At 9:45 am on Friday morning there was some sort of power malfunction at the Milwaukee Bucks stadium Fiserv Forum. The electrical issues at the brand new arena caused the hallway outside of the visitor’s locker room to go dark moments before post-shootaround interviews were to begin. As television cameras scrambled to turn on their spotlights, Tom Thibodeau entered the hallway to address the media for the first time since Jimmy Butler’s heavily-publicized practice on Wednesday.
To that point in time, Thibodeau and the Minnesota Timberwolves organization had been radio silent in the 41 hours that elapsed between Jimmy Butler’s interview with Rachel Nichols and the Friday morning shootaround. Naturally, questions were directed towards Thibodeau’s response to the interview.
“It is what it is,” Thibodeau responded, acknowledging all of the events that took place. “It’s a different world. It’s all the social media, the accessibility. It is what it is. I have no problems with a guy doing interviews. It’s what happens. We just want the team to be first.”
That team that comes first will be without Butler Friday evening, who has remained in Minneapolis to work on his conditioning, per Thibodeau.
When pressed if his star player’s behavior is, in fact, “team-first” behavior, Thibodeau seemed to feel that Butler’s efforts were such — a matter of encouragement.
“I think an important thing is we have to do what is best for our team,” said Thibodeau. “We’re always going to look to encourage our team.
“There’s a lot of different ways to define leadership. And the biggest job of a leader, in my eyes, is to unite and inspire. It’s OK to confront. That’s not an issue. I think the way you confront, that’s important. But if you confront, don’t beat down. The big thing is to lift people up and to make them better.”
This is essentially in line with the narrative Butler himself drew. When he was interviewed by Nichols, he described the confrontation is how “23” shows he “has your back.”
What Thibodeau clarified Friday was that he did not believe all of what was reported about Butler and from Wednesday’s practice was true.
“Some of what was reported was correct, some was not. In every practice there could be something,” Thibodeau said multiple times during his six minutes in front of the camera (and in the dark). “That’s the important aspect for everyone to understand.”
The drama is out of control in Thibodeau’s eyes.
“You guys, your job is the drama,” Thibodeau said to the handful of reporters who had made the trek to Milwaukee. “Our job is to get ready to play.
“So I understand you have a job. We have a job to do. And that’s what we have to do. We’re not going to get into daily behavior and stuff like that.”
While he did acknowledge the drama, he did not acknowledge the public criticism, so Thibodeau was asked directly if he has rules about teammates publicly criticizing other teammates.
His response was telling: “I don’t really know what you’re talking about.”
“Well, Jimmy has been critical about Andrew [Wiggins] and Karl [-Anthony Towns],” the reporter followed up.
“Again, it’s how you view how you want to pick and choose what people say,” said Thibodeau who continued his unwavering defense of Butler. “So I’m not gonna comment on any of that. Because he’s also praised a lot of guys and that never gets reported.”
While the latter portion of the quote is fair — the media does tend to latch on to the negativity — it is unfair because the most recent public comments of Butler’s are definitively pejorative.
Thibodeau ended his availability by reiterating that Butler is “day-to-day,” giving no inclination whether or not he will play in the season opener on Wednesday.
Next up in the media scrum was perhaps the biggest butt of Butler’s public commentary — Karl-Anthony Towns.
The Lights Go On And Towns Shuts Down
As Thibodeau left the scrum, Towns joined. In ironic — and seemingly hyperbolic — happenstance, the electricity turned back on as the cameras and microphones were directed at Towns. Seriously.
However, Towns himself was not so illuminating. He was asked for clarification on the players-only meeting that reportedly occurred Thursday morning in Minneapolis.
“I think the only thing that needs to be clarified is we’re excited to play basketball tonight in Milwaukee,” said Towns.
His response was almost identical to the next question about how he has “stayed out of the fray” of this “soap opera.”
“I’m just happy to play basketball in Milwaukee,” Towns repeated as he looked blankly ahead.
Asked if he was “tired of answering these types of questions,” Towns’ response was smug: “I mean, are you tired of hearing me say, I’m excited to play basketball in Milwaukee?”
(To repeat and clarify: Towns had not publicly answered any questions about what happened at Wednesday’s practice or about Butler’s ESPN interview prior to this media availability. The Timberwolves canceled media access Thursday afternoon, and this was Towns’ first opportunity to go on-the-record.)
The questions, naturally, moved away from Butler, and Towns obliged by reiterating how important it is to start the season strong. The only other question that had anything to do with Butler was inquiring if he would “be happy to play basketball with Jimmy Butler.”
Towns said, “I’m happy to play basketball with anybody.”
The Wolves play the Milwaukee Bucks Friday evening at 7 p.m. It appears there will be little resolution prior to that event and possibly little clarification prior to the season opener Wednesday in San Antonio.