As the NBA’s newest soap opera plays on with Jimmy Butler and the Minnesota Timberwolves, Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson isn’t thinking about Butler.
“As the Timberwolves Turn” is burning up the Internet and talk radio as the NBA’s newest soap opera, but Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson isn’t spending much time thinking about his club adding disgruntled All-Star Jimmy Butler.
The rumors surrounding Butler and the Minnesota Timberwolves continue to contradict each other. A day after Newsday’s Greg Logan reported the Nets were not involved in any trade talks, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported as many as 12 teams could be in on Butler discussions.
Logan reported Tuesday that Atkinson isn’t at all concerned about Butler or the impact of adding a star player to his roster.
"“I’m not paying any attention to it.”"
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Instead, Atkinson said his focus is on developing his 17-man roster as training camp opened Tuesday for the Nets at the HHS Training Center in Brooklyn.
That runs counter to what guard Spencer Dinwiddie — the subject of lots of trade rumors this offseason — said at Media Day on Monday, when he described the ongoing Butler situation as “the elephant in the room.”
Even as NBA executives continue to get very mixed signals from the Timberwolves apparently fractured front office on the Butler front, Wojnarowski reported the Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat as potential trade partners with the Timberwolves and a third team, the Sacramento Kings, that has emerged as a buyer of unwanted contracts.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe, who contributed to the Wojnarowski report, later tweeted his thoughts on what interested teams are going through when trying to engage the Timberwolves in talks on Butler.
But Atkinson insisted his focus is elsewhere.
"“I don’t even think of that. I let (general manager Sean Marks) think of those big-picture things, especially now in training camp. I do know players change in this league and we’ve had changes in the past.”"
The Nets brought in three unrestricted free agents — Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham — this summer while also trading away guards Jeremy Lin and Isaiah Whitehead to acquire Kenneth Faried and Jared Dudley, with draft picks Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs also added to the roster.
One player that has been specifically linked to the ongoing Butler rumors is shooting guard Allen Crabbe, a natural choice as he would be a ready-made replacement for Butler in the Twin Cities.
He also said the talks aren’t a talking point around the team.
"“Honestly, guys are not really talking about it. As long as I have a Brooklyn Nets jersey on, it’s about us continuing to get better and accomplishing those goals we have set for ourselves this season.“I feel secure and I feel like, if anything did come up, I’m pretty sure they’ll pull me aside or notify my agent. But I haven’t heard anything.”"
The Kings’ involvement in a potential trade would likely require a 2019 first-round pick in addition to whatever salary or salaries Sacramento takes on. The Kings do not have a first-round pick next season, having surrendered it in a July 15 trade with the Philadelphia 76ers.
The pick did not convey this year as it was top-10 protected (Sacramento had the No. 2 overall pick in June’s draft).
Marks has been fairly insistent about not moving first-round draft picks after the Nets have gone without their own first-rounder since 2013 because of past trades and pick swap agreements.
Another potential sticking point is Minnesota’s insistence thus far that big man Gorgui Dieng be part of any outbound trade package.
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Minnesota team president and head coach Tom Thibodeau signed Dieng to a four-year, $64 million extension in October 2016 and he is still owed $49.1 million over the next three seasons.
Last season was the first year of the new deal for Dieng, whose playing time was cut almost in half from 2016-17. He averaged 16.9 minutes per game and put up 5.9 points and 4.6 rebounds on .479/.311/.775 shooting. The overall field-goal percentage was the worst of his career.
Dieng had started all 82 games for Minnesota in 2016-17, manning the 4 spot alongside center Karl-Anthony Towns, but his role was dramatically reduced after the Timberwolves signed veteran Taj Gibson in the summer of 2017.
Unless the Timberwolves drastically reduce their expectations — considering they have less than zero leverage in the deal with Butler not participating in training camp and planning to never play for them again, the chances of Butler coming to Brooklyn would have to be considered very slim.
Stranger things have happened, sure, but Marks’ modus operandi thus far has not been to sacrifice future assets for players who might help the Nets win 40 games.