Former Bull Doug McDermott has Jimmy Butler’s back in this ongoing NBA drama
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Jimmy Butler is basically persona non grata around Bulls camp these days.
Some of his former teammates have moved on; others have their own concerns or just no longer care. But not all of his former teammates feel this way.
Butler has been portrayed as the bad guy in some corners because of the way he has destabilized the Timberwolves the last three weeks, but there are players who’ve backed his demand to be traded.
Thunder All-Star Paul George said Butler’s actions are “valid.’’ Former Bulls teammate Doug McDermott defended Butler’s leadership style, especially toward young players.
McDermott, now with the Pacers, played with Butler for two-plus seasons. He told the Sun-Times that you need toughness when interacting with Butler because “he mentally challenges you.’’
“His leadership is a different style,’’ McDermott said. “It’s for some people and not for others. I always liked Jimmy, the way he led by example. He took me under his wing. So you’ll never hear me say a bad thing about Jimmy. He pushes people, but pushes you the right way.’’
McDermott found that out in his first offseason after joining Butler in San Diego for a boot-camp-like two-week workout: no cable TV, no Wi-Fi and 5 a.m. wake-up calls for the first of multiple workouts throughout the day.
“Camp Jimmy’’ wasn’t for everyone.
“I know some guys just didn’t respond to that type of leadership,’’ McDermott said. “People have to understand that it’s that path that got him to where he is — how hard he works. He can definitely rub you the wrong way if you’re not willing to put the work in, so a lot of what is going on [in Minnesota] is not surprising to me.’’
Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine didn’t exactly embrace Butler’s leadership style during the 2016-17 season, and that tension led to a team meeting midway through the season to try to get the team on the same page.
Dwyane Wade ripped the effort and work ethic of the younger Bulls at the time. Butler was assumed to be complicit in that tirade even though he never ventured down that path.
Butler was dealt in the 2017 offseason. The trade jump-started the Bulls’ rebuild with the additions of Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine and the acquisition of the draft rights to Lauri Markkanen. Butler carried the Timberwolves to the postseason in 2017-18, but along the way, he realized that young players such as Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns were talented but soft.
In July, the Sun-Times first reported Butler’s discontent with Wiggins and Towns. That situation has mushroomed into the NBA’s top-rated drama.
“Jimmy was the type of guy who would be texting me late at night, telling me stuff he saw on film, so that kind of stuff makes him a great teammate,’’ McDermott said. “He wants everyone to succeed, wants the team to succeed. There aren’t a lot of people, though, who are willing to get up at 4 a.m. and work out. There aren’t a lot of people who are willing to come back to the facility after a game and work out.
“He does things over the top, sets a high bar. If you’re not willing to be on his side during those times, or at least trying to reach that bar, he’s probably not going to like you very much.’’