Jimmy Butler is on the hunt for a new gig. The Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star demanded to be traded to a new team last month and reportedly gave his coach, Tom Thibodeau, a list of preferred destinations, but the two parties have been at an impasse. As a result, Butler stayed away from the team’s preseason workouts and events, electing instead to make his presence felt with the occasional cryptic Instagram post. This separation lasted until Wednesday, however, when the forward made a surprise appearance at practice. His behavior was anything but cryptic. According to reports, Butler’s performance was a mixture of J.K. Simmons’ character in Whiplash, Godzilla, and both Gallagher brothers.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news, tweeting that Butler was “vociferous and emotional” and spent the practice “verbally challenging teammates, coaches and front office.”
Rumors immediately began to seep from Minnesota’s training facility. On ESPN’s The Jump, Amin Elhassan reported that Butler teamed up with the Timberwolves’ third-string scrubs and beat the starters in a scrimmage. It was a “tour de force,” according to Wojnarowski, whose source is apparently Peter Travers.
Butler’s performance may have made for the most entertaining preseason practice in NBA history, but it might not be the best template for securing a work transfer. Let’s examine his approach.
1. Demand a trade.
An obvious first step, as Butler still has one more year on his contract (with a player option in 2019-2020). Normally this would result in leverage for the forward, but Thibodeau has a reputation for treating his players like Soviet infantry. The coach is both physically and spiritually resistant to leverage of any kind, and Butler, who played for Thibodeau in Chicago, should be the first to know this.
2. Be a no-show.
The key to this tactic is patience. Butler managed to stay away for roughly three weeks before spoiling the fruits of his absence at Wednesday’s dramatic practice.
3. Belittle your co-workers.
Butler has a tenuous relationship with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, two of the team’s young stars, and he apparently considers them to be soft little babies. Shortly after Butler’s trade demand, the Timberwolves shoved all their eggs in Towns’ basket and gave the center a five-year, $190 million contract.
Butler conducted an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols after Wednesday’s practice, and he shed some light on his attitude towards Towns and Wiggins. “I’m not the most talented player on the team,” he said. “Who is the most talented player on our team—KAT. Who is the most god-gifted player on our team—Wiggs. Who plays the hardest? Me! … That’s my passion. Everybody leads in different ways.”
Humiliation is but one arrow in Butler’s managerial quiver.
4. Remind everyone that you are irreplaceable.
By single-handedly dismantling the Wolves’ starters in scrimmage, Butler sent a signal that the team needs him to succeed. He also screamed this directly to everyone within earshot.
The numbers back this up. The team outscored its opponents by 8.3 points per 100 possessions with Butler on the floor. Minnesota had a 37-22 regular season record last year when Butler played, but they went 10-13 in the games he missed due to injury.
While compelling, Butler’s argument for keeping his job may be a tad misguided considering he is trying to do the opposite.
5. Keep an open mind.
In the Wednesday ESPN interview, Nichols asked Butler if his issues with the team could be fixed. “It could be,” he said, adding, “Do I think so? No.”
The job search continues.