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Lakers, Kobe set to navigate this transition together

As he enters his 20th season, elder statesman and superstar Kobe Bryant embraces new challenges in Los Angeles

POSTED: Oct 5, 2015 11:10 AM ET

By David Aldridge

BY David Aldridge

TNT Analyst

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Coach Byron Scott knows he won't let Kobe Bryant pass the 30-minute threshold in games this season.

Also This Week

Brandon Bass just got done with rebuilding, having spent the last two seasons in Boston, where the Celtics cancelled Ubuntu and broke up the Big Four for spare parts with nary a tear shed. It was time to move on. The Los Angeles Lakers, his new team this season, are in the midst of a rebuild, so Bass, no doubt, has advice for his new, young teammates.

Except, he doesn't.

"You aren't ever going to be in a rebuild as long as that guy is on the team," he said last Monday, on the team's Media Day, nodding to your right.

Any guesses about to whom Bass was referring?

That Guy, aka Kobe Bryant, seemed a little wistful on the eve of his 20th NBA season. He is on his 10th coach, and his latest center, and his next point guard. Whether this is his last season will surely be his decision as the One-Name guys always have that autonomy, their great pasts a guarantor to determine their futures.

But the One Namers still have standards, and for almost all of his two decades in the NBA, Bryant's only standard was being on a team good enough to compete for a championship. This year's version of the Lakers won't, can't, has no shot at being that relevant in the NBA landscape. It would take almost everything to go right for the Lakers to be in the hunt for a playoff spot, even as they should be improved over last season's 21-win effort.

Kobe Bryant Interview

Kobe Bryant talks with David Aldridge during Lakers media day before beginning his 20th season in the league.

So, what could feel new this year, after all these years?

"Every team has a different puzzle that you have to try and piece together," Bryant said. "Every season feels new. Here, we have so many new guys, guys that's never played in the NBA before. We have to try and put that together. It feels new."

The Lakers certainly needed a new roster after last season's crashed and burned. They brought in Roy Hibbert from the Indiana Pacers, and reigning Kia Sixth Man of the Year winner Lou Williams from the Toronto Raptors. They took Ohio State point guard D'Angelo Russell with the second pick of the Draft instead of Duke's big man, Jahlil Okafor. There's even Metta World Peace, for a second tour of duty, and Julius Randle, for a do-over of his first, which lasted exactly 14 minutes before he broke his right leg in last season's opener.

I think he's at a point in his career that he's mature enough to accept certain things, and accept uncertainty. Probably earlier on in his career, he wouldn't have dealt with it as well.

– Former Lakers big man Pau Gasol, on Kobe Bryant

Into that new mix comes the 37-year-old Bryant, who begins the season third (32,482 points) on the NBA's all-time scoring list, 4,446 points behind second-place Karl Malone. Unless Bryant gets in the wayback machine and averages better than 30 a game this season, it would likely take two-plus seasons for Bryant to pass Malone, at which point he'd still probably need another season to catch the all-time scoring leader, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387 points).

It's hard to imagine Bryant hanging around just to get a shot at Abdul-Jabbar. To play past this season, and the end of his two-year, $48 million deal, Bryant would have to see real signs of improvement from the team. Playing just to be playing has never been his style.

Kobe's Preseason Debut

Kobe Bryant scored five points in 12 minutes in his first action since undergoing surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff.

Yet the present is also ... cloudy.

"I think he's at a point in his career that he's mature enough to accept certain things, and accept uncertainty," said the Bulls' Pau Gasol, one of Bryant's closer friends and his Lakers teammate from 2008-14. "Probably earlier on in his career, he wouldn't have dealt with it as well. But I think he understands they have a pretty young group -- with some talent, for sure. But he also understands he's in his 20th year in his career. He hasn't had a full, healthy year for the last three years, pretty much. I think he's just looking forward to having a healthy year and to compete and have fun and be the player he is, and we'll see where the team goes."

The challenge -- not just for Bryant, but the Lakers' organization -- is to manage his remaining years in Forum Blue and Gold with as much dignity as possible. Step one is keeping him healthy, after he's missed large chunks of the last two years with injuries, including the torn rotator cuff that finished last season in January. As ever, Bryant killed himself in the gym this summer once he got the green light.

"It was a challenge, a full-time commitment," Bryant said. "You've got to stay on top of things, all the time. But that's part of the process. That's why it's so much harder when players get older, because the commitment level must go through the roof, even more so than it was when you felt you were working hard."

