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The Secret Detail of Jimmy Butler’s Infamous Timberwolves Practice

The newest 76er explains to JJ Redick when he asked for a trade, why he sat out the preseason, and how his scrimmage with the Timberwolves’ third string actually played out

Jimmy Butler smiling Getty Images/Ringer illustration

On the latest episode of The JJ Redick Podcast, JJ sat down with his new teammate Jimmy Butler to discuss the shooting guard’s newsy 2018. They covered the types of cars Butler prefers, how he’s changed since his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls, the best aspect of playing for the 76ers, and more. Crucially, they also discussed Butler’s now-infamous practice with the Timberwolves (his old team), in which he played with third-stringers. Butler does not hold back in explaining the instant NBA legend.

To listen to the entire conversation, click here. This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

When Jimmy Butler Asked Minnesota for a Trade

JJ Redick: I’m gonna ask you a question and I’d like you to be honest with me. We’re going get into it in a second about the timing of your trade request [from his former team, the Minnesota Timberwolves], ’cause from the outside looking in, it seems like the trade request was made the day before training camp. Which is not true.

Jimmy Butler: Everything is not what it seems.

Redick: When you were talking with the Timberwolves, especially early on, was Philly even a team that was on your radar?

Butler: It was. When they were talking, Minnesota and Philly, they liked the deal that they were starting to get and then put together. So that’s when I became kinda aware that I could end up in Philly. Did I think this was gonna be where I ended up? I didn’t think so. And the only reason I didn’t think so was because it’s like, Philly is already a really, really good team. If you put me on there, I would like to think I’m a good enough player to add a little something and maybe get us to the hump of Eastern Conference finals, maybe even Finals.

Redick: Yeah.

Butler: So I was thinking, “There’s no way.” Truthfully. But there was a way. … And I’m here and I’m loving it.

But back to what you said. Everything is not what it seems. Everybody was like: “Why did he wait?”

Redick: I asked myself that question a dozen times. When this story broke it was like, the night before training camp opened, right?

Butler: A couple, a couple—

Redick: A couple days, but yeah. [Adrian Wojnarowski] broke the story on ESPN. But that’s not what happened?

Butler: That’s not how it goes, because that’s from the outside looking in. If you’re on the outside lookin’ in, you don’t know. [With] everything that comes out, it’s always a “source says” or something. It’s never “Jimmy Butler said” or “Thibs said.” It’s never that. There’s always a source, so the source said, “Oh, he waited a day.” No.

Redick: So you had talked to the Timberwolves?

Butler: Yes.

Redick: All summer.

Butler: Yes.

Redick: And they knew that you would have liked to been traded.

Butler: Yes. Now, you have to look at it this way: I think everybody knows who I absolutely love and respect out of everybody in that organization, that person would be—

Redick: [Tom Thibodeau].

Butler: Thibs, no doubt. So do you think that I just waited and just was like, “You know what, Thibs? Here’s the hammer. Boom. Let me go.” No.

But do you think Thibs wanted to hear that?

Redick: No.

Butler: Exactly my point. So, that was the disconnect. That was one of the hardest things I had to do. I’m not gonna lie to you. To tell my guy, to tell Thibs, like, “Hey, this ain’t it.”

Redick: I also think his role complicated the whole matter.

Butler: It did.

Redick: And so there’s that tension—there’s the history and the bond that you guys had—there’s that tension. And there’s this back-and-forth of the right way to proceed. There had to have been, regardless of where it was that you ended up, there had to just have been an overwhelming sense of relief once you were traded.

Butler: Man, what? I was always gonna compete no matter what, whenever I’m out there on the floor. But to know that I got what I wanted, they got what they wanted. I mean, the players that they got back is a relief in itself. It makes me smile. It makes me happy cause I’m enjoying coming into work again.

I was still going to do the same thing, working on my game no matter what. Eventually I knew that something was going to happen, so for the most part, it being a business you have to be cognizant and think about the possibilities of you going out there and you playing nicked up. Knock on wood, I don’t wanna get hurt. I don’t want anybody to get hurt. But knowing that you’re eventually gonna get traded anyways, you get hurt. Now I think about what happens, you know what I mean? Now you’re thinking about your future. So that’s in my mind too. But now that I’m here [with Philly], I don’t even think about that no more. And I don’t like thinking about the fact of getting hurt or injured for anybody.

