Out of the Blue



Is 40 the age when you finally start to feel your age? I’m asking for a friend, of course. In my friend’s experience, you become far more cognizant of your back and your eyes, amongst many other things, at that age. Good question.

I realize I’ve been very sports-centric lately, especially football-focused. I blame the dog, wanting to write a football column and all. I’m going to write about sports again today, the Jimmy Butler saga, which I’m still trying to wrap my mind around. It’s a terrible excuse, but I’ve been a little busy lately, some life changes and all, and sports are ridiculously easy to write about – if you ignore pesky things like stats and facts and research and just shout your opinion. Come to think about it, that seems to be the norm nowadays in any walk of life, especially the “news.” But I digress.

Sports are like the toy store. You pick and choose a toy to write about. It doesn’t require a ton of thought and too often doesn’t. There’s no deep reflection typically, unlike when you write about the more important things in life. It also breeds a lot of stories that are reflective of the human condition and explore the character, both exceptional and flawed, of numerous characters. I especially love redemption stories. Jimmy Butler is not a redemption story. We’ll get to that.

Before I go further, I want to remember my friend Frank Jamnick, who lost his battle with cancer at age 69 recently. The last time I saw Frank, he was hugging the Stanley Cup. This version of Frank was frail, his once broad shoulders shrunk, but still with the big smile. A few weeks later, and he was gone. I’ll miss my gruff friend of two decades. The same day I heard of Frank’s passing, I also heard that sad news that my friends’ son had died from an overdose. Drug overdoses, in a way, seem to be the cancer of our teens and young adults in this area. Only this scourge it’s far more preventable. This young man will be sadly missed as well. I hope it was a wake-up call to others who are struggling with addiction. Again, I recommend the ad at the bottom of this page. There is hope for freedom.

Back to Butler. If you are a Minnesota sports fan at all, you know all about the star wing’s trade demand from the Timberwolves. The 24-7 sports news spin cycle has been rolling with this story constantly since Butler, who had been working out away from the team while he hoped the team would trade him to Miami, showed up for practice Wednesday. He was loud. He woofed at Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins, his younger peers who make a lot more money than him, who he doesn’t think play the game the right way. He ripped his coach and mentor Tom Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden. He beat the starters with a team of scrubs. Then he did the proverbial mic drop and walked out the door and went to an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, where he aired his grievances.

He said this whole thing comes down to the truth, intimating that the team hadn’t been truthful with him. He said both that it wasn’t fixable and then that it was. He at times praised Thibodeau, KAT and Wiggs. He sounded both confrontational and, at moments, contrite. Reading between the lines, it was almost as if he felt bad for throwing Thibs under the bus, that he wished KAT and Wiggins would buy into his bust-your-tail approach. For a moment, I pondered if this was all a big gambit by Thibs and Butler to light a fire under the tails of his talented teammates. But then I realized I was probably giving Thibs entirely too much credit to come up with such a genius plan.

The truth is Butler is upset the Wolves didn’t immediately sign him to a lucrative extension when they traded for him. Instead, Thibs couldn’t wait to drum Ricky Rubio out of town, spend a bunch of money on Jeff Teague and his former Bull Taj Gibson and didn’t foresee this being a problem with Butler. Then Butler watched Wiggins ink a huge extension and KAT have one on the table, while he, the team’s best and hardestworking player, played out the last year of his current deal, which is significantly less than his two teammates, who he doesn’t think work hard enough. So he’s angry that the Wolves invested in them before upping the ante with him. He’s the best player, he goes to the wall every night; he wants to be paid more like it.

It’s about money. It’s about ego. And sadly, it is destroying a promising team. I wish he would change his mind, that KAT and Wiggs would gain just 10-percent of his intensity through osmosis, that we could see a second season and how much they could improve as a team. Don’t forget, they were No. 3 in the West prior to Butler’s knee injury last winter.

If there’s one word I’d use to describe Jimmy Butler, it’s tenacious, narrowly edging out ferocious. That’s how he plays, that’s how he talks, and if Wednesday’s charade was any indication, it’s exactly how he’ll approach forcing his way out of town. And if he succeeds, I don’t know if KAT and Wiggs have or ever will develop the necessary tenacity to elevate this team to the next level on their own.

I’m angry at Jimmy. We Minnesotans are provincial and don’t take to kindly to ungrateful guys forcing their way out of town. But I also bought a sock monkey because of Jimmy. I named him Orwell. All because Jimmy Butler once did a great commercial for the NBA Store with a sock monkey. It’s the last things.

Unfortunately, I think there are too many little, petty things, too much gravel in the shoes and not enough green in the bank. I think it’s another prototypical Minnesota sports moment: the letdown. I think I can safely say bon voyage to a guy whose heart and hustle and gritty determination I’d always liked from afar, a guy I hoped I’d cheer for for a decade. I’d have settled for half that. I guess it’s going to be on the kids to get it right. Errrrrr… Please give it one more try, Jimmy?

Until next time…

Brian Miller is a longtime local writer who resides in Eveleth, MN. As always, he welcomes glowing accolades and scathing reviews at brianm@htfnews.us.

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