Coach Byron Scott plans to play Bryant more at small forward this season, with Jordan Clarkson playing at the two alongside Russell. Bryant will also be a stretch four on occasion. (Left unsaid: it will also help Bryant's field goal percentage being closer to the bucket. In 2014-15, he shot a career-worst 37 percent. That wasn't all his fault, of course. Given the team's other options, a bad look from Bryant was still as good as most other shots the Lakers could get.)

"First of all, (at) the three, it's less running," Scott said. "It's less pounding as far as being 20 feet away from the basket. We can put him in a much less condensed area. I know people lost their minds when I said the four, but Golden State plays (Andre) Iguodala at the four. So he can play the four at times. Against some of these lineups, he can play three, four, one, two. It's just how this league is going right now."

GameTime: Kobe Discussion

The Game Time crew discuss Kobe Bryant's first preseason game and his role for the 2015-16 season.

How much Bryant plays this season will likely be a group decision, with Scott, General Manager Mitch Kupchak and head athletic trainer Gary Vitti (who is retiring after this season) all having their say.

"I've had that discussion with Kobe, not with everybody else," Scott said with a laugh. "We've just got to figure it all out. Let's go to training camp first and see how that works out. Let's go to preseason and see how that works out. Then we'll have a really good indication on what kind of load he can handle when the season starts."

Scott acknowledged that the 26-30 minute range that teams have used to preserve the effectiveness of aging stars like John Stockton, Malone, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Tim Duncan in recent years would be a good rule of thumb, at least at the start of the season, for Bryant.

"I think that's very reasonable," Scott said. "I haven't given a hard cap on minutes right now, as far as how many minutes, but I do know that it won't be over 30. I know that for a fact. And Kobe probably knows that as well. Even though we didn't talk about numbers, we did talk about being able to sustain a level of play that he's accustomed to doing in a certain amount of time. Last year I made the mistake of playing him too much, and we could see he hit the wall after a certain period of time."

Bryant says he's fine if he has to play what passes for power forward in today's NBA.

"It would be different if we were playing in the '90s, and the guys who played four. That would be a little different -- Larry Johnson and guys like that," Bryant said. "Now, the fours nowadays are slightly tall two guards. So it doesn't make that much of a difference to me, unless you're playing Memphis."

His teammates say Unca Kobe has been warm and fuzzy all summer.

"Just really a mentor so far," Russell said. "Every time I've talked to him, he's always giving me positive information."

Randle was in a bad mood most of the offseason, as the Lakers were ultra-careful with his workload during the Summer League. Unfortunately, Bryant has become an expert on the mental side of rehabbing season-ending injuries.

"He's been great, mentally checking on me, making sure I'm okay" Randle said. "Obviously challenging me on the court. Kobe's Kobe. He's a great guy, and I'm excited to get back on the court with him ... I'm a person that thrives on competition, that thrives on challenges. Whenever he challenges me, whatever it is, it's fun."

But when they start playing for real, what will Bryant's mood be? Can he accept an elder statesman role as the Lakers begin to play through Russell, Clarkson and Randle? (Paul Pierce, Professional Troll, threw some shade Kobe's way last week.) Will Scott force the ball to him if he demands it late in games?

And what can Bryant, ending a score with the same team -- two decades' worth of triumphs and jealousies, pride and pain -- still bring to the table?

"I think it's experience, kind of what I've been through on my journey," Bryant said. "That's the most important thing. It's not necessarily to tell the young kids, do this or do that. It's more like, this is what I'm gonna do. These are some of the obstacles that I've met. And hopefully they can relate it to whatever it is that they're going through. So that's what I'm looking forward to bringing off the court."

NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT ...

Will Sean Sweeney smile this season?

"If he does," Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd said Wednesday, "I owe you a dollar."

Sweeney, of course, is the no-nonsense assistant coach that Kidd imported from Brooklyn to Milwaukee last season. Sweeney was and is the co-creator of one of basketball's best defenses -- which is the key to why the Bucks feel they can improve on last season's 41-41 record, itself a 26-game improvement on a horrifying 15-67 finish in 2013-14.

Taking their cues from Sweeney and Kidd, the Bucks have become a no-nonsense defense -- a whirl of long arms, quick feet and youth, whose potential is exemplified by the crazily athletic Giannis Antetokounmpo, still scratching the surface of his talent.

Giannis Cleared For Takeoff

Giannis Antetokounmpo gets the nasty block on one end, and takes off for the posterizing jam on the break!

