Jimmy Butler’s battle cry: 'I’m the best (bleeping) player in the world'

Jimmy Butler’s battle cry: 'I’m the best (bleeping) player in the world'

PORTLAND — Jimmy Butler came into this season firmly planted amongst the Top 25 players in the NBA and depending on who you ask, maybe he was a bit higher.

With his play taking yet another leap after so many massive ones already, perhaps it’s time he be mentioned in a higher context.

Since he called himself out to be more aggressive following a blowout loss to the Pacers on the second half of a back-to-back, Butler’s numbers have risen. Averaging 28.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists represents one of the best stretches of his career to date.

He was asked about being ranked in the Top 10 of NBA players this season, and wasn’t shy about it.

“Do I dispute it? No. Do I believe it? Of course,” said Butler to CSNChicago.com following a morning practice at the University of Portland Wednesday. “I think you can ask people we have on this team, I walk around and say certain things I really mean.”

Things like?

“I’m not gonna tell you exactly what I say but I think you know what I’m talking about,” Butler said. “I don’t talk about it in public. But between these guys, they know how I feel, they know the way I go about the game and how I love it and how I love being better. I place myself where I place it and I hope my game continues to speak.”

The quote Butler didn’t want to say but one that has been heard by teammates more than a few times: “I’m the best (bleeping) player in the world.”

Butler’s never been one to say anyone’s better than him, and certainly his confidence is warranted. He was drenched in sweat after staying longer than anybody to get up extra shots following Wednesday’s practice and it’s no secret he considers himself a true franchise player.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

If performances like these can stay to some level of consistency, it’ll be harder to deny that he belongs in the same conversation as the one-name superstars like LeBron (James), Steph (Curry), Kevin (Durant), Russell (Westbrook) and 2015-16 MVP runner-up Kawhi Leonard, the player widely regarded as the best two-way player in basketball.

“I think you look at this last stretch, averaging 29 over the last six games. He’s just doing it so many different ways,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’re using him in the post, we’re using him as a facilitator. I love the 12 rebounds (Monday against the Blazers) where he’s pushing the ball down the floor without an outlet. We’re isolating him a lot. Just his overall game, you gotta give him all the credit in the world for the work ethic and everything he’s put in to make himself the complete player he is.”

His teammates are following him, probably the most understated part of this season compared to last. Butler doesn’t have to convince them he can lead them to a top spot in the Eastern Conference anymore; they see it and so far, he’s been a better teammate and the resistance this season compared to last has been nil.

“I'm surprised at how mature he is,” said Bulls forward Taj Gibson, who worked out with Butler over the summer. “He's a lot more mature than he was, as far as being how he's been with the guys, how he's communicating. He's always critiquing the game, but he's always positive. Last year, he had his times when he was questioning things, and he didn't know how to let it out. But this year, having D-Wade I think helps him a lot. And then you can learn from it and understand it. And (Team) USA helped him out big time.”

Butler doesn’t doubt the production is sustainable, as it seems like he’s found easier ways to score without being so taxed — almost like finding some secret only a few guys know and refuse to share.

“I think so. I work at that,” Butler said. “I work to catch what those guys are doing, to perform at the highest level like those guys. I take notice. I watch, I learn from those guys as much as I learn from players from the past. So I put myself in that category.”

The same category as multiple-time MVP’s and first-ballot Hall of Famers? Butler doesn’t flinch.

Privately, he chafed at the notion he couldn’t be a franchise player or that he somehow plateaued because of where he started. He simply thinks everybody else is late to the party of the Butler takeover.

“Yeah, if I go at the game with the same mentality, like Dwyane (Wade) told me, every time you step on the floor, you gotta have the mentality that you’re the best player out there,” Butler said. “You gotta be out there to prove that point every single night, every single day in practice. That’s what I’m working to be. I want to be the first guy in the gym, the last game to leave, studying film and having a killer mentality.”

It sure sounds like Jimmy Butler regrets being labeled as the face of the Bulls franchise

It sure sounds like Jimmy Butler regrets being labeled as the face of the Bulls franchise

Jimmy Butler didn't come close to following in his trainer's footsteps, but Mr. G. Buckets Unplugged still proved enlightening.

Following a wild Thursday, Butler hopped on the phone Friday afternoon from Paris to chat with Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times about the deal that sent the former face of the Bulls to rejoin Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota.

Butler wanted to be labeled as the face of the franchise, but his comments seem to reflect the old adage "be careful what you wish for."

"It doesn't mean a damn thing. I guess being called the face of an organization isn't as good as I thought. We all see where being the so-called face of the Chicago Bulls got me. So let me be just a player for the Timberwolves, man. That's all I want to do. I just want to be winning games, do what I can for my respective organization and let them realize what I'm trying to do.

"Whatever they want to call me... face... I don't even want to get into that anymore. Whose team is it? All that means nothing. You know what I've learned? Face of the team, eventually, you're going to see the back of his head as he's leaving town, so no thanks."

Whoa.

Butler also spoke about trying to block out all the trade rumors while on vacation in France:

"I mean, I had so many people telling me what could possibly happen, but I just got to the point where I stopped paying attention to it. 

"It's crazy because it reminds you of what a business this is. You can't get mad at anybody. I'm not mad - I'm not. I just don't like the way some things were handled, but it's OK."

