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’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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Chicago Bulls Will Hire Fred Hoiberg, the Anti-Thibodeau

Former Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg has agreed to become the 22nd head coach the of the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls will hold a presser and officially name him coach Tuesday at 2 PM CT. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports is reporting that the deal is worth $25 million for 5 years.

It was the worst kept secret in Chicago sports as rumblings of the likely change started around All-Star weekend earlier this year. Hoiberg leaves Iowa State coming off of a shocking Round of 64 exit in the NCAA tournament but also a 115-56 record over 5 seasons.

Bulls fans who hung tight during the post-Jordan/pre-Rose era are aware of Hoiberg’s time with the team as a player. From 1999-2003, Hoiberg was the veteran presence with young (and bad) Bulls rosters that featured draft picks like Elton Brand, Ron Artest, Marcus Fizer, Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. He rarely started but he gave his teams points off the bench, averaging 10.1 points per 36 minutes with the Bulls. The Bulls head coach then, Tim Floyd, also coached Hoiberg his senior year at Iowa State in 1994…the season in which Hoiberg was named an All-American.

Hoiberg takes over a Bulls team that was 255-139 over 5 seasons in the regular season under Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau earned the NBA’s Coach of the Year Award in 2010-11, his rookie coaching year. At that time, the Bulls were a much younger team. Derrick Rose was the league’s youngest MVP that 2010-11 season while Joakim Noah missed almost half the year, but played all 16 games they competed in the playoffs.

Thibodeau created the “try-hard” persona for his Bulls teams. Despite being without Rose for virtually 2 full seasons and then some, the Bulls played like Eastern conference contenders each year based on the principals of relentless defense and grinding out wins every night. That helped make Luol Deng, Noah, and Jimmy Butler become All-Stars. It also got backup point guards like John Lucas III, Nate Robinson and DJ Augustin paid after each season. The Bulls made the playoffs in each of Thibodeau’s 5 years. So why the change?

While the Bulls had a .647 win percentage in the regular season under Thibodeau, they also had a .451 win percentage in the playoffs. That is the key stat in the argument for firing Thibodeau. Yes, his win percentage was second all-time in Bulls history to Phil Jackson’s. If you’re familiar with the organization’s history before Jackson and even Michael Jordan, you’d know that “2nd best” isn’t saying a lot. And while Thibodeau’s teams won a lot of games during the regular season, his players were burnt out and limping into the playoffs. Butler wasn’t even playing meaningful minutes until Deng was hurt and feeling the effects of leading the league in minutes per game (39.05 per from 2011-13). Butler led the league in minutes per game last year and has averaged 38.7 each of the last 2 seasons.

After a first round exit to the Washington Wizards in the 2014 playoffs, where the Bulls appeared to no longer have their legs or any scoring ability, the front office chose to take the team in another direction. They signed scoring big man Pau Gasol, brought stretch-forward and 2011 draft pick Nikola Mirotic over from Europe, and traded assets to draft 4th all-time leading NCAA scorer Doug McDermott at #11 overall. Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson and General Manager Gar Forman stopped building the roster around Rose and added more scoring. The scoring improved from 93.7 points per game in 2013-14 (worst in the league) to 100.8 ppg. in 2014-15 (15th out of 30 teams). However, Thibodeau refused to play McDermott (even in blowout games) and clashed with management over minutes restrictions that were put in place to avoid the annual limp into the playoffs. Even with a healthy roster, Derrick Rose in one pice, and the Cleveland Cavaliers without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the Bulls were still knocked out of the playoffs in 6 games.

The 21 point loss in Game 6 to Cleveland was more than indicative of a team needing a change. Thibodeau refused to call timeouts when Cleveland would go on their multiple 7+ minute runs during the 2nd and 3rd quarters. The Bulls reverted to standing and staring while Butler attempted a “my turn” style of offense, which Thibodeau simply allowed. Rather than sub in forwards to help with inside scoring, Thibodeau played Kirk Hinrich. And the team quit in the most important game of Thibodeau’s tenure. If you saw it another way, I’m not sure what game you were watching.

What Hoiberg brings is an innovative offense that consistently gets players open. If your #1 option is being double teamed, two other options become open moving off the ball. 5 of Hoiberg’s Iowa State players averaged double figures in scoring last season, in one college basketball’s best conferences. Hoiberg is a players coach with a reputation for managing relationships well, both from his coaching and playing career.

While Thibodeau’s grinder and “try-hard” philosophy won games, it worked better when the roster was younger. The Bulls are a veteran roster and built to win now in a bad Eastern Conference. A loose atmosphere and emphasis on scoring has proven to work, as we have seen with Steve Kerr taking over for the Golden State Warriors. Rose and Butler aren’t the same kind of players as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but the rest of the roster benefitted greatly with the transition from Mark Jackson to Kerr.

Thibodeau had an opportunity to prove he could change his style with an older and more offense-oriented roster. There were comparisons being made to Gregg Popovich and his veteran squads that benefitted from rest and the use of the team’s depth. Instead, Thibodeau exhibited a reluctance to adjust and a petulance toward the front office that was trying to help him win.

Neither Paxson nor Forman are blame-free though. Besides acting immature about letting Thibodeau go, the organization hasn’t won anything since Michael Jordan under their watch. Hoiberg is their 4th head coach and really their last chance. When the chairman of the board, Jerry Reinsdorf, feels a need to help put the nail in the coffin with a coach’s exit, you have to think there is more to Thibodeau’s dismissal than what we know…but don’t think for a second that Paxson and Forman aren’t on hot seats.

It will be interesting to see where Thibodeau lands. Depending on whether the Cavs win the finals, he could be coaching LeBron James next season. Byron Scott isn’t safe in Los Angeles and Kobe Bryant has been very vocal in his admiration for Thibodeau. Maybe he’ll win a championship somewhere else, but the bottom line is that he didn’t as the 3rd longest tenured coach in the NBA.

In regards to Hoiberg, he isn’t Tim Floyd (like some lazily want to compare him to). He’s inheriting a team ready to win now. He is familiar with the new generation of NBA players, having recruited, scouted and coached them for the last 5 years. Hoiberg will also have an opportunity to do it in an Eastern Conference that is just being asked to be won…that is if he can do it against LeBron.

Agree or disagree, let’s talk about it on Twitter at @Mike_PiFF03