Sports fans don’t generally appreciate it when a player demands to be traded off their favorite team. They’re just kind of funny that way.
Thus Jimmy Butler can likely expect to hear it from the Minnesota crowd at the Timberwolves' home opener Friday. That is, if he’s still on the team, which would certainly not be the preference of Butler, who made it clear in September that he wants to be somewhere else.
But assuming he is still with the Timberwolves, Butler apparently won’t mind getting booed at Minnesota’s Target Center. In fact, the veteran swingman said he’d welcome it.
“Go ahead, boo me. It ain’t going to change the way I play,” Butler, 29, said Sunday to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. “That’s going to make me smile more. So please, come on with it.”
If Butler seems unusually eager to receive jeering rather than cheering, it might because he figures that a negative environment in their home arena could give the Timberwolves that much more urgency to resolve the issue and accede to Butler’s desire. By some accounts, Minnesota has been asking for a much higher price than other teams are willing to pay for a player in the last year of his contract, and there have also been reports of disagreement in the Timberwolves' front office on whether to pursue any kind of deal, with Tom Thibodeau, the organization’s head coach and president of basketball operations, thought to be a fan of Butler’s hard-nosed style.
That style was never more evident than in a practice session last week in which Butler reportedly berated Thibodeau and General Manager Scott Layden while belittling the Timberwolves' two high-priced young stars, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butler, who had not been with the team since making his trade demand in mid-September, also took the opportunity to humiliate that pair by teaming with some of the squad’s fringe players to repeatedly defeat regular-rotation members in scrimmage games.
Butler was reported to have yelled “They ain’t s---!” and “They soft!” at Towns and Wiggins, leaving other Minnesota players described as alternately “energized,” “mesmerized” and “distraught” at the display, which ended when the four-time all-star abruptly left the facility. He then more or less went straight to an on-camera interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, telling her that while Towns and Wiggins are the team’s most “talented” and “God-gifted” players, they don’t play as hard as he does and might not have his focus on winning.
Of his various actions that day, Butler told Krawczynski, “I don’t regret nothing,” except that he “should have left out the cuss words.” Not feeling quite the same way was famed ex-Timberwolf Kevin Garnett, who said Friday to the Athletic reporter, “It’s a s--- storm up there.”
“I’m just hoping they can get through this rough patch, and everybody can get on the same path and figure it out,” Garnett, the franchise’s leader in games, field goals, free throws, rebounds, steals, assists and blocks, said of the present-day Timberwolves.
In attempt to at least figure out how to maintain some semblance of locker-room calm, as well as to make sure that his disgruntled star keeps lines of communication open, team owner Glen Taylor reportedly traveled to the Twin Cities on Sunday to meet with Butler after a team practice. According to Krawczynski, they arrived at an agreement in which Taylor pledged to “continue to work diligently to find a trade as soon as possible,” and until that happens, Butler is supposed to be “a good teammate” and continue to “play as hard as he always does.”
“They want me to go out here and hoop to the best of my abilities,” Butler said. “Make sure I’m healthy. Compete, ‘cause that’s what I love to do. Go up against the best, ‘cause that’s what I love to do. And do it for the guys that’s in the same jerseys as me.”
When asked Sunday if he expected Butler to be in a Minnesota jersey on Wednesday, when the team begins its regular season with a road game against the Spurs, Thibodeau said, “Yes, yep.”
Butler was acquired by the Timberwolves last year in a draft-day trade from the Bulls, with whom he spent the first six years of his career. He played with his usual offensive efficiency and defensive intensity for Minnesota, but reports began leaking out that he was disenchanted with Towns and Wiggins, and after he and the team reportedly couldn’t agree on a contract extension, Butler asked out.
Minnesota still could try to hang on to Butler and hope that improved play from its other two stars changes Butler’s mood, or it could wait until February’s deadline to trade him, hoping that a contending team decides to push it chips to the middle by giving Minnesota a king’s ransom. However, it sounds like Taylor is ready to make a deal in the near future, with the trust that Butler is willing to play ball, both literally and figuratively.
For his part, Wiggins had praise for Butler, telling reporters Sunday (via the Minneapolis Star Tribune), “All I know is, when we start playing the real games, Jimmy is someone you want on your team. At the end of the day, people can say what they want to say. But he’s a winner.
"I feel like, no matter where he is, he’s right here now. He’s going to give it all, because that’s all he knows.”
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