So quiet when he a rookie, Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler has something to say on just about anything now that he is a lock to be named an All-Star for a fourth time.
In a recent wide-ranging interview edited for length, he discussed everything from the prospect of a contract extension that would keep him in Minnesota alongside young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins to his friendship with some of country music’s biggest stars and why a man 28 and rich drives a minivan around town.
A man whom Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau credits for changing the franchise’s culture into a winning one, Butler also talked about whether a kid from Tomball, Texas, can be league MVP and identified the player he considers his team’s most talented.
Hint: It isn’t him.
Q: Your coach says he watched you and Luol Deng work out every night from up in his office in Chicago, but you never said a word. What happened?
A: I’ve become a much better player, so I feel like my voice is heard and taken for what it’s worth a little bit more. Back then, I wasn’t very good. I worked to be at the point where I am now. Now I always think I’ve got something to say because a lot of it falls on my ability to help us win games.
So if you’re not doing what we believe is the best you can do to help us win, I have something to say about it. Other people might have something to say about it as well, but they won’t. But I’ll always have something to say and I’ll always tell you the truth.
Q: Thibs said you’ve become a leader since he coached you in Chicago. What does being a leader mean and how have you changed being one?
A: It means a lot. I’ve changed and I’ve learned every single year, what to do and what not to do. But I still pride myself on going out and doing the right things. Doing what I’m supposed to be doing on both ends of the floor.
It’s cool to talk and say what you’re supposed to be doing, but if I’m not out there doing it, my word really doesn’t mean too much of anything. Just go out there and play hard. Do what you’re asked to do, be locked in, be a fierce competitor and everybody will follow suit.
Q: You didn’t name names, but you made it clear earlier this season Andrew and KAT must do more. Is there a fine line between publicly demanding it and pointing fingers?
A: I tell them all the time, just like I tell Jamal [Crawford]. I tell everybody: For us to be a really good team, everyone has to guard. I might not say it to y’all, but they know exactly who we’re talking about and I will say it to them face to face, to whoever, in front of the entire locker room and it doesn’t matter because it’s not personal. It’s not personal.
If we know you can’t do something, like, we’re not going to ask Gorgui [Dieng] to shoot 70 percent from behind the three. But we know when you’re very capable of doing something. All you have to do is put your mind to it. Yeah, we’re going to let you know. But that goes for everybody, including myself. That’s the only way we can make each other better, make each other want to do great things and put this organization, this team, where we deserve to be.
Q: Was playing through your back injury when the team beat Portland in December a prime example of leadership?
A: I don’t know. Is it? I just play hard. If my teammates are out there to hoop, I’m going. I see the way these guys prepare for games. How can you not want to go be a part of that?
Basketball has been my life for so long that without it, I don’t know what to do. Just like a lot of other guys in here. You think about it, like after my career, what am I going to do? I really have no idea. So if at any point in time I can play basketball, I promise you I will always go.
Q: You’re this team’s best player, Thibs calls you “MVP caliber.” Are you its most talented?
A: Who, me? Hell no, Wigs is. Wigs is the most talented by far. I see him do things and I’m like wow, like how? The crazy part is that was at 40 percent. Just think if you’re 80 percent or what if you just go as hard as you can, 100? Wigs is easily the most talented person on this team.
Q: Will he get there?
A: Playing with me, you’ve got no choice because I’m going to get on your nerves every single day until you do what I know you can do, what I expect of you, what we expect of you. Then it’s going to make winning a lot easier.
Q: What could you have done with that?
A: I don’t know, I don’t even want to think about that because I don’t got that, I don’t got that. I’m going to be who I am. I’m not Wigs.
Q: You have a ready-made answer for any occasion: I’m from Tomball.
A: Yes, I am.
Q: Other than the literal, what does that mean?
A: Uh, nobody knew who I was then. I really don’t care if you know who I am now. I know who I am. My loved ones, my teammates know how I am and what I’m about. So judge me. Whatever you want to say is fine with me. I’m just going to continue to get better. Sooner or later, I’ll find my way to the top and be where I want to be.
Q: Is it true you practice with basketballs that have “Can a kid from Tomball be MVP?” etched on them.
A: All my practice balls say a lot of different things on them. But that is one of them. It is one of them. We’re still yet to see it. Who knows?
Q: Is that important to you?
A: Nah, it’s not important. What’s important is winning and being known as a winner in this league for a very long time. Go down in history as a winner, that’s the most important thing. That’s why you play the game. You weren’t playing this game when you were six years old to one day perhaps make a million dollars. You just wanted to be an NBA player because you love the game, you love to win, for no other reason.
Q: Do you care Lonzo Ball ranked above you in All-Star Game fan balloting?
A: I don’t give a damn. To tell you the truth, I don’t even want to play in the All-Star Game. I pride myself on guarding and playing hard. Like, leave me out of it.
Q: Yeah, there’s no place for those things in the All-Star Game, is there?
A: No, I’m cool. Let me go on vacation with DeAndre Jordan or something like that. That’s what I was planning.
Q: Is Karl an All-Star?
A: Yeah, yeah, yeah. KAT’s got that type of game, do between the legs and dunk, shoot the ball from half-court. KAT does all of that. He loves that. KAT, you can have it.
Q: A question from Twitter: What will get you to sign an extension here with your contract set to expire in 2019?
A: Got to win. We have to win. We’re doing a great job of that now, but if I’m winning, I’m happy. I’m not worried that it’s negative 50 degrees outside. I just want to win. I want to be happy. I want to be around good people. I think we have that right now.
Q: What’s the threshold, a championship?
A: You’ve got to take it step by step. You can’t just jump into winning a championship. We have to do a lot of things right and we’ve got to be playing our best basketball at the right time to be worrying about winning a championship. Let’s just win first and then we’ll worry about that.
Q: You call your relationship with Thibs love-hate. What makes it such a match?
A: Because all in all, he wants to win and I want to win. So all the differences and all the likelinesses — if that’s even a word — that we have, the main thing that outdoes everything is our will to win. And you respect the fact that you know he’s in there right now studying the game of basketball, our team, our opponents. That’s what he is doing and I do the exact same thing.
Q: Will you get to see Florida Georgia Line when they’re here for a concert Super Bowl week?
A: Of course. I was talking to Tyler (band co-founder Tyler Hubbard) this morning. He just had a baby girl; I’m happy for him. I get to see Kevin Hart in concert and all my people that week.
Q: Do you really like country music or do you play it at your locker just to annoy teammates?
A: That’s how it started, I won’t lie. In college, I started listening to it just to annoy everybody, but then I actually started to like the music. And now I have so many friends in that industry and we show so much love toward one another and I’m a fan. I’m a fan. I definitely am.
Q: Do you have the Rolls or the minivan here in Minnesota?
A: The minivan is here. I drive it every day.
Q: Why put a Baby on Board sign on it?
A: It throws everybody off. If somebody cuts somebody off in that vehicle, you can’t honk at them. They have a Baby on Board sticker. Maybe they’re trying to get the baby to the hospital or the baby appointment, you never know.
Q: Last question: You said this team has to learn to win in steps. Can it beat Golden State, Houston or San Antonio in a playoff series?
A: I’m not going to say no. I don’t play this game to lose, nor do I think anybody on this team does. I’ll say I’ll take my chances along with everybody else on this roster and we’ll take our chances against anybody.