He carried a football to Los Angeles, a reminder of the good times and his fellow 2016 Summer Olympians and 2018 All-Stars — Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan; Paul George and Kyrie Irving; Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — had in Rio. Jimmy Butler had fun in L.A., and he was having fun in his first season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, bringing Tom Thibodeau the kind of production and leadership he’d seen from Butler during their time together in Chicago, when Butler made the first two of his four All-Star apperances.
Through 61 games, the most of any team going into the All-Star break, Butler was the Wolves’ leading scorer, and the chief reason Minnesota was having its best season since the Kevin Garnett/Sam Cassell/Latrell Sprewell days. His season was stopped in its tracks, though, when he suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee during Friday’s game against Houston. Butler underwent surgery Sunday and is out indefinitely, though there appears to be a chance he could be back in time for the playoffs — if Minnesota can hold on and make the playoffs without him.
(Note: This interview was conducted just before Butler suffered his injury.)
Butler’s value is obvious, yet if he can’t come back this season, it will leave the Wolves with less information in an upcoming offseason where they’ll have to make a big choice. As of July 9, the fourth anniversary of the max deal he signed in 2014 while with the Bulls, Butler is eligible for a “renegotiation/extension” — similar to what the Houston Rockets did a year ago with James Harden. As a player with between seven and nine years of experience, Butler could make a maximum next year of approximately $31.2 million in 2018-19, 105 percent of this year’s 7-9 year max deal. Butler is currently set to make $20.4 million nexet year, so the Wolves would have to find almost $11 million in additional cap room to give to Butler, then work off his “new” number of $31.2 million to extend him out four more years after that, through 2023.
The exact number wouldn’t be known until the 2018-19 cap was finalized, but it would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $190 million. That would keep Butler from becoming an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019, along, potentially, with the likes of Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Kemba Walker, in what could be a monster class. Thibodeau, of all people, knows what Walker brings, and how hard it is to get a player of his caliber, and the two of them have a strong relationship. So the likelihood of Minnesota letting Butler get to 2019 and test the market would seem to be slight.
“It’s been amazing,” Thibodeau said of Butler before the injury. “He’s played at an MVP level. Just to change everything here, after 13 years of losing, and just the impact he’s had on everyone, in terms of how hard he plays, how unselfish he plays on both ends of the floor, never takes a play off, I think that goes a long way, particularly with your younger players. I think a lot of the things he went through in Chicago in terms of being a younger player, KAT (Karl-Anthony Towns) and Wigg (Anthony Wiggins) are going through now. He can help them from that standpoint, also.”
For now, though, the salient issue is Butler’s knee, not his 401(k).
Me: Knowing Thibs the way you do, how much did you want to be vocal with this group, and how much did you want to lay back and let him lay the foundation?
Jimmy Butler: I think there’s a fine line in between both. Everybody gets tired of the yelling, the antics that Thibs has — which isn’t a bad thing. That’s Thibs. He’s into the game, he’s into the scouting report, to all of the good stuff. But at times, you need somebody else to relay a message — the same message that he’s getting across. Don’t get me wrong; it’s difficult at times. I think it’s just making me better, in that part of communicating with my guys, my peers, and trying to get across the point that he wants. A lot of it is a lot of talking, through Thibs, for Thibs — sometimes against Thibs. A lot of time talking to everybody.
Me: How many times do you step to him and say ‘let me handle this?’
JB: A lot. A lot. Because he may not see everything the way that we see it out there on the floor. And, you know, things change. Guys start making shots that normally don’t, that goes against the scouting report. It’s just NBA players, you know what I mean? You never know what you’re going to get on any certain night. A lot of times, I’m like, ‘Thibs, I’ll handle it to the best of my abilities,’ when I’m out there on the court. I’ll make sure that he knows he has to do this, or we have to do that. And he gives me that freedom and that ability to do that.
I don’t think we play hard enough right now. I don’t think we guard the way we’re supposed to in order to win. … You’ve got to play hard. We do not do that. I’m not afraid to say that we don’t do that.”
Me: I would imagine that Karl is probably relatively easy to talk to, because he has that kind of open personality. With Wigg, do you have to talk to him in private, put an arm around him?
