It’s time for Minnesota Timberwolves fans to forgive Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler, formerly of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Jimmy Butler, formerly of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Two years after Jimmy Butler forced his way out, it’s time for Minnesota Timberwolves fans to move on and forgive.

It’s been seven months since the Minnesota Timberwolves last played an NBA basketball game.

The Wolves finished the season with the third-worst record in the NBA at 19-45, and now have the first pick in a draft without any obvious stars to choose from.

It’s not a great place for a fanbase that has endured more than 15 years of mediocrity.

The worst part? Everything could be completely changed if things had gone differently with one of the most hated players in Wolves history: Jimmy Butler. Fans remember exactly what Butler did to them and how his decisions are still wreaking havoc on the franchise two years later.

Butler was originally brought in with a draft-night trade in 2017 to breathe life into a comatose franchise that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2004.

He fit in right away, leading the young Wolves to the No. 8 playoff seed in the Western Conference. The Wolves lost in five games to the Houston Rockets in the first round, kicking off a tumultuous summer.

Almost immediately, rumors swirled that Butler was not getting along with his teammates, namely Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Then, the infamous practice. Following a trade request that was not honored, Butler played with the third-stringers and allegedly took it to the starters, all while talking trash and shouting at everyone on and around the court.

Butler was finally traded to Philadelphia just 10 games into the 2018-19 season, and Wolves fans could finally begin to forget about the whole ordeal. Until now, that is.

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Butler’s Miami Heat are in a clash with the Lost Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, and Butler has been fantastic.

The Heat have taken on Butler’s hard-working mentality during the playoffs in the NBA bubble, sweeping the Pacers in the first round, upsetting MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round, and hammering the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Now, Butler is leading a team to the Finals for the first time in his career. Although the Heat are on the brink of elimination down three games to one to the Lakers, Butler has shined on the national stage.

Butler is averaging 27.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 10 assists per game in the Finals and led the Heat to a win in Game 3 with one of the best performances in finals history with 40 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists.

Butler is becoming a fan favorite before our eyes in the bubble, to the dismay of Wolves fans who still hold a grudge for how he left the organization.

Even still, it’s time for Wolves fans to let it go and begin to appreciate one of the best, and most interesting players in the NBA today.

Does he suddenly have to be your favorite player? No, of course not, but hating him and cheering against the Heat is going to make basketball a whole lot less fun.

Butler’s Heat team is what the NBA has been missing for the better part of a decade. A hard-nosed, tough defensive team with a lot of young talent, and a veteran second-tier star in Butler who has carried the team on his back with grit and hustle.

Beginning with the Celtics in 2008, then on to the Heatles and the Warriors, the NBA has been dominated by teams with two or three big stars who teamed up to create a dynasty. The Heat, on the other hand, are a refreshing change of pace, and the type of teams most fans claim to want to root for instead of pre-ordained star-driven juggernauts.

The hardest part to get past is what if Butler stayed and worked things out in Minnesota? Could the Wolves be what the Heat have become? Could they have made a Finals by now?

The answer to those questions is maybe. For much of the 2017-18 season, the Wolves were the third-best team in the West behind the Rockets and Warriors. Butler’s injury after the All-Star game spurred the Wolves to crater and barely make the playoffs.

But if Butler stays happy and healthy in Minnesota it’s reasonable to think the team could have stayed in the top half of the playoff bracket and at least made a run at a conference championship, but likely would not have been able to get past the Warriors.

If you really want to be mad at someone, be mad at the Wolves front office. Management had chances to make the best of the Butler situation but continually made the wrong choice.

The Heat wouldn’t even be in a position to win a title this season had the Wolves taken one of the first deals floated for Butler early in the 2018-19 season; the deal purportedly involved Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo for Butler.

Management seemed hesitant to pull the trigger since Adebayo was unproven, which looks insane today as he’s one of the best all-around big men in the league.

Instead, they received a package from the Philadelphia 76ers including Robert Covington and Dario Saric, neither of whom remain on the Wolves roster.

It’s fair to blame Butler for how things went down in Minnesota — just ask Bulls and Sixers fans how they feel about the guy — but basketball is a lot more fun with guys like Butler in the league.

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So drop the grudge, forgive Jimmy Butler, and appreciate him for what he is: a complicated but ultimately endearing player that makes the NBA that much better — even if his coffee is too expensive.