Bulls' Jimmy Butler eager to embrace a greater role
By Adam Fluck | 07.13.2012
Last season, Bulls forward Jimmy Butler simply had to wait his turn. As a rookie who was selected late in the 2011 draft’s first round, he didn’t exactly walk into a situation where he would be given a great deal of playing time.
When you factor in that he was behind a first-time NBA All-Star in Luol Deng in the rotation, as well as the team’s extensive depth with Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver also coming off the bench, it made minutes even more difficult to come by.
But that could all change once the 2012-13 season gets underway. Chicago recently declined to pick up Brewer’s contract option, though the team reportedly will consider bringing him back later in the offseason. Korver’s also status remains up in the air. Should only one or neither player return, it would seemingly open the door for Butler to take on a lot more responsibility.
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images)
“Tremendously excited,” said Butler this week when asked about the possibility of embracing an expanded role. “This is the time I’ve been waiting on and working towards. All the time I’ve put in at the gym, now I can let it show.
“I’ve got to keep working though,” added Butler. “I’ll never settle. I’ve never been one to settle. I just want to keep getting better and better—every game, every practice, every year. So day in and day out, I’ll still put in that extra work because there is always somebody out there who is trying to have what you have and wants to be better than you.”
Butler will have a chance to prove himself starting next week when the Bulls arrive in Las Vegas to play five games in the 2012 NBA Summer League.
And he believes he’ll be more than prepared. Butler took a short break from regular workouts after the Bulls’ season ended to visit family and friends in his home state of Texas.
But shortly thereafter, he was back at the Berto Center, where he’s been a fixture on the court, working with several members of the team’s staff, including Tom Thibodeau, Ron Adams and Adrian Griffin.
“At the end of the day, this is my job and this is where I want to be,” said Butler. “I love basketball, I love this team, and I love this organization. I want to get better and I want to help. Therefore, I want to work out every day in the summer.”
Next week in Vegas, he’ll bring a veteran mentality of sorts on the Bulls’ summer league roster—only free agent forward Leon Powe possesses a greater amount of NBA experience. For Butler, it’s not only a chance to showcase his abilities, but an opportunity to provide some direction for his team.
“I really want to go out there and lead,” said Butler of the summer league. “I’ve done it before and some of the other guys on the team may have not. So that’s my main thing. We want to go out there and win games.”
While the casual observer might dismiss the importance of recording summer league victories, Butler couldn’t disagree more.
“You can say that it is only summer league and the games don’t matter, but they really do,” said Butler. “Anyone who competes knows they don’t want to lose at anything. So we’ll go out and play hard and not get outside of our own game or try to do too much.”
As if Butler or any of his teammates need any extra motivation this offseason, they don’t have to look any further than their postseason elimination at the hands of the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers.
(Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Chicago was cruising to a Game 1 victory on April 28 at the United Center. Derrick Rose was flirting with a triple-double, having posted 23 points, nine assists and nine rebounds as the opener came to a close. Then everything changed, as Rose went down with an ACL injury that would end his season. Later in the series, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson suffered ankle injuries. It was simply too much for the Bulls to overcome.
“It added a chip on our shoulders,” said Butler of the series. “We know we can do better. You can blame it on the injuries or this or that, but we had enough to win. Next year, we’re going to go in full throttle. Everyone is working hard to get better. Between Taj with USA Basketball and Derrick in his rehab, everyone is working. We expect to start off where we left off before our injuries.”
While Rose, one of Butler’s closest friends on the team, may be sidelined for now, he continues to provide inspiration for Butler.
“Derrick is working extremely hard,” said Butler. “He wants to be back as soon as possible and he won’t settle for anything less. He’s been [at the Berto Center] bright and early, breaking sweats and doing whatever it takes to get his knee stronger. It’s good to see him in here doing that because it makes it even easier for me.”
Yet, the reality is that the Bulls will open the season without their starting point guard and former NBA MVP. Butler knows they can’t replace him. But a collective effort can help the Bulls continue their winning ways until Rose returns.
“We’ll look over there to see him cheering us on and coaching us up,” said Butler of Rose. “But we all have to take a piece of Derrick and put it on our shoulders; carry it with us. We all have to pick up the slack for him. As hard as that will be to do—we all know there’s not another Derrick Rose out there—as long as he’s out there with us in spirit, we’ll be fine.”
Following summer league, it will be back to the gym for Butler. He said he’s been diligent with working on all aspects of his game this summer, but he’s chosen to focus on one area in particular: hitting the open jump shot.
“It’s not just being able to make it; it’s the confidence in being able to take it,” explained Butler. “You’ve got to make people honor and respect that you can hit that shot. I know I can make it, but your confidence comes from your work. If I’m shooting that shot 1,000 times a day, whenever it’s thrown to me and I’m in a Bulls uniform going against another professional team, I’ll take that shot because I’ve got the confidence I can make it.”
Aside from being armed with an improved jumper, Butler will also enter the coming season with a year of NBA experience under his belt. Given he was drafted just days before last summer’s lockout ensued, his transition from college to the pros wasn’t a typical one.
There was no summer league, he wasn’t allowed to workout at the Bulls’ practice facility or with any of the team’s staff until the lockout was resolved, and training camp was truncated. Still, Butler said, he felt he was ready for the next level when that time came.
“Even though I didn’t go through what most rookies do leading up to their first season, when it was time to finally step on the court, my teammates still had faith in me,” recalled Butler. “I really didn’t know it would happen like that. I expected, ‘Hey, rookie, don’t do anything. When you get the ball, pass it.’ But it wasn’t like that at all.
“We just played basketball and it made me feel like I was on the team for a reason,” Butler continued. “That’s what got me the most. What was in my mind and in my heart was that I was a part of this team and they wanted me to be a part of this team.”
Where Butler was perhaps most ready to contribute initially was on the defensive end of the floor. Even now, whether he’s playing 15 to 20 minutes in a reserve role or he finds his way into the starting lineup eventually, Butler knows his ability to defend remains one of his strongest assets.
“It’s what I hang my hat on,” said Butler. “I take a lot of pride in being able to contain the other team’s primary or secondary scorers. Whoever I’m lined up against, I want to make it hard for them—every breath, every dribble, every shot.”
Butler was considered to be an able defender when the Bulls selected him out of Marquette with the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. But under the guidance of Thibodeau and the team’s coaching staff, he feels he’s come a long way since then.
“I’ve got the confidence now where I think I can stand up along a lot of different guys,” said Butler. “It doesn’t matter what name you have on your jersey, I’m not going to back down. I’m not scared of anybody and that’s just the way that I think. But, a lot of that comes from my teammates believing in me and encouraging me.”
And while Butler possesses the length and quickness to be a quality defensive player, that’s not when he cites when asked what will make him successful on that end of the floor. Rather, it’s the intangibles.
“It’s the things you can’t measure that really count,” said Butler. “Your heart. Your will. Those are the things that make people great defenders. You can have all the length in the world and be athletic—and that definitely has something to do with it; don’t get me wrong—but if you don’t want to do it, it’s not going to happen. You need to want to do it and be confident as well.”
Jimmy Butler is saying all the right things. He’s taking the right approach. Now, it’s time for him to back it up on the court.