Bulls: Validated Butler taking accountability, finding motivation


Bulls: Validated Butler taking accountability, finding motivation

LAS VEGAS—Validation has come in many forms for Jimmy Butler, perhaps the most unlikely invitee to the USA Basketball minicamp/reunion in Las Vegas this past week.

Whether it’s the maximum salary contract he agreed to on the opening day of free agency or his mere presence on Jerry Colangelo’s get-together—a must for those who want to be considered for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio—the motivation he used as an overlooked prospect to rise to these heights can’t hold as much water.

As the invitees sat to the side of the dual basketball courts, lollygagging and goofing around, Butler was to the side on the phone for a radio interview, wearing some Air Jordan’s only members of Brand Jordan have access to.

He says the acclaim and the opportunity to even be considered among the final 12 is surreal enough, and if you would’ve told the kid who had to fax his letter of intent to Marquette from a fast food joint many moons ago he would be here today, you might have to duck for cover.

“(I’d) Punch them in the face and (say) stop lying to me; I would never ever believe that. I never thought I’d be in the NBA,” Butler said. “I damn sure never thought I’d have a chance to represent Team USA. Now that I’m here I have to make the most of it. I think I’ve got a shot at it; we’ve got to see.”

[MORE: The five must-see games on the Bulls' schedule]

Butler bringing up his blossoming friendship with movie star Mark Wahlberg is sure to raise eyebrows about Butler going “Hollywood,” but he brought up the star’s work ethic as something he admires most.

“He just got through finishing up 'Deep Water Rising,'” Butler said. “He’s probably looking two scripts (ahead) from now. That’s how his mind works. That’s where I got waking up at 5 a.m. from. Because that’s what he does. Wakes up at 5 a.m., reads, works out and then goes to work.”

Butler brought his trainer Chris Johnson to Vegas and the two haven’t stopped their basketball regimen because of the USA minicamp; Butler joked to the assembled media and a man who popped his head in to say hello to Butler for a quick second, Bulls GM Gar Forman, about ramping up his workouts.

“When you all were sleeping this morning, I was working,” he said.

How realistic a shot Butler has at making the final 12, nobody knows. But battling for a spot with the likes of a Finals MVP (Kawhi Leonard) and a fellow superstar in Paul George puts him in elite company.

“You hear guys making jokes they don’t want to be guarded by me and they honor how many minutes I play and still how hard I play,” Butler said. “That’s really cool, but more than anything I feel I am out here with some of the best players in the world. It’s humbling, but it also makes me smile because maybe I am a decent basketball player.”

[MORE: Westbrook praises Rose, who won't play for Team USA]

His max deal means the Bulls view him as more than a decent player and opposing teams will have his name at the top of the scouting report every night, so he won’t sneak up on anyone this season—or ever again.

And whether it was a natural progression for a player of his caliber or the contract making him feel more emboldened to make such a statement, Butler referred to himself and Derrick Rose as the leaders of the team, with everyone else having to follow behind.

Holding his own feet to the fire, he said he won’t skip out on media after games anymore, which he did after the Game 6 debacle against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round that ended the Bulls’ season—in which the aftermath spurned the school of thought he and Rose don’t get along.

“I know what’s really going on. Everybody doesn’t. We’re fine,” Butler said. “We just want to win. Whenever we win, all this is going out the window. If we buy into playing off one another and just getting out and playing fast, I like the chances we have at being the top backcourt in the league.”

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Jimmy Butler jersey!]

Elaborating on the status of their relationship seems very sixth-grade-like, considering 15 guys in a locker room come from disparate places and have different interests and commonalities. It’s been said before but he and Rose don’t have to be best friends, but if Butler envisions himself on the same plane as his point guard, the two will have to be in lockstep from a leadership standpoint.

As for the Bulls’ chances to overthrow Cleveland, Butler summed it up matter of factly.

“We got the same team. Is it enough? I don’t know, I guess we’ll find out,” Butler said.  “It wasn’t enough last year. The only thing we changed was the coach.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: Should the Bulls consider Trae Young?


Bulls Talk Podcast: Should the Bulls consider Trae Young?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Vincent Goodwill, and Kendall Gill discuss the concern over Zach Lavine’s inconsistent play, plus is it smart for the Bulls to offer him a max contract? Kendall also explains why the Bulls need to be careful not to lowball Lavine, like the Hornets did with him early in his career. Plus the trio discuss the early exit for Oklahoma and Trae Young. He’s likely to be there when the Bulls make their first pick, should they take him? And Vincent shares who the consensus top 5 picks are after talking with several NBA talent evaluators.

Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history


Bulls Bracket Madness: The best individual seasons in franchise history

We're trying to figure out the best season in Bulls franchise history, and we want your help in deciding.

Because the Bulls tout the greatest player in basketball history, who could have made up this list by himself, we're giving Michael Jordan his own side of the bracket. But the other side of the bracket is also filled with some pretty memorable and remarkable campaigns.

