Jimmy Butler may get his desire to be traded fulfilled at some point this season and the awkwardness of the situation has created some uncomfortable moments for a team he helped reached the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
In the meantime, Butler and the Minnesota Timberwolves will try to get a win in their home opener Friday night with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are playing their second game following the departure of LeBron James to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The saga with Butler began cropping up in July when he rejected a four-year contract extension that would have prevented him from reaching free agency next summer. On Sept. 19, he met with coach Tom Thibodeau and formally requested a trade and last week reports surfaced of a practice so heated the Butler was yelling at coaches and cursing at GM Scott Layden.
Earlier this week, owner Glen Taylor told the Minneapolis Star Tribune he remains committed to finding a trade for Butler while the four-time all-star said to Taylor he would play all out until the saga is completed.
Butler and Minnesota fell short in their season opener Wednesday in a 112-108 loss at San Antonio. Butler scored or had an assist on the final 14 Minnesota points to help the Wolves nearly overcome an eight-point deficit in the final 8 1/2 minutes.
Overall Butler finished with 23 points on 9-of-23 in his first game since Game 5 of the first round against Houston on April 25.
“I got 81 games, baby,” Butler told reporters after a 112-108 loss in San Antonio on Wednesday. “That’s all that matters. We gotta lock in on today, what tomorrow brings, and see where we’re at,” he said. “If that comes to be, that comes to be; there’s nothing I can do about it. But in the meantime, I gotta figure out a way to help us win some games.”
While Butler did what he could in nearly willing Minnesota to a win, the Wolves received little from Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns fouled out after scoring eight points in 22 minutes, negating strong performances from Jeff Teague (27 points on 12 shots) and Andrew Wiggins (20 points after a slow start).
“Everybody is a little bit rusty, including myself,” Butler told reporters Wednesday after Minnesota shot 42.9 percent and 48.6 percent (17 of 35) on shots inside five feet of the rim. “Everybody missed easy shots, but we took all the right ones, shared the ball. We take the best things from this and that’s our energy and how hard we played for 48 minutes.”
Now the Wolves will try to take those things into a meeting with an opponent still figuring itself out after James left in free agency for the second time.
After James left for Miami, Kevin Love was two years into his career with the Wolves. Now he is expected to be Cleveland’s primary option on offense.
Love and the Cavaliers opened the season with a 116-104 loss at Toronto on Wednesday night.
“We don’t have that luxury of having a LeBron or a magician like Kyrie (Irving) to be a playmaker so we have to have guys that can play half court, full court and on the defensive end be physical,” Love said.
Love now occupies the same locker previously held by James and conceded things were out of sort Wednesday. He led Cleveland with 21 points but missed 13 of 18 shots and the Cavaliers shot 40 percent and trailed by 20.
“That rhythm wasn’t there tonight,” Love said after his first game action in over two weeks due to foot soreness.”. “You could tell that game action wasn’t there for me tonight. Thought I got a lot of really, really good looks on the offensive end. On the defensive end, just our switches and closing out, my attention to detail wasn’t there.
Friday is Love’s fourth trip to Minnesota for the Cavaliers. He has scored 37 points in previous visits on 34.5 percent shooting (11-of-22) since the 2014 trade.
“I just remember a lot of good moments from my first six years in the lead,” Love said after practice Thursday. “Looking back a lot of positives and a lot of fun coming back to the Twin Cities.”
Last season the Wolves halted a six-game losing streak in the series with a 127-99 home win on Jan. 8. About a month later, the Cavaliers won on a game-winning jumper by James to get a wild 140-138 overtime win.
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