.

The Wild and Wolves could easily share an arena, as the NBA and NHL teams do in other markets. There was talk for a time of the Vikings and Gophers football combining on a new stadium — and this talk was going on while those two teams, plus the Twins, shared one building. Minnesota United could play in an existing venue instead of building its own facility. This is proven by the fact that one ownership group bid to have them play in U.S. Bank Stadium, while for now Loons are playing in TCF Bank Stadium.

*We have built too much and paid too much, but if we have done one thing right it’s this: at least we have built (or are building) these facilities in the right places. Every single new stadium built in that 10-year span is in Minneapolis or St. Paul.

Each one is reasonably accessible from all corners of the sprawling metro area. Sure, it’s a haul to go from Plymouth to downtown St. Paul or from Woodbury to downtown Minneapolis. But you’re not trying to go from Plymouth to Woodbury, Lakeville to Blaine, or vice-versa. More importantly in the bigger picture, each of those facilities is accessible on the light rail and via other public transportation.

None of those teams, by virtue of where there stadiums/arenas are built, have decided to run away from the core of this metro area. When you go to any of them, you will know you are in a city. By extension, you will be confronted by the realities of a city — including people who are so less fortunate than you that they do not have a place to live or enough to eat, as was likely the case with the man Tuesday night holding the sign not far from where Minnesota United’s new stadium will be built.

These are all good things, even if they are not all pleasant things. Stadiums should be reasonably accessible for everyone. They should give you a sense of place. And they should remind us of the choices we have made when building them.

*I just got back a couple days ago from Atlanta, which for a long time had the same philosophy. The Falcons and Braves shared Fulton County Stadium for more than a quarter-century. Then the Falcons moved into the Georgia Dome and the Braves moved into Turner Field. The Hawks play in Philips Arena, which also hosted the Thrashers when they were in the NHL. All of those stadiums/arenas are in the downtown Atlanta core, as is the new Falcons stadium, which will also house Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United.

The Braves, though, are not. After 20 years at Turner Field (1997-2016), and after reaching an impasse with the city over staying there, the Braves began play this season at SunTrust Park in the suburbs.

Now, first: there is nothing wrong with the suburbs. I don’t live in one, but I go to the suburbs a lot. I have a lot of friends who live in various suburbs, and they are good, happy people. There are plenty of good reason to decide to live in one.

But the Braves’ move to the northwest suburbs was notable for many reasons, several of which are nicely summarized in this Forbes piece from four years ago when the plans were announced. Essentially, they moved to a less racially diverse area that is less accessible from various other parts of an already sprawling metro area that is TERRIBLE when it comes to traffic. It was a symbolic move, even if it wasn’t intentionally so.

The new ballpark, which I visited Sunday for a Braves/Brewers game, is nice enough. (Photo above of the sparse crowd is from just before first pitch). It was described perfectly by another member of our Great Baseball Road trip as, “If Coors Field and Target Field had a baby, but then they forgot they needed lights and got them at a Jacobs (Progressive) Field garage sale.” We went on a weekend, when traffic was not as much of a problem, but I cannot imagine what it’s like to attend a weeknight game after spending more than 90 minutes trying to make it 35 miles both Thursday and Friday in the Atlanta area. It might not be any worse than trying to get to Turner Field on a weeknight, but the perception exists that it is.

The best local comparison for the ballpark location and surroundings — which sprang from an empty lot as far as I’ve been told — is if you dropped a new baseball stadium right in the middle of the Shoppes at Arbor Lakes in Maple Grove. Outside of SunTrust Park, you are not confronted by anything other than more opportunities to buy things. Our parking for the game was $50, but they validate the whole thing if you buy $50 worth of stuff at the surrounding bars/restaurants/shops (which we did, playing right into their design, by eating and drinking perfectly nice but not memorable at all meals and beverages at Establishment X postgame).

