MINNEAPOLIS -- Jimmy Butler's unusual standoff with the Minnesota Timberwolves took another twist Friday night as fans showered him with boos when he was introduced, only to turn and serenade him with "MVP!" chants after a masterful performance.
Butler growled at team management that the Timberwolves couldn't win without him when he returned to practice last week after making a trade demand. He backed that up in the Wolves' home opener, scoring 33 points on 10-of-12 shooting with four steals and two blocks. A crucial steal and dagger jumper in the final minute finished off a 131-123 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
During the game, Butler smiled at fans who jeered him, barked at coach Tom Thibodeau at times and walked right past Glen Taylor as the owner greeted players just before tipoff.
"I love it. I love it," Butler said. "I think people kind of love to hate me sometimes. Say whatever you want to say, but it really makes me smile, what people think about me. But no matter what, you gotta respect my effort."
The last player out of the locker room while teammates had headed to the airport for a late flight to Dallas, Butler declared he loved being in the villain role. And there's no end in sight, with the Wolves not engaged in substantive trade talks and seemingly dependent on his contributions.
Butler on boos: 'It really makes me smile'
Jimmy Butler says that he "loves" when fans boo him as long as the Wolves are winning and expects fans to switch to cheers eventually.
As he has hinted at in previous interviews, Butler said fans and media don't know the whole story and have made him the "bad guy" without all the facts. Asked to elaborate, he declined. He also took aim at some of his teammates, another common element in this saga, as he called the Wolves' play "wishy-washy" after they nearly blew a 21-point lead to Cleveland.
"You may not like me. That's OK," Butler said. "But as long as you know that my mind and my heart are in the right place, that I do everything to win and I would do anything for my guys."
When it was pointed out that Butler playing at this level might make the Wolves want to hold on to him longer, he responded: "What you want me to do, shave points?"
Meanwhile, Butler's teammates continued to be in an odd space, offering support but keeping their distance. Andrew Wiggins, who had 22 points Friday, dressed and left the arena quickly. So did Jeff Teague, who had nine points and seven assists.
Thibs on fans' attitude toward Butler: 'It's the NBA'
Coach Tom Thibodeau says there's an appreciation for hard work, so he's not surprised fans switched from boos to cheers for Jimmy Butler.
"Jimmy doesn't care," teammate Tyus Jones said of the booing. "He handles his business when he's on the court. Boos, cheers, whatever."
Thibodeau, who has been instructed by Taylor to focus on coaching and not on possible Butler trades for the time being, continued to downplay the situation.
"It's the NBA," Thibodeau said of Friday night's events. "The one thing with fans, there's going to be an appreciation for a guy who plays hard and puts forth the effort every play."
With a smile on his face as he discussed the strange circumstances, Butler seemed to be basking in the discomfort.
"I just play basketball. I play hard. I play to win," Butler said. "I know they're going to hate me at the end of the day; it's going to happen."