On Monday, November 12th, 2018, the Minnesota Timberwolves traded away Jimmy Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and Jerryd Bayless. This trade was a culmination of many different issues on conflicts within the Minnesota organization, all stemming from either the actions, or frustrations of Butler. From yelling at teammates, to his frustrations with the Timberwolves’ performance in the 2018 playoffs, Butler was never opposed to voicing his concerns and causing problems between he and his teammates. The main problems and roots of conflict found here in this situation are Jimmy Butler’s authoritarian personality as well his catharsis.
An authoritarian personality is defined as a personality type in which one has an obsession with respecting authorityand views people of outgroups as inferior. In the situation of Butler and the Timberwolves, he views himself as the authority figure. Someone who is authoritarian will often talk down unto someone of a separate group or, for the case of Jimmy Butler, people they view as lesser than them. Butler viewed his teammates as all lesser than them, specifically star center Karl-Anthony Towns and starting wing Andrew Wiggins. Towns and Wiggins were both first overall picks who came into this league with a sense of confidence from their peers due to their natural talents. Both were dominant college players who had everything handed to them in the NBA from massive contracts to immense fame. Everything that is, except for wins on the court. Butler was a very different tale. He was the 30th overall pick and had a lot to prove since not many fans knew him and even expert draft analysts such as Tyler Ingle were at best comparing him to an average role-player such as Wesley Matthews. This is why, as an authoritarian, he not only sees himself as superior but also views his teammate, Towns and Wiggins, as members of an outgroup. Wiggins and Towns have all of the God-given talent in the world and did not have to put in as much effort as Butler did to be in the situation they currently are. Jimmy Butler worked for every opportunity he got beginning on the Chicago Bulls. In his first season he only averaged 2.6 points per game in not even 9 minutes of play time. Towns on the other hand was averaging 18 points in 32 minutes per contest and the year before that, Wiggins was averaging almost 17 points in 36 minutes for his rookie campaign. Butler had to improve every year, to the point that he even won the 2014-2015 NBA Most Improved Player award and made his first All-Star team. Because of his insane work ethic due to the chip on his shoulder, Butler viewed himself as a superior player to his fellow Timberwolves. They were members of an outgroup that he did not respect because they never had to put in as much effort as him. Rather than being handed his opportunities, Butler worked for every chance he ever received and successfully made a name for himself. These are the reasons why Butler developed and authoritarian personality.
Catharsis is defined as expressing one’s emotions with the intention of providing significant emotional relief. For some people, catharsis is not a destructive thing. For many people airing out their emotions can be a therapeutic experience for not just themselves but for those around them as well because they can come to an understanding of what a problem may be and work together in order to improve the situation. For the Minnesota Timberwolves, the catharsis of their star forward was nothing less than detrimental. This was not the first time that Jimmy Butler airing his grievances got him in trouble. Back in 2017 when he was still a member of the Chicago Bulls he was fined and benched for criticizing his teammates saying that they “don’t play hard all the time”. This is just one of the earliest examples of his catharsis causing tension between himself and the organization he played for. Things really came to a major conflict in the summer of 2018 after he had approached the organization and requested that he be traded. Mere minutes after voicing his request, an unnamed person approached him demanding that he still attend practice. Jimmy detailed this altercation on an episode of his teammate JJ Redick’s podcast on December 10th, 2018. He noted how after being told to attend practice he responded by saying “you’re not going to tell me what I’m gonna do. If I choose to practice, I’ll choose to practice”. After a back-and-forth Jimmy eventually did end up attending practice but it quickly became one of the most infamous practices in the history of the NBA. At this practice, Jimmy barged in and quickly assembled a scrimmage game where he took the third string players of the Timberwolves onto his team and they went against the starters including Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, and of course Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butler’s team dominated this game even though Butler himself “only shot once”. Throughout this scrimmage Butler would repeatedly yell at and reprimand players of the other team and even at one point started proclaiming to their GM “you fucking need me” and “you can’t win without me”. He expressed an obscene amount of emotion and although it may have temporarily relieved his emotional tension, it only made the situation on the Timberwolves so much more tense. Jimmy Butler’s catharsis was a major reason as to why his tenure on the Timberwolves was controversial and short-lived. Had he not been such a hothead and kept himself under control he could have become a proper mentor to Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins and they could be a perennial team in the Western Conference.
Before the trade on November 12th, the Timberwolves had a poor record of four wins and eight losses. Since then, they have improved to nine wins and six losses for a total record of 13 and 14, a record that has them just two games out of making the playoffs and will likely improve as the season goes on. This team has begun to work together better and perform as a unit. They did not add any players that are more talented than Jimmy Butler, but by adding roster pieces who are willing to work hard and cooperate with everyone, the Timberwolves are becoming a solid team that have to be respected whenever another team has to play against them. By simply removing an authoritarian personality that has a strong leaning towards embracing catharsis, the Minnesota Timberwolves are a better, and happier organization. As for Jimmy Butler, he’s doing well in Philadelphia and the team has been performing well with him on the roster. There are yet to be any incidents reported in Philadelphia so clearly his authoritarian personality and his catharsis have either not taken form in the City of Brotherly Love or he’s finally learned to calm down and play his role without insulting anyone or bringing them down.
Myers, D.G. (2015). Exploring Social Psychology: 8th Edition.
The JJ Redick Podcast [Audio blog interview]. (2018, December 10).
Weinstein, A. (2017, January 28). Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade benched, fined for remarks. Retrieved pppfrom http://www.sportingnews.com/us/nba/news/jimmy-butler-dwyane-wade-rajon-rondo-pppinappropriate-remarks-chicago-bulls/1cd98k1ymwc5813bqau0o894td
Wojnarowski, A. (2018, October 11). Jimmy Butler rips into Wolves front office, teammates during ppppractice. Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/24950981/jimmy-butler-heated-ppppractice-timberwolves