I’ve been told by a few Atlanta locals — some of whom wrote to me after I wrote the other day about the Braves’ unspectacular attendance in spite of this new ballpark — that the bad traffic combined with the distance from a lot of parts of the metro area has led plenty of residents to already conclude “why bother” when it comes to trying to see the Braves. Atlanta struggled to support even the best Braves teams of the 1990s and 2000s when they were more centrally located, and putting them further away at a spot where two congested freeways meet might not be helping.

If you don’t mind the commercialism and don’t want to get a feel for the city you’re in when you attend a game, it’s fine. You can even build a case for the ballpark creating a residual economic benefit from construction and other new development near it. But you still have to wrap your head around approving $400 million in public money for a new stadium 17 years after starting play in another new stadium, and doing it in a city that in many years is ranked as having the largest income disparity between rich and poor in the nation.

But what do I know? It might just be my guilt talking, but I’m still inclined to agree with a 3-year-old in thinking that people who don’t have money and a place to live should get our help, too, because they sure can’t live under stoplights.

Phil Jackson let go after becoming David Kahn of the Knicks

Anyone who has made any kind of financial investment — or has simply heard advertisements for investment products — is familiar with the phrase “past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

Phil Jackson is proof that it also applies to basketball. He won 11 NBA titles as a coach (six with the Bulls, five with the Lakers), setting himself up as a blue-chip stock when the Knicks hired him as an executive in 2014. Three years later, the stock bottomed out to the point that Jackson and the bumbling Knicks are parting ways.

The Knicks went 80-166 in Jackson’s three years as team president, a .325 winning percentage that might remind basketball fans more of David Kahn (.285 winning percentage during his four years running the Wolves) than anything else.

Of course, Jackson had a far greater pedigree coming in and fetched a five-year contract worth $12 million per season to turn around the perpetually bumbling Knicks. Instead, he pushed them further into oblivion with a set of curious decisions — the most recent of which being the dangling of emerging star Kristaps Porzingis in a potential trade, seemingly damaging relations between the Knicks and the best thing they have going for them.

The Knicks as a whole don’t look much better in this, having reportedly picked up an option on Jackson’s expensive contract in April — only to part ways two months later on the eve of free agency.

Indeed, I can’t remember the last time a team had a front office shakeup of this magnitude in the tiny window between the draft and free agency.

Even the Wolves hired Kahn in May of 2009 and let him go in May of 2013. The Knicks? This is a whole new level of ineptitude.

Development of Wolves’ first-round pick Justin Patton will be interesting

Timberwolves first-round pick Justin Patton — you know, the 7-footer and the other guy they got in last week’s massive trade that also netted Jimmy Butler — was introduced in person to the Twin Cities media on Tuesday and seems generally as affable and likable as his social media would indicate.

He even landed a couple successful attempts at humor without trying too hard. The first: when talking about selling funnel cakes at baseball’s College World Series in Omaha just three years ago, he said, “it was nachos, too. Can’t forget the nachos.” The second: when talking about his twin brother, Kendall, who is shorter than Justin at 6-foot-7 but still claims to be the better basketball player of the two, Patton said that very well might be true, “but he’s not playing for the Timberwolves.”

Patton also said all the right things when asked about what his role next year would be. Namely: he’s just going to work hard and let Tom Thibodeau and co. make those decisions.

That leads to this: Patton’s development, particularly next season, is going to be pretty interesting on a lot of levels. He’s a 20-year-old who is now almost a full foot taller than he was during his freshman year of high school. He played just one season at Creighton (after a redshirt year), surprising pretty much everyone with his progress.

His game is built more around potential than the here and now, though that’s not to say he’s totally raw.

When I asked Wolves head coach/personnel boss Tom Thibodeau what the most NBA-ready part of Patton’s game is, he had no hesitation when talking about Patton’s hands and ability to finish above the rim. Even though that’s perhaps not a unique skill for an NBA player, it’s a useful one.

