Jimmy Butler is trying to get out of Minnesota by whatever means possible. Three weeks ago, he requested a trade after meeting with head coach Tom Thibodeau in Los Angeles. On Wednesday, his exit strategy took a more demonstrative turn: Butler showed up to Wolves practice in Minnesota and set everything on fire with a basketball and a few choice words.
Butler kept his distance from the organization during the preseason, so the fact that he was even at Wolves practice, let alone participating, was enough to create a stir. But from there, Butler escalated the situation from 0 to 10,000 in a way that only he can.
“You fucking need me. You can’t win without me,” Butler said to general manager Scott Layden during a heated scrimmage, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Butler isn’t wrong. The Wolves do need him. He showed as much by reportedly leading a crew of bench players like James Nunnally and C.J. Williams over the starters, which included young cornerstones Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butler reportedly “dominated the gym in every way” and then just walked out—a literal mic-drop performance. Or at least that’s how it was communicated in Woj’s sourced tweets about the ordeal, which he punctuated with phrases like “Jimmy’s back” and “Butler delivered a tour de force.”
This feels straight out of a soap opera—to the point where it feels like there’s a staged aspect to it all. Following Wojnarowski’s torrent of updates, Butler held a sit-down interview with ESPN. Suddenly, Rachel Nichols was in a chair in front of Butler as the All-Star explained his actions and doubled down on how he really felt. (Nichols later tweeted that she had gotten a call the night before that Butler was “ready to talk.”)
“A lot of it is true,” Butler said about the reports. “All my emotion came out at one time. Was it the right way to do it? No. But I can’t control that. … I was honest. Was I brutally honest? Yes.”
“Everybody is so scared to be honest,” Butler continued. “If you didn’t like the way I handled myself in practice, one of the players [should] come up to me; somebody say something, anybody. … It’s not personal.”
Regardless of how it all played out, Butler’s point about the flaws on the Wolves’ roster was loud and clear. According to Yahoo’s Chris Haynes, Butler at one point was guarding Towns in the post and said, “He can’t do [expletive] against me.” Towns passed the ball up. Both Towns and Wiggins reportedly did not confront Butler at any point, though Wiggins did give Butler a “hand dap” before Butler stormed out. A hand dap! Butler, in the interview with ESPN, said, “KAT came at me.” But according to Woj, the players were “energized” by Butler’s performance.
The irony here is that this is exactly why Tom Thibodeau brought Butler to Minnesota in the first place. Thibs thrives on this sort of fiery attitude, and Butler, whom he coached during his Bulls heyday, was supposed to help pass that mentality along to their young and talented core. Instead, Butler’s frustrations over Towns and Wiggins’ inability to get his message fueled his request to be traded. Wednesday’s practice ultimately became one last challenge.
“It’s not fixed. It could be,” Butler said of his relationship to the franchise’s leadership in the interview. “But do I think so? No.”
It’s impossible to see how this gets worse—except for the fact that Butler still hasn’t been traded. He made his trade request three weeks ago, but he’s still in Minnesota with six days until the season begins. Something has to give. And when Butler leaves—whether it’s now or opting out of his contract next summer—Thibodeau and other Wolves personnel may join because of this mess.
It feels like it was centuries ago when Butler playfully gave out his phone number at his introductory press conference at Minnesota’s Mall of America. Those were happier days. Now the franchise in shambles, and what was supposed to be a new, prosperous era of Wolves basketball may already be over. Butler didn’t just shut the door on his way out; on Wednesday, he burned it all to the ground.