MINNEAPOLIS — Everything hurts on Jimmy Butler these days.
Start with the surgically repaired meniscus in his right knee, and go in every direction from there.
He’s minutes removed from a Monday walkthrough — make that a limpthrough in his case — and needs the assistance from a Timberwolves public-relations staff member.
There’s obviously a price that goes into the pursuit of winning, and like he did with the Bulls far too often, Butler feels he’s the one footing most of the bill.
“I just don’t think there have been many people that have understood how important winning is to me,’’ Butler told the Sun-Times. “I just had a conversation about that very thing with somebody — not important who — but I put so much into this game and I only play to win. I don’t play for any individual stats or accolades. And at times I get lost in how everybody is not built the way that I’m built.
“The same with Thibs [Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau]. People don’t understand that he puts so much time into his craft. He understands what it takes. But sometimes I just look around, and I don’t understand how or why you all don’t love to get better the way that I do.’’
And that’s exactly why his stay in Minnesota could be short.
Butler, and to a certain extent former Bull Taj Gibson, were brought in by Thibodeau to teach toughness to young, talented players such as Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
“In evaluating where we were, you’re trying to erase 14 years of losing,’’ Thibodeau said of Butler’s effect on the team. “And so we knew we had to add toughness. On top of him being a top-10 player, he’s mentally tough and physically tough, and if you look at what our record is when he plays versus when he doesn’t play, it tells you how valuable he is.’’
The Timberwolves were 37-22 (.627) with Butler in the lineup during the regular season and 10-13 (.434) without him. It’s the difference between being down 3-1 to the top-seeded Rockets in the first round of the playoffs and a path in which they could have easily been a No. 4 or 5 seed.
No wonder Butler has spent much of his first year in Minnesota trying every trick in the book to get his teammates to understand urgency. It’s the same leadership style that several young Bulls players resisted before he was traded.
And while he has seen improvement with his new team, will it be enough to keep him around when he can opt out and become a free agent next season?
“Young guys in this league don’t understand urgency,’’ Butler said. “These guys don’t understand that you never know what the league brings, the times may bring. I think they do understand what it takes to win here and they continue to learn that.
“Decisions I make, the money, my contract, all of that will handle itself. I don’t ever worry about my money. I already have enough money for the rest of my life. It’s all about winning.’’
That’s why a return to the Bulls isn’t that far-fetched. After next season
Team president Michael Reinsdorf is a huge Butler fan, and the feeling is mutual. Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and a soon-to-be draft pick might need some tough love.
“I loved the city of Chicago, and I love the Reinsdorfs,’’ Butler said. “I’m forever grateful for them in taking a chance on me, allowing me to become the player that I am today. It’s still incredible to me that I got to hoop in a Bulls jersey. I got to play in the house that [Michael] Jordan built, that [Scottie] Pippen played, all that stuff. That’s because of the -Reinsdorfs.
“If the time comes where I say, ‘You know what, I do want to end this thing in a Bulls jersey,’ I think that would be amazing. But it’s all about being wanted and winning.’’
“And no general manager Gar Forman?’’ Butler was asked.
He then laughed and limped away.