So now I’m just out there hooping. Just going. Just doing what I love to do. Smiling, wearing headbands, name it. I’m just having fun, and that’s how you can tell I’m back to being me.

Redick: The swerve.

Butler: Yeah, there you go.

Why Butler Missed the Preseason

Redick: I get the whole hesitation about your body and your health, in terms of that playing in limbo of “I know I’m gonna be traded but I’m here and I’ve gotta do my job,” but from a mental approach, also your spirit and your soul, how difficult [is that]?

Butler: Hard.

Redick: The best example I could use would be like—it’s happened twice in my career—but towards the end of my time in L.A. [with the Clippers], I had a feeling they weren’t going to bring me back and they were going to break that team up [the 2016-17 Clippers] and that last year, at times, it was tough. Like, I knew I had a job to do but emotionally—

Butler: You gotta look out for you.

Redick: Spiritually it was hard to get yourself going and—

Butler: You’re not in it.

Redick: Right, but you lose your edge when you do that.

Butler: You definitely do. Don’t get me wrong. That’s why I would say I would try to my best ability not to put myself in that situation because I only know one way to play, and that’s to go hard and to try to prove that I’m the best player on the floor every time I enter the gym, I step between those lines. So if my body’s not where it’s supposed to be or my mind’s not in it the way it was supposed to be, it’s kinda like—

Redick: So are these the days when you were basically telling Thibs, “Hey man, I’m sitting this game out”? Or was that more of a give-and-take between the two of you?

Butler: Give and take? JJ, I didn’t play preseason. You know what I was doing? I was going to the Life Time in Plymouth and I was hooping with your brothers and I was hooping with my brothers. I was just hooping with people just ’cause I missed the game.

Redick: With my brothers? You mean, like, [fellow former Duke player] Tyus Jones? Or normal people?

Butler: Just normal people. You got an older brother?

Redick: A younger brother.

Butler: Younger brother. So if your younger brother was out there, I’d be hooping with him. Just people that lived in the area. I would just go hoop with them, ’cause I missed the game, and it was like at 5 a.m. It was crazy cause there were so many people in the gym, and we’d go in there. We getting up and down, guys lacing up their shoes, and they’ll look up and they’ll be like: “Ah, hell no. Why is he in the gym right now?” I was giving out buckets left and right, so because of that—that was what really went into me sitting out a couple games. I didn’t play preseason and I wasn’t out of shape, I wasn’t in NBA basketball—

Redick: Game shape.

Butler: I was in game shape in Life Time, Plymouth, but not NBA-superstars-going-up-and-down game shape.

Redick: The way you play, too, a lot is asked of you in terms of playing both sides of the ball. I mean, when we played Charlotte, you had to guard Kemba Walker in the second half of the game.

Butler: Kemba gave me 60. Let’s go to a different game.

Redick: The other night, second half, you had to guard Blake Griffin.

Butler: Locked that up. Blake can’t score on me. I don’t care what you say. You heard that, Blake. Ain’t worried about you.

The Infamous Timberwolves Practice

Redick: I gotta ask you one more question about perception versus reality, and again, I am taking ownership of this, my own sort of judgment call on this. There was this infamous practice, and I was not there. You were there. But who knows what happened at this practice where you come and you play with the third string, you give the first string buckets, talk a bunch of shit, and then immediately after you do a sit-down interview with Rachel Nichols. I’m thinking to myself: “That’s all premeditated. That’s all planned, like he goes out there he causes a scene at practice.”

Butler: It’s not.

Redick: I’m just being honest. We talked about this.

Butler: I know.

Redick: He goes out there, he causes a scene at practice, and then he’s got some PR move five minutes later.

