All-Star guard Jimmy Butler made a dramatic return to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, boldly challenging teammates, coaches and front-office executives in the practice session, league sources told ESPN.
Butler was vociferous and intense throughout the scrimmages, targeting president of basketball operations and coach Tom Thibodeau, general manager Scott Layden and teammates, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, league sources said.
As the GM watched on the sidelines during a scrimmage, sources said that Butler yelled to Layden: "You f---ing need me, Scott. You can't win without me."
It was Butler's first practice with the team since requesting a trade three weeks ago.
In an interview with ESPN's Rachel Nichols after Wednesday's practice, Butler described his emotions in the practice session.
"A lot of it is true," he said. "I haven't played basketball in so long. I'm so passionate. I don't do it for any reason but to compete. All my emotion came out in one time. Was it the right way? No! But I can't control that when I'm out there competing. That's raw me, me at my finest, me at my purest. Inside the lines."
Many of the Minnesota players left practice energized by Butler's performance, mesmerized with him taking several end-of-the-bench players and running the table in scrimmage games against the regulars, league sources said. After punctuating the final victory at the end of practice, Butler marched out of the gym as though to emphasize he had proved his point, sources said. Coaches and players were largely speechless, league sources said.
A fledgling team that has struggled to get by without Butler in the preseason had plenty of teammates anxious to see him back in the gym permanently, sources said. But it is unclear if Butler made his full-time return to the Timberwolves or just proved a point of some kind in practice.
Butler told Nichols that he planned to practice with the team again Thursday, but the team canceled the session in the morning.
Butler acknowledged that he can be hard on teammates, especially Towns, and said on Wednesday that the All-Star center talked trash to him in the scrimmage -- and Butler responded. And yet, Butler also chastised his younger teammates for not speaking up and challenging him Wednesday.
"Am I being tough on him? Yeah, that's who am I," Butler said. "I'm not the most talented player on the team. 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! I play hard. I put my body [on the line] every day in practice, every day in games. That's my passion. Everybody leads in different ways. That's how I show I'm here for you."
After a proposed Butler trade fell apart over the weekend, the Miami Heat remain interested in restarting talks with Minnesota to acquire him, league sources told ESPN earlier Wednesday. Minnesota and Miami advanced to the brink of a blockbuster trade for Butler over the weekend -- only for the deal to fracture before completion, sources said.
Minnesota had shared Butler's medical information with Miami late last week, sources said, a typical last step before finalizing a trade. Minnesota moved to amend the framework of the trade and talks collapsed on Saturday, league sources said.
A source of Butler's discontent appears to be his belief that not all of his teammates are committed to winning.
"I think that's the part everybody doesn't see," Butler said. "I'm not going to say no names. I'm going to be honest: If your No. 1 priority isn't winning, people can tell. That's the battle. Now there is a problem between people. That's where the disconnect is."
Showing up to practice doesn't appear to have resolved the issues he has with the team.
"It's not fixed," Butler told Nichols. "Let's be honest."
Asked if it could be fixed, he said: "It could be. Do I think so? No."