For Jimmy Butler, it’s all about winning with the Timberwolves
So quiet when he a rookie, Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler has something to say on just about anything now that he is a lock to be named an All-Star for a fourth time.
In a recent wide-ranging interview edited for length, he discussed everything from the prospect of a contract extension that would keep him in Minnesota alongside young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins to his friendship with some of country musics biggest stars and why a man 28 and rich drives a minivan around town.
A man whom Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau credits for changing the franchises culture into a winning one, Butler also talked about whether a kid from Tomball, Texas, can be league MVP and identified the player he considers his teams most talented.
Hint: It isnt him.
Q: Your coach says he watched you and Luol Deng work out every night from up in his office in Chicago, but you never said a word. What happened?
A: Ive become a much better player, so I feel like my voice is heard and taken for what its worth a little bit more. Back then, I wasnt very good. I worked to be at the point where I am now. Now I always think Ive got something to say because a lot of it falls on my ability to help us win games.
So if youre not doing what we believe is the best you can do to help us win, I have something to say about it. Other people might have something to say about it as well, but they wont. But Ill always have something to say and Ill always tell you the truth.
Q: Thibs said youve become a leader since he coached you in Chicago. What does being a leader mean and how have you changed being one?
A: It means a lot. Ive changed and Ive learned every single year, what to do and what not to do. But I still pride myself on going out and doing the right things. Doing what Im supposed to be doing on both ends of the floor.
Its cool to talk and say what youre supposed to be doing, but if Im not out there doing it, my word really doesnt mean too much of anything. Just go out there and play hard. Do what youre asked to do, be locked in, be a fierce competitor and everybody will follow suit.
Q: You didnt name names, but you made it clear earlier this season Andrew and KAT must do more. Is there a fine line between publicly demanding it and pointing fingers?
A: I tell them all the time, just like I tell Jamal [Crawford]. I tell everybody: For us to be a really good team, everyone has to guard. I might not say it to yall, but they know exactly who were talking about and I will say it to them face to face, to whoever, in front of the entire locker room and it doesnt matter because its not personal. Its not personal.
If we know you cant do something, like, were not going to ask Gorgui [Dieng] to shoot 70 percent from behind the three. But we know when youre very capable of doing something. All you have to do is put your mind to it. Yeah, were going to let you know. But that goes for everybody, including myself. Thats the only way we can make each other better, make each other want to do great things and put this organization, this team, where we deserve to be.
Q: Was playing through your back injury when the team beat Portland in December a prime example of leadership?
A: I dont know. Is it? I just play hard. If my teammates are out there to hoop, Im going. I see the way these guys prepare for games. How can you not want to go be a part of that?
Basketball has been my life for so long that without it, I dont know what to do. Just like a lot of other guys in here. You think about it, like after my career, what am I going to do? I really have no idea. So if at any point in time I can play basketball, I promise you I will always go.
Q: Youre this teams best player, Thibs calls you MVP caliber. Are you its most talented?
A: Who, me? Hell no, Wigs is. Wigs is the most talented by far. I see him do things and Im like wow, like how? The crazy part is that was at 40 percent. Just think if youre 80 percent or what if you just go as hard as you can, 100? Wigs is easily the most talented person on this team.
Q: Will he get there?
A: Playing with me, youve got no choice because Im going to get on your nerves every single day until you do what I know you can do, what I expect of you, what we expect of you. Then its going to make winning a lot easier.
Q: What could you have done with that?
A: I dont know, I dont even want to think about that because I dont got that, I dont got that. Im going to be who I am. Im not Wigs.
Q: You have a ready-made answer for any occasion: Im from Tomball.
A: Yes, I am.
Q: Other than the literal, what does that mean?
A: Uh, nobody knew who I was then. I really dont care if you know who I am now. I know who I am. My loved ones, my teammates know how I am and what Im about. So judge me. Whatever you want to say is fine with me. Im just going to continue to get better. Sooner or later, Ill find my way to the top and be where I want to be.
Q: Is it true you practice with basketballs that have Can a kid from Tomball be MVP? etched on them.
A: All my practice balls say a lot of different things on them. But that is one of them. It is one of them. Were still yet to see it. Who knows?
Q: Is that important to you?
A: Nah, its not important. Whats important is winning and being known as a winner in this league for a very long time. Go down in history as a winner, thats the most important thing. Thats why you play the game. You werent playing this game when you were six years old to one day perhaps make a million dollars. You just wanted to be an NBA player because you love the game, you love to win, for no other reason.
Q: Do you care Lonzo Ball ranked above you in All-Star Game fan balloting?
A: I dont give a damn. To tell you the truth, I dont even want to play in the All-Star Game. I pride myself on guarding and playing hard. Like, leave me out of it.
Q: Yeah, theres no place for those things in the All-Star Game, is there?
A: No, Im cool. Let me go on vacation with DeAndre Jordan or something like that. Thats what I was planning.
Q: Is Karl an All-Star?
A: Yeah, yeah, yeah. KATs got that type of game, do between the legs and dunk, shoot the ball from half-court. KAT does all of that. He loves that. KAT, you can have it.
Q: A question from Twitter: What will get you to sign an extension here with your contract set to expire in 2019?
A: Got to win. We have to win. Were doing a great job of that now, but if Im winning, Im happy. Im not worried that its negative 50 degrees outside. I just want to win. I want to be happy. I want to be around good people. I think we have that right now.
Q: Whats the threshold, a championship?
A: Youve got to take it step by step. You cant just jump into winning a championship. We have to do a lot of things right and weve got to be playing our best basketball at the right time to be worrying about winning a championship. Lets just win first and then well worry about that.
Q: You call your relationship with Thibs love-hate. What makes it such a match?
A: Because all in all, he wants to win and I want to win. So all the differences and all the likelinesses if thats even a word that we have, the main thing that outdoes everything is our will to win. And you respect the fact that you know hes in there right now studying the game of basketball, our team, our opponents. Thats what he is doing and I do the exact same thing.
Q: Will you get to see Florida Georgia Line when theyre here for a concert Super Bowl week?
A: Of course. I was talking to Tyler (band co-founder Tyler Hubbard) this morning. He just had a baby girl; Im happy for him. I get to see Kevin Hart in concert and all my people that week.
Q: Do you really like country music or do you play it at your locker just to annoy teammates?
A: Thats how it started, I wont lie. In college, I started listening to it just to annoy everybody, but then I actually started to like the music. And now I have so many friends in that industry and we show so much love toward one another and Im a fan. Im a fan. I definitely am.
Q: Do you have the Rolls or the minivan here in Minnesota?
A: The minivan is here. I drive it every day.
Q: Why put a Baby on Board sign on it?
A: It throws everybody off. If somebody cuts somebody off in that vehicle, you cant honk at them. They have a Baby on Board sticker. Maybe theyre trying to get the baby to the hospital or the baby appointment, you never know.
Q: Last question: You said this team has to learn to win in steps. Can it beat Golden State, Houston or San Antonio in a playoff series?
A: Im not going to say no. I dont play this game to lose, nor do I think anybody on this team does. Ill say Ill take my chances along with everybody else on this roster and well take our chances against anybody.