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Taj Gibson on Jimmy Butler trade request: “It was like a right hook. I didn’t see it coming.”

Taj Gibson, Josh Hart

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Taj Gibson, right, dunks as Los Angeles Lakers’ Josh Hart looks on in the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)


Jimmy Butler’s frustration with Minnesota had been growing since last season — his frustration with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins and their passion/work ethic in particular. With Towns the dislike was mutual, and when the young center was offered a max contract extension he did not want to sign it until the situation with Butler was resolved. All of it kept getting hotter and hotter for Butler until he boiled over and asked for a trade right before training camp.

For teammate Taj Gibson, Butler’s request came out of the blue.

He told ESPN’s Nick Friedell he did not expect this and talked about how the team is dealing with this.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to look at it from a player’s standpoint and a business standpoint,” Gibson told ESPN after Friday’s practice. “He’s trying to do what he got to do, but everybody’s calling him. It’s more of a [situation where] I’ve got to go see him kind of thing. But I worked out with him all summer, so when I said what I meant, it was like a right hook. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t know. I thought -- it looked like from everything things were going good. But sometimes it’s a money aspect, and fans and different players got to understand that. I understand that with being in the league for so many years, but got to try to just see what we can do.

”... One thing about everybody who’s here, from the coaching staff, players, everybody’s familiar with each other, we’ve been through a lot together, so we just got to keep trying.”

In a Western Conference with no margin for error — Minnesota won 47 games and didn’t qualify for the playoffs until the last night of the regular season last time around, oh, and the Lakers and Nuggets will be better this season — no Butler is a huge blow. The Timberwolves were 12.8 points per 100 possessions better last season when Butler was on the court, and the improvement was on both ends. Minnesota was 8-9 when Butler was out for a key stretch the second half of last season, and 10-13 in the games he missed overall.

For the Timberwolves players, there is little they can do but try to make the best of it and hope whatever players come back in a Butler trade (whenever it happens) will be a boost. No Butler puts a lot more pressure on Andrew Wiggins to start to live up to his max contract — and do so every night, not once every couple of weeks. Other players such as Keita Bates-Diop, Josh Okogie, James Nunnally, and Thibs favorite (so you know he’ll get a long look) Luol Deng.