Regular Season Can’t Start Soon Enough for Jimmy Butler, Bulls

In a recent interview with Chicago Magazine, Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler spoke to staff writer Bryan Smith about his new $95 million contract, celebrity friends, Nerf guns, and his difficult past. Smith describes just how tough it is for Butler to discuss it.

“…he loathes reliving the past—so much so that he has removed the rearview mirror on his car (yes, really) as a symbolic reminder to never look back. His coach at Marquette University, Buzz Williams, says Butler was so sensitive about his upbringing that he swore Williams to secrecy while playing for him.”

Of course sports media, the internet, and even I had a field day with that detail about the rearview mirror.

He cut his brakes because he CAN’T STOP, WON’T STOP….but seriously, Jimmy, put the rearview mirror back. Otherwise, get someone else to drive you while you’re in Chicago. I don’t need to get in anymore silly accidents downtown and neither does anyone else. There’s also A LOT OF MONEY INVESTED IN YOU. So safety matters. – End mini rant.

Kidding/judging aside, I get the symbolism. Butler had an unbelievably tough upbringing. His father wasn’t around and mother kicked him out of the house as a 13 year-old before he was taken in by a high school teammate’s family. Butler doesn’t want his past to define who he is now. Since being drafted at the end of the first round of the 2011 draft, 30th overall, Butler worked his way to where he is today.

Butler’s points per game have increased every season. During his rookie campaign, Butler averaged 2.6 points over 42 games coming off the bench. In 2014-15, Butler started 65 games and averaged 20 points per. Then after being named to his first All-Star game, his second All-NBA Defensive Team, and leading the league in minutes per game (38.7), Butler led the Bulls in playoff scoring but was ousted by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of the conference semis.

The last meaningful game the Bulls played, fans saw a team that had given up on their coach, Tom Thibodeau, in an elimination game against the best basketball player in the league. Even after keeping pace with the Cavs in a high scoring first (33-31 Cavs), Butler and his teammates stopped looking for easy baskets and settled for lazy jump shots. After leading all scorers in the first quarter with 10 points, Derrick Rose looked disinterested and so were fans by the 3rd quarter. The result of Game 6 left the worst taste in your mouth if you were at all invested with a Bulls team that was surrounded by drama between the coach and the front office, Butler’s contract situation, and Rose’s health.

While the Bulls’ roster is virtually the same as it was a year ago, there’s a new head coach and a new philosophy in 2015-16. Fred Hoiberg is the anti-Thibodeau and he brings a strong emphasis on scoring. If you haven’t already, get the defensive oriented try-hard Bulls teams of the past 6 years out of your system and get used to multiple 100+ free Big Mac games at the United Center. Hoiberg is also a “players coach” and Butler further expressed his appreciation for that in a revealing Q&A with NBA.com’s David Aldridge at the start of October…

“I think Fred is a bigger person, where he’s going to come in, he’s going to check on you. Over the summer, he came and visited everybody. I think every coach is different. Thibs wasn’t like that. Thibs was a guy that, he was going to be in that office studying ways to win a championship…Fred is trying to teach me that you’ve got to be a people person, too. Because you’ve got to balance both. You really do.”

As I noted earlier, Butler did get paid and he was paid very well. After betting on himself during the season last year and proving he’s worth more than the original extension the Bulls offered him, the restricted free agent and the team that drafted him agreed on a 5-year $95 million deal with a gradual rise in salary per year. It seems Butler understands that the new paper means more responsibility for him…

“I hired my trainer full-time. I have my own weight, strength and nutritional guys, full-time. I’m investing money into my body and into my craft, which is a wise investment…help my team win, I’ve got to be healthy. To help my team win, I’ve got to be able to score the ball. To help my team win, I’ve got to be able to guard. This whole summer was all about that — playing all 82 games, and the playoffs.”

There also seems to be a general agreement throughout the organization that the team isn’t built around Rose anymore, and Butler wants to take the mantle as the leader on the floor. If you were paying attention to the Rose-less Bulls for the past few seasons, the leaders were certainly Joakim Noah and Luol Deng on both ends of the floor. That’s where Aldridge’s interview with Butler gets interesting…

“I have to be a leader. I think I can lead vocally, and obviously with my actions on the court. I can’t tell anybody to do something if I’m not doing it. I can’t ask one of these rookies to dive on the floor if I’m not diving on the floor, take a charge if I’m not taking a charge. Leadership is one of the only things that this team has really been lacking. We’ve had a little here and there, but I think you’ve got to have that guy to come in and get it done in the leadership role.”

Dude…Noah’s still on your team. You know that right? I’ll be the first to admit Noah’s presence on the offensive end of the floor last season was more of a hindrance than helpful, but you can’t deny how he put the team on his back and carried them into the playoffs in 2013-14. Noah finished 4th in MVP voting that season, with all the chest pumping glory you could ask for. You also have Pau Gasol on your roster with two NBA Finals rings on his hand.

I appreciate a lot of what Butler has had to say since committing to the Bulls for the next five seasons. I like that he’s talking like a superstar, now that he’s being paid like one. I hope Butler improved on his long-range shooting and ball handling though, so the other four guys on the floor can play off him in space. If he wants to take the reigns as the “face of the franchise” and leader, Butler also has to continue playing like the two-way player that his teammates, fans, and piers around the league have come to respect. Most importantly, win basketball games and win them in the playoffs. At the end of the day, the players who go to championships are the ones you trust the most.

I want the season to start already so Butler, Rose and everyone else in a Bulls uniform can simply let their game speak for them. The Bulls open the season next week at the United Center, Tuesday Oct. 27th, against the Cavaliers. It’s only the start to another long season, but one that couldn’t come soon enough.

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