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In standoff with Timberwolves, Jimmy Butler's latest antics give him leverage

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 10/10/2018 Jeff Zillgitt
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Video by Sports Illustrated

All-Star Jimmy Butler put on a show — the NBA loves its drama — at his first Minnesota Timberwolves practice of the season on Wednesday.

He yelled at teammates and coaches and cursed at a front-office staffer.

The disgruntled Butler, who asked for a trade before training camp began, also sat down with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols after practice.

Butler’s goal, it appears, was to make a big production and put more pressure on the Timberwolves to trade him before the season begins next week.

Will it work? Who knows.The Timberwolves are open to trading him but only if the return is right, and so far, it hasn’t been, at least according to Minnesota’s front office, which is led by president of basketball operations and coach Tom Thibodeau.

It’s a high-stakes standoff at dysfunction junction between Butler and the Timberwolves, Butler tried to regain leverage, even if the whole production seemed just a little too staged with ESPN and Nichols in town.

That was the orchestrated gamble Butler took to force Minnesota's hand and get his trade.

At practice, according to ESPN, Butler told general manager Scott Layden, “You (expletive) need me. You can’t win without me.” He exchanged words with Karl-Anthony Towns, and it’s no secret Butler doesn’t see eye to eye with the 22-year-old star or 23-year-old teammate Andrew Wiggins. Butler also took a group of third stringers and beat the first team, ESPN reported.

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“But you’ve got to think, I haven’t played basketball in so long and I’m so passionate,” Butler told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols following practice. “I love the game, and I don’t do it for any other reason except to compete and go up against the best and try to prove I can hang. All my emotion came out at one time.

“Was it the right way to do it? No. But I can’t control that when I’m out there competing. That’s my love of the game. That’s raw me, me at my finest, me at my purest. That’s what you’re going to get inside the lines.

“I was honest. Was I brutally honest? Yes. But that’s the problem. Everyone is so scared to be honest with one another.”

If that’s how Butler is going to be, the Timberwolves have no choice to trade him soon. Or do they?

So far, the Timberwolves have resisted. Thibodeau wants to win and keeping Butler is his best chance. But at what cost to the franchise that is invested in Towns and Wiggins.

It seemed Butler had leverage at first, dropping the trade request just before camp opened. But then, the Timberwolves front office rebuffed trade talks, forcing owner Glen Taylor to step in and order the front office to listen to trade proposals and seek them out.

Even then, rival executives were unsure how serious the Timberwolves were about trading Butler, and the closer the regular season got, the greater the possibility that Butler might indeed start the season with Minnesota.

One thing Butler can’t do is sit out. Well, he could, but that would come at a steep financial cost and severe damage to his reputation not only around the league but at NBA headquarters, too.

So, a week before the season begins, Butler rejoined the team and practiced and essentially said, “If I’m going to be here, this is how it’s going to be.”

How long will that be? How long can the Timberwolves put up with a malcontent Butler storming through practices, shootarounds and games? It’s the Timberwolves, so you never know. They might just live with the turmoil and locker-room dysfunction with players who don’t exactly get along.

Over the weekend, the Heat thought they were close to acquiring Butler from the Timberwolves. Medical information was exchanged, and Butler was close to hitting purchase on an airline ticket to Miami. But the deal fell apart, leaving the Heat exasperated with Minnesota.

So, while the Timberwolves — and perhaps just Thibodeau — thought they could make this work with Butler on the roster even though he wants out, they learned on Tuesday the cost of keeping Butler. It will be turbulent.

Butler made his move. It’s Minnesota’s turn now.

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