With the NBA season set to begin this Tuesday, there are plenty of storylines that are dominating the news already, starting with Jimmy Butler’s outburst in practice. During the Timberwolves practice session, Jimmy was seen calling out teammates, coaches, as well as Minnesota’s General Manager Scott Layden.
To the basketball world, Butler is seen as a poised and collected player with a strong IQ for the game. Moreover, he is labeled as a leader that acts as the glue that keeps the team together. Quite frankly, he is the last person that anyone would expect to belittle his teammates, which means there must be valid reasons for doing so.
Throughout his seven year career, Butler has worked tirelessly to put himself in the conversation of the best players in the league. After four straight years of not only being a lockdown defender but also averaging over 20 points per game, it seemed only fitting that he be offered a hefty contract by the team that had not made the playoffs for 14 years until he had arrived. As contract talks stalled, Butler clearly felt betrayed as he mentioned in an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.
“It’s about saying we need you. We want you here. We can’t do this without you,”, he explained. “And that was the disconnect all along. You’re saying one thing. I mean I’ve learned enough times in life that saying something is completely different than acting upon it.”
Although this quote explains his frustration with management, it does not bring to light why he was frustrated with his teammates. Butler would later explain this in the same interview when asked if he felt his teammates did not have winning as their top priority.
“If your No. 1 priority isn’t winning, and people can tell? That’s the battle,” he explains. “Now, there’s a problem between people because that guy’s No. 1 priority is winning and that guy’s isn’t. Of course they’re gonna clash, like, ‘I’m doing this for the team. Are you?’ ‘Ehh.’ Exactly. So, that’s where the disconnect is.”
Before Butler became a Timberwolf, it was very clear that Minnesota was underachieving as they had two number one picks on the same roster, in Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins, yet they could not break into the top eight spots in the Western Conference. Minnesota wanted Butler to change the culture in the locker room to where there was an expectation to win but it seems apparent now that not everyone on the team has bought into that culture.
The dispute between Butler and the organization does not seem to be coming to an end anytime soon as Butler has made it very clear that he wants to be traded immediately. To some, it may be comprehended as him quitting on the team, but that could not be farther from the truth. If Butler could take the third stringers and beat the starters in a scrimmage during practice, it is apparent that winning is not a top priority for the players on the team.
With Butler turning 30 this year, his years for competing for championships and continuing to play at a high level are numbered. For him, he simply does not want to waste his best years on a team that does not have the same desire to compete as he does.
As the Timberwolves face the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night, it will be interesting to see the dynamic between not only Butler and his teammates but also Butler and the coaching staff as well. Perhaps, this lights a fire under his teammates and this becomes the year Minnesota finally lives up to their potential. More likely however, Jimmy Butler will be traded and Minnesota will fall back to being a middle of the pack team in the West.
A version of this story appeared on page 9 of the Oct. 18 print edition of the Daily Nexus.