(CBS) The evening of June 22 — and the ensuing wee hours of June 23 in Paris — was a pivotal moment in the career of Jimmy Butler.
After spending the first six years of his career with the Bulls and molding himself largely through sheer determination into a three-time All-Star, Butler was traded on draft night to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a five-player deal that reunited him with coach Tom Thibodeau. While the Bulls’ new direction was finally clear in choosing a rebuilding path, much has been debated about what team management told Butler about his status with the organization leading into that night.
Part of the reason that became a somewhat controversial topic was because in those early morning hours of June 23, Butler’s trainer, Travelle Gaines, tweeted a message calling Bulls general manager Gar Forman “a liar.” It was seemingly a reference from Butler’s camp that the Bulls had told him he wouldn’t be traded. Butler has since followed up saying Gaines only speaks for himself, but on the Bill Simmons Podcast this week, he admitted he was confused about his standing with the Bulls, even if he did have an inkling that a deal was about to come.
Butler specifically addressed his exit meeting with Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and Forman in the weeks leading up to the NBA Draft.
“At that one, it was Pax and Gar,” Butler said. “And you know, you just talk about everybody’s opinion on certain things, how you think you played, the well-being of the team, what we might need moving forward. So I did that.
“I said we were OK. I said a lot of things about the future that if I could control it, I would do this. But I can’t. So I know at the rate I plan to play, and I want to win, I want guys around me that want to win, that give me an opportunity to win a championship, because I think that’s why everybody plays this game. And I have nothing against anybody on that team, anybody in that organization. But they were so stuck on not building around me but maybe building with me, as they would say. Or going young, a rebuild. So it was one or the other. I just wanted to know. Was it clear when I left that meeting what we were going to do? No. Maybe I was told some things that I probably took as ‘You might be here.’
“I mean, I thought I was going to be there. So I’m not going to say word for word what they said, but when I left there, I did think I was going to be there. But like I said, it’s a business, and it is what it is. My thing is, hell, Chicago is home for me, you know? Hell, the first six years of my career — I’m not there anymore. And that’s OK. Now I got a new home.”
The Bulls never seemed set in their ways until draft night came, Butler said. It was an approach that, in taking a step back, he understands why they took.
“The way you look at it is, what do you say back?” Butler said. “You know? Because I don’t know if they really knew what they wanted to do until something was presented to them that was like, ‘OK, yeah, we got to take this. We got to go that way.’ You’re .500. You’re not a bad team. You’re not a good team. What are you going to do? So I don’t blame them for it.”
Butler also explained that he was rather chill in receiving a heads up about being traded and then news that it officially went through. He was in Paris on a European vacation, playing cards at the time with then-teammate Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union and Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony.
“My agent calls me and he says, ‘Hey, I think you’re about to get moved to Minnesota,'” Butler said. “I said, ‘OK, cool, I’m going to get back to my spades game.’ Because once again, I can’t really control that. That’s out of my control. I try to control what I can control.
“I’m just trying to enjoy life. At that point in time, it just so happened I could enjoy that in a foreign country, that being in Europe and Paris and all that other stuff with D-Wade and those guys. And then (my agent) calls me (again) — ‘You just got traded to Minnesota.’ I’m like, ‘All right, you know, I’m back with Thibs.’ Right then and there, I was like, ‘Hey, we got some really good young guys. I’m back with Thibs.'”