Butler: Look, I did go to Marquette University, so I know you think I’m really that smart, but that’s not what happened. What happened was: This interview was planned three weeks ahead of time to talk about what was going on. So I would keep going into the office talking with management, talking with Thibs, and they would be like, “Hey, you need to come in and practice.” I was like, “Thibs, what I need to come in and practice for? Y’all gonna trade me.” What’s the point of practicing—going in there, getting up and down—and then I’m gonna be gone in a day. ’Cause it was always like: We almost got a deal, we almost got a deal, we almost got a deal.

Redick: Let me ask you a question about this practice. Did they want you to practice with the first team? Because that doesn’t make sense.

Butler: Yeah, I’m getting to it. It’s not really heated [with Wolves management]. We’re literally just talking, and then somebody says: “You’re gonna practice.” Now, first of all, I have a for-real problem with authority. When somebody’s telling me what to do as a grown man, I have a problem with it. So now you done lit the match, but ain’t nothin’ on fire yet. You just lit the match.

I was like: “First of all, you’re not going to tell me what I’m gonna do. If I choose to practice, I’ll choose to practice.” And I’m like: “Nah, I don’t know just yet.” And then he was like: “No, you’re gonna practice.” Now you’re getting that fire a little too close to me, so I’m like: “Let me tell you something, if I’m going to practice, I’ll come off the bench, like I’ll play with this second group if I want to as long as I’m out there in practice.” Boom.

This person goes: “No, you’re gonna play with the starters.” There you go. You did got me now. No I’m not. I’m gonna play with the third-stringers, now what? I’m telling them I don’t think it’s a good idea to do it, because I know whenever I go in there, I’m trying to basically just prove a point.

Redick: You were on one.

Butler: I was on one, there you go. I was on one. All because he lit the match. I would’ve been cool otherwise.

So we go into the practice, and I’m telling Thibs, I just wanna hoop, like I just wanna get up and down. See if I can go. And we start doing some drills, and at the end we start hooping. Now that’s when all of the stuff goes on. We play, we win, and I’m yapping. I’m yapping, I’m yapping. I always talk, anyways. If you can’t tell, I’m always talking, talking about how somebody can’t guard me, or nobody can beat me. I do that. That’s what I do. This time it was just a little bit different ’cause of whose team I was on and I ain’t been around, so it was just taken up a notch and it didn’t help who was watching—ownership, management, all of that good stuff.

The thing that people overlook is the fact that nobody would know what went on in practice if somebody didn’t go say word-for-word what I said. Who does that? That’s like us practicing right now, and then as soon as we get over with practice, you walk over there, like, “Man, Jimmy told Coach a joke today, and it started with knock, knock.” It’s just like, why would you go tell word for word what was said and what happened? When have you seen that? But even more than that—

Redick: Ideally, things should be kept internal. I agree.

Butler: But even more than that, why would you say he beat you with the third-stringers? I wouldn’t even say that. That’s the part that got me.

Then I had the interview [with Rachel Nichols] set up three weeks ago for that night. Now, when it broke, Rachel was like, “You know we got to talk about this now,” and I was like, man, here we go. And as the interview was going on, more and more stuff is coming out like: boom, boom, boom, boom. And it wasn’t meant to get all the way out like that. It just happened.

Redick: And as you and I know, these type of things as they’re happening in real time, NBA Twitter just eats it up.

Butler: It’s crazy. If Woj says it has happened, that’s the part that pisses me off. Man, Woj knows.

Redick: I would’ve liked to have been not necessarily on the court with you that day, but just in that gym. Was it uncomfortable, or were people like, “Oh no, it’s just Jimmy being Jimmy”? The way it was sort of recited in the media, it seemed that it would be a little sweaty, a little balmy in there. A little uncomfortable.

Redick: Competing. If you love to compete, you would’ve thrived in the environment. Seriously. Everybody wanted to beat me to show. The crazy part is the most interesting detail wasn’t told.

The most interesting detail of that whole scrimmage that nobody knows: I only shot the ball once.

Redick: Really?

Butler: I only shot the ball one time. I only shot the ball once.

Redick: But every quote coming out of there was like: “Jimmy was getting buckets. He was dominating.”

Butler: Oh, I was dominating, but I only shot the ball once. Dimes, boom, boom, boom. Steals, blocks. I only shot the ball one time.