Bulls

A happy, content, competitive Jimmy Butler is part of 'Heat culture' now

A happy, content, competitive Jimmy Butler is part of 'Heat culture' now

Jimmy Butler never wanted to leave the Bulls, who began their ongoing rebuild by trading him in June 2017.

He’s now three teams removed from that day and, this offseason, had his choice of where he wanted to go after trades to the Timberwolves and 76ers.

Butler chose the Heat.

“He always makes it a point about how the Bulls didn’t like us. One of our first conversations, I was like, ‘You underestimated how much we disliked you as a team,’” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday at the United Center. “I’m dead serious. We didn’t like them. They didn’t like us. That’s what you want in a playoff series, borne out of respect and high-level competition with type-A personalities going after each other.

“When you go through a couple series like that, you gain deep respect for what’s on the other side. When we were finally able to sign Luol Deng, that was something that grew out of respect.”

There’s a saying about 'Heat culture' that has existed since the days of the Pat Riley-coached teams centered around Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway that battled the dynasty-era Bulls. The rivalry intensified when Butler, Deng and company battled Spoelstra’s Big Three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

And you don’t need to see the Heat’s 10-3 record to know that culture fits Butler like a glove.

“It’s our whole organization. Everybody is around the work every day. Everybody is putting their time in,” Butler said Friday. “It just makes me smile because that’s what I do. I don’t got too much to say. It makes it fun because when you put in that much work, you’re not doing it for no reason. You’re doing it because you want to win.”

Butler, now in his ninth season, has been around long enough to know every season presents challenges and adversity at some point. Unsurprisingly, Butler raised that almost certain likelihood in unsolicited fashion.

“Everything is phenomenal now. Like I tell everybody, I’m happy, man. We’re winning. We’re competing at a high level. Organization is great — people around it, teammates,” Butler said. “I want to see what happens whenever it’s not going so well for us. I don’t want to lose two in a row or three in a row; don’t get me wrong. But whenever it isn’t the way that we want it to be, how are we going to respond? That’s going to be a test for myself and everybody else here.”

Given that Butler is this team’s unquestioned alpha dog and shares the same serious-minded competitiveness that Spoelstra does, you have to like the Heat’s chances to persevere. Butler joined an organization that, top to bottom, shares the same values as him.

“He has helped us win. We’ve been looking for a guy like this for awhile,” Spoelstra said. “He’s a competitive, two-way player. And he just knows how to impact winning.

“He’s a throwback player almost, just in terms of not caring about what his individual statistics are. He’ll impose his will when he needs to. If we need a 35-point game like we did in Phoenix, he’ll do that. But he’s distributing the ball. He’s playing effectively point guard for us in a role that I’ve had Dwyane and LeBron in before. He has gobbled all that up and really helped our young guys gain a lot of confidence.

“He has a tremendous work ethic. And I think he relates to the guys who can go toe-to-toe with him as far as work ethic and competitiveness.”

Spoelstra said Butler’s talent and competitiveness remind him of Wade, and the fact that his competitiveness doesn’t have an off-switch recalls Wade, Mourning and Udonis Haslem.

In other words, Butler is 'Heat culture' now.

“That’s why we say we try to get like-minded people who share your values and standards. He does,” Spoelstra said. “We speak the same language.”

Butler’s strong friendship with Wade began when both played for the Bulls. But even Butler called Wade a “Heat lifer.” And given that Butler is in the first of a four-year, $142 million deal with the Heat, he has the makings of forming a long-term relationship with the franchise he once disliked — but respected — as well.

“I got to do what’s best for me, my family and my people. I got to do what made me happy,” Butler said of choosing the Heat. “And, like I tell everybody, I’m happy. This place fits for me.”

Butler is 0-2 at the United Center as a visiting player, losing each game by one point. One came with the Timberwolves and one with the 76ers.

Other than saying he loves the Bulls’ ownership, which he called “incredible,” he said he doesn’t much follow the franchise’s fortunes anymore. He did notice how the Bulls on Wednesday honored Deng, whom Butler always credited as a mentor.

