It’s been a steady, if unlikely, climb for Jimmy Butler, one scratch-your-head, is-that-really-Jimmy-Butler moment to the next from a college basketball scholarship to first round pick, if barely, to NBA All-Star, maximum contract and now an Olympian.
Butler wasn’t quite ready to declare that as USA Basketball Monday opened its training camp for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But Butler, wearing No. 4, said he’s looking forward to success with his new Bulls teammates as well.
“I think we’re going to win some games,” Butler said in his first extended comments since the Bulls traded Derrick Rose, parted ways with Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol and signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. “Everybody has to sacrifice a little something for the greater betterment of the team. I think we all just want to win. They have done it. I want to do it. So I’ll play my role in that. But like I tell everyone, I’m going to still be the player I am. I’m not going to take a step backward because I have new players on my team. I’m going to still be aggressive, I’m going to still guard, I’m going to still play hard. I just hope that that’s enough to make us win.”
Butler said he’s been speaking with Wade and Rondo regularly since their signings and is encouraged about the season ahead.
“I’ve talked to all of them a lot,” Butler said. “I’ve got to get to know my guys in and out. I know that it’s new. But it’s never too early to start. (They’ve said) keep doing what I’ve been doing, how we’re excited to get together and play. Everything that I would expect for them to say. I think I’ve made a name for myself in this league. I’m going to continue to build upon that. I want my name to be in there with the greats. I’m not saying it will be. But I’m not saying that it won’t be.”
And Butler said he continues on that unlikeliest of roads that’s led to mountains of sporting success.
“I know where I stand in this league as player,” Butler said. “If I continue to work, I continue to get better. While you were sleeping this morning at 5 AM, I was at Athletic Gaines getting my work in. If I continue to do that, I’ll be all right.”
And so begins Butler’s first odyssey this season, with USA Basketball through late August. The USA team will train in Chicago next week and then play Venezuela in the United Center July 29. Play begins in Brazil Aug. 6 with the gold medal game Aug. 21. Then it’s just over a month before Butler joins his new Bulls team that basically has only Taj Gibson from the team he joined in 2011 as the last draft pick in the first round. Since then it’s been a series of personal successes for Butler coupled with team disappointments. After missing the playoffs this past season for the first time in Butler’s tenure, the Bulls made bold moves to change the makeup of the team.
Even Butler’s name came up in trade rumors and speculation. So did talk of team discord, though Butler said he’s come to understand everything is less personal than being a business.
“Different, obviously,” Butler said about the departures of Rose and Noah. “I’ve been playing with them since I was a first year player. But I can’t hang my head on that. I’ve got to move forward. I’ve still got to help this team, the Chicago Bulls, win games. I’m sorry they’re not here, but eventually I’ve got to move on from it. I’m never shocked (about changes). Because I understand that this is a business. If you’re on the outside looking in, you don’t understand that. You can blame it on whatever you want to blame it on, the reason that guys got traded, who didn’t like who, who had problems with who. Whatever. But it’s a business. When you understand that, you understand the moves that we made. I wish them two dudes — and Pau, Pau’s my guy — I wish all three of them the best of luck moving forward. I have nothing but respect for them.
“Whoever I play for is gonna get my best effort every single night,” Butler said. “That’s what got me to this point. I’m not the most talented guy. I just play hard, man. If it’s the Chicago Bulls, which I think it will be, I’m coming at everybody.”
Butler said that will include even greater demands for accountability for everyone. That often was said to be an issue last season, and Butler made headlines when he questioned coach Fred Hoiberg about that in December. Butler suggested with the veterans the Bulls have now there will be no worrying about feelings, a question that has been raised given the strong personalities of Butler, Wade and Rondo.
“I’ll have a voice in the locker room,” Butler said. “I’ll say what needs to be said. What I want those guys to do whenever I’m on some (crap detour), I want them to tell me. I want you to say my name, man to man. That goes with everybody: Say my name. I’m going to do the same to you. Whenever you’re (messing) and not doing what you’re supposed to be doing in practice and the game or not taking care of your body….holding somebody accountable. You can’t beat around the bush and say, ‘Hey guys, we need to take care of our body.’ ‘Hey guys, we’re taking bad shots.’ It’s, ‘Jimmy, you need to do this. You need to do that.’
“That goes for everybody,” Butler said pointedly. “This is a team thing from the players on the court to the coaches all the way to the management. If we’re all holding each other accountable and getting on guys, it’s only going to make us better because then we know what we’re doing wrong. Whenever you make a mistake and are called out upon it, you’re not going to do it again.”
And so continues the journey for Jimmy Butler and the Bulls.
Butler hopes it sparkles gold in another month, and eventually the Bulls return to the NBA throne with him.
“Do whatever it takes,” Butler said of his Olympic role. “I know I’ll be guarding; that’s for sure. But I don’t think anybody’s going to have the same role that they had with their individual team in the NBA. But like Coach K said, ‘Everybody’s gotta sacrifice for the greater of the team.’ So whatever my role may be, you best bet I’ll star in that role. (This is) another thing I never expected to happen, being from Tomball. So moving forward, that’s my goal. Until August 21st, that’s what each and every one of the guys on this Olympic roster wants. We signed for that.
“To tell you the truth, every morning I wake up I just thank God because I’m so fortunate to be in the position I am with the guys I have around me,” Butler said. “I don’t really look at how far I’ve come. I know where I want to get to. That’s my goal. That’s why I wake up and train the way I do. I’m a fierce competitor. I don’t look at where I’ve come from because it never defined me and never will. I know where I want to end up. I know when you say my name in a sentence, ‘he’s a helluva player;’ that’s what I want to be said.”