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With Butler trade, Timberwolves players eye fresh start

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Timberwolves were on their flight home Saturday, Nov. 10, when they received the news -- Jimmy Butler was no longer on their team. Minnesota agreed to deal the All-NBA guard to Philadelphia.

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The Minnesota Timberwolves will finish their season without forward Jimmy Butler, shown here in an Oct. 19 game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Target Center. Butler was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday. Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS - The Timberwolves were on their flight home Saturday, Nov. 10, when they received the news - Jimmy Butler was no longer on their team. Minnesota agreed to deal the All-NBA guard to Philadelphia.

Butler was on that flight, sitting across the aisle from longtime teammate Taj Gibson.

“It’s always difficult,” Gibson said of his friend being dealt. “But it’s the business. Just gotta roll with the punches.”

This wasn’t any sucker punch. Butler’s trade demand was made public before training camp. Butler wasn’t around for much of camp, returning in time to get in only a couple of practices before the regular season.

That season has not gone well. Minnesota is 4-9 and on a five-game losing streak. The Wolves have yet to win a road game.

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Karl-Anthony Towns attributes all of the team’s struggles to its defensive performance. He insists he didn’t think about Butler’s trade request all season and it was the media playing it up.

Maybe so, but Butler’s teammates never knew if he was going to be on the next day’s roster - and if he was, would he be playing? It’s hard to believe that level of uncertainty can be ignored.

“We never knew what was going to happen really,” Andrew Wiggins said of the situation.

That’s a tough spot for a team to be in, and it might have affected the Wolves’ play. Derrick Rose and Gibson agreed Minnesota needed a fresh start.

“I just think it was this stuff going back and forth. I thought the locker room was great. But just with management and things like that, it’s always tough,” Gibson said. “When we’re trying to win games and we’re not winning games, when you lose, in the locker room it’s kinda like a black cloud. Everybody is down on themselves a little bit. But like I said. New day, new guys coming in. Just have to push forward.”

When those new guys - primarily Dario Saric and Robert Covington - will join the team is unknown. The trade call with the NBA is scheduled for Monday, which meant Wolves coach and basketball president Tom Thibodeau couldn’t address the deal Sunday. Covington and Saric may or may not be available when the Wolves take the Target Center floor Monday night against Brooklyn.

Still, there is more clarity than there was Friday. The Wolves know what their roster will look like for the foreseeable future.

“We can move forward, we can build on it and get that chemistry going,” Wiggins said. “We’ve got some good pieces.”

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Wiggins said every team would be better with Butler on its roster, so Minnesota’s talent level won’t improve because of this deal. But the common sentiment Sunday was the Timberwolves will be good enough to compete, and they still plan on contending for a playoff spot.

“Just gotta keep bouncing back and try to bring some more pressure,” Gibson said. “I think the odds are against us, but I like those kind of odds. Looking forward to attacking the next game.”

Wiggins said the Wolves are “in a good place” in terms of morale.

“We can move forward,” Gibson said. “Get the new players, try to change things around. ‘Cause nobody likes losing. The atmosphere here is everybody is still hungry to win games. So just have to move forward.”

Given this new start, Rose said “there’s no excuses.”

“Hopefully,  gives us a burst of energy,” Rose said. “And somehow clears our minds so we can go out and play the right way, and just play for each other.”

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