And in an Eastern Conference where the Cleveland Cavaliers are the clear-cut favorite, and the Chicago Bulls are the likely second seed, the Bucks don't see why they can't at least dream about a No. 3 or No. 4 spot, home-court advantage in the first round, and a chance to make up for their last game at BMO Harris Bradley Center -- a 120-66 thrashing by the Bulls in Game 6 of their 2015 first-round series.

"Some games, you watch," guard Khris Middleton said. "That one, I just kept in the back of my mind."

It didn't take a 54-point loss to prove Milwaukee has work to do. While they were able to generate some scoring with their defense and effective cutting in the half court, and lived for the corner three (per basketball-reference.com, only Miami and Houston took a higher percentage of their threes from there last season), the Bucks were 25th in offensive rating and 22nd in points per game.

Bucks Training Camp: Jason Kidd

Jason Kidd turns up the intensity during drills at the Milwaukee Bucks training camp.

So the Bucks set out to add some front-court production. They knew they'd get a huge boost from the return of second-year forward Jabari Parker, who missed most of last season after suffering an ACL tear against Phoenix in December. But they wanted more. That they were able to do so by signing one of the summer's top available free agents, Greg Monroe, speaks to the progress that Kidd, the team's new ownership group and General Manager John Hammond have been able to make in radically changing the perception of the franchise in short order.

"The things that are happening right now, from our business side -- we're going to build a new arena, build a new practice center -- what's happening to our roster, hiring J-Kidd as coach, there's just so many positive things happening," Hammond told Dennis Scott and me during Real Training Camp in Madison, Wisc. "I think Greg, as an example, could feel that, and I think that's why he wanted to be a part of it."

Bucks Training Camp: All-Access

An all-access look at the Milwaukee Bucks during their Real Training Camp appearance, hard at work at practice at the University of Wisconsin.

The new building, scheduled to open in either 2017 or 2018, will keep the Bucks in Milwaukee, ending any speculation about a potential sale or move. It will produce the kinds of revenues that might lower the Bucks' take of the enhanced revenue sharing program that was put in place in 2011 to help lower-revenue generating teams compete.

But affirmative moves like signing Monroe will do even more.

There was no doubt that Monroe would leave Detroit after the Pistons didn't work out an extension with him last offseason. But his picking Milwaukee over the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers was a huge step forward in changing the narrative that players don't want to play there. Milwaukee is still going to be brutally cold this winter, and there isn't nearly as much for a young guy to do there after dark as in New York or L.A.

Monroe's going anyway.

"When I signed, it wasn't all the way done yet, but now, they have a new stadium coming," Monroe said. "And I saw how the fans were. We played there, been coming there for years now, multiple times a year in the division. I know what kind of fan base they have. And I talked to a couple of my former teammates in Detroit who played here before, and they had nothing but great things to say about the city and the organization. So with all of that combined, I just definitely felt I made the right decision."

Bucks Training Camp: Greg Monroe

Bucks center Greg Monroe sits down with David Aldridge and Dennis Scott to discuss why he chose to sign with Milwaukee in free agency.

Monroe will go back to playing center in Milwaukee, as he did his first couple of seasons in the league for the Pistons. In the middle, he shot 55 and 52 percent from the floor. After Detroit took Andre Drummond in 2012 and put him in the hole, though, Monroe's percentages and production fell off noticeably.

Milwaukee had to perform emergency surgery on the center spot, exemplifying a roster-building process that has been far from linear since Kidd's arrival. Less than two years after the Bucks gave Larry Sanders a $44 million extension, they had to work out a buyout with the center after he was involved in off-court incidents, and went into treatment to deal with anxiety and depression.

Last season, point guard Brandon Knight played at an All-Star level the first half of the season. But Kidd wanted more defense and length out of the position. So Milwaukee sent Knight to Phoenix at the trade deadline in a three-team deal including Philadelphia, which sent Michael Carter-Williams to Milwaukee.

Like his boss at a similar stage of his career, Carter-Williams has struggled shooting the ball. In 25 games for the Bucks last year, MCW shot a ghastly 14.3 percent (4 of 28) on 3-pointers. But it's more important to the Bucks at this point that Carter-Williams hone his craft running the offense. They believe the shooting will come.

Bucks Training Camp: Khris Middleton

Khris Middleton joins D.A. and 3D to talk about increasing his role as a team leader and building chemistry with the Buck's young players.