JB: All you have to do is tell Wigg one time. He wants to do right by everybody. But he’s going to always to try to do exactly what you tell him to do. That’s the good part about Wiggs. You really don’t have to tell him more than once. He gets it, he understands it, he doesn’t want to step on anybody’s toes. So if you tell Wiggs, you’ve got to do this, you don’t have to worry about Wiggs not doing it. He’s going to make sure it happens. Everybody’s different. Some people, as good or as bad as it sounds, will look at you like, ‘yeah, whatever.’ That’s just part of this league, having NBA guys. You can’t tell everybody everything. But the ones that you can, you run with those.
Me: So why is this team’s defense so bad?
JB: A lot of it is effort. Defense is all about if you want to play or not, if you really take matchups personal. A lot of guys don’t. Once again, that’s the league that we’re in. That’s not the league that used to be. A lot of guys are offensive minded, which is good at some points and times, but bad at others, at lots of others. I wish I could say I want everybody to play defense as hard as I do. It’s not a reality. With that being said, we’ve just got to find ways in games.
Me: Does that devalue a two-way guy in some ways?
JB: Nah. It don’t devalue whatever two-way guy you’re talking about. (Smiles) It angers me a bit. But I’ve learned over my years that not everybody goes about the game that I do. It still makes me mad, but it doesn’t make me as mad as it used to. It doesn’t make me lose as much sleep as it used to. When that all settles in, you figure out a way to do things. I think we’re in a good spot; don’t get me wrong. Can it be better? Yeah. Will it be better? I hope so…I hope it clicks. When someone’s sitting at dinner, everybody’s sitting at dinner, it’s just like, whoa! You know what, I could do this better. It starts with yourself. It starts with myself. It starts with that guy, and that guy. If you don’t hold yourself to that standard, no one else can do it for you.
Me: They can take you off the market this summer with a renegotiation and extension. How important is it for that not to be an issue going into 2019?
JB: Oh, I’m not worried about it. I mean, in the most humble way possible, if they don’t take care of me this summer, I think the summer after that, I’m’a end up playing somewhere. Let’s not worry about that. Look, money’s never the issue for me. If you win, that takes care of everything. That’s what I’m trying to do right now. When that presents itself, we’ll think about it and talk about it.
Me: Is this a championship caliber group they’ve put together here, in your mind?
JB: On paper. I don’t think we play hard enough right now. I don’t think we guard the way we’re supposed to in order to win. There are a lot of things that we have to be better at, night in and night out, no matter if the opponent is home, away, neutral. No matter what the start time is. You’ve got to play hard. We do not do that. I’m not afraid to say that we don’t do that. So, how do we change it? Like I said, it starts with everybody as an individual. If you can say you’re giving your all, (bleep), we’re going to be in a good position to win.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
My @UberEats driver just hit me with a smooth "I hope you feel better" (with no context and me being perfectly healthy) as he dropped off my food and now I'm sitting on my couch with no idea how I should feel. 😂
— Jack Ryan Cooley (@JackCooligan45) February 22, 2018
— Kings big man Jack Cooley (@JackCooligan45), Thursday, 1:46 p.m., indecisive.
THEY SAID IT
“A hundred K versus 50K, I think everybody’s taking 100.”
— Wizards’ All-Star Bradley Beal, opining that he and his fellow Team LeBron members were indeed motivated by the additional payout to players who won last week’s game — even though Beal is already playing on a five-year, $128 million deal in Washington.
“I’m not familiar with military artillery.”
— Bulls center Robin Lopez, to the Chicago Tribune, when asked if his suddenly sitting and not playing after starting the Bulls’ first 57 games this season was consistent with tanking.
“He was just a demigod. He was in charge of the basketball universe. He carried his big lightning bolt in one hand and a basketball in the other. You’re not supposed to be intimidated or that impressed by the guys in the NBA. But I was. I wasn’t scared to admit it.”
— Former Bulls center Luc Longley, in a piece in The Ringer, on his initial impressions of Michael Jordan, who became his teammate in Chicago in 1995 after returning from his year-plus baseball sabbatical.
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Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here andfollow him on Twitter.
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