Chris Ramirez - Chicago Bulls
Jimmy Butler's heart is in Chicago
Butler signs for the long haul
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By Sam Smith | 7.9.2015 | 5:10 p.m.
“Hello, everybody!” Jimmy Butler declared Thursday walking into the Stadium Club in the United Center. Butler strode confidently to a podium in front of several dozen friends, family, media and Bulls staffers. Butler was wearing a burgundy boutinniere to match his cotton candy colored button down shirt under a grey pin striped jacket. He had a coral pocket handkerchief. He looked like a million bucks.
Well, actually about 95 million.
That’s because with the officials start of NBA signings for the 2015-16 season, Butler signed a maximum salary contract that makes him the longest future tenured Bull under contract with the biggest contract, estimated at about $95 million over five years.
“I can’t say I prepared myself for it because I never could say I would be in this position,” Butler said about his new deal. “I think it’s an honor to be in this position. But I’ll just keep being who I am and making people know and feel I am like anybody else. That’s part of my job, too, just being a regular human being. I’m never going to stop trying to improve on every aspect of the game; I’m not perfect in any aspect of the game.
“Chicago is where I wanted to be,” Butler added. “I love playing here; I love the city, the fans like me a little bit. I think the media does. Y’all don’t like me all the time. I understand. I know if I play well everything takes care of itself. I knew this is where I wanted to be. I love it here for my whole career. Five years was the max I could do, so that was what I decided to do. No short term ever came across the table.”
Butler’s contract and, in many respects, his career arc that bends toward justice for the diligent, remains one of the more remarkable stories in the NBA. There was his well known early life on the verge of homelessness in suburban Houston, basically not recruited, playing in junior college, a late entrant to Marquette where he was a role player supporting others. Butler was chosen by the Bulls last in the first round in 2011, rarely played as a rookie and then was only thrust into the lineup with injuries to Luol Deng.
Then flashing his business card, which is have work will travel, Butler kept working, apparently harder than the next guy to the point he rejected an extension rumored to be about $45 million last fall to become a restricted free agent. Few have ever done as well at any gamble. Admitting he was nervous never having much of anything and rejecting so much money, Butler nevertheless went on to exceed perhaps everyone’s expectations but his own and that of his close group by becoming an All-Star, the Bulls leading scorer and the NBA’s Most Improved Player.
Amidst that with Butler suddenly a hot topic in free agency, there were reports Butler would seek a short term deal to leave the team, that there was a rift with Derrick Rose and Butler preferred the open market. But Butler Thursday left no doubt the glory of Rome was another day and you can be terribly alone in Manhattan; that he was staying home in the city by the Arctic, that he left his heart in Chicago. Though cloudy by the lake, Butler said the sun shined for him in Chicago and with the Bulls.
“I like the group we had last year,” said Butler. “We have a new guy in Bobby (Portis). I hear really great things about him in the way he works. That’s what we need. Gar (Forman) and (John) Pax (son) are really good in bringing in not only really good players, very high character guys who fit into the team well and do whatever it takes to help the team win. So I like our chances like I liked them last year. We just have to go out and get it; we have to go out and prove we are the best team in the league.”
The Bulls will try to do that with essentially the same roster as last season with the Bulls expected to come to terms with Mike Dunleavy and Aaron Brooks. General manager Forman, at the media conference with Butler, said given league mandated salary cap rules, the priority of retaining Butler, who would have been a major free agent catch for any team, essentially precluded the team from any big free agent spending like in previous seasons.
“I believe in the core of this team,” said Forman. “The biggest priority was bringing back key pieces; we think we have a chance to be a high level basketball team. We’ll go into the season a confident group with the core of guys we have and go from there. This was a big priority as far as getting Jimmy back for years to come and bringing back some of the key pieces we have. We’re always going to be looking at different ways to improve. We knew from a flexibility and cap room standpoint this wasn’t going to be a big summer as far as additions are concerned. But conversations will continue to happen and we’ll explore ways we can get better.”
Butler, 26 in September, in talking about the season ending loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers acknowledged the Bulls will have to go through that test again.
“It was hard to lose when I knew how good a team we had and still have, obviously,” Butler said. “I’m really looking forward to this season with the same group of guys; we’re probably going to be put in the same situation.”
And despite rumors and speculation about discontent, Butler was optimistic about playing with backcourt mate Rose and for new coach Fred Hoiberg.
“Rumors are rumors,” he shrugged. “I guess that’s what they are there for you, to entertain y’all.
“I think we (with Rose) play well on the court together,” said Butler. “With more time we are out there we will definitely get better at it. Off the floor, he has his son, he has a family he has to take care of. I’m with my brothers a lot of the time. When we have a chance we’ll hang around with each other. I feel we spend enough time together on the court. I think when you are off the court then you go your separate ways a little bit.
“I think we can play off each other well,” Butler added. “Especially with the offense we are going to be running now. We both get out in transition; we can both score. We can both get the ball to the open guy. That’s what team players do. He’s really good at that. I think I’m pretty good at it, too. I like our chances of being the best backcourt.
“I’m very confident because the players are the ones out there playing,” said Butler. “They are going to be the ones to win the game.”
Butler always has been confident, even as a little regarded rookie begging then coach Tom Thibodeau for playing time. But Butler admits there was anxiety walking away from so much money last fall.
“That’s a lot of money just like this is a lot of money,” Butler said. “I was extremely nervous and I talked to everybody about it; everybody got an earful about it to my brothers, my family, my trainer, my agent, everybody. But I was confident enough to know the work I put in the last summer where my place would be on this team. Like I said, I think we (Butler and the Bulls) both won with where I am now. I had to prove myself and I feel I did a great job of that this part season.
“It feels great,” Butler said of the financial reward. “I think more than anything it just shows how hard that I worked. I still think seriously I have a long way to go. I want to help win a championship, as many as I can when I am still of age. We’ve got to get that done as soon as possible. If you win, it doesn’t matter how many points you score, how many rebounds you grab. If you get a championship all that is out the window; that’s always been my job. To do whatever it takes to help this team win. I will be the same person.”
And that same person likes to have some mischievous fun.
When asked about how he might spend some of his new contract, Butler paused a long while and then said with a brother in the audience, “I want a taser because my brother gets on my nerves; seriously, he really annoys me. I don’t know. I guess I want a house somewhere.
I haven’t thought about it, but I am serious about the taser.”
It’s also clear Butler has a strong support group that keeps his head from getting into the clouds, even as low as they are in Chicago.
Butler related that his college coach Buzz Williams, who also attended the press conference, keeps him humble.
“Buzz is up before everybody and he literally texts me to remind me that he’s working when I’m not,” Butler said with a laugh. “The first thing he said to me outside in the parking lot is, ‘You’re still not good.’ The second when we went upstairs (to sign the contract) he said, ‘Gar has signed much better players than you.’ That’s who he is. Buzz always keeps me in my lane and he’ll always remind me your work is how you gain your confidence. He’s here for me. He’s shown me and taught me so much I can’t change.”
Yes, it’s about love, especially, for the game, for a team and a city and to have that in return. Maybe Jimmy Butler finally has found a home.
“I knew where I wanted to be,” said Butler. “I knew I was wanted here. That’s all anybody ever wanted, to be wanted.”