Jimmy Butler and the Timberwolves have had quite the eventful day. In a practice that will go down in NBA history, Butler returned to the Timberwolves for the first time since his trade demand. He did not return to be buddy-buddy, however, as Butler spent the practice screaming at front office members, coaches, and teammates. Butler was clearly sending a message to Minnesota: Trade me now, or this isn’t the last time something like this happens.
Butler yelled at everybody, but according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports, much of his rage was directed at Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The two young budding stars of the Timberwolves are players that Butler wants to see more out of and he reportedly let them hear it in practice. According to the report, Towns didn’t respond to Butler’s words, but he was left speechless.
Screaming from the top of his lungs, Butler uttered taunts at his teammates such as “They ain’t [expletive]!” and “They soft!”, league sources said. Most of the players knew the invectives were directed at Towns and Wiggins, league sources said.
Butler naturally wasn’t in the best of shape, league sources said, but he held his own.
At one point, Butler found himself guarding Towns in the post and when the big man received the entry pass, Butler yelled, “He can’t do [expletive] against me!” and Towns ended up kicking the ball out, league sources said.
Neither Towns nor Wiggins confronted Butler at any point, league sources said
Some players were motivated by Butler’s theatrics, but others were distraught and speechless, and most notably Towns, league sources said.
From this point of view, Butler comes off a lot like the school bully that Towns just can’t get rid of. No matter what Towns says or does, Butler screams at him harder and, eventually, it forces Towns into a shell unable to respond. It’s hard to believe that Towns had much reason to go at Butler with force in practice considering everybody knows that Butler is going to eventually be traded, but it’s a little concerning to see him get challenged this way and apparently not respond. Of course, this entire situation is so weird that maybe he didn’t know how to respond.
Perhaps Butler was putting on a show for his eventual ESPN interview. Maybe it was just convenience that ESPN happened to be at Wolves practice today, but shortly after the incident, Butler was doing a sit-down interview with Rachel Nichols about everything that happened. He gave a slightly different account of everything that went down.
“I was seeing red,” Butler claims. “It was emotion, it was passion. To tell you the truth, I didn’t go at those two. One of them came at me. One of ’em came at me. KAT. KAT came at me. We were up in practice and he said, “Anybody can get this work.’ I said, ‘Do it to me.’ That’s all I said. I said, ‘Every time I get switched onto you, you pass it.’ I’m a competitor, I’m in here talking, come at me. If you score on me, I’m gonna tap you on your butt. Good move, you got the best of me. But you gotta do it every time.”
Nichols then asked Butler about his interaction with Towns, which led to Butler talking about both of Minnesota’s young stars.
“It depends on how you look at it,” Butler said. “Am I being tough on him? Yeah. Yeah. That’s who I am. I’m not the most talented player on the team. Who’s the most talented player on the team? KAT. Who’s the most god-gifted player on the team? Wiggs. Wiggs got the longest arms, biggest hands, can jump the highest, can run the fastest. But like, who plays the hardest? Me. I play hard. I play really hard. I put my body on the line every day in practice. Every day in the games.
“Everybody wants to talk about leadership,” Butler continued. “Everybody leads in different ways. That’s how I show I’m here for you. I want you to be great. I can tell when somebody’s on some BS because they’re jogging down the floor because they haven’t shot the ball. I’m gonna give it to you. I know you. That’s me. I know you. How many times have I jumped out of bounds and hit Wiggs in the corner for three? I know he misses it. Because I see him standing over there in the corner, and nobody looks him off it’s just they don’t know Wiggs like I know Wiggs. … Play hard. That’s it. Play for one another. Win. At all costs. The only reason you play this game is for these guys you suit up with.”
It seems that, to Butler, this is all just him giving tough love to the young guys. He sees their talent, but he wants them to work just as hard as he does. If they do that, then they’ll receive his blessing. The problem is that it’s hard to see a way that Towns and Butler fix their relationship — it’s quote possibly too far gone and there are already conflicting reports of how exactly their latest confrontation went down. The Yahoo! report says that Butler came at Towns, while Butler says that Towns came at him.
Regardless, Towns has a lot of work ahead of him. He’s been publicly embarrassed by Butler in a way that he’ll have to respond to, and he now needs to enter this season and play the best basketball of his career. If he doesn’t, then there might be murmurings that Butler was on to something.