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Hey, Thibs: Don't put Butler back in the fridge

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler (23) looks to get around Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) in the first half in Game 3 of the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Target Center in Minneapolis on April 21. Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports

ST. PAUL — My friend Hank had a metaphor for the human proclivity to extend bad relationships. It was like, he said, taking a gallon of spoiled milk and putting it back in the refrigerator.

"Maybe," he'd say with feigned enthusiasm, "it will get fresh again!"

Tom Thibodeau, take note. Don't try putting Jimmy Butler back in the fridge.

It has to be tempting, if only to throw a wrench into the plans of the Timberwolves' prodigal off guard, who summoned Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden to Los Angeles four days before training camp was scheduled to start and demanded a trade. He then had the temerity to give them a list of teams for which he would prefer to play.

Anywhere outside of professional sports, or perhaps Hollywood, this kind of behavior would go unrewarded, but the Timberwolves don't seem to have much of a choice. Butler is spoiled milk, and nothing Thibodeau can do or say will change that. If he stays, he'll stink up the joint and make his teammates sick.

At the team's media day on Sept. 26, Thibodeau seemed to believe, however dimly, that Butler could be convinced to stay in Minnesota, that a long relationship that began in Chicago and moved to Minnesota last season could be salvaged. And without a deal in the two weeks since Butler's demand, that might appear even more appealing, if not inevitable, to the Timberwolves' coach and president of basketball operations.

But that would be, as the kids say, awkwaaaaaard.

Coming off their first playoff appearance in 14 years, the Wolves are at a crossroads in their rebuilding effort. Butler was good last season — averaging 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and two steals a game — but no team can win with a grump as its leader. And if a veteran like Butler isn't leading, he's just in the way.

The Timberwolves are supposed to be developing players for the future, not putting up with them for a year.

Thibodeau and Layden tried to sell Butler as a "top 10 player in this league," which typically would fetch a handsome bounty. The problem with that feint is that NBA general managers have been watching Butler for seven years. He's a good basketball player, a throwback with a competitive streak who plays hard and pays attention to detail. But he's not the freak of nature you build around. He's the solid veteran who might push an already-good team over the top.

Furthermore, with one year left on a deal that will pay him nearly $20 million this season, Butler hasn't inspired a contender to push all its chips to the center of the table. Acquiring him requires either negotiating a new deal or hoping he likes what he sees and re-signs after the season.

That didn't work out for the Timberwolves, who sent three promising young players to Chicago believing Butler would love being part of an up-and-coming young team. Oops.

It appears the Timberwolves are concentrating on — down to? — one suitor, the Miami Heat, and, according to ESPN, want center Bam Adebayo, 21; guard Josh Richardson, 25; and a protected first-round pick next summer.

Together, the players don't add up to Butler's production last season, but they're young and the draft pick could be big. As Charles Bronson said so succinctly in the "Magnificent Seven," "Right now, that's a lot."

Thibodeau shouldn't want Butler back, even if he does play defense. When he declined to sign a contract extension, he ceased to be a legitimate part of the Timberwolves' future. The worst thing they can do now is let Butler leave without getting anything in return.

It's over. Time to move on.

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