The next step in closing the loop on the Jimmy Butler era in Minnesota arrived Tuesday when both Butler and the players the Wolves received when they traded him were introduced to their respective new teams and fan bases.
Butler is the celebrity of the bunch, and his news conference was earlier in the day. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Butler made a strong first impression on his new fan base in Philadelphia.
“They like people who grind, that work hard. That’s what I’ve built my basketball talent off of,” Butler said, as if sensing countless 76ers fans nodding their heads. “I love to work. I love to grind. It doesn’t change now. If anything, it means I take it up a notch. I know the city loves that.”
Watching the livestream video on Twitter – complete with all the hearts and comments that go with it in real time – was a reminder of how good Butler is in these situations.
His over-the-top introduction with the Timberwolves just 16 months ago at Mall of America might have been the single biggest occasion of “winning the press conference” that I’ve witnessed in local sports.
On that day, he gushed about the potential he saw with the Wolves young core, promised to recruit even more talent to play in Minnesota and sold a fan base on his sincerity.
“I know that, with the support I’ve already felt from this city, they’re definitely going to love it,” Butler said that day in front of a huge gathering. “Getting here, with this young core, winning these games, anybody’s going to want to be a part of that.”
Anybody, it turned out, except for Butler.
“You all are my people and I will be in this community to the best of my ability,” Butler added in the summer of 2017, bathing in the adoration. “Thank you. I’m so happy to be here, to represent this city now and I look forward to my future here.”
The future, as is often the case, wasn’t quite what we imagined – particularly as it hurtled and sputtered toward an uncomfortable present.
Less than a year after that introduction, there were signs Butler wanted out. Those signals became amplified two months ago with his official trade request.
You’ll recall that the teams on his initial trade wish list – the Nets, Knicks and Clippers – aren’t exactly chasing championships anytime soon. So take this quote from Tuesday however you would like:
“That trophy, getting that ring, all I ever wanted to do is win,” Butler said. “I have a new opportunity here. That’s the goal. That will always be the goal.”
If there is any lingering residue from all that happened in Minnesota, Butler did his best — of course — to downplay it. He said his relationship with longtime coach Tom Thibodeau is still in good standing and that he wished all his former teammates well.
The only whiff of controversy came when Butler hinted that if former teammates had a problem with him and didn’t let him know, it’s because they’re “fake.”
“I think if a player had a problem with me they would (say it),” Butler said Tuesday. “Unless everybody in my past locker rooms were just that fake, I don’t think that I was a problem at all. … I don’t think I’m a bad teammate but people get whatever they want to say out. I think I’m an incredible human being, teammate, and I will show that to the guys here.”
He probably needs to, in this case. If he wears out another welcome as quickly as he wore out the one here, Butler might start running out of chances to win the press conference.