"I watched a lot of film of (Kidd's), and how he directed people. When's a good time to get somebody the ball, who's hot, what spots do people like the ball in," Carter-Williams said. "It's a bunch of things. It might take a little bit of time for us to really jell, and for me to really find out where everybody wants the ball and everything. But we all have trust in each other, so that makes it easy."

Shooting guard O.J. Mayo, who'd been the Bucks' big free-agent signing just two years ago, is now coming off the bench, in favor of Middleton -- another Kidd favorite, who became the team's starter early last season and never gave the job back, earning a five-year, $70 million deal last summer as he became a 3-and-D giant (41 percent on 3-pointers; third in the league in Defensive Win Shares among regularly playing twos, trailing only James Harden and Danny Green).

"It meant a lot," Middleton said of the Bucks' commitment. "Me being traded here (in 2013, along with Knight and Viacheslav Kravtsov, for Brandon Jennings), they told me that they believed in me. And then, I had a good season, we made the playoffs, and they told me they wanted me to be here a long time. It meant a lot."

And while Mayo and Jerryd Bayless will again be the top scorers off the bench, the Bucks remade most of their reserves.

We're not just talking about last year. We know this is a new year. We all want to grow and get better.

– Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd

They sent Jared Dudley, one of their top 3-point shooters last year, to Washington in a sign-and-trade deal, and moved 40 percent of what was their best defensive lineup last season -- forward Ersan Ilyasova (traded to Detroit) and center Zaza Pachulia (to Dallas) -- in separate deals. The trades cleared enough salary this season ($17.4 million) to make the outlays for Monroe, veteran guard Greivis Vasquez ($6 million) and Middleton, along with the long-anticipated contract extension for reserve big John Henson (four years, $44 million, finalized last week), more palatable.

The moves exemplify the control Kidd has over the franchise. His close relationship with co-owner Marc Lasry -- who had advised Kidd financially in the past -- was a large part of what brought him to Milwaukee in the first place, when Lasry, co-owner Wes Edens and Kidd's longtime player rep, Jeff Schwarz, worked out a quickie divorce for Kidd from the Nets after just one season as Brooklyn's coach.

There are few holdovers from just a couple of years ago -- excluding Hammond, who just got a new deal this summer after many around the league thought he'd be pushed out as well. But Kidd was smart enough to value Hammonds's chops as an evaluator. It was Hammond who rolled the dice and took Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick in the 2013 Draft. A lot of teams knew about the Greek Freak, and thought he had great potential, but it was Hammond who pulled the trigger.

Bucks Training Camp: John Hammond

General manager John Hammond joins the set to talk about the upcoming season for the Bucks, the acquisition of Greg Monroe and the maturation of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Kidd cut way back on Antetokounmpo's 3-pointers last season (just 44 attempts, down from 118 his rookie season), but Antetokounmpo was still able to get to the basket in Milwaukee's offense. Playing off of Monroe and Parker should get him even more cuts to the rim this season, and a summer of work on his shooting form might give him more freedom to shoot from the perimeter this season.

And Parker's return gives the Bucks, in essence, a Lottery pick to add to the mix -- and a young frontcourt that could be the envy of any in the league.

The first month of his rookie season showed the promise of the second pick overall in 2014. But it ended abruptly, leaving him a ghost whose presence on the bench the rest of the year haunted the franchise.

"You have to make your presence known," Parker said. "And the guys did a real good job implementing me in practice, and also taking me to a side in the games and telling me different things that I should do, that I should look forward to."

He spent the summer rehabbing with the Bucks' Senior Strength and Rehabilitation Specialist, Suki Hobson, who worked with the Australian Olympic team in two cycles and specializes in working with athletes coming back from ACL injuries. Milwaukee hired her full-time at the end of last season.

Bucks Training Camp: Jabari Parker And MCW

Jabari Parker and Michael Carter-Williams join the set to about a great season last year and looking forward to the 2015-16 season.

"She made me run a lot," Parker said.

Hobson's Choice for torturing Parker during his rehab was the anti-gravity treadmill. Normally, rehabbing patients are supposed to be able to run at 60 percent of their body weight before they're cleared for more strenuous activity.

"She got me, quick, to 80, 90" percent, Parker said. "That's why I didn't like her."

But she got him back on the floor -- carrying some extra muscle to boot. Parker is working off the rust, of course. But his footwork is still there, as well as his ability to pass out of the post. And with Monroe in town, there's much less pressure on Parker to play too much. The Bucks can afford to bring him along slowly.

