Modest Jimmy Butler works harder than everybody else — just ask him
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Beware the player who tells the world how much harder he works than his teammates. Beware the player who tells the world his teammates don’t want to win as much as he does.
It won’t be long before that player tells the world all the ways he’s humble.
Former Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a problem dressed up as a leader. He wants out of Minnesota, and he’s doing all he can to paint himself as a selfless tough guy who is too good for the sad excuses for men who are his Timberwolves teammates.
Somewhere along the way, Butler got it into his head that this is how stars are supposed to act. And, to an extent, he is a product of his environment. The NBA is the D League, the D standing for ‘‘diva.’’ It’s full of drama worthy of a reality show. Butler would be the show’s star right now, a stunning achievement for someone whose father isn’t LaVar Ball.
Butler showed up at a practice Wednesday, his first since his trade demand, and screamed at teammates, coach Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden. Then he sat down with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols because, what, you thought he was going to sit down with 1350 The Fan in Bemidji?
‘‘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,’’ he said. ‘‘So all my emotion came out at one time [in practice]. 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.’’
At least he didn’t talk in the third person — yet.
If I have this right, no one can meet Butler’s lofty standards. Not Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, whom he once called out for not coaching hard enough. And not Timberwolves teammates Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, whom he apparently thinks are as soft as a pile of leaves.
‘‘I’m not the most talented player,’’ Butler said. ‘‘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.’’
Jimmy wants to be Michael.
Jimmy’s not Michael.
It’s easy to love Butler, the player. He’s one of the best all-around players in the game. He’s powerful off the dribble. If he’s guarding you, you’re in prison. He’s ultra-talented, no matter how much he wants to play up his work ethic.
It’s not easy to love Butler, the spectacle. Toward the end of his stay with the Bulls, he seemed more concerned about whose team it was than about winning. To care about whether you, not Derrick Rose, are the focus of the franchise is such an NBA thing. The way the Bulls played at times, it was a wonder any player wanted ownership of it.
It isn’t that Butler should be what he was when the Bulls took him 30th overall in the 2011 draft, a hardworking kid who kept his head down. It isn’t that he should be something he isn’t. But his career has started to feel like a managed production, a calculated affair aimed at something more than basketball. His brand? His image? His next address, as long as it’s in a major market? And has nice weather? Seems like all of that.
I’m always suspicious of players who publicly call out teammates. What it says, without saying it, is: I’m better than everyone else, and if the world were filled with more people like me, the planet would be undefeated.
If the aim of speaking out is to try to elevate the play of underachievers, it’s almost always a failure. It invariably comes across as the critic wanting everyone to know that the team’s struggles are not his fault. Or, in Butler’s case, wanting everyone to know he wants to be traded.
He might be right about his teammates. Towns and Wiggins might care only about themselves, might have hearts two sizes too small. But what’s the point of saying it publicly? It’s not something a team player would do. The columnist in me thanks him for giving the media a week of layup stories to write. But if I were a teammate, I’d have one question for him:
Tell me again, which teams have you led to an NBA title?