The Timberwolves starting this year have their own developmental team in Des Moines, the Iowa Wolves. (The Development League, informally called the D League, is being rebranded as the G League because it’s sponsored by Gatorade, which starts with G. Get it?).

So the Wolves will have options when it comes to how they want to handle Patton’s development: keep him in Minnesota if he earns playing time, stash him in Iowa or shuttle him back and forth.

The Wolves don’t have to make that decision yet, of course. Both Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden said Tuesday the first step in evaluating Patton will come in the NBA Summer League, which begins in Las Vegas on July 7. One day earlier, NBA teams can start signing free agents, but official negotiations can start Saturday.

The Wolves will have about $20 million in cap space, which sounds like a lot until you realize Gorgui Dieng will make roughly $16 million per season over the next four years after cashing in last year on the NBA’s new economic world order.

Beyond projected — for now — starters Butler, Dieng, Ricky Rubio, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the rest of the roster is essentially Patton, Tyus Jones, Nemanja Bjelica and Cole Aldrich. The one downside to last week’s trade, which in almost every other way was a home run, is that it left a team already thin on depth even thinner by moving three likely rotation players for one sure one.

Again, the Wolves will have money to spend on at least one significant free agent move and can certainly find useful players while scouring the G League and other spots. But they might find themselves needing Patton’s minutes. And there might come a point where he could be playing much more in Iowa and theoretically advancing his development … or playing far fewer but still valuable minutes in Minneapolis.

In that case, though, the Wolves could also mix-and-match, as Layden suggested Tuesday. Having a team so close that is owned and run by the organization means could dip down to Des Moines for one game or over the span of a few when he figures to be used less with the NBA team while still playing within the system Thibodeau wants.

Patton’s ego and work ethic suggest he is up for anything and everything. He might get all of that and more in an interesting rookie season.

The MLB All-Star Game is two weeks away. Which Twins will make it?

The MLB All-Star Game, dubbed the midsummer classic, is two weeks away. This means a lot of things, and one of them is WHAT IS HAPPENING TO MY SUMMER? IS IT ALMOST HALFWAY OVER?

Another one of the things it means is that the rosters for the American League and National League teams will be decided very soon. Voting for the teams ends Thursday, and the teams — except for one player on each side who wins the Final Vote — will be announced Sunday.

You can’t have your summer back (and really, there’s a lot of it left. Don’t panic). What you can have is a discussion of which Twins players are going to make it:

NEAR-LOCK: Miguel Sano. He’s the only Twins player in the top 5 (or top 15 outfielders) of the voting, and he’s leading AL third basemen by more than 200,000 votes. While it’s true that Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez closed the gap considerably in the latest round of balloting released Monday, it’s still a big lead for Sano. He’s also certainly deserving, checking in as of now with 18 home runs and a .934 OPS. Sano has never been an All-Star.

STRONG CHANCE: Ervin Santana. The veteran Twins righthander isn’t putting up video game numbers like he did earlier this season, but he’s still tied for second in the American League in victories (10) and fourth in ERA among starters (2.80). He’ll get one more start before teams are announced Sunday, but those credentials are already very solid. It would be Santana’s second All-Star Game selection after also making it in 2008.

WORTHY OF DISCUSSION: Jose Berrios, Brandon Kintzler and Brian Dozier. I don’t think any of these three guys will make it, but they are at least candidates.

Berrios in just nine starts this season has basically saved the Twins. He’s 7-2 with a 2.98 ERA and has allowed fewer than one baserunner per inning while striking out one batter per inning. The Twins have had some good pitchers in recent years — really, they have — but they haven’t had anyone with stuff as electric as Berrios since Francisco Liriano. This Twins season would already be in the toilet if Berrios hadn’t emerged.

Kintzler walks the tightrope sometimes as a closer, but he is tied for second in the AL in saves (20), generally keeps the ball in the park (three home runs allowed) and is an underrated part of why the Twins are in contention. He’s only blown three saves (one of which the Twins still won). In a perfect bullpen alignment, Kintzler might be a set-up guy and not a closer, but he’s proven to be credible at the latter job.

