The self-titled Garbage Guy from small-town Texas who grew up on Spam and syrup sandwiches, who waited tables at Denny’s and mowed lawns in basketball shoes, who played one game of AAU (“travel ball,” he called it) and never left the bench, who received a single scholarship offer out of high school from Centenary and a partial from Quinnipiac, who started in junior college only after two regulars failed drug tests and who faxed his letter of intent to Marquette from a McDonald’s sinks into a tan leather banquette on a Gulfstream III bound for Silicon Valley. Jimmy Butler is on the phone with his new head coach in Minnesota, Tom Thibodeau, who of course was also his old head coach in Chicago. They talk every day, often multiple times, about what food the Timberwolves should order for training-camp spreads and what hotel they should book in New Orleans.

Butler prattles on about rush-hour traffic patterns.

But this August afternoon they are evaluating free-agent backup point guards, and Butler makes the case for a veteran he has been courting. “We spoke today,” Butler says. “He’s ready. He’ll do everything I do. He can live in my house if he wants.” The engine whirs, the plane rises, and Butler tells Thibodeau he will call back when his private flight from Los Angeles lands in San Jose. Butler is a bold-faced headliner now with 24-hour access to the coach and team president, two rented houses in the Minneapolis suburbs, dominoes engraved with Jimmy Buckets and practice basketballs etched with the question, Can a kid from Tomball be MVP? Chicago is where Butler became a two-way wing and three-time All-Star, but he felt like the Bulls still looked at him as the 30th pick in the draft, that anxious rookie who chirped from the bench, just loud enough to hear, “I can guard that dude! I can do this!” The Wolves, on the other hand, viewed him purely as the keystone of the NBA’s next contender.

How Butler sees himself is more complicated. On a short stroll through downtown Palo Alto, in search of a caramel macchiato with an extra espresso shot, strangers whisper his name as he passes. Most hoop elites are identified by no more than two syllables: LeBron. KD. Steph. Russ. Kawhi. CP. Beard. “I’m always Jimmybutler,” he muses. The formality suits him, a superstar who used to be a sideman and still grapples with the transition. “How is a star treated?” he wonders. “I don’t know. I’m learning like everyone else, and it’s a helluva curve.” Butler flies in a Gulfstream but drives a Toyota minivan with a baby on board sticker across the back, even though he is single with no children. He put up 52 points in a game last season against the Hornets and 40 in a half the season before against the Raptors, but his preferred final score is 2–0. His favorite time of year is “grimy season,” an unspecified stretch of summer and fall when he braids his hair, grows his beard and works out twice a day, hot yoga in between. “Bandannas and buckets,” he crows. “That’s the heart. That’s the hustle.”

Butler grinds in the middle of a Western Conference crucible. Instead of lying down for the dominant Warriors, several clubs geared up, the Thunder pairing Russell Westbrook with Paul George, the Rockets flanking James Harden with Chris Paul, and the Timberwolves combining Karl-Anthony Towns with Butler. While George and Paul are upcoming free agents, Butler is under contract for two years, giving the T-Wolves a rare opportunity to dent the West hierarchy.

On the eve of his introductory press conference in Minnesota, Butler stewed over reports claiming he had been a stormy presence and abrasive leader in Chicago, the kind of accusation big-market franchises traditionally leak about exiled alphas after mindless trades. “I ought to go out there tomorrow and be like, ‘If you got a problem, here’s my number, call me,’” Butler vented. Ifeanyi Koggu, a close friend who handles Butler’s business phone, laughed nervously. “That would be funny,” Koggu replied, “but not a good idea.” Butler commandeered the iPhone 7 in their suite at the Loews the next morning and changed the outgoing voice-mail message from an automated greeting to a personal one. “Jimmy Butler, sorry I couldn’t get to the phone, but leave your name and number and I’ll hit you back. If you got any beef, definitely leave a message.” During his presser at Mall of America, in front of 2,500 hungry souls waiting on the second coming of Kevin Garnett, Butler broadcast the digits to the world.