Even after last night's road loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Minnesota Timberwolves are off to the third-best start in team history. That 7-4 mark and the team's success to date comes in large part to some new veteran voices in the Wolves' mix, the foremost of which may come from All-Star Jimmy Butler.
* Recap: Warriors 125, Wolves 101
While his scoring numbers are down this season (14.7 points per game after a 23.9 ppg season in 2016-17), Butler is still a valued member of the team who wants the best from his young teammates. His offseason trade from the Chicago Bulls to the Wolves surprised many and also reunited him with ex-Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota.
In an interview published today with Sam Amick of USA Today, Butler discussed playing for Thibodeau again, explained his recent comments about Fred Hoiberg and more:
Q: When you got that call from Bernie, how did you honestly process the reunion component with Thibs? I have had some people tell me how you guys are like-minded in some ways, but how in other ways Jimmy would be lying to you if he says he always loves playing for Thibs. So, what is it?
A: “Man, me and Thibs will butt heads a million times throughout this year. That’s a given. We’ll probably butt heads more than anybody else on the team, because we go about things the same way but he may see something differently the way that I see it, and he’ll speak on it and I’ll speak on it and before you know it we’re like, ‘Yo…dadadada, listen this, listen this,’ but that’s because we both want to win. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing for Thibs, man. He’s always working, always studying the game. You always see him in the gym, in his office. You’re going to ride for guys that do that, because you know at the end of the day they’re going to work just as hard as you are.”
Q: Is it crazy for you to have this kind of voice with him, considering where the two of you started (during their four seasons together in Chicago)? Forget about hoops – if you had a boss where you couldn’t get on his radar, and now you’re a trusted voice and his right-hand man of sorts. Is that part of it crazy?
A: “It is crazy, but I’ve worked really hard in this league to get to where I am right now, and I’m to a point where I just want to win. And I think he knows that as well. So with that being said, he takes my opinion, what I’m seeing, a lot more into account because he knows how bad I want to win and how much I’m willing to sacrifice and give up just to win. That’s the only reason why I play this game. But I’m not gonna lie, it’s different, because at one point in time I couldn’t get him to say hello to me. And now, I get text messages and phone calls at who-knows what time of the night. That’s a big jump from me my rookie year to six, seven years in.”
As far as his stats being down a tick to start this season, Butler said the wins column is ultimately what matters most. That said, he's not afraid to go into scoring mode if the Wolves start to struggle ...
Q: But you had a basketball made with the inscription, ‘Can a kid from Tomball (Texas) be the MVP?’ How do you reconcile that?
A: “He can. He can. Like I said, I can score the ball with the best of ‘em whenever I want. If they need me to take over a game, then I’ll do that. I’m not worried about scoring. We’ve got to win. That’s something that the organization hasn’t done in a very long time, and right now I think we’re figuring out a way to make that happen. Is my scoring down? Yeah, it is (from a career-high of 23.9 points per game last season to 14.7 per after Wednesday’s game). But I’m OK with it, because we’re winning. Now whenever we’re not winning, and my scoring’s down, and I feel like I’ve got to do a lot more, then that’s when you get – quote-unquote – the Jimmy Buckets that everybody wants and everybody knows.”
Q: That reminds me of (the Cleveland Cavaliers’) LeBron (James) the other day, when he says, ‘OK, I’ve got to score 57 because we’re scuffling…’
A: “You know what I mean? I’ve got a 50-point game in me. Don’t worry about it. Hopefully more than one. But for right now, we’re good where we’re at, and I’m happy man.”
Lastly, in a recent interview with ESPN, Butler said the Bulls ultimately chose Hoiberg over him in terms of plotting their future. He explained what he meant by that ...
Q: So I enjoyed your ESPN segment, but wanted to follow up with a question. When you said the Bulls took the “Fred Hoiberg route,” what does that mean?
A: “That means like everybody knows me and Fred had some riff-raff. We didn’t agree on many things. And I think eventually, everybody was like, ‘Yo, they’re either going to build the team around Jimmy, or they’re going to go the route with Fred, the up-and-down, shoot a lot of threes or, you know…
“Look, I iso-ed a little bit (smiles). Yeah, I iso a little bit. And that’s not the way that Fred plays the game. And that’s what I was saying, that it was either, ‘We’re going to build the team around me for a little bit and allow me to distribute the basketball, iso in pick and roll. Or you go with Fred – go up and down, shoot a lot of threes, that type of stuff. That spread type – kind of Golden State-esque, you know what I mean? They went that route, and that’s all I’m saying, and that’s fine. That’s what I was saying. Nothing’s wrong with that.”
Q: Is it safe to assume, though, that you wish they never fired Thibs?
A: “I mean look, it ain’t my job to say who I want the coach to be. My job is to go out there and play. I mean I guess you could guess who I would rather play for. We’re not going to sit here and say that that’s a huge secret. I mean whoever they decided to bring in, my job was to help them win to the best of my ability. And I felt like I did that in Chicago. I feel like I’m doing that here. I feel like I would do it in any organization that I would be in.
“So with that being said man, I just want to hoop. I just want to ball. I just want a chance to win a championship. I just want to win. I wake up every day smiling. Why? Because I’ve got my people around me. I really don’t give a damn what anybody thinks about me or what I say or what I do. I get to hoop, I’m happy, and I’ve got my football with me."
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