Jimmy Butler is back with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and his first practice of the season had fireworks.
He caused them — with his words and his play.
Butler, who asked for a trade more than three weeks ago, practiced with the Timberwolves for the first time this season in Minneapolis on Wednesday. ESPN reported that Butler verbally challenged players, coaches and even general manager Scott Layden in the practice, during which Butler dominated the team’s scrimmages even when going up against stars like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
In an interview taped with ESPN after practice, Butler acknowledged that “a lot” of the network’s report was true and that the scene in practice was him just showing passion and being “brutally honest.”
“All my emotion came out at one time,” Butler said in the interview. “Was it the right way to do it? No. But I can’t control that when I’m out there competing. That’s my love of the game. That’s raw me. Me at my finest, me at my purest. That’s what you’re going to get inside the lines.”
The four-time NBA All-Star said he warned coach Tom Thibodeau before practice that he would let his emotions out if he played, and that’s apparently what happened.
“I haven’t played basketball in so long,” Butler said during the interview. “And I’m so passionate and I love the game and I don’t do it for any other reason except for to compete and go up against the best to try to prove that I can hang.”
This saga started in mid-September, when it became known that Butler told Thibodeau that he wanted a trade. Thibodeau has said the team will try to make Butler happy, but has cautioned throughout the process that Minnesota will only do a deal that it deems is good for Minnesota.
“We’re always going to do what’s best for the team,” Thibodeau said. “That’s the important thing for everyone to understand, and if that means he’s here, then he’ll be here.”
Thibodeau lauded Butler’s fire after practice Wednesday.
“If he’s here, or he’s somewhere else, once he gets there or he’s here, he’s going to give you everything he has,” Thibodeau said. “He’s a competitor.”
Butler is a four-time All-Star who was Minnesota’s leading scorer last season and helped the Wolves snap a 14-year playoff drought. He can exercise his right to become a free agent after this season and command a deal that might be worth up to $190 million. So as if a trade involving someone as talented as Butler wasn’t enough of a challenge, there’s also his looming contract situation for potential suitors to consider.
The Timberwolves have had talks with several teams since Butler made the request — including Miami — and nearly got a deal done with the Heat over the weekend. But those negotiations broke down, a person with direct knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press. The person said on Wednesday that the Heat have not initiated any further conversation with Minnesota since. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because details of the trade talks have not been publicly disclosed.
Butler, in the ESPN interview, insisted money is not his motivation — and indicated he’s been unhappy in Minnesota for some time.
“It’s not about money,” Butler said. “It’s about saying, ‘We need you. We want you here. We can’t do this without you.’ And that was the disconnect all year long. You’re saying one thing and you’re saying it, you’re saying it, you’re saying it. … Actions speak louder than words.”
Minnesota guard Jeff Teague, a close friend of Butler’s, said after practice Wednesday that Butler’s status shouldn’t be a distraction for Wolves players.
“It’s part of the game,” Teague said. “I don’t think it’s distracting me, but maybe it is distracting some other guys. Either way, man, I love Jimmy. Jimmy is my guy. But if he’s not here, we’ve got a good team.”
Butler said in the interview he only wants happiness.
“Whoever I suit up for … I’m going to do my job,” Butler said.
Butler told ESPN that he plans to be back at practice Thursday, but cautioned that the relationship with the Timberwolves is still fractured.
“It’s not fixed,” Butler said. “Let’s just be honest, it’s not fixed.”
Butler was then asked if the situation could be fixed.
“It could be. It could be,” Butler said. “But do I think so? No.”