Minnesota Timberwolves star small forward Jimmy Butler recently sat down with Vice Sports for an exclusive interview in which he details why some people don’t understand and like him, and that he’s perfectly fine with it.
Butler, after spending his first six years in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, was traded to the Wolves this summer and is reuniting with old coach Tom Thibodeau — the man responsible for his growth and rugged style of play.
Everyone is familiar with Butler’s story by now.
The Bulls took a chance on Butler in the 2011 draft with the 30th pick, and watched the Texas native grow from a defensive specialist into one of the best two-way players in the league in a short amount of time.
The 2014-15 season was Butler’s breakout year. The 6-foot-7 swingman averaged 20.0 points per game and won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.
It was after that stellar campaign, however, when Butler started to change according to some people within the Bulls organization. Butler was no longer that “humble kid from Tomball, Texas,” and the now three-time All-Star says his emergence forced him to view things differently.
“I think they [the Bulls] maybe expected me to stay the same, and I don’t think that that’s right. Like, I have changed. I will tell you that. But I think that I’ve changed for the better.
“When I say for the better, whenever I was a rookie, averaging 0.8 points per game or whatever it might be, it wouldn’t matter if I scored that 0.8 because it wasn’t going to win or lose us a game. Now, you go forward a couple years when I’m averaging 20 points per game, that’s more than likely gonna cost us a game. It’s gonna be the difference between winning or losing. Am I right?
“So now I don’t give a damn about pressure, but if someone’s going to take the blame for something, who they gonna point to? Me. So yeah, I’ve changed, because I want to (expletive) win. I want to show that I can win. So the way I go about things, it’s not gonna be the way I went about things when I was a rookie, [when] I’m not gonna say anything. Now I’ve got something to (expletive) say.”
The Bulls, who still had Derrick Rose in 2015, looked primed to make a deep playoff run and were up 2-1 against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second-round.
Game 4 was there for the Bulls to take, but LeBron hit a game-winning three right in Butler’s face to tie the series at two games a piece and Chicago was never able to rebound after that loss, losing the next two games to close out their season.
That Game 4 defeat was the end of the Thibs era in Chicago so to speak. The Bulls fired the demonstrative coach after five successful seasons and hired Fred Hoiberg as his replacement.
Hoiberg’s first year in The Windy City was a mess from start to finish, and whether he admits it or not, everyone knew Butler despised playing for Hoiberg.
The Bulls missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season in 2016 and Butler publicly ripped Hoiberg in the media, calling for Hoiberg to coach harder — something that rubbed some of the higher-ups in the Bulls organization the wrong way since Hoiberg was essentially their puppet.
After Chicago traded away Rose, Butler was the new franchise player this past year and he produced like one, averaging 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists during the regular season.
But the Bulls’ brass never fully committed to Butler being the guy they wanted to build around, as they dangled his name in trade talks for two years straight before finally moving him this offseason.
Butler’s reputation took a hit after he and Dwyane Wade called out the young guys on the Bulls after an epic collapse to the Atlanta Hawks, as some pundits were claiming Butler wasn’t a good leader and is toxic.
Former NBA player Antoine Walker even went as far as saying Butler was a “bad locker room guy.”
There is no doubt Butler’s ego has risen since he entered the league. He’s a max contract guy and arguably a top 15 player. He’s earned everything he has gotten through hard work and dedication and naturally that is going to make him feel more entitled.
In the same interview with Vice Sports, Butler shares an interesting tidbit about himself that will either excite or worry fans in Minnesota depending on how they view the quote.
“I’m confrontational,” Butler said. “I feed off of confrontation. It makes me go. Not everybody’s like that.
“[Hoiberg] is not that coach, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There are different coaching styles and people are gonna say—which is what they did say—’It’s gonna be Jimmy’s team or it’s gonna be Fred’s team.’ Two total opposite ends of the spectrum.
“They’re either gonna try to win it now or they’re gonna go young. And you see which way they went with it. Completely fine. Yo, it’s y’all’s business. It’s y’all’s organization. It’s cool.
“And now I’m in Minnesota and couldn’t be happier.”
The line where Butler says he likes confrontation could add more fuel to the fire for his critics who claim he’s an egomaniac, but then again Butler says confrontation fuels him to be great, so maybe he wants his teammates to get on him so they can collectively get better as a unit during adverse situations.
Hoiberg is a nonchalant coach who doesn’t command respect from players, which made it easy for Butler to walk all over him in Chicago.
That won’t happen in Minnesota with Thibodeau at the helm.
Butler obviously has great respect for Thibs and he figures to be on his best behavior now that he’s back being coached by a man who won’t be afraid to yell and hold him accountable.
The future is bright for the Wolves, who possess a Big Three of Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. The question now is how will Butler’s new teammates react to his strong personality coming into the locker room.