In an interesting but sometimes wandering recent ESPN story that maybe attempts to weave together too many narratives, we nonetheless learned — or gleaned from some new voices — more about the dynamic in the Timberwolves locker room that preceded Jimmy Butler’s trade to the 76ers.
The Jackie MacMullan piece at times reads as an attempt at rehabilitating the perception of Karl-Anthony Towns … and a Derrick Rose comeback story … and a referendum on Jimmy Butler, but where it gains the most steam is in some strong standalone quotes from pretty much everyone except Towns.
The non-confrontational Towns has his version of things more or less expressed by an interesting voice: John Calipari, who was both Towns’ college coach at Kentucky and Rose’s college coach at Memphis.
The Calipari interview came in late November, not long after Butler had been traded, and spoke to the dynamic between Towns and Butler. Said Calipari:
“I bet that environment was so uncomfortable for him. First of all, he and Jimmy are totally different people — how they were brought up, their likes and dislikes, how they approach competition. You have one guy on this side and one guy on the other side. … Things happen. There are power struggles all the time in [the NBA]. If a guy can bully you, he will bully you. And that’s what Jimmy did to Karl. C’mon, that’s the league.”
When approached with Calipari’s comments last week when the 76ers routed the Wolves in the first meeting between the teams since the trade, Butler told ESPN:
“He can call me a bully, but when [Calipari] sees me, I’m gonna confront him about it. If I’m a bully, I’m gonna bully him, too. I’ll tell him how I feel, just like I’d tell anyone else. I don’t care if he’s some big head coach. I’m not bullying nobody. I’m just keeping it real. Some of these guys aren’t used to it. When you have as much talent as [Karl] has had throughout his life, guys don’t keep it real with him. I do.”
Rose, who is technically older than Butler by a year, ends up playing the role of the middle child peacemaker in the story. Said Rose, after describing how a leader has to learn to talk differently to different players:
“I wouldn’t say Jimmy is missing that chip … but maybe Jimmy has room to improve with that. He’s young too. I get both sides. You’ve gotta talk to KAT a little different. Jimmy didn’t really do that.”
And the player everyone is talking about didn’t want to make a fuss. Was he bullied by Butler? Per ESPN, Towns said:
“That’s Cal talking. When we traded Jimmy, we lost a huge part of our team. He’s a great player. I was doing whatever the team asked me to do before he left, and after he left. That’s life, man.”