That will be one of the few things they do slowly this season. Even their failures on the floor will likely be while going a hundred miles an hour. There is nothing sleepy about Milwaukee any longer.

"We're not just talking about last year," Kidd said. "We know this is a new year. We all want to grow and get better."

... AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

He is Sam. Sam he is. Does he like this head coach biz? From Ryan McNeill:

Sam Mitchell has done a great job developing young players. While still playing, he mentored Kevin Garnett and, as a head coach, he had a big hand in the development of Chris Bosh in Toronto and Andrew Wiggins last season. What kind of impact will Mitchell have on Karl-Anthony Towns and the rest of the young pups in Minnesota this season?

Also, last season Flip Saunders wasn't a huge fan of Andrew Wiggins shooting 3's. Do you think that philosophy will that change this season with Mitchell running the show?

Mic'd Up: Karl-Anthony Towns

Karl-Anthony Towns seeks advice from Timberwolves interim head coach Sam Mitchell during a offensive drill.

What Sam will be great at is helping establish for KAT what it means to be a professional -- looking at tape, getting off your feet, taking care of your body, respecting the game. KG will do that as well, which will carry that message to KAT in stereo. It's part of why the Wolves signed veterans Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince -- to provide mentorship to some of their young players. As for Flip, I know (because he told me) that he wanted to develop Wiggins' game from the inside out, because he thought it was important that Wiggins learn how to not only score in the post, but be able to draw fouls early in his career. It was part of what Minnesota viewed as Wiggins's natural progression and development as a player. The threes will surely come in due time.

In my day, Elgin Baylor scored 60 points a game, after walking 25 miles to the arena on his hands. From John Schlaefli:

My question is this -- are we reaching the point where basketball is becoming grossly over-analyzed? I realize that because sports media have exploded over the course of the past 20 years, there has been a commensurate need to fill copy. And to a certain degree, I'm sure I have been complicit, because I love basketball and I love to read the blogs and what not. But at what point are we seeking the joy out of the game? Basketball is not football or baseball! It is at its best when it is reactive, unscripted, and improvisational.

Will the rest of my life be spent watching high ball screens followed by kicks to the corner for a 3? Will every sports column be a rehash of what the SportVU body cameras are recording? Would George Gervin even start in today's NBA? Am I just really old? Please help me!

1) Yes, and it's annoying, but it's the way players, coaches and teams are now being judged -- and not only by media, but by a lot of the game's new owners, many of whom come from a spreadsheet, hedge fund background -- so what are you gonna do?

2) Well, I take a lot of joy watching Stephen Curry shoot. Or Klay Thompson. Or Kyle Korver or Bradley Beal. And there's still a lot of defense and rebounding and driving in the game. It's just that they're not emphasized or highlighted or valued as much as they once were. And the teams that really do move the ball and find the open man, like Golden State and San Antonio and Atlanta, are playing the game the right way. It's just that instead of looking for an open mid-range shot, or a turnaround jumper on the box, they're hunting 3-pointers.

3) Not all of the rest of your life. Some of that time, you'll read books by your favorite author. Some of it, you'll be asleep.

4) Just John Schuhmann's.

5) Yes, but the Sixers would trade him halfway through his first season in Philly. (I kid, I kid!)

6) Not unless you're older than me. In which case, yes, you are.

Send your questions, comments, criticisms, and, to quote Tommy Boy, bees! Your firearms are useless against them to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!

BY THE NUMBERS

24 -- Minutes that the Pacers' Paul George played in his preseason debut over the weekend against the Pelicans. After the game, George again expressed his displeasure playing the power forward spot, where the Pacers hope to utilize him a lot this season.

Paul George's Big Night

Check out highlights from Paul George as he scores 18 points in the Pacers loss.

20 -- Years since the opening of TD Garden in Boston, the Celtics' and Bruins' arena which replaced the legendary old Boston Garden. While the old place is rightly revered in Beantown for its decades of memories of championships, TD already has at least one moment of Zen for Celtics fans -- against the Zen Master, ironically.

10 -- Dunks that Memphis' Zach Randolph says he'll have this season, a bet Randolph disclosed he's made with teammate Marc Gasol during the Grizzlies' Real Training Camp last Friday on NBA TV. Me, I'd bet the under. But that's me.

I'M FEELIN' ...

