PHILADELPHIA – Before most Timberwolves players and staff members boarded the team bus following Tuesday’s 149-107 shellacking at the hands of the 76ers, they had to walk by Jimmy Butler.
Butler was there with agent Bernie Lee shaking hands and embracing dozens of people from his former team. There were a lot of smiles between him and Taj Gibson. Same for several Wolves staffers, such as head athletic trainer Gregg Farnam and equipment manager Clayton Wilson. Nobody got by without a hug and a few seconds to catch up.
Butler also shared a moment with Robert Covington, whose life Butler turned upside down with his demand of a trade out of Minnesota, while interim coach Ryan Saunders walked by carrying something.
“I’m finna go take him a nice bottle of wine right now,” Butler had said moments earlier, the slang not obscuring his intent to show his respect for Saunders. “I wish I could share it with him. I can’t. So I’ll send him home with something good at least.”
Saunders was carrying that bottle of wine.
You wouldn’t know this was the same Butler who rocked the Wolves franchise until they traded him in early November. How he altered the course of a franchise with his desire to play elsewhere, leading to the ouster of the coach who helped develop him into an All-Star, Tom Thibodeau.
Butler’s actions will reverberate throughout the Wolves for the foreseeable future. But for those moments in the hallway of Wells Fargo Center, it wasn’t about the drama, the desire to leave, just the warmth that comes with seeing old friends for a few minutes.
“It was everything I thought it’d be,” Butler said. “Just seeing some old faces. Not too much trash talk. … I just like the fact that we beat them.”
Perhaps it was fitting, given all the chaos surrounding Butler on his way out, that he dealt the Wolves one of their most soul-crushing losses of the season, one that had multiple players turning pensive after the game trying to figure where their effort was, especially on a night when they were playing Butler, who scored 19 points as he took a back seat to a monster game from Joel Embiid (31 points, 13 rebounds). The 76ers shot 60 percent.
“That wasn’t no normal game,” guard Jeff Teague said. “Them dudes was at our heads. … Jimmy wanted to beat us. We all know that. Joel Embiid wanted to beat [Karl-Anthony Towns]. That ain’t a normal game. There ain’t nothing normal about that game. That was a game we all had marked and they dogged us.”
Teague has always been candid, but he let out his feelings Tuesday, when the Wolves also lost Tyus Jones to what a source said was a high ankle sprain.
“We just got to be a rugged team. We can’t be a pretty team,” Teague said. “Right now I think we’re a pretty team, and pretty gets you beat by 40. We got to be ugly.”
Towns, who had only 13 points against Embiid, said the Wolves “didn’t play like that game mattered.”
“Coaches had a great game plan, gave us something great to work with. We just didn’t go out there and care at all what they said, as a collective group,” Towns said.
As a group they bid adieu to their former teammate before heading home. For better or worse, everyone has to move on. The 76ers have had their issues with Butler fitting in the locker room. The Wolves have had their inconsistency.
Butler caused the Wolves to do some more soul-searching.
“They’re a good team. But 40 points better than us? Yeah, right,” Teague said. “They’ve got some good players, but hell no. We just didn’t compete.”