Meals hardly deviate. It's scrambled egg whites, turkey bacon, turkey sausage, and a protein shake for breakfast. Lunch is Chipotle, with plain white rice, double chicken, light lettuce, and half a cup of vinaigrette (no cilantro). At night, his chef will prepare a dish around fish or chicken. He hasn't had red meat in years and steers clear of alcohol.When Butler isn't drenched in sweat, most of his free time is either spent in his theatre watching the same movies over and over (Friday is a favorite), or escaping into never-ending games of Spades or dominoes. Yoga is on the docket. Nightclubs are not.
"He's a serial killer's dream. He does the same shit every fucking day."
Butler is shirtless in tan pants and Jordan slides when we first meet outside his pool house. "Want a beer?" He reaches into a brown Albertson's bag and removes a cold can of Michelob Ultra. His hair is braided tight like a crown, and it's impossible not to notice how much his chest looks like gladiator armor. This is also a reminder that our interview (and a photo shoot he's doing) have pushed Butler out of his usual routine, but he doesn't seem too worried about it."I'll just make it all up in a short period tonight and be really tired in the morning when I wake up and start my schedule all over again, but it's part of it," he says.The mood when Butler enters a room somehow relaxes and tightens at the exact same time. His personality glides from standup comedian to superintendent. He's genuinely curious, cerebral, and a little mischievous. Ultimately, everything, from his schedule to his diet to the people he chooses to spend every waking minute around, is about efficiency. Even in this wonderland, with potted lemon trees at every turn, a hoard of wicker patio furniture, and a Southern California sun that dares anyone under it to do nothing but sip gin and tonics on end, Butler's playfulness has limitations.
The conversation turns to his work ethic. He understands not everyone is as driven as he is, but can't comprehend the thought of someone (especially another NBA player) not doing all they can to reach their full potential. It bugs him, even though he knows it shouldn't."I think it's wrong for me to think that people want what I want because in reality they don't. Some people are OK with getting drafted. Some people are OK with playing two years in the league, four years in the league, six years in the league. Some people are OK with just scoring a basket in an NBA game. I'm not OK with any of that. I'm not satisfied until I win a championship," he says. "I want everybody to work the way that I work and it's wrong for me to think like that because people don't do it! But in my mind I'm just like why? Why don't you want to chase greatness the way that I do?"Last January, after a humiliating loss in Atlanta that saw the Bulls blow a 10 point lead with three minutes left, Butler was fined for publicly dragging his teammates through the mud. After he was traded, former NBA player Antoine Walker called Butler a "bad locker room guy." A recent report suggested the Boston Celtics had concerns about trading for the three-time All-Star because Butler might clash with Gordon Hayward, who they eventually signed in free agency.
"I'm confrontational. I feed off of confrontation. It makes me go."
Once the photo shoot ends, we migrate down to the main house. Ready to play Spades, Butler is hunched over a square folding table that's been pummeled by thousands of domino tiles. He's flanked by Phil Ducasse, his newly appointed personal photographer, Ifeyani Koggu, a former Arkansas State guard who Butler introduces as his brother, and Mike Smith, Butler's mentee, of sorts, from Chicago who's about to enter his sophomore season at Columbia. A chandelier the size of a kiddie pool hangs overhead. Boxes of Size 14 retro Jordans are stacked against the dining room wall, with loose jewelry and designer clothes casually spread across the table and floor.
Even for a person as motivated as he is, Butler's journey to the NBA was a miraculous tightrope walk. There were no AAU connections or free sneakers. Butler is from Tomball, Texas, a slight town about 30 miles outside Houston. After his mother kicked him out of the house when he was 13, Butler couchsurfed through his teenage years before finding relative stability when his friend's mother agreed to take him in. The story has been told often, but remains too incredible to be sensationalized.For the typical prospect, coming to average 20 points in the NBA is less likely than purchasing a winning Powerball ticket. For Butler, it was less likely than holding said ticket while riding in the backseat of a limousine with Beyonce, eloping in Vegas.Butler didn't receive any scholarship offers out of high school, but he did get noticed by a scout named Alan Branch. Branch identified qualities his colleagues missed, and started to chirp in the direction of any coaches who'd listen. You guys are missing a steal. But no offers were made even after Butler played well in a couple spring tournaments. Nobody thought he was Division-I material.
Next year, the journal will be different. He'll be in a new city, with a new team, and a new set of expectations—at least externally. Internally, Butler still has a bottomless urge to be great. He's forever that serial killer's dream. He rolls out of bed each morning focused and ready to go for a 90-minute session with Johnson. It's the first of two workouts they fight through every day. They start by zooming in on ball-handling, finishing, floaters, runners, one-legged jumpers, off-balance jumpers, side pick-and-rolls, middle pick-and-rolls, pick-and-roll passing, and so on and so forth.He's already one of the craftiest and effective downhill playmakers in basketball, but for Butler to truly max out his potential in the coming seasons, that jumper needs to stabilize. Last year, he knocked down 36.7 percent of his threes, which is right around league average and an improvement on the previous season. But a higher percentage of his field goal attempts were launched from the inefficient mid-range, where he only canned 38.2 percent. On the whole, that's not an atrocious number, but it badly trails positional peers like Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Kevin Durant.