On Wednesday, Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler sat down for an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols to discuss returning to practice, his relationship with head coach Tom Thibodeau and his future with the organization. An edited transcript of the interview appears below:
Nichols: You returned to practice for the first time with the Wolves, and I’m just gonna read a little bit of Adrian Wojnarowski’s report on what happened there, that you were loud, emotional, passionate, targeting coach Tom Thibodeau, teammates like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, that you told GM Scott Layden quote: “You f—ing need me.” How would you describe what happened today?
Butler: A lot of it’s true. A lot of it is true, but you got to think, I haven’t played basketball in so long and I’m so passionate and I love the game and I don’t do it for any other reason except to compete and to go up against the best to try and prove I can hang. So 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.
Nichols: So do you think it was the wrong thing to do, or was it an OK thing to do?
Butler: I think that I was honest. Was I brutally honest? Yes. But I think that that’s the problem. Everybody’s so scared to be honest with one another. If you didn’t like the way I handled myself in practice, one of the players come up to me. Somebody say something, anybody. I’m not gonna take it as offense, it’s not personal. “Jimmy, you shouldn’t have done that.” “Yeah, you probably right” and I would’ve said, “I ain’t hooped in I don’t know how long.” I’m passionate about it. I love the game and I love to win. And that’s all I was out there doing. I went into practice today and I competed.
Nichols: Well, look, your two most high-profile teammates — KAT and Andrew Wiggins — according to this you got into it with them today too.
Nichols: What did you say to them?
Butler: I can’t remember exactly. (Laughs)
Nichols: This was two hours ago, Jimmy.
Butler: But I was seeing red. Whatever color was in front of my eyes, I was — it was emotion, it was passion. That’s what it was. And to tell you the truth, this is the truth. I didn’t go at those two. One of them came at me. One of ’em came at me and I just…
Nichols: Which one?
Butler: KAT. KAT came at me. We’re up in practice and he said, “Anybody can get this work!” I said, “Do it to me.” That’s all that I said. I said, “Every time I get switched out onto you, you pass it.” I’m a competitor, I’m in here talking, come at me. If you score on me, I’m gonna tap you on your butt. You got the best of me — but you got to do it every time. Am I being tough on him? Yeah! Yeah, that’s who I am. I’m not the most talented player. Who’s the most talented player on our team? KAT. Who’s the most god-gifted player on our team? Wigs. Wigs got the longest arms, the biggest hands, can jump the highest, can run the fastest. But like who plays the hardest? Me. I play hard. I play really hard. I put my body on the line every damn practice. Every day in the games. That’s my passion. That’s how I give to the game. That’s how I give to you guys.
And right now I know Thibs and he’s in there by himself, he locked his door and he’s smiling and he’s laughing. [Looks at camera] Thibs, I know you man, I know you. He’s like, “Yeah, I’ve got him back.”
Jimmy Butler confirms the reports that he was fired up at Wolves practice and attributes it to his love of basketball.
Nichols: So you’re back in practice today. I assume you’re going back tomorrow.
Butler: I am.
Nichols: Should people think because you are back in practice that this is fixed, or it’s on its way to being fixed?
Butler: Ah, I think people think that. I think people think that. I would think that too.
Nichols: What do you think?
Butler: It’s not. It’s not fixed. Just to be honest, it’s not fixed.
Nichols: Is it fixable?
Butler: It could be. It could be. But do I think so? No. Because you got to be honest. I’m being honest. Do I think so? No. I’m being honest with you. But is everybody gonna be honest? No. No, everybody’s not gonna be honest.
If you go and say, “Which one of y’all told what Jimmy said in practice?” they’ll be like, “I don’t know.” Be honest. I don’t care. Ain’t nothing we can do about it now. Be honest. That’s it.
