Jimmy Butler was wearing Philadelphia 76ers sweatpants Saturday morning. For those who frequent Minnesota Timberwolves practices and shootarounds, this was a noticeable departure from the exclusively Jordan brand garb Butler wore at practices during the 10 games he played with the Wolves this season from Oct. 17 through Nov. 9.
On Saturday morning, at a small Christian college in downtown Minneapolis, nine hours before Butler would make his long-awaited return to Target Center, the Sixers small forward had on the sweats but still wore his Jordan top — suggesting he’s at least half into what is, now, happening in Philadelphia.
“Yeah, I’m not a fan of guys asking for trades publicly. I think there’s a way to do it privately,” said Golden State Warriors head coach, Steve Kerr, who was in town to face the Timberwolves 24 hours before Butler would show up. “It’s hard to keep anything in-house these days, but I think there’s a way to do it. I have no problem with players exercising their freedom and playing where they wanna play and even trying to force their way into a situation. I’m alright with that as long as it’s done the proper way.”
Kerr is referring to an epidemic that is sweeping the league from New Orleans to Toronto. Butler is the poster boy for these situations. Everything he did in Minnesota highlights all of these problems that, really, on a simple level, ask what proper behavior of a professional basketball player is.
On one hand, it’s not explicitly against the rules to demand a trade — and thus, at most, only slightly unprofessional to do so. On the other, as Kerr said, there’s a way to make your desires known in a manner that is both respectful to your teammates and the organization that is cutting the checks — you know, the people who, literally, make the players professionals.
It’s fair to say that Butler did not handle the latter portion well. His behavior in Minnesota was both vain and actively adversarial. The 2018-19 Timberwolves season will go down as largely a waste. After making the playoffs a season ago, the Wolves, as a team, have definitively regressed and it is hard to point to a single player on the roster, other than Karl-Anthony Towns, that made a discernable stride forward this season. Butler’s behavior is, at least, partially responsible for that, yet it feels as if no one other the fanbase — who can only do so much — ever did anything about it.
If you ask players in the Wolves’ locker room about Jimmy, to a man, you won’t hear a word that comes with even a hint of animus. The platitudes of it’s part of the business or we understand he was doing what was best for him have littered hundreds of proddings by local and national media this season.
But isn’t that behavior by the tertiary characters in the story just a perpetuation of lacking professionalism? Or, worse: Is allowing Jimmy to have done whatever the hell he wanted just bad business by everyone involved?
Take Tyus Jones for example, who has a well-documented relationship with Butler. When asked about Butler’s return, Jones referred to his former teammate as “his brother” and, yet again, said he understood all of Butler’s motivations. (Which, to be clear, Butler has described those motivations, numerous times and again Saturday morning, as “this shit [wasn’t] it.”)
The 22-year-old Jones is a free agent this summer, meaning he had the opportunity to use a productive 2018-19 season to cash in for the first time in his career. After being a statistical darling a season ago, with particularly stellar numbers when he played alongside Butler, Jones’ numbers this season suggest he is not, statistically speaking, a starting-caliber point guard.
Would have Jones had better numbers this year if he were flanked by Butler rather than Josh Okogie?
Almost certainly yes.
Would that have increased Jones’ market value?
So why did not just Jones, but everyone else on the roster just turn their cheek to everything that happened? According to Butler, we just don’t get it.
I asked Jimmy Saturday morning why the perception from those of us outside of the locker room doesn’t match the actions of his former teammates.
“You don’t know what’s going on unless you’re in there every day,” said Butler “You’re just taking bits and pieces and trying to fill in the gaps that you don’t know. So now you gotta guess.”
Okay, fair, the media isn’t perfect. So what the hell actually happened then, Jimmy? Why was this shit not it? Another member of the media asked that question, specifically, and “none of your business,” was Butler’s response.
And that there is the lack of professionalism at the heart of this issue. Sure, be dismissive of reporters because they didn’t play in the NBA. I/we don’t know what it’s like to be “part of the business.” And that’s fine. No one needs to know the details… unless a public debacle — and one that uses the media as a weapon — transpires. You don’t get to pick and choose when to use the media. You can do things the Jimmy way, but that’s not being professional.
As Kerr said, it’s fine for players to exercise their freedom to play where they want to play. I agree. But there is a way to do that without picking and choosing when are where common courtesy is used.
At the end of the day, The Jimmy Butler Experience was one where the antagonist got exactly what he wanted. It’s a story about someone doing whatever they want, laced with the real bonus of everyone around Jimmy letting him have his cake and eat it too. And most disappointing as it pertains to the Timberwolves is what played out: they didn’t just cut the cake for Jimmy, they fed it to him.
Butler was given everything he wanted and when the Wolves had the opportunity to defend themselves they got blasted by 42 points in January and again Saturday night they folded — even with Joel Embiid out resting.
Where’s the pride? At what point does being a professional be about defending your honor — or at least the name emblazoned across your chest?
Andrew Wiggins said the Wolves “played good” Saturday. They didn’t.
On Friday evening, Jerryd Bayless was asked about the opportunity to play against the franchise that moth-balled him in Philadelphia and then used him as cap fodder in the Butler trade. His response was professional and to the point: He said, “I’ve disconnected from that situation and if you have nothing good to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all.”
A little accountability for having felt wronged.
Where was anything like at any point all year from somebody in the Wolves organization about Butler? Do players deserve the freedom to do whatever they want but the organizations don’t? On a really simple level, here’s my question: Why did Jimmy get a pass from everyone other than the fanbase (who vigorously booed him all night)?