Bulls

Bulls: Butler challenges himself to be better defensively in Milwaukee

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Bulls: Butler challenges himself to be better defensively in Milwaukee

There’s only so many minutes to play in a playoff game, so much energy to expound before the human body says “no”, but Jimmy Butler is taking it upon himself to put more pressure on himself to perform at a higher level.

Yes, the man who has missed a total of 56 seconds of available playing time in the fourth quarter and overtime in the last four games is asking more from himself as the Bulls prepare to travel to Milwaukee to put away the pesky Bucks in Game 6 Thursday.

And if he has to cut back on his offensive production, or at least attention to that end of the floor, so be it. Butler, at least verbally, is taking the mantle of responsibility for the Bulls' lack of energy".

“Be the person to get us going, on both ends, especially the defensive end,” Butler said. “I'm supposed to be the one setting the tone. And I haven't done that and that's the reason we've gotten off to slow starts.”

[MORE: Bulls offense unable to solve versatile Bucks defense]

Khris Middleton has given the Bulls fits, and point guard Michael Carter-Williams had his first good game in Game 5. Butler could wind up defending any one of three Bucks' scorers tomorrow.

“I really do have to get back to it. I'm not saying it because the cameras are on me right now. I'm saying it because that's what it'll take to win. Somebody has to lead us defensively.”

Butler made clear he doesn’t think the Bulls have a leadership problem, and after all, they’re up 3-2 in this series despite the semi-panic that has taken over in assessing this team. But his words about accepting the pressure and leading the Bulls at least gives way to the belief that something is missing.

“I have to be a better leader. I think I'm shying back on some aspects of the game,” Butler said. “I don't think there's a leadership void. I think everybody needs to be more of a leader. Not just one guy but everybody.”

Butler only trails LeBron James, James Harden, Anthony Davis and Stephen Curry in terms of playoff scoring at 26.6 points a game, so if he’s reallocating his energy, someone will have to pick up the slack.

[MORE: President Barack Obama staying loyal to Bulls in NBA Playoffs]

“I guess give some to take some,” Butler said. “I think we score the ball well enough. If I give all my energy on defense and get some stops, the other four guys will score.”

Pau Gasol has stated ad nauseam about the Bulls’ slow starts and lack of aggression to start games, as the Bucks’ energy and athleticism always seems to catch the Bulls by surprise, so Butler claims he’s going to do something about it.

He didn’t agree with the assertion that the Bulls’ defense has gotten soft, but nobody can deny the Bucks have played tougher and more aggressive in the last two games at the very least.

“Non-aggressive, inconsistent, there's a lot of words besides soft,” Butler said.

After talks with his brother and trainer, Butler came to the conclusion that he has to single-handedly match what the Bucks are doing instinctively defensively, with the hopes his teammates will follow.

“You can sit here and say we have to do this, we gotta block out, we have to rebound, we gotta guard,” Butler said. “But if I'm saying it and not doing it, ain't nobody paying attention to it. So If I'm preaching it and showing I'm capable of doing it, everybody will follow suit.”

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Perhaps his disastrous Game 5 on offense brought on the self-reflection, where he shot 5-for-21 in 46 minutes, giving life to the old-but-new concerns about his playing time (averaging 44.2 minutes this series). And the Bucks have said, albeit quietly, that Butler looks worn down in the fourth quarter.

“They don’t know how I feel. They’re not in my skin or my shoes,” Butler said. “I’m in great enough shape where I can handle the heavy minutes. I never complain. And I’ve got to produce, heavy minutes or not. I got to make shots, make plays happen.’’

He played all of the fourth quarter and two overtimes in Game 3, and sat for 56 seconds in the fourth quarter of Game 4. He says it’s affected him, although not the way people have claimed.

“I do, but not because of the minutes. I’m in a different role,” Butler said. “I think teams have to scout me and be ready for what I bring to the table, and I think that wears down more than anything, that they know where I’m going to get the ball and things like that. But that’s part of the game. I’m not tired. Like I said, I’ve got to produce. That’s all I’m worried about on the floor.’’

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

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USA TODAY

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”