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  • Writer's pictureVillanova Sports Law Blog

Precautionary Rest: Antic or Authentic?

Updated: Feb 12

By Joe Manganiello:

Jimmy Butler is testing the Minnesota Timberwolves. In September, Butler demanded a trade ahead of the final year of his contract. Weeks of rumors dominated the news cycle. On any given day, Butler was heading to Houston or Miami. These proposed trades were fruitless. The rumors and news came to a head on October 10th when Butler perpetrated a fiasco at a Timberwolves practice. That evening, Butler appeared live on SportsCenter with Rachel Nichols an attempted to explain himself. His message was cryptic at best. Butler has routinely contradicted himself when presented with reports of his demands, all while denying that his desire to flee Minnesota is negatively affecting the team.

Minnesota is 3-4 when Butler plays this season. The advanced stats paint an uglier picture of what the Timberwolves have looked like with Butler, one of the 10 or 15 best players in the world, on the floor.

The latest wrinkle in the Butler saga is that the four-time All-Star has begun sitting out games for “precautionary rest” — a nonsense term which either conceals a genuine physical ailment, or simply masks Butler’s intent to holdout from the Timberwolves.[1] Since October 20th, Butler has sat out three games for this ambiguous reason. In recent games, these rests have become more frequent. [2]

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports announced Butler’s Halloween absence ahead of Minnesota’s game with Utah.

I let (Minnesota) know (how my body feels),” Butler said following a seventeen-point loss to Golden State two nights later.[3] Butler logged 35 minutes and shot 0-for-8 on three-point shots. Butler did not appear to be all that concerned with his or the team’s performance in the 116-99 loss.

Butler is unequivocal that he, not team management, decides whether or not Butler plays in back-to-back games.[4] Sure enough, Butler sat out the first game of a back-to-back on Sunday night, leaving the Timberwolves to suffer a brutal loss to the Blazers, 111-81, and to fall to 4-6 on the season.

With Butler’s behavior evolving from that of a malcontent veteran demanding a trade (par for the course in the NBA) to a player virtually holding out, it is important to remember that the NBA is not like other sports leagues.[5] It is rare for NBA players to holdout because of the league’s collective bargaining agreement. As long as Minnesota continues to excuse Butler’s absence, which is how the organization framed his time away from the team during the preseason, Butler may continue his antics[6]. If Minnesota opts to suspend Butler, in addition to sending a strong message, the team will affect his pocketbook — a suspension would negate his per-game salary as well as expose a portion of his signing bonus.[7]

A suspension would effectively start the clock toward the ultimate punishment. If Butler withholds playing services for more than thirty days, he would fail to accrue a year of service, and would be denied his right to become a free agent next summer.[8] Per Article XI, Section 3, of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, were this situation to occur, Butler would not be allowed to sign with another professional basketball team without the permission of the Timberwolves.[9]

Players are expected to provide certain services while under contract. These requirements include reporting to training camp, attending team meetings, and, naturally, showing up for any, and all, scheduled games.[10] A violation of team rules, a breach of any provision of the contract, or engaging in “any conduct impairing the faithful and thorough discharge of [your] duties” subjects a player to escalating fines for each missed practice as well as suspensions.[11]

NBA commissioner Adam Silver may also decide, under Article 35 of the NBA’s constitution, to suspend or fine any player deemed to be acting in a manner “detrimental to the best interests of basketball or of the Association or of a Member” of the league.[12] Butler is risking his entire $20.4 million salary for 2018-19, and without the promise that he could jettison the Timberwolves when the season is all over.[13] That is bad business.

Butler’s agent has leaked out careful language to the press in recent days to distance Butler’s camp from the idea that he is holding out.

Cutting through the smoke screens and noise, what Butler actually wants is to get traded in-season so that his new team can re-sign him to a five-year, $190 million max contract.[14] If Butler is forced to sign somewhere else as an unrestricted free agent, he is limited to a four-year, $139 million deal. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, only a player’s incumbent team can offer him his full five-year max deal.[15] Butler is attempting to create leverage against Minnesota by withholding his services, or purposefully diminishing his contributions, in the present. It is understood that Butler does not intend on re-signing with Minnesota beyond this season, but while under contract with the team there is little else besides distraction that Butler can do to expedite the process.

[1] Nick Friedell, Jimmy Butler says he might sit out one of Wolves' next two games, ESPN (Nov. 3, 2018)

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Dan Devine, Jimmy Butler Has Played His Hand. Now What?, The Ringer (Oct. 11, 2018)

[6] Dan Feldman, Report: Jimmy Butler holding out from Timberwolves, NBC Sports (Oct. 31, 2018)

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Dan Devine, Jimmy Butler Has Played His Hand. Now What?, The Ringer (Oct. 11, 2018)

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Dan Feldman, Report: Jimmy Butler holding out from Timberwolves, NBC Sports (Oct. 31, 2018)

[15] Id.

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