On Sunday, for a second time since requesting a trade, Jimmy Butler practiced with the Timberwolves. It was, he said, just as intense an experience as his much-reported workout with the team Wednesday, sans the swear words. After it was over, after a lengthy post-practice shooting session, Butler shared his thoughts with the media.
He was both coy and informative, alternately humorous with his answers and serious.
When asked whether he’d play in Wednesday’s opener in San Antonio, Butler demurred. “I don’t even know if I’ll be breathing tomorrow,” he said. “I’m just taking it one day at a time.”
But, moments later, when asked if he was in game shape, he said he was, saying he’d just ask coach Tom Thibodeau for a breather if he felt like he needed one. Sounds like a fellow getting ready to play, no?
Asked if his relationship with team management has changed, he said no. Sounds like a fellow who still wants to be traded. Asked if that was so, Butler smiled. “Maybe,” he said.
A source told the Star Tribune that Butler and team owner Glen Taylor met and came to an understanding that Butler would play while Taylor pledged the team will keep searching for a deal and honor his trade request.
Assuming no trade is made, expect Butler to be in a Wolves uniform Wednesday. Asked if he expected that to happen, Thibodeau said, “Yes, yep,” before saying the situation is still fluid. “We’re always looking at options,” he said.
While Thibodeau was mostly tight-lipped and Butler was mainly smiling, Taylor — who also owns the Star Tribune — and wife Becky were at practice, a relative rarity. The Wolves have weathered a difficult preseason filled with defensive lapses and a 1-4 record. Including Sunday, the team has three days to change the direction. Just how much Butler will be a part of that, long-term, remains, well, fluid.
But, more and more, it appears No. 23 will be on the court Wednesday. Butler said he didn’t regret missing the start of camp and didn’t think what has transpired would affect his ability to play with — and lead — this team.
His message to teammates? “They know,” Butler said. “I talk to them, every day. I miss my guys. I want to compete. They know that. They know I have my best interests in it, and theirs. I tell them everything I see out there on the court, ’cause I want them to be great, even if I’m not there.”
For Butler, it’s business, not personal.
“That’s my message to everybody,” Butler said. “It’s not personal. Especially to my guys. We’re the ones who have to run up and down this court every single day. I make sure to remind them every single day that I’m paying attention. I’m watching, I’m helping. ’Cause I want to help everyone to be better. I want y’all to win games. My name is still attached to this thing. I’m still here, so we’d better win.”
How is that playing with the rest of the team?
“All I know is, when we start playing the real games, Jimmy is someone you want on your team,” said Andrew Wiggins, who became a father to a baby girl, Amyah, while the rest of the team was in Milwaukee for the final preseason game Friday. “At the end of the day, people can say what they want to say. But he’s a winner. I feel like, no matter where he is, he’s right here now. He’s going to give it all, because that’s all he knows.”
Wiggins said the two have never had any problems. “At the end of the day we’re all here to hoop,” he said. “It’s always a plus to have Jimmy on the team.”
For now anyway. Butler said he’s in constant communication with Taylor. And as long as he’s here he’ll play hard. “They want me to go out here and hoop to the best of my abilities,” he said. “Make sure I’m healthy, compete. ’Cause that’s what I love to do, and do it for the guys that’s in the same jerseys as me.”
Finally, Butler was asked what sort of reaction he might get from the fans should he be here for Friday’s home opener. Boos, perhaps?
“Sure, boo me,” he said. “Ain’t going to change the way I play. Probably going to make me smile more. Please, come with it.”
Staff writer Chris Hine contributed to this story.