What if Timberwolves Didn’t Trade for Jimmy Butler?

One of the worst things that could have happened to the Timberwolves happened last night. After grabbing another offensive rebound out of pure hustle, Jimmy Butler went down clutching his knee after twisting and turning. He couldn’t put any pressure on his leg, had to be carried out and it doesn’t look good.

First of all, let’s hope for a speedy recovery. It always sucks to see players get injured, whether you’re a Timberwolves fan or not. Especially someone as talented and likeable as Jimmy G Buckets. Butler has been a top 10 player this season and would be sorely missed if he’s out for an extended period of time.

After a while, the injury got me thinking however. While the Jimmy Butler trade was a huge win for Minnesota, despite having to give up fan favorite Zach LaVine, how would things have looked if the Timberwolves just stood pat and built around their young core from last season. Let’s take a look:

When the trade happened at draft night, the Timberwolves were rumored to pick Lauri Markkanen with the 7th pick. A rumor that has since been confirmed by Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor on Darren Wolfson’s podcast. As much as I would have wanted Donovan Mitchell at that pick, Markkanen is probably who the Timberwolves would pick.

I still imagine Thibodeau wanting to trade away Rubio. With Kris Dunn still here however, I’m not sure he would go for Jeff Teague. It’s not even certain if Teague would want to join either. Anyway, let’s take a look at how the roster would have shaped up without the Butler trade, but Rubio still going to Utah:

PLAYER 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21 2021/22
Gorgui Dieng $14,112,360 $15,170,787 $16,229,213 $17,287,640 $0
Andrew Wiggins $7,574,322 $25,250,000 $27,270,000 $29,290,000 $31,310,000
Cole Aldrich $7,300,000 $6,956,021 $0 $0 $0
Karl-Anthony Towns $6,216,840 $7,839,435 $10,191,265 $0 $0
Kris Dunn $4,046,760 $4,221,000 $5,348,007 $7,091,457 $0
Nemanja Bjelica $3,950,000 $0 $0 $0 $0
Lauri Markkanen $3,821,640 $4,536,120 $4,536,120 $6,731,508 $9,026,952
Zach LaVine $3,202,217 $4,428,666 $0 $0 $0
Tyus Jones $1,471,382 $2,444,052 $3,573,204 $0 $0

2 PGs, Dunn, Jones

1 SG, LaVine

1 SF, Wiggins

2 PFs, Markkanen, Bjelica

3 Cs, Towns, Dieng, Aldrich

Total Salary Cap: $51,695,521 million

Cap Space Left: $47,397,479 million

That’s a pretty solid young core, but nowhere near the 36-26 contender they have become with Jimmy Butler in the mix. Who knows if Taj Gibson would want to join with no Butler either. Taj has had a career year, doing everything he’s asked to do and more.

The team also doesn’t feature #16 pick Justin Patton, as the Timberwolves got that as well in the Butler trade. If you don’t know much about Patton, this is what he has been doing while rehabbing a summer injury:

He might turn out even better than Lauri Markkanen if you ask me. Watch this space.

Anywho… back to the team and more specifically the 2017 Free Agency, with a Timberwolves team loaded with cash to spend. One thing has stayed the same and that is the lack of wing depth. It is by far the most pressing need in this scenario, with PG and PF already filled. Let’s take a look at the best wing options and what they actually got in free agency.

