Chicago Bulls

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.”

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

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USA TODAY

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

The Bulls are in complete rebuild mode, and that means they have little use for 35-year-old Dwyane Wade.

ESPN's Nick Friedell reported last week that it's a matter of when - not if - the Bulls will buy out Wade. The future Hall of Famer is due $24 million this upcoming season, but how much Wade receives in a potential buyout could hold things up in the short-term.

The question then becomes: where would Wade land after he passes through waivers and becomes a free agent?

A potential destination is joining good friend LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Wade could also consider going back to the Miami Heat, where he spent the first 13 years of his NBA career.

And if he did, budding star Hassan Whiteside says the team would welcome back Wade with open arms.

"It'd be great," Whiteside told the Sun Sentinel. "It's a three-time NBA champion coming back, coming in and really helping a team out. It would be great."

Stay tuned, but it seems like a Wade-to-Miami reunion is a real possibility.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.