“He’s one hell of a player,” Towns said Sunday. “I don’t know how many Jimmy Butlers there are in the world, so I think he’ll be missed.”
Towns had spent much of the two months following Butler’s trade request shooting down speculation that there was any friction between the two All-Stars. They didn’t work well together on the court, though. In Towns’ second season in the league — the last full season he played without Butler — the center averaged 25.1 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. Through nine games with Butler this season, Towns’ numbers plummeted to 15.3 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.
The Timberwolves were together on the team plane returning from Sacramento, California, when Butler found out he would be traded to the 76ers, along with Justin Patton, in exchange for Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Jerryd Bayless. Taj Gibson said he was sitting across from Butler when the news landed. On the one hand, Gibson said, he understood it was just business. But, “it was still shocking.”
“No matter what, even if you want to ask for a trade, when you finally get traded it’s kind of a weird feeling,” Gibson said. “That is the moment I felt for him.”
Now the Wolves, who enter Monday’s game against the visiting Brooklyn Nets on a five-game losing streak, must find a way to pick up the pieces and move forward.
Butler was the team’s leading scorer, averaging 21.3 PPG. Prior to Butler’s arrival in Minnesota, Andrew Wiggins averaged 23.6 points and 19.1 shots per game. This season, he is averaging 17 points and 15.2 shots per game. Now the fifth-year player will likely go back to being a main offensive weapon and get more shots off.
Wiggins said he was in a better position to be a leader for the Wolves having played with Butler, and said he told 76ers big man Joel Embiid that, “if you’re going into battle, you want him on your side.”
“I learned a lot of things from him,” Wiggins said of Butler. “We made the playoffs, something we haven’t done in a long, long time. So I think it was a positive either way you put it.”
On the other end of the floor, the Wolves are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the worst defensive rating in the league. That, Towns said, must change.
He complimented the players Minnesota was receiving. He mentioned working out with Covington years prior, called Saric a “funny guy” and praised Bayless’ ability to “get the job done.”
With no distractions, the Wolves (4-9) have a chance to start over.
“We have a new start,” Derrick Rose said. “There’s no excuses.”