Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations and coach Tom Thibodeau met with All-Star forward Jimmy Butler on Monday to try and persuade him to rejoin the team in the preseason, league sources told ESPN.
Butler declined, sources said.
Butler is uninterested in practicing or playing with the Timberwolves again and has implored owner Glen Taylor and Thibodeau to trade him soon, because the team will lose him next summer in free agency regardless, according to the sources.
The front office's strategy on the trade discussions could park Butler on the sideline far longer than he had hoped this season, sources said.
Taylor excused Butler from the team media responsibilities on Monday, and the private conversation with Thibodeau ended with Butler reiterating that he has no plans to play for the Timberwolves again, league sources said.
Still, one league source told ESPN on Monday night that Thibodeau "isn't giving up."
Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden, who is the point man for trade conversations, continue to leave rival executives and owners unclear about both the specific players and broader kinds of assets that the Wolves value in a deal, sources said. Even more doubt exists about whether there is even yet alignment between Taylor and Thibodeau on a structure and timetable for a deal, league sources told ESPN.
From starting the week insisting to other teams that Minnesota wouldn't trade Butler to slow-playing return phone calls and failing to share guidelines for the kind of deal that Minnesota wants to execute, Layden has graduated to the next phase of negotiations with teams: Asking for stars, starters, draft picks and salary-cap relief for the chance to acquire Butler, league sources said.
Thibodeau told reporters on Monday that, "We're not going to make a bad deal," and there is a belief among interested teams that Thibodeau is reluctant to bring strong offers to his owner for examination because he is still holding out hope to get Butler on the floor for Minnesota this season.
Thibodeau understands that the Wolves won't receive close to comparable talent back for Butler and that he could miss the playoffs for the second time in three years and lose his job.
As the trade process grinds along, some interested teams are working to bypass Layden and go directly to Wolves ownership with trade offers. Teams dealing with Minnesota describe an unusual level of confusion. Some have heard separately from Taylor and the Layden/Thibodeau management team, with little apparent coordination between the two levels of Minnesota's organization. There have been bubbles of optimism that Taylor has convinced Layden and Thibodeau to follow his edict to trade Butler soon, but those have so far given way to renewed uncertainty and hazy chains of communication.
Butler underwent his physical in Minnesota on Monday, missing the team's media day with ownership permission. He is preparing to stay away to continue what has been called a final week of rehabilitation on his surgically repaired right hand, but the direct message to Taylor and Thibodeau has been unmistakable: He expects that he will never wear a Wolves practice or game jersey again and doesn't want to prolong the drama on his way out, sources said. In his meeting with Thibodeau on Monday in Minneapolis, Butler reiterated that he had no plans to play for the team again, league sources said.
To facilitate a Butler trade, the sort of broader deal necessary to meet the financial needs of Minnesota and Butler's future team, circumstances will necessitate bringing the Sacramento Kings into the process. If the Timberwolves remain intent on unloading backup center Gorgui Dieng and the three years and $48 million left on his contract, they will need the Kings. No one in the NBA comes close to the $11 million in salary-cap space that the Kings possess to absorb a contract, as well as the several expiring contracts -- including Zach Randolph ($11.6 million), Iman Shumpert ($11 million) and Kosta Koufos ($8.7 million) -- to move onto a team that prefers to clear cap space in July.
In recent days, Sacramento has been aggressive in courting Minnesota and several of Butler's trade suitors -- offering to use its space as a landing spot for bloated contracts. The Kings are without their first-round draft pick in 2019 and uniquely positioned to leverage that cap space into, at a minimum, a future first-round pick and maybe more as part of a Butler blockbuster. The Brooklyn Nets, LA Clippers and Miami Heat all have contracts that they would love to unload, and a Butler deal could mean that they deliver Sacramento a pick and cash to take on a veteran player.
Assistant GM Brandon Williams has informed teams that the Kings aren't opposed to parking contracts that extend into the 2019-20 season, including Dieng. Whatever happens with the Butler deal, the Kings are determined to use that $11 million in cap space and their expiring contracts to gather more assets for the future.
ESPN's Zach Lowe contributed to this report.