PLAYER 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21 2021/22
JJ Redick $23,000,000 $0 $0 $0 $0
Joe Ingles $13,636,364 $12,545,455 $11,454,546 $10,363,637 $0
James Johnson $13,734,000 $14,420,700 $15,107,400 $15,794,100 $0
Dion Waiters $12,100,000 $12,705,000 $13,310,000 $0 $0
Bojan Bogdanovic $10,500,000 $10,500,000 $0 $0 $0
Rudy Gay $8,406,000 $8,826,300 $0 $0 $0
CJ Miles $7,936,509 $8,333,333 $8,730,158 $0 $0
PJ Tucker $7,590,035 $7,959,537 $8,349,039 $7,969,537 $0
Kyle Korver $7,000,000 $7,560,000 $7,500,000 $0 $0
Jonathon Simmons $6,300,000 $6,000,000 $5,700,000 $0 $0
Wayne Ellington $6,270,000 $0 $0 $0 $0
Thabo Sefolosha $5,250,000 $5,250,000 $0 $0 $0
Nick Young $5,192,000 $0 $0 $0 $0
Justin Holiday $4,500,000 $4,500,000 $0 $0 $0
Jamal Crawford $4,328,000 $4,544,400 $0 $0 $0
Tyreke Evans $3,290,000 $0 $0 $0 $0
Luc Mbah a Moute $2,116,955 $0 $0 $0 $0

We obviously have the benefit of hindsight, but there are some pretty tasty deals in there. JJ Redick, Joe Ingles, CJ Miles, PJ Tucker, Jonathon Simmons, Justin Holiday and Tyreke Evans stand out as good value deals.

JJ Redick has been linked with the Timberwolves before and at one point in the summer, it looked like he was going to Minnesota. This was after the Butler trade, so Redick would clearly be comfortable coming off the bench as long as he’d be compensated handsomely. Would a similarly pricey 1 year deal be beneficial for both parties? More on that later.

Joe Ingles would be a perfect fit, but it would be hard to pry him away from Utah. First of all, Ingles would probably prefer to stay there unless the Timberwolves pay more than the 13,6 million he got with the Jazz. Secondly, he was a restricted free agent, which means that the Jazz would probably match any reasonable offers.

CJ Miles could have been a Timberwolf if Thibodeau had been willing to give up the cost-effective OKC 1st rounder in a “sign & trade”. With the current cap situation however, Thibs wouldn’t have to give up anything other than cap space. I imagine he could be had for about the same fee, as at the time, the Raptors looked more stagnant than they look now.

PJ Tucker landed in a perfect situation for him in Houston, so I imagine the Timberwolves would have to up the ante if they’d want to get him. Maybe something like $10 million per year? Would paying $10+ million for a then 36 year old Tucker in 2021 be a good idea though?

Jonathon Simmons went to the Magic surprisingly on a cut-price deal and more confusingly the Spurs didn’t match. Not quite sure what the Spurs are up to these days. A declining deal for about $6 million for 3 years though? Sign me up. His lack of 3PT shooting is a worry and he is already 28 somehow, but he’s certainly a good candidate.

Justin Holiday and Tyreke Evans are the ones I’m alluding to when I say that we can use hindsight to our advantage. Both average at best career 3PT shooters, draining 3’s on a high clip above league average. Both could have been had for the room-level exception the Timberwolves used on Jamal Crawford.

The signings I think would happen would be:

PJ Tucker, $10 million per year, 4 years
CJ Miles, $8 million per year, 3 years


That’s a pretty solid 10 man rotation. There’s still around $30 million in cap space remaining however… What in the world do you do with that? That’s a good young team, but it surely could use some veteran, maybe fringe All-Star power.

Enter Paul Millsap. He signed a 3 year deal, earning $30 million per year with the Denver Nuggets. It even includes a Team Option for the third year. The Timberwolves could easily match that or even exceed it if they trade away a decent piece in Nemanja Bjelica who would be a bit redundant with Millsap in the mix.

But why not sign someone like JJ Redick for a similar 1 year deal he got with the 76ers and reload for 2018 Free Agency? That’s not a possibility, because you will have to account for the cap holds to resign Wiggins and LaVine.

They would be Restricted Free Agents if they don’t extend them beforehand, like they did with Wiggins in real life. LaVine’s current cap hold is at $9,6 million. Wiggins’ cap hold would have been $18,6 million. Even with Redick’s 23 million coming off the books, the Wolves would have max cap space of about $10 million.

The final roster if Butler never gets traded to the Timberwolves:


After all that.. I’d still rather have Jimmy Butler. Let’s hope he’s okay!