76ers general manager Elton Brand wore a suit. 76ers owner Joshua Harris wore a suit. New 76ers center Justin Patton wore a suit – with a bowtie!
And then there was Jimmy Butler, who sat between them in sweats.
“As you can tell, I’m the only one up here without a suit on because my suit got here late this morning,” Butler pointed out at his introductory press conference today.
Butler begins his new chapter in Philadelphia trying to repair his image.
His trade request from the Timberwolves, his subsequent tactics and reports about his treatment of teammates tarnished his reputation. In a humbler outfit – a genuine consequence of a hasty move or another orchestrated stunt? – Butler addressed those questions.
“I think that I’m an incredible human being, teammate, and I’ll show that to the guys that are here,” Butler said.
So, he won’t convince anyone he’s humble.
But he shouldn’t have to. Butler worked his way up from a modest origin into superstardom. Arrogance can be earned. His ascent should be celebrated – and emulated.
Everyone, including Butler’s new teammates, could learn from his work ethic. That didn’t work well in Minnesota, where Butler sparred with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butler would do well to exercise more patience while setting an example.
Not that he’s ready to admit wrongdoing.
“The funny part about it is all you hear is ‘sources say.’ You never hear a player say it,” Butler said. “And I think if a player had a problem or anything, they would. That’s how I feel about the situation. Unless everybody in my past locker room was just that fake, I don’t think I’m that big of a problem at all.”
I don’t think players turned off by Butlers fury would be above criticizing him anonymously. His confrontational style isn’t for everyone.
Besides, Butler used leaks to his advantage, too. It’s all part of the game, which resulted in Butler getting his Bird Rights – and the ability to offer a max contract projected to be worth $190 million over five years – to the 76ers.
Of course, Butler denied money drove his trade request. He insisted he’s still the guy who listens to country music, plays dominos and drives a minivan.
“I’ve already got enough money to have me and my family set for the rest of my life,” Butler said. “It’s not about the money. I’ve got to be able to love where I’m at and have a great chance of winning a championship.
“I love what Josh and Elton are doing. I think they’re doing it the right way. That’s what matters, the people that are around here and how everybody is treated. Because basketball is just one part of it. But to know that you’re wanted and that you’re always going to be taken care of, your people are always going to be taken care of, I think that’s what matters most to me – and a lot of other people in this league.”
Butler wasn’t pressed on what went wrong in Minnesota. He professed his fondness for Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau and said, “it just didn’t work out.”
Will it in Philadelphia? Butler said he dominated the ball in Minnesota only because that was asked of him. He sounds ready to adjust to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, whose social-media postings Butler called a “special work of art.” Talent tends to win out, and this team has awesome defensive ability.
Butler’s reputation never should have been as sullied as it was. The Timberwolves’ mismanagement contributed to the dysfunction as much as, if not more, than Butler’s trade request. He still performed very well for Minnesota in his year-plus there.
But if he comes to Philadelphia with an even larger chip on his shoulder, eager to prove his bona fides as a teammate and leader, that could be good for him and the 76ers. Butler lifted himself to an elite level. He still must show an ability to help others get there.
At least on day one in Philadelphia, Butler came dressed to work.