Ex-Bull Jimmy Butler never has been one to worry about his reputation.
Butler alternately has been cast as a villain and a hero, a motivator and a distraction, but all of it is just noise to him.
So in his return to where it all began Wednesday, there was no sudden change in attitude.
“You know I don’t give a damn,’’ Butler said about how he has been perceived since being traded by the Bulls to the Timberwolves, then by the T-wolves to the 76ers. “I go about everything the exact same way that I did [in Minnesota], that I do here [in Philadelphia] right now. If I see something that’s wrong, I’m going to speak up about it.
“But these guys know where my heart is; the coaches know where my heart is. I just want to win. I want to bring the best out of everybody.’’
That concept somehow got lost at times in his last season with the Bulls, and it definitely was absent in Minnesota.
Butler didn’t like the lack of commitment and soft attitude of some of his Timberwolves teammates, specifically Karl-Anthony Towns. Butler became frustrated because he thought Towns was wasting his considerable talents.
He warned the organization about committing to the core, but when that plea fell on deaf ears, he played hardball and demanded a trade just before camp started.
Minnesota finally moved him in early November, and while there were some initial growing pains with his 76ers teammates, Butler thinks Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are two young guys who actually get it. They’re foxhole-type players who embrace the push.
“They just compete, talk a lot of [expletive] while doing it, so I really like it,’’ Butler said. “We all know how [Embiid] uses his social media, so that just goes and puts the icing on the cake. But those guys go at one another like no one has ever seen, and they bring the best out of one another. That’s the best part about it. It’s easier for everyone to follow after that, including myself.’’
As far as his relationship with former Bulls and Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, Butler insisted that the idea that a rift had developed is false.
Thibodeau was fired by the Timberwolves shortly after Butler was traded, but they talk frequently, Butler said.
“Hell yeah, I talk to Thibs,’’ Butler said. “He called me today.
“I’m sure Thibs would tell you like I tell you. I’ll take all the blame. I’m sure he’ll say he’ll take it, too. Somebody has to point the finger at somebody. But, like I tell everybody, Thibs is a big part — and you can tell I’m smiling because it’s the truth — of who I am today as a player.
“He gave me an opportunity after not letting me play at all my first couple of years. But then he saw something in me, and he let me rock a little bit. That’s my guy. He’s always in my ear talking to me about the game. To tell you the truth, believe it or not, he talked to me about life. He does.’’
Butler’s love for the city he began his career in also hasn’t changed.
Before the game, he was roaming the hallways, spending time with former Bulls personnel and hugging kids like a politician.
“This is still home for me,’’ Butler said. “This is where my career started.’’