So read up on each matchup and then have your voice heard by voting on our Twitter page here. Check out the entire bracket in the graphic above.

The Jordan Region

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96) vs. No. 8 Michael Jordan (1992-93)

No. 1 Michael Jordan (1995-96): Jordan was on a mission in his first full season back from retirement. He led the Bulls to a then-record 72 wins with a regular-season MVP award, All-Star MVP and romp through the NBA playoffs, where the Bulls went 15-3 en route to their fourth NBA title. Jordan won his eighth straight scoring title at 30.4 points a game, with nine games where he put up 40 or more. He saved his best for Detroit, scoring 53 with 11 rebounds and six steals in early March. To prove Jordan was getting better as he aged, he shot a career-high 43 percent from 3-point range at age 33.

No. 8 Michael Jordan (1992-93): Jordan's last run in his physical prime culminated in a third Bulls title, a third Finals MVP for Jordan and a third-place finish in MVP voting behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley. While the Bulls paced themselves for another title run, Jordan was coming off an exhausting summer in Barcelona with the Dream Team. The Bulls didn't finish with the league's best record but Jordan won another scoring title at 32.6 points per game and gave the Orlando Magic a 64-point showing. He had three 50-point performances and saved his best for Barkley in the Finals. His 41.0 scoring average in the Finals is best in league history, buoyed by going supernova in Game 4 for 55 to give the Bulls a 3-1 lead.

No. 4 Michael Jordan (1989-90) vs. No. 5 Michael Jordan (1997-98)

No. 4 Michael Jordan (1989-90): This might've been the best non-MVP Jordan season, a year in which he took the Bulls to within a game of the NBA Finals. Finishing third to Charles Barkley and winner Magic Johnson in one of the closest races in history, Jordan averaged 33.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists while leading the league in steals. He helped the Bulls to a 55-win season and captured his fourth straight scoring title. Still a physical marvel at age 26, he began to add more weight for the grueling playoff battles while gaining more consistency on his outside jumper. He scored a career-high 69 against Cleveland while having 39 games of 35 points or more.

No. 5 Michael Jordan (1997-98): The "last dance" featured a 35-year old Jordan capturing his fifth MVP while leading the Bulls to their sixth title. It wasn't the best statistical Jordan season but he willed the Bulls to a 62-win season while being without Scottie Pippen for nearly half the year after Pippen underwent back surgery. Jordan won his 10th straight scoring title at 28.7 points per game and had 12 games of 40 points or more, including a 42-point showing at Madison Square Garden in New York in his last visit as a Bull. Later that June, he played his last game as a Bull, a 45-point performance in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, hitting the winning jumper with five seconds remaining.

No. 3 Michael Jordan (1987-88) vs. No. 6 Michael Jordan (1986-87)

No. 3 Michael Jordan (1987-88): 1987-88: Jordan went from phenom to icon in 1988, picking up his first MVP award and leading the Bulls out of the first round for the first time in his career. In addition to his league-leading 35 points per game, Jordan recorded the only season in NBA history of 250 steals and 125 blocks, earning his only Defensive Player of the Year award. Jordan dominated All-Star Weekend in Chicago, winning the slam dunk contest and scoring 40 in the All-Star game for his first MVP. It was the season where Jordan put the league on notice: He was coming for the crown.

No. 5 Michael Jordan (1986-87): Jordan missed most of his second season with a broken foot, and he made up for lost time here. Scoring a career-high 37.1 points a game, he won his first scoring title at the tender age of 24. It seemed like every team got a piece of the Jordan onslaught, with eight games of 50-plus points and two 60-point games. Jordan scored 35-plus 45 times and was only held under 20 three times. It didn't translate to much team success, as an underwhelming Bulls roster managed just 40 wins, being swept in the first round by the Boston Celtics.

No. 2 Michael Jordan (1990-91) vs. No. 7 Michael Jordan (1984-85)

No. 2 Michael Jordan (1990-91): 1990-91: Jordan's second MVP came with his first NBA title, as he was at the peak of his powers physically combined with the ultimate team success, with the Bulls finally getting past Detroit before defeating the Lakers in the Finals. He shot a career-high 54 percent from the field while averaging 31.5 points, six rebounds and 5.5 assists as he began to fully embrace the triangle offense in Phil Jackson's second season. Jordan had 57 games where he shot better than 50 percent from the field, and was among the league leaders in steals at 2.7 per game while earning his fourth straight All-Defensive First Team honor.