1) Dragan: maybe the best Bender since this guy, and a sure-fire lock as a top three pick in next year's Draft.

2) Kyle Lowry was serious about making up for his horrible 2014-15 season, evidently. And that will help the Raptors bounce back from their horrible second half and playoffs last season.

3) Those Nuggets road unis...I'm good with 'em.

4) Could this possibly have actually happened?

5) One small step for man.

NOT FEELIN' ...

1) This is rapidly deteriorating between Tristan Thompson and the Cavaliers. Of course, all will be forgiven if the Cavs eventually come correct (as Thompson sees it) with the loot, but these kinds of actions tend to leave a bad taste in a player's mouth (and, in case you weren't clear, LeBron made his feelings known Saturday in an Instagram //instagram.com/p/8Zs5W-CTOi/?taken-by=kingjames posting).

2) The last thing the Hornets need to start the season is another long-term injury to a key guy. Hoping the prognosis today on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's separated shoulder isn't too bad, but it seems from past history with other guys who've had them that they almost always, eventually, require surgery.

Kidd-Gilchrist Gets Injured

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist spins around his defender and takes a hard fall to the ground.

3) I've seen how hard Steve Kerr works out, so he must really be having problems with his back if he's taking a leave of absence during the preseason to heal up. Hopes and good thoughts to the Warriors' head man.

4) Appreciate the sentiment in the Wizards breaking out the "Baltimore Pride" jerseys. But if you're going to go throwback, go all the way. Those were killer. (Personally, if you're going Baltimore homage, I prefer the older Bullets unis that the Wizards went to a few years ago.)

Q & A: JIMMY BUTLER

He didn't see it, he says. All of a sudden, there was Derrick Rose -- Can't Get Right, from the movie "Life" -- on the court, and injured, again. As if Jimmy Butler didn't already know that things were changing with the Chicago Bulls, with their new coach, and his new offense, there lay Rose, the recipient of an elbow to the face on the first day of training camp.

But the Bulls are no longer a team that becomes paralyzes when their star point guard is out for a while.

Part of their metamorphosis is due to Butler's own star turn. After his breakthrough season last year, which earned him an All-Star appearance, the Kia Most Improved Player Award and a max contract for five years and $95.5 million, the 26-year-old Butler is one of the game's top guards -- a two-way performer who is ready for even more responsibility this season.

Butler spent the summer working out in San Diego, and came back with renewed confidence that he can be dominant at the offensive end. Doug McDermott said that so far, Butler has been, "hands down, the best player in camp." Rose should be back by the start of the regular season, but it will be interesting to see how new coach Fred Hoiberg divides the labor, with a former MVP (Rose), a two-time champion and current EuroLeague MVP (Pau Gasol) and Butler all available. The idea, Hoiberg has said, is for everyone to be involved, and an improved offense is part of why Bulls management was so keen on replacing Tom Thibodeau with Hoiberg in the first place. And Rose keeps getting hurt. And Gasol is 35.

It may be Butler's show, one way or another, before too long in Chicago, and the kid from Tomball, Tex., is ready to handle an even bigger load.

Me: What is different about the offense that will benefit the personnel you have?

Jimmy Butler: Spacing. I think offense is a lot about spacing. Last year, at times, our spacing was terrible. We might get a basket out of it, just because we've got really good players. Now, with the spacing we have, there's going to be more driving gaps for people that drive the ball good. It's all about that spacing. It's going to make things easier for everybody. And, you're going to know where everybody's going to be on the floor. When you drive baseline, you know there's going to be a guy over there in the drift spot. You know there's going to be a guy over there in the slot. So if everybody pays attention and gets to the right spot, it's almost like you can pass the ball without even looking.

I never thought that, hey, Jimmy Butler may be on somebody's scouting reports, like, 'hey, we have to stop this guy.' Seriously.

– Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler

Me: One thing Jason Kidd always says is 'everyone is live.'

JB: Everybody's moving. You've got so much freedom. But that's what spacing gives you. Spacing gives you that freedom. If you're on top of each other, right next to each other, you don't know what the other guy's going to do. So you can't react. But if you're spaced out and he cuts, you can fill his spot. That spacing does give you freedom. It makes you a player.

Me: So what did you do this summer in anticipation of what Fred was going to put in?

