Timberwolves coach and personnel boss Tom Thibodeau didn’t have much to smile about during last year’s 31-51 season. He was grinning a lot Thursday, though, at the introductory news conference for new Wolves forward Jimmy Butler, a player whom Thibodeau coached in Chicago. After the introduction — and before Friday’s trade of Ricky Rubio to Utah — Thibodeau chatted with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand:
Q You look happy. Is this the happiest you’ve been since you got here?
A Well, I think “happy” would be a bad term for a coach. But I’d say that we’re excited about having Jimmy. Obviously, it’s big for our team with the type of player he is. I think whenever you can get a top-10, top-15 player in the league, it’s great for the organization.
Q The NBA offseason doesn’t leave much time for a victory lap. Does this accelerate the pressure on other moves you need to make?
A You’re preparing for free agency as you’re preparing for the draft, so that work has been done. But you don’t know for sure that you’re getting a player of Jimmy’s caliber, so that changes things a little bit. It also puts us in the conversation with some players who maybe we wouldn’t have been in the conversation with before. We’re excited about that.
Q We’ve heard trade rumors involving Butler for a while. How does a deal like this evolve and come together?
A As you prepare for the draft, the first thing you do is evaluate the players you think will be coming out. Then you explore the possibility of either moving up or moving back. The third part of that is: Can you get involved with an elite player? We sensed that as we were getting closer and closer to the draft, more teams were calling about the seventh pick. That told us everyone felt it would be a strong draft and it might create some opportunities for us to get an elite player [in a trade].
Q Every coach embraces work, but I feel like you might more than others. Butler places a similar value on work. How do you describe your relationship with him?
A I think he embodies what winning is all about. You can’t do the things he’s done without having a lot of talent, but when you combine that with his intelligence, his drive and his love of the game, that’s what makes him so special. The thing I admire and respect the most about him is that he’s never lost that. Sometimes as players achieve more and more and get further down the line in their careers, they tend to skip over the work part. Jimmy has never done that. He has always prioritized basketball. He’s always chased excellence, and I know how much winning means to him. He exceeded everyone’s expectations in Chicago, and he’s still not satisfied.
Q We heard Butler say in the news conference that sometimes players get tired of your voice. How important is it to have a player who believes in and can carry some of the same messages you are trying to convey?
A It’s critical, not only for him but your best players have to have a shared vision of what you want the team to do. They have to help sell it to the team. … When you have a young player that is figuring out the league and challenges, having someone who has just done that is important. I think it’s a perfect fit for us. It’s exactly what we need.