Bulls

Bulls: Tables turn for Jimmy Butler in restricted free agency

jimmybux062915.png

Bulls: Tables turn for Jimmy Butler in restricted free agency

Rubber, meet road.

While Bulls general manager Gar Forman intimated the Jimmy Butler situation would be resolved sooner rather than later at the announcement following the selection of first-round draft pick Bobby Portis, actions still had to follow from both sides.

The Bulls fired the first salvo, so to speak, in extending a qualifying offer and maximum qualifying offer to their restricted free agent. A maximum qualifying offer essentially limits Butler’s options as far as seeking an offer sheet from a prospective suitor, as the Collective Bargaining Agreement prevents a team from offering anything less than a three-year contract (which the Bulls will assuredly match) but it can’t contain any early termination options.

The Bulls don’t believe Butler wants out of Chicago like the rumor mill has suggested in recent weeks, but extending the maximum qualifying offer certainly gives the impression they were at least concerned about the possibility.

[MORE: Could Rodney Stuckey be a fit off the bench for the Bulls?]

In this era of the CBA, that mechanism hasn’t been used, and rarely has a player of Butler’s caliber actually signed the initial qualifying offer—which on par, causes a player to lose money that will be hard to recoup with a very limited time to maximize earnings’ potential.

Detroit’s Greg Monroe rolled the dice on it last summer, turning down a deal in excess of $50 million when the Pistons wouldn’t trade him, choosing to sign a qualifying offer that would grant him unrestricted free agency while playing for just $5.4 million.

Monroe was dealing with a different set of circumstances than Butler, choosing not to take a chance on a new coach and new regime in Stan Van Gundy after years of losing and frustration.

Butler will have a new coach this season in Fred Hoiberg, but that could save his body from leading the league in minutes as he did under Tom Thibodeau, and he knows the Bulls’ brain trust very well.

Add to it, the Bulls have made the playoffs every year and seemingly have been on the doorstep of conference supremacy, as Butler has progressed and developed every year since entering the league in 2011.

Perhaps it’s as simple as Butler wanting to hear how much other teams want him. After all, he wasn’t heavily recruited coming out of high school, having to enroll at junior college before going to Marquette, where he had to fight to become the last pick of the first round.

Heck, his contract negotiations before the season with the Bulls were contentious enough, as the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement—one that if the Bulls signed him to would be an outright bargain for the next four seasons.

So now, Butler finally has a say—somewhat.

He bet on himself to become a bonafide All-Star this season, heard “MVP” chants during fourth quarters of playoff games and now doesn’t have to beg for what he believes he’s rightly earned.

[MORE: A financial primer for Bulls free agency]

Butler can take meetings with other franchises, although the current setup makes it hard for even the most interested team to come forward because of how impossible it is to obtain his services now. But he can sit back and listen to how coveted he is, how he’d be featured as a star should the opportunity present itself and for the first time in a very long time, Butler doesn’t have to fight.

He can weigh his options, and take the five-year, $90 million deal that has the potential to set his family up for life—or accept a shorter contract in order to catch the huge windfall that will hit the salary cap due to the new TV contracts in the next couple of years.

Whether he wants to get out of Chicago is immaterial at this point, which will only be displayed if he takes the one-year qualifying offer of around $4.4 million just to be free next summer.

What matters is Butler will be in a Bulls uniform next year playing for Hoiberg, being able to deal with the outcome of a situation he dictated—to a degree.

He won’t be begging or wondering, he will have seen all of his desirable options laid in front of him, being treated like the prize instead of the afterthought.

For once, everyone will be marching to his beat—which could be enough.

Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury

2-23_butler_hurt_espn.jpg
ESPN

Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury

The NBA may have lost another top superstar due to injury.

On Friday, Jimmy Butler appeared to have suffered a non-contact injury to his right knee. He left the game against the Houston Rockets unable to put any pressure on his right leg and needed assistance getting back to the locker room. 

Here's a video of the incident:

Coach Tom Thibodeau said that Butler will have an MRI when the team returns to Minnesota on Saturday.

Butler drew a lot of headlines last weekend after not playing in the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

Entering Friday, Butler led the league with 37.3 minutes played per game.

The Bulls also take on the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Saturday night.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.