The Minnesota Timberwolves have a long history of making great draft picks. Only, then they trade those players. It happens with a lot of teams, but it really feels like Minnesota has just done it over and over again. There was Ray Allen, who was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, Brandon Roy, who went to the Portland Trail Blazers, O.J. Mayo, going to the Memphis Grizzlies, and then there were second-tier guys like Ty Lawson, Trey Burke, and Mario Chalmers.
In Timberwolves history, the latest of those “big impact” guys to be traded to a different team after being drafted by Minnesota is Lauri Markkanen. In the 2017 NBA draft — a stacked draft that produced talent like Markkanen, Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo, and OG Anunoby throughout the lottery — Minnesota had the seventh overall pick. The field before them was packed, they had every name on the above list, except for Tatum, in the prospect pool, and the Timberwolves selected Lauri Markkanen.
Granted, Minnesota used Markkanen as the final piece in the trade that brought Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves, so at least the team got something out of it, but we all know how that worked out, and considering Markkanen likely became something that Minnesota was not expecting, there’s always going to be a lingering question.
The trade that brought Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves was a controversial one to say the least. What if it never happened?
The question, on the face of it in the midst of the 2017 draft, almost seems ridiculous. If you had a chance at giving up your seventh overall pick, and two role players at that time in Kris Dunn and Zack LaVine, for three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, why wouldn’t you?
Well, mainly, because now Jimmy Butler is with the Miami Heat, Zach LaVine is averaging 27.4 points per game in an All-Star season, and Lauri Markkanen has averaged 15.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game while shooting 44.0 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from 3-point range.
So, what if? What if Minnesota had never traded these guys away, and had just run with their pick and seen what happened?
Before we look at that though, I want to just quickly preface this by dispelling the rumor that Minnesota couldn’t have known what would happen with Butler. Far from it, actually. There were reports in 2015 that there was tension between him, Derrick Rose, and Joakim Noah, to which Butler responded, “I don’t give a [expletive] if you like me or not, I’m here to win.” Then, in 2016, it was reported that Butler and Bulls Head Coach Fred Hoiberg were clashing heads. In 2017, just months before the trade, Butler and teammate Dwayne Wade had spoken out about a lack of fire on the team, to which Butler then supported that decision saying, “I like it. I’m sorry but I like controversy.” And finally, a year after the trade, the Chicago Sun-Times (paywall) published an editorial that frankly reads more like a hit piece, calling Butler, “…a problem dressed up as a leader.”
With all the pieces they had, it’s no wonder that owner Glen Taylor needed to be convinced to trade for Butler. The pendulum, despite the overwhelming resistance, eventually swung to the side of trading for Butler.
But what if the string had snapped before they got there?