MINNEAPOLIS — When Jimmy Butler was last in Minnesota to chat with the media during his introductory press conference at Mall of America, the two-way superstar gave his phone number out for critics to contact him directly if they had any lasting beef.
It was a multi-layered statement that put his self-confidence on display, along with the bitterness that comes with any breakup, and the desire to get a little payback on his dysfunctional old franchise.
Butler made another statement Friday afternoon during Media Day at Mayo Clinic Square: The Timberwolves new leader possesses all of the traits this franchise desperately needed to go alongside, and complement, franchise pillars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
“I think everything is going to work out just fine,” Butler said in his typically confident demeanor, although the morning media grind that took place before the team’s flight out to the California clearly had started to wear on the three-time NBA All-Star.
“This is a long ass day that we’re doing here,” he admitted in another display of the honest, hold-very-little-back type of personality that makes him so refreshing to listen to. “That’s one thing that we all have in common: we’re ready to get out of here, but we’re ready to get to work at the same time. I think everybody is anxious to compete and play basketball once again.”
Butler was quick to shoot down the notion that Chicago North—with familiar faces from his Bulls days now surrounding him with the Wolves—was being assembled in Minnesota.
“Not really,” Butler commented. “We just got a lot of good human beings around; people that have played in the league for a very long time, know the game of basketball, also know what it takes to win, and we’re building good habits, putting great people in great positions to make sure we win a lot of games here. That’s what we want to do. Now it’s all about us, as players, going out and executing it.”
The new superstar wing in Minnesota said “I love that,” when asked if he was a believer in team-building in the form of spending 18 days on the road conducting training camp in San Diego before traveling to China for two preseason games against the defending champion Golden State Warriors before the season gets underway.
“Why not go out to California for a little bit?” Butler questioned with a smile. “Get you some sunshine and nice weather and then head over to China and play in front of those fans. It’s going to be fun. Like it or not, we’re going to have to spend a lot of time with one another. If we don’t like it, we’ll get over it fairly quickly because we’re still gonna have to spend a lot of time with one another.”
Once the topic of conversation shifted to defense, specifically what distinguishes a Tom Thibodeau defense from other systems in the NBA, Butler didn’t hold back.
“Besides the fact that he’s going to be yelling at you what to do every time down the floor, I think it’s just the amount of reps and how it’s just drilled into you every day in practice. Where you are supposed to be when this happens or when that happens. More often than not just as much emphasis is going to be put on the defensive end. [Thibs] said that last night. On offense, you can have all the rope in the world, all the leeway, but you gotta do what you gotta do on the defensive end.”
After finishing last season 27th out of 30 in defensive rating at 112.0, it’s clear where the biggest improvement needs to happen for the Wolves to rise up the ranks in the rugged Western Conference. Butler will be tasked with the assignment of leading the Wolves on the defensive end, along with Taj Gibson.
“Taj is my guy,” Butler said with an obvious approval of the Wolves’ $28 million investment in the free agent big man that has a deep connection to his new coach and superstar teammate dating back to their days in Chicago. “I spent a lot of time with [Taj] this offseason, and the offseason before that, because we’re both out in LA. We’re both training with Chris Johnson, and I know how hard [Taj] works.”
Fixing the defense
How can the Wolves find success on the defensive end this season? It starts with communication and developing the right habits. Butler and Gibson understand the significant roles they play in all of this.
“Go out there and lead by example,” Butler commented after being asked about his role in reshaping a broken defensive unit from a season ago.
“But to tell you the truth, as long as you win, you’re a great leader. And you wouldn’t care if we played defense or not if we scored 106 points every game and the other team scored 105. I mean, technically that’s a lot of points being scored but we would win every game so nobody is talking about defense because we win. But defense is a way to win games so with that being said, as long as you guard, you’ll be OK. At the end of the day just win.”
Butler makes a good point here; winning has a way of sweeping issues under the rug for later examination. The details become less important when the desired outcome is achieved. And when pressed again about shifting the culture on the defensive side of the ball, another interesting question was asked. Does Butler believe success on defense is an effort thing? It certainly seems so.
“There are people that are like ‘you know what, I’m gonna outscore my man.’ But I think here what Thibs wants is, cool, outscore your man, but limit your man. Limit the opposing team to one long contested two, as he would say.”
All About Work and Toughness
On the work ethic in Minnesota:
“I hear so many good things about how the young guys here work, and I love that. I mean, if you go back and look, all I ever wanted was a guy that just relentlessly worked. When they’re bored, they go to the gym. When they get to choose ‘hey do I want to play a video game or go shoot,’ they’re picking to go shoot. Those are winning habits. That just shows how great you want to be, and that’s what I want to be a part of.”
What does toughness mean in the NBA? Thibs talks about this all the time.
“I know one thing I think I have over anybody is that mental toughness. The fact that I may not be the most talented, I may not be this, I may not be that. But you’ll never take my heart from me. That’s something that you can’t do. You can’t control how hard I play. I control that. I guess that’s all part of being tough.”
How do you transfer that [toughness] to the rest of the team?
“Go out every day and challenge them to do the same, and if they don’t like it, you know, be you, be confrontational. But know when and where to do that. Get everybody to feed off of your energy and follow in your footsteps. I mean, just go in and play hard every single day. That’s all anybody can ever ask of you.”
From the time he was introduced in June through today’s Media Day, Jimmy Butler has stayed on point with his message. Put in the work. Prepare to win. Play hard. Commit to excellence. The winning will eventually come.
It’s clear that Butler is ready to be a leader for the Wolves, by example always, and vocally when he needs to be. This has been missing in Minnesota for a long time, and now it’s back in the form of Jimmy Buckets.