Dozier is tied for second among AL second basemen with 13 home runs and is having a nice season after last year’s breakout. But there are an awful lot of good second basemen in the American League, and it’s hard to imagine Dozier getting into the mix.

Trade Byron Buxton for pitching? No, no, no on so many levels

I could have, and perhaps even wanted to, let this go — just absorb the words, know it was a bad idea but probably just an idle suggestion in passing, and move on.

I couldn’t do it, though.

And so here it is: in an item on the Twins at SI.com, writer Jeremy Fuchs uses this weekend’s Twins sweep in Cleveland — the first of its kind since 1991, the last time Minnesota won the World Series, of course — as a device for heaping some praise on the local nine.

He gets it mostly right, starting with Ervin Santana, noting Miguel Sano’s huge impact, perhaps overstating the contributions of the inconsistent Eddie Rosario and correctly mentioning the solid years of Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier as reasons for the team’s offensive success.

But then there’s this: “The Twins certainly need more pitching behind Santana, who is more than carrying the load. But with someone like Byron Buxton to dangle, they might be able to make something work.”

Sorry, I just can’t let go of how much I disagree with that sentiment.

The Twins are having a nice, surprising season. Buxton has continued to struggle at the plate, but he should be considered one of a handful of players in the organization who is untouchable as the Twins attempt to build from “above-average half-season” to a string of contending years. But even if you don’t agree about Buxton’s potential, here is the stronger argument:

Trading Buxton for a pitcher likely upgrades one spot on your staff. But taking away his defense immediately makes everyone else on the staff worse.

The Twins have been among the best defensive teams in MLB this season. FanGraphs has them at plus-21 defensive runs saved — a measure of runs saved above the average player. Buxton himself is a plus-14! He’s certainly helped the aforementioned Santana, who has  a FIP (fielding independent pitching, a metric that strips away defensive contributions and works along the same scale as ERA) of 4.58 but an ERA of 2.80.

Even as a .200 hitter, Buxton is one of the most important reasons for the Twins’ improvement this season. Trade him for a pitcher, and the net effect on the team ERA would be zero (at best), while the future regret could be massive.

I’m sure the Twins would never do this, anyway. Thank you for indulging my rant.

Jimmy Butler on the Wolves: What will it look like, and what happens next?

Pardon me if I’m still digesting this Timberwolves trade for Jimmy Butler a full four days after it happened. It’s just that 1) this isn’t the kind of trade the Wolves (or any Minnesota team) tends to make and 2) I found out about this deal while watching the NBA Draft in a sports bar inside a minor league ballpark in suburban Atlanta during a rain delay. We just returned from our annual baseball road trip around midnight last night, and being back in Minnesota is helpful somehow in fully unpacking this whole thing.

As with any blockbuster trade, this one had immediate reactions — most of them leaning heavily toward favoring the Wolves for getting Butler and the No. 16 pick while questioning the Bulls’ haul of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick in return. But far more fascinating things have yet to play out.

Namely: what will Butler’s presence look like on the court, how will he mesh with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins and what will happen next with the Timberwolves as they approach free agency and try to fill out their roster with more upgrades?

On the court, there should be little doubt that Butler makes the Wolves’ starting five considerably better than it was. Basketball has two advanced stats that are pretty useful in determining a player’s individual impact. One is win shares, and the other is player efficiency rating. I like win shares better because it also takes into account defensive performance.