JB: I just worked on putting that ball in that basket, to tell you the truth. I worked on my conditioning. I worked on being a playmaker. You know, I never really thought of it like this until Coach (Jim) Boylen said it to me the other day at practice. All summer, I'm working on my game, I'm working on my game -- yeah, I think everybody knows that. But I step into practicing, making a few shots. And he was like, 'you know, Jimmy, yeah, you've got an open shot. But you've got to start looking to facilitate, get the ball to the other guys more. Because, believe it or not, you're going to be a key points on people's scouting reports.' I never thought of it like that. I never thought that, hey, Jimmy Butler may be on somebody's scouting reports, like, 'hey, we have to stop this guy.' Seriously.

Me: Really?

JB: It never crossed my mind. This entire summer, it never had been, teams are going to key in on you. It's always been, put the ball in the basket. You've got to finish. But when he put it to me like that, it was like, well, damn, you've got to know where everybody is on the floor.

Me: Give up good shots to get great shots.

JB: That's right.

Me: I want to ask you something, but it's hard --

JB: Ask it.

Me: Well, I don't want you to think I'm trying to get you to say something bad about Thibs. 'Cause I'm not. But, they're two totally different guys. So what is different about Hoiberg as a coach, and how can that be of benefit to you?

I was picked 30th. I was like an afterthought -- you know what, 30th pick, I guess we'll take that kid from Tomball. I'm glad they decided to take that kid from Tomball, to tell you the truth.

– Bulls star Jimmy Butler

JB: 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. I've got to give him credit for that. He taught me to really study the game, study other players -- maybe even players you're playing against. And obviously, former players. That's what Thibs taught me. And 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. I've learned a lot from Thibs. Everybody knows that Thibs was my first coach. Yeah, new era, new coach. He's different. He is. We'll see where it goes. Nobody knows yet. He hasn't coached us in a game yet. But I think it's going to be successful.

Me: Hey, sometimes, when you're at home, do you just take out the computer and check your balance? Just to see what you've got in there?

JB: Nah, I don't do that. I don't get on it just to check my balance. I get on it just to make sure that my money's still there. I want to make sure that the guy that's handling my money ain't making it his money, too. That's it, man. I play this game 'cause I love to play this game, to tell you the truth. It's done so much for me over the years. The money aspect of it -- don't get me wrong, it's great. My family's set for life. It's a dream come true. But I really love this game. Over the years, I've picked up more and more love for it. But to tell you the truth, I'd play this game for free if you could guarantee me I wouldn't get hurt, that when I'm 50, my knees would stlll be intact. But I love this game.

Me: I always wondered what I would do if I won the Lottery. Part of me would be afraid, like, what do I do with all this? Did you feel any of that?

JB: When you win the Lottery, and I say this because two people have said something like this to me -- one being Mark Wahlberg, who's a really, really good friend of mine, like a mentor. He's teaching me so many things. And the other one is my trainer (Chris Johnson). A lot of guys will win the Lottery, and they'll stop their job. Same thing when you look at my contract situation. You could say I won the Lottery. But I didn't stop working. This summer, I was still working. There's still work to be done. You can't quit, just because you've got a little bit of money. You can't let that change you. I continued to work, and Mark was always like, 'look, just because you've got what you've always dreamed of, doesn't mean that you have reached your dream.' And he was right. Look at where he is. He didn't get there because he got his first big movie role, and he was like, 'hey, I've got this, I'm done.' He continues to produce things and show up in big-time films. And then my trainer was like, look man, we're not going to stop working. We're going to show that all that money they gave you was for a reason. You love the game. This is your livelihood. It's funny. Like, when I'm sitting at the house, and I'm not doing anything, it's basketball. Like, I've got to watch film. I've got to dribble. I've got to do something. I can't just sit there and not compete. That's part of who I am. Now, if you win the Lottery, make sure you keep interviewing good guys.

The Starters: Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler named NBA Most Improved Player for 2014-15.

Me: Did you have a plan in your head about what you wanted to do with it when you knew you would get it?

JB: Right now, nah. I haven't really put that in place. I probably should. But right now, I'm telling you, all I was thinking about was how can I make myself better. So 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. I talked about it with my brothers and a lot of other people, and it's smart. Right now, I have to worry about Jimmy Butler before I can worry about anybody else. That's what this summer was about -- worrying about me, and worrying about what I can do to help my team win. And to 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.

Me: You think there's also a bigger leadership role expected from you?

I'm investing money into my body and into my craft, which is a wise investment. ... Right now, I have to worry about Jimmy Butler before I can worry about anybody else. That's what this summer was about -- worrying about me, and worrying about what I can do to help my team win.