Butler doesn't have to be the sole face of the franchise in Minnesota on a team that has two of the top homegrown young stars in the game in Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

The big red button was pressed and Jimmy Butler was ejected from the Chicago Bulls’ present and future as they finally made the decision to rebuild after two years of resisting.

Trading Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the ability to draft Lauri Markkanen represents the Bulls committing to the draft lottery and fully going in on the Fred Hoiberg experience for the foreseeable future, as the prospect of trying to improve through shrewd moves in the East while also facing the likelihood of Butler commanding a $200 million contract wasn’t palatable to their pocketbook or their sensibilities.

On one hand, making a decision — any decision — can be applauded on some levels after years of their relationship with Butler being complicated at best. But the idea of rebuilding and the application of it are often two separate ideals, because the evaluation of a rebuild can often be as murky as the land the Bulls just left.

“What we’ve done tonight is set a direction,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’ve gone to the past where we make the playoffs, but not at the level we wanted to. You know in this league, success is not determined that way. We’ve decided to make the change and rebuild this roster.”

“We’re gonna remain patient and disciplined. The development of our young players is important. The coaching staff has done a phenomenal job. We’re gonna continue down that path. We’re not gonna throw huge money at people.”

The Bulls aren’t exclusive to this territory, the land in which they’ve inhibited for the last couple seasons, which makes the Butler trade about more than one thing.

Not equal parts but part basketball, part fiscal, part narrative and finally, masking some mistakes that have been made over the years but are not as easily rectified. Trading Butler seemed to be the easiest vessel used as an elixir to wash away missteps. Trading a star in Butler is also the easiest way to get heat off a coach or front office in today’s NBA, because few franchises like to make wholesale changes midstream or early in it.

Trading Butler — along with shipping their second-round pick in a box marked for the Bay Area — was also financial, considering many felt if he made it through the tumultuous evening that he would finish his career as a Bull, raking in a hefty sum of cash on the back end.

It’s because of these factors that the evaluation of this trade and subsequently, a painful rebuild, cannot be in a vacuum. (Note: No rebuild is painless, it’s the size of the migraine a team can endure that determines the type of aspirin necessary).

Just taking a look at the players the Bulls got back in the Butler trade illustrates the gray area they’ve now immersed themselves into. The Bulls fell in love with Dunn before he came to the NBA, and aren’t as bothered by him being a 23-year old second-year player who struggled mightily in his rookie year.

Zach LaVine is an explosive athlete who can put up 20 every night — when he’s on the floor. Recovering from an ACL injury is no given, as evidenced by a young phenom who once graced the United Center hardwood before his body betrayed him.

And Lauri Markkanen is a rookie with promise, but nobody can make any promises on what type of career he’ll have, or if he’ll fulfill that promise with this franchise in the requisite time.

“There’s always risk in anything,” Paxson said. “But here’s a guy that’s 22 years old and averages 20 a game (LaVine). He can score the basketball, he can run. He can shoot the basketball. He shot over 40 percent from three. That’s an area we’re deficient in. Markkanen shot over 40 from three in college. Again, it’s an area where we’re deficient. It’s trying to find the type of player that fits the way that we want to play going forward.”

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General Manager Gar Forman stated after the announcement of the trade that the Bulls would have to hit on their next few draft picks to stop this rebuild from being elongated, but even then there’s no guarantee.

The Sacramento Kings drafted a rookie of the year, then two future max contract players in the same year, followed by another player who’ll command close to max money very soon. But nobody remembers Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside and Isaiah Thomas leading the Kings from the wilderness and into glory, unless recent memory has been scrubbed away from everyone.

Inconsistencies in organizational structure combined with multiple coaching changes and an inability to develop the right young players kept the Kings on the dais of the draft lottery every April.

The Timberwolves, heck, nobody could say they missed when selecting LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and getting Andrew Wiggins in a trade for Kevin Love. It’s because it takes more than the right draft picks, or in the Sacramento Kings’ case, the right infrastructure and environment, to foster an atmosphere of winning.

The Bulls were ready, despite their claims that this was a decision that came across their table right before the draft, because common sense has to be applied. No team makes knee-jerk, franchise-altering decisions that will have reverberations for years to come on the whim of a trade offer from Tom Thibodeau. This was likely decided when the Bulls went out with a whimper in the first-round after shocking the NBA world in the first two games against the Boston Celtics, when their fortunes changed on the trifle of Rajon Rondo’s broken wrist.

It was decided that Hoiberg, the man who endured chants calling for his firing in the second half of the decisive Game 6 loss, needed to have the right type of roster to be accurately judged as a successful hire or failure, and Butler couldn’t be part of those plans.

And just as Hoiberg has been dealt an uneven hand, Butler wasn’t given the type of roster that would accurately judge how he could flourish as a leader, max player and face of the franchise — and probably had less time to show one way or the other relative to his coach.

The longer Butler stayed, the more empowered he would become as his individual accomplishments would rack up because of the dedication he applied to game, the drive he had to place himself in the upper echelon of NBA players.

The better Butler got, the more pressure Hoiberg would be under to mix and match his roster and to foster a relationship with Butler he might’ve been ill-suited to fix. The better Butler got, the more pressure the front office would be under to maximize a prime it didn’t see coming, a prime they can’t truly figure when there’s an expiration date on given Butler’s unlikely rise to stardom.

So getting rid of Butler was the solution and the Bulls have now chosen their path, definitively and with confidence. Emerging from a ball of confusion to parts unknown, from one land of uncertainty to another.