Nichols: So I want to go back and talk about how we got to this point, but I do want to make it clear to everybody watching here, the collective bargaining agreement says that you cannot talk about wanting a trade, you cannot talk about asking someone for a trade. You will get heavily fined if you do that. However, I am going to talk about published reports, reports that in meetings you said that you wanted a trade, because those reports are a matter of public record. And I want to go back because the first thing we saw of you publicly with Thibs here in Minnesota, that press conference at the Mall of America. You guys are both riding so high being back united with each other. You start the season, when do you start to realize that things are going wrong, or not the way you want them to be?
Butler: It just all goes back to telling the truth, and being honest with myself, me being honest with them, them being honest with me, and you just look at it and the whole thing is — I just want to be appreciated. That’s it. It’s not about anything else. Everybody can see who it is, and what we’re missing. Not the defense, not the points, it’s the passion. It’s the heart that I play with on every single possession. And that’s all that it is. All that I’m asking from you is just be honest with me. Don’t tell me — just tell me the whole truth. Don’t tell me half the truth, tell me the whole truth, and that’s what it’s all about.
Nichols: And then you go through the season, you were hurt, you come back, you guys had that stirring string of games to get into the playoffs. First-round series against the No. 1 seed, Houston.
Butler: That’s a really good team too by the way.
Nichols: You didn’t fly home with the rest of the team after the last game.
Nichols: But then after the season ended did you talk to Coach Thibs?
Butler: Yes I did.
Nichols: How soon after the season did you tell him how you felt?
Butler: Four days.
Nichols: Four days after the season?
Nichols: How clear were you?
Butler: Have you ever known me to hide anything? Look what happened today at practice. Have you ever known me to hold back? No. So there’s your answer. I was completely honest about everything. About everything.
Nichols: And about what you wanted? And where you wanted to be?
Adrian Wojnarowski joins SportsCenter to discuss Jimmy Butler’s aggressive return to the Timberwolves organization.
Nichols: And he has two jobs here right? So he’s the coach of the team, he’s also the president of the team so through the summers as you’re also talking about contract stuff. They offered you an extension that would have given you four years, $110 million. The reports are that you wanted something else. That if they had moved some other pieces around, and freed up more money, that you would have gotten a renegotiation. It would have given you a shorter term contract, but more money. Is all that accurate?
Butler: It’s accurate. But it’s not about money. It’s not.
Nichols: So tell me what it’s about.
Butler: It’s about saying we need you. We want you here. We can’t do this without you. And that was the disconnect all along. You’re saying one thing and you’re saying it, and you’re saying it. I mean I’ve learned enough times in life that saying something is completely different than acting upon it. Actions speak louder than words, whatever quote you want to use. And when it came to that point, it was like I let y’all know what the deal was as soon as you traded for me. I told you the truth from Day 1 and I will continue to do it. And I did it. It’s kinda like, I don’t know, a slap in the face? I don’t know how to put it, but it made me think like maybe I’m not that important to your organization. That is how I took it.
Nichols: How often through the summer did you communicate how you felt?
Butler: All the time. Anytime Thibs would call or text me to an extent I was always answering.
Nichols: Same answer?
Butler: Every time.
Nichols: So this doesn’t really get reported throughout the summer. Then a week before training camp, there’s another conversation with Thibs, and here come all the reports: Jimmy Butler asked for a trade.
Butler: It wasn’t a week before. We’ve been talking all summer long, everybody knew the truth throughout the organization because I’m gonna tell you the truth. Like it or not, anybody, fans, whatever. Like it or not, it wasn’t just then so we can put that to rest. It was not just then.
I know the truth. I’m OK. I know the truth I know what I did, I know who I am to my core. “Jimmy’s a bad leader.” Give it all here, I’ll take it. But when you go in that locker room and you ask those guys who do you want to play with? I’m telling you nobody in that locker room is gonna say that he is a bad teammate. That he’s a bad guy.
I could be wrong but that’s how I look at it, and that’s why you get the quotes that are all over the internet from me today because I felt a type of way, I held it in, I hadn’t said anything to anybody. This is my first interview — I haven’t said anything to anybody, but when it comes out, it comes out. That’s what it’s all about.