Here is the list of the top 10 NBA players in win shares last season:

1. James Harden — HOU 15.0
2. Rudy Gobert — UTA 14.3
3. Jimmy Butler — CHI 13.8
4. Kawhi Leonard — SAS 13.6
5. Russell Westbrook — OKC 13.1
6. LeBron James — CLE 12.9
7. Karl-Anthony Towns — MIN 12.7
8. Stephen Curry — GSW 12.6
9. Isaiah Thomas — BOS 12.6
10. Giannis Antetokounmpo — MIL 12.4

You’ll see Butler is No. 3 and Towns is No. 7. That’s an awfully good place to start next season. If PER is more your thing, Towns was No. 11 and Butler was No. 13. Wiggins was considerably further down on both of these lists, owing to the fact that for as athletically gifted he is and as much as he emerged as a scorer, his game is sometimes one-dimensional and not terribly efficient.

This leads me to believe that on the court, Towns and Butler should be the alphas for the Wolves, with Wiggins playing a strong supporting No. 3 role. Butler doesn’t have to be the clear-cut No. 1, which this Chicago Tribune piece argues doesn’t suit him, but he certainly should be 1A. I think that pecking order is right for everyone’s skill set and personality, but balancing the needs and egos of three very talented players is easier said than done. So it will be fascinating to see how that relationship develops.

Where Butler gains particular credibility in the establishment of that pecking order is his pre-existing relationship with Wolves coach and boss Tom Thibodeau. As MinnPost’s Britt Robson writes in a great piece, Butler appears to be a great fit in many ways:

That leader would have a deep experience and appreciation for the unyielding mania that is the Thibodeau coaching method, and be able to project, by word and deed, on the court and in the locker room, what elements of that mania to bank, what elements to discount, and how to beneficially ride out the experience over the course of a long season.

On the other side of the trade, though, we have this reality: The Wolves, as currently constructed, are seriously lacking in depth. If we can assume LaVine returns to health while Dunn and whomever the Wolves would have chosen for themselves at No. 7 are worthy players, they gave up three guys who would have played next year for one (plus Justin Patton, the seven-footer and No. 16 pick who should get some minutes but remains a work in progress).

There is also the constant churn of Ricky Rubio trade rumors, which figure to remain prominent as reports surface that the Wolves are pursuing point guards like Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday and others in free agency.

As it stands now, one imagines the starting five next season would be Rubio, Wiggins, Butler, Towns and Gorgui Dieng. That’s a starting five that can win games. The bench? Cole Aldrich, Tyus Jones, Patton and Nemanja Bjelica. Shabazz Muhammad is a restricted free agent and might be allowed to walk in order to free up cap space for other moves. Free agency negotiations begin in less than a week, with players able to sign starting July 6.

Clearly, then, the Butler trade is only the first move of what figures to be an interesting offseason. Minnesota needs shooters off the bench. A bulky, physical forward/center off the bench would be a great get, too. Depending on what happens with Rubio, point guard remains up in the air. If he’s traded, he will clearly fetch at least one useful player in return. What those pieces are, though, and how all of this fits together? That very much remains to be seen.

All we know for now is the Wolves have the best 1-2-3 combo since Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell went to the Western Conference Finals in 2004. That was the last year the Wolves made the playoffs. Breaking that drought should be the realistic goal next season, but so much work still needs to be done.

Green Bay fan will forever be a Packer after taking wife’s last name

By now you might have heard about the Green Bay fan who took his wife’s last name in marriage because it was Packer. But if you haven’t heard about the story — it got plenty of publicity in the months leading up to their wedding Saturday — or even if you have, here is a recap of some of the details:

*Ryan Holtan-Murphy, 41, is the fan in question. He met Marie Packer, 38, at a karaoke bar in Madison. When she told him her last name, he didn’t believe her and made her prove it by showing multiple forms of identification.

*Ryan, a Wauwatosa, Wis., native, proposed while wearing an Aaron Rodgers jersey. As they moved along with plans to get married in Chicago, Holtan-Murphy tweeted an invitation to former Packers safety LeRoy Butler.

*Marie Packer, a doctor, was already planning on keeping her last name. Ryan said it was a “no-brainer” to take her name.

*Their wedding Saturday in Chicago featured a lot of green and gold. Ryan even changed into a Packers suit during the reception.

I think that sums it all up.