No. 7 Michael Jordan (1984-85): It was the debut and he burst on the scene, proving only Dean Smith could keep him under 20 points. He finished third in scoring behind Bernard King and Larry Bird at 28.2 points per game, adding 6.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists. The best game of his rookie season, a 49-point, 15-rebound, five-assist, four-steal showing against Isiah Thomas' Detroit Pistons, days after the so-called "freeze out" at his first All-Star game. Jordan had six more 40-point performances, but for a Bulls team that only won 38 games, it was only good enough for a four-game loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

The Field Region

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11) vs. No. 8 Reggie Theus (1982-83)

No. 1 Derrick Rose (2010-11): Where to begin? The youngest MVP in league history took the league by storm, averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists while leading the Bulls to a league-best 62 wins. Rose had been named an All-Star the previous season but took his game to new heights in Year 3, appearing in 81 games, making 128 3-pointers (after making a combined 32 his first two seasons) while helping the Bulls rank first in defensive efficiency under first year head coach Tom Thibodeau. Rose and the Bulls lost in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, with Rose shooting a paltry 35 percent on 24 attempts per game. But his historic season will always go down as one of the franchise’s best, and the only non-Jordan MVP.

No. 8 Reggie Theus (1982-83): Theus’ final full season with the Bulls was his best. The 6-foot-7 guard averaged 23.8 points (ninth in the NBA), 5.9 assists (16th) and 1.7 steals (15th) while playing in all 82 games. He was named an All-Star for the second time since the Bulls had selected him 9th overall in the 1987 NBA Draft. Theus’ run with the Bulls would only last another half season, as he failed to mesh with new head coach Kevin Loughery and was traded to Kansas City for Steve Johnson and three draft choices. In five-plus seasons he played in 441 of 441 possible games with the Bulls, and his impressive 1983 season gives him a spot on this list.

No. 4 Scottie Pippen (1991-92) vs. No. 5 Jimmy Butler (2016-17)

No. 4 Scottie Pippen (1991-92): It was evident early in his career that Scottie Pippen was going to be a star. But his 1991-92 season really put him in the national spotlight. He averaged 21.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.0 assists – the only player in the league to average 20/7/7 – was named All-NBA Second Team and All-NBA Defensive First Team. Pippen didn’t have as strong a postseason as he did during the Bulls’ championship run the previous year, but he did help close out the Blazers in the Finals with a near triple-double in Game 5 (24/11/9) and 26 points in the clincher back home.

No. 5 Jimmy Butler (2016-17): He just kept getting better, and better, and better, and better. Butler’s 2016-17 campaign could arguably be higher in this bracket after he averaged 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists on a Bulls team that had no real business sniffing the playoffs. Butler put up career-best numbers virtually across the board for a fourth straight season, dropped a 52-point barrage on the Hornets in January and was named Third Team All-NBA. His clashes with head coach Fred Hoiberg, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah notwithstanding, he was the superstar Chicago basketball had been lacking in the post-Rose era.

No. 3 Joakim Noah (2013-14) vs. No. 6 Bob Love (1970-71)

No. 3 Joakim Noah (2013-14): If Noah was ‘just’ Defensive Player of the Year and ‘just’ an All-Star, this would still be worthy of one of the top seasons in Bulls history. He finished 4th in MVP voting, was 1st team All- NBA (one of four Bulls players in last 50 years to accomplish that), and put together one of the best offensive seasons of any big man in league history. Seriously, only five centers have ever averaged 12 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists per game for an entire season: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Bill Walton, and Noah. Heart, hustle, and muscle indeed.

No. 6 Bob Love (1970-71): We couldn’t leave out Butterbean. Love was a tank during the 1970-71 season, averaging 25.2 points and 8.5 rebounds while averaging 43.0 minutes per game. He was named an All-Star, but perhaps more importantly helped the Bulls to their first 50-win season, which also happened to be their first winning season (51-31). And though the Bulls lost in seven games to the Bucks that postseason, Love averaged an NBA-best 26.7 points while sitting six minutes the entire series. Love spent nine seasons in Chicago and sits third on the all-time franchise scoring list, behind only Michael and Scottie.


No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94) vs. No. 7 Artis Gilmore (1977-78)

No. 2 Scottie Pippen (1993-94): Yeah, well what would Scottie be without MJ? We found out that answer in 1993-94, when Pippen took the reins of the franchise as Jordan rode the Birmingham bus as a minor-league baseball player. Pippen responded with a sensational season, averaging 22.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists. He averaged 2.9 steals, shot 49 percent from the field and became a 3-point threat for the first time in his career. He was named First Team All-NBA and All-NBA Defensive First Team, and finished third to Hakeem and The Admiral in MVP voting. He averaged 22.8/8.3/4.6 in the postseason but ultimately proved it was easier to win in the spring with MJ by his side. Still, this individual season was one of the franchise’s best, if not the best. Hardware isn’t everything.

No. 7 Artis Gilmore (1977-78): An ABA legend who made the All-Star Game his first five seasons, Gilmore was just as good in the NBA. In his second season with the Bulls he averaged 22.9 points, 13.1 rebounds and shot 56 percent from the field – no one in the league accomplished that. Gilmore was snubbed for All-NBA honors but did make the All-Defensive Second Team (along with teammate Norm Van Lier). His 2.2 blocks led the Bulls and were sixth in the league. Gilmore would make three more All-Star appearances for the Bulls, but his 1978 campaign will go down as his best in the NBA.