Jimmy Butler sure knows how to make an entrance, even if he desperately wants to make an exit.
Butler returned to Timberwolves practice Wednesday, a little more than three weeks since he made a request of the franchise to trade him — and made his presence felt, confronting teammates and the front office while putting on a show on the court.
Then in an interview with ESPN hours after the practice, the All-Star guard said his relationship with the team was “not fixed” even though he returned to practice.
“People think that,” Butler said. “I would think that, too. It’s not. It’s not fixed. Let’s just be honest. It’s not fixed.”
Is there any way to mend that relationship?
“It could be, but do I think so? No,” he said. “Because you got to be honest. I’m being honest. Do I think so? No.”
This came after Butler took the floor with the Wolves for the first time this preseason and only a week from their regular-season opener at San Antonio. Per multiple reports, Butler played with the third string at practice and went up against — and defeated — the starters during a scrimmage. At one point, Butler turned to General Manager Scott Layden and delivered an expletive-laced message that the team can’t win without him.
Butler said most of what was reported about the practice was accurate.
“All my emotion came out at one time,” Butler said. “Was it the right way to do it? No. But I can’t control that when I’m out there competing. That’s raw me. Me at my finest, me at my purest. That’s what you’re going to get inside the lines.”
Butler’s relationship with the two young cornerstones of the Wolves, forward Andrew Wiggins and center Karl-Anthony Towns, has been a strained one and is one reason Butler wants out of town. Butler said he can be hard on his teammates, and that might not always sit well with Wiggins and Towns.
Towns confronted Butler at practice, according to Butler, who said that even though Towns and Wiggins have a lot of talent, they don’t play as hard as Butler does — one of the main reasons for the disconnect between them.
“Am I being tough on him? Yeah, that’s who am I,” Butler said before repeating a message he delivered at times last season. “I’m not the most talented player on the team. Who is the most talented player on our team? KAT. Who is the most God-gifted player on our team? Wiggs. Who plays the hardest? Me!
"I play hard. I put my body [on the line] every day in practice, every day in games. That’s my passion. Everybody leads in different ways. That’s how I show I’m here for you.”
Butler’s performance sent shock waves around the NBA a few days after trade talks between the Heat and Wolves broke down — talks the Heat reportedly want to resume.
But there was an attitude around some associated with the Wolves that Wednesday’s practice was not a big deal and was typical of Butler, according to a source, even as ESPN reported some in attendance were “mortified” by his actions.
It’s unclear what exactly motivated Butler to return to practice Wednesday, and it is similarly unclear what impact Wednesday’s events will have on efforts to trade — or possibly keep? — him.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune, did not respond to a request for comment.
Butler also said he thought Tom Thibodeau, the Wolves coach and president of basketball operations, approved of what happened because it might motivate some of the younger players.
“I know Thibs. He’s in there by himself, he locked his door and he’s smiling. He’s laughing,” Butler said in the ESPN interview. “Thibs, I know you man. He’s like, ‘Yeah.’ … Thibs is like me. He likes confrontation. He might not tell you all but he likes it.”
Timberwolves practice ended about a half-hour earlier than expected, but it was unclear if Butler’s presence affected that. The media was not allowed in to view practice, and Butler was gone when reporters were let into the facility. Thibodeau did not address Butler’s presence during his media availability, and he could not be reached for comment after Butler’s ESPN appearance aired.
Two players who spoke to the media about Butler, veterans Anthony Tolliver and Jeff Teague, did so in general terms after practice.
“I’ve been around the league,” Teague said. “It’s my 10th year, so I’ve been a part of teams where a lot of things have been going on. It’s part of the game. I don’t think it’s distracting me. It may be distracting some other guys. Either way, man, I love Jimmy. Jimmy is my guy. But if he’s not here, then we’ve got a good team, too.”
Tolliver was more succinct: “[Jimmy] was around. That’s really all I got to say about that.”
The Wolves are scheduled to practice again Thursday.
Staff writer Kent Youngblood contributed to this report.