– Jimmy Butler, on his offseason

JB: Most definitely -- expected from them, and from myself. From them looking at me to be a leader. And, 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. We've got good enough players. I don't think that's ever been a problem.

Me: And that will be verbal?

JB: Verbal. You've got to be vocal out there on the court. Even when you're not on the court, there's things you have to do to bring your team closer, to show your team, this is what we have to do to win -- not only win, but win that championship. This is what it takes. This is what this team did. If you look at the numbers, if you look at former championship teams, each and every one of them had a leader on that team -- a leader, that was going to work, was being very vocal. But at the same time, he was doing what he had to to help his team win. And that's who I have to be this year.

Me: How have you improved?

Top 10 Plays: Jimmy Butler In 2014-15

Watch the top 10 plays from the Bulls' Jimmy Butler, who has won the 2014-15 Kia Most Improved Player Award.

JB: I mean, my confidence is still up there. That's a key aspect of it. I would say my ballhandling has gotten much better. Being more comfortable in the pick-and-roll. I just worked on the same things I've always worked on -- a little mid-post work, some jump shots. Once I really get into the rhythm of things, I think everything will start to slow down a lot. Right now, I like how I'm looking out here. I watch film of practice every single day, every night, with my trainer. We figure out, what can you do better? Even if it's something small. It's not even about scoring all the time. It may be, on this defensive possession, I need to be higher up on the floor, or lower. On this offensive possession, yeah, I made the shot, but that wasn't the best shot. That was a good one. (But) Taj had a great one if you hit him with the pocket pass rolling to the basket. It's little stuff like that that you have to look at. What Boylen said make sense. Teams are going to key in on me. Teams are going to help. I've got to be able to hit that open guy.

Me: So you've got Team Butler to help you out now.

JB: I've got a really good group of guys to make sure I've got my head on straight. Whenever I start to get too high on myself they'll bring me down.

Me: You think McBuckets is ready to step in for Dunleavy?

JB: Yeah, he's ready. All he's got to do is get that confidence up. He came and worked with me this summer. We sat down every night and I was telling him, look man, try and score as many baskets as you want. Shoot as many threes as you want. But you've got to be confident. Once you get that confidence, you know you're going to have bad nights, but your confidence is going to tell you, I've done this every day over the summer. It's okay to shoot off one night. That's completely fine. That's normal. But you can't get down on yourself in this league. That's how I look at it. I belong in this league. I'm here for a reason. I mean, I have to be semi-decent at this game. I may not be good, but I'm not bad. That's how you have to look at it.

Me: They drafted you.

JB: Exactly. And they picked his ass, what, 11th. Traded for him. I was picked 30th. I was like an afterthought -- you know what, 30th pick, I guess we'll take that kid from Tomball. I'm glad they decided to take that kid from Tomball, to tell you the truth.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

-- Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (@gordonhayward), Tuesday, 8:46 p.m. Hayward is an avid gamer (he bragged last year that he would crush LeBron James in League of Legends), and after he heard the Fox Sports Radio host going on another bombastic rant -- this one against the eSports community -- Hayward responded in kind. Hayward's Tweet included an unfortunate sartortial choice by Cowherd that appears to be circa 1993. The two kissed and made up, sort of, on Cowherd's show Thursday.

THEY SAID IT

"Obviously it's not the first time that it's happened, but it's been happening a little bit too much recently. There's no room for guns, first of all, but then for violence towards kids or anybody. But having kids of your own, I see the news go across my phone and I'm sitting there in front of my three kids, so it automatically just hit me."

-- LeBron James, to local reporters on Friday, on why he spoke out publicly via Twitter following the latest mass shooting, this one in Oregon, where a gunman killed nine people and wounded seven others at a community college before dying in a shootout with police.

"It's like if your boss leaves work, everyone relaxes. It's like a weight off your shoulders. When you're boss checks out, it's like, 'Oh man, what's up, now we can chill.' It's just human nature. So it's a challenge for us to not do that."

-- Draymond Green, on how the Warriors plan to continue to hold each other accountable on the court despite the absence of Coach Steve Kerr, who will be out on an indefinite leave of absence to continue to rehab his back after multiple surgeries during the summer.

"Don't ever try juicing. The first 11 days are like hell."

-- Wizards reserve center DeJuan Blair, to the Washington Post, on his offseason training program that he says dropped 30 pounds from his frame -- a regimen that he says included a juicing cleanse and hot yoga.

Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.