“I wish I could’ve been here as well. Lu taught me so much about the game and being a pro. I was very fortunate to be able to learn from him. He’s just an incredible, incredible human being,” Butler said. “I’m glad he got to go out here and they honored him here. He did a lot for this organization and obviously did a lot for me. In this organization, I was able to be around so many good people, him being at the top of the list.

“It’s always special to play here. This is where I started. This is when I was a kid at the age of 21. And I was fortunate to be able to play in front of these wonderful fans in this great city and obviously all the history that went on here with the players that I was able to play with. This is always home. I still have places here. I’m here throughout the summer all the time. I’ll always have love for this city. That will never change.”

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls lose to Warriors for 2nd time in 10 days

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USA TODAY

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls lose to Warriors for 2nd time in 10 days

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 100-98 loss to the Warriors

0:45 - Reaction to loss and Bulls losing to Warriors again

2:30 - On 4th quarter struggles

3:30 - On Zach LaVine’s game-winning shot attempt

5:20 - Viewer comments on Coby White starting

9:20 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine leads to Matt rant

10:20 - Viewer comment on Wendell Carter

12:10 - Viewer comment on Sato needing to be more aggressive

13:30 - Viewer comment on Luke Kornet

16:35 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine talking trash to Warriors

18:00 - On LaVine not being the issue

19:00 - On Otto Porter’s injury and being out indefinitely

22:10 - Viewer comment on Bulls being contenders

23:50 - Viewer comment asking why Matt is always angry

24:50 - Viewer asking Sabine how he feels about the Bears beating the Cowboys

26:20 - Which team is more likely to make playoffs, Bears or Bulls?

 Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

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Lauri Markkanen inspires, then fades in emblematic loss to Warriors

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USA Today

Lauri Markkanen inspires, then fades in emblematic loss to Warriors

When Lauri Markkanen is on, it's inspired. And he was 'on' in the first half of the Bulls' eventual 100-98 loss to the league-worst (entering the night) 4-19 Warriors. 

In fact, there were stretches when it appeared he just might save the Bulls from their second (second!) loss of the season to Golden State.

See: the opening five minutes of the second quarter. The Warriors, trailing 28-23 at the end of the first period, were on a 16-5 run. You could call it a spurt, but it felt more like an avalanche. The Bulls' bench had gone cold, Ky Bowman and Omari Spellman were raining hellfire and the United Center was despondent.

Then, Markkanen awoke. It all started on a pick-and-pop action between Markkanen and Denzel Valentine. With the Warriors flat-footed and scrambling to rotate, Markkanen reeled in a bounce-pass from Valentine at the top of the key and rifled a side-armed bullet to Daniel Gafford, awaiting free and clear in the paint. This is a delightful play, and a rare one for Markkanen this season:

Two straight 3-pointers (one on another pick-and-pop possession in concert with Zach LaVine) followed that, then a cutting dunk to knot the game 41-41. Markkanen finished the half leading the game in points (17), field goals made and attempted (shooting 7-for-11) and 3-pointers, on which he was 3-for-6. The Bulls were ahead 51-50. Too close for comfort, yes, (especially for this team) but in the moment, that Markkanen sequence felt like a true leadership moment. He was carrying the team.

Zach LaVine, after all, hadn't scored until the under two minutes until the half.

"I was getting good looks, my teammates were finding me, and I was getting to the rim," Markkanen said. "No matter how they were guarding me, we found something that worked for us."

Markkanen then proceeded to not score for over 25 minutes of game action, totaling three points in the second half on 1-for-6 shooting. After the game, Jim Boylen was unsure of what exactly changed for Markkanen of the second, but the taste in his mouth was evidently sour.

"I don't know. I mean, sometimes people adjust? They adjust to a guy who's got it going and they change. Sometimes the ball doesn't go in," Boylen said. "That's the game."

Boylen added that he liked the look Markkanen got on a 3-pointer late in the fourth that, at the time, tied the game 97-97. It was the only shot Markkanen made after the 4:48 mark of the second quarter.

"The team goes on spurts," Markkanen offered as explanation. "We go on little runs and they go on runs. That's how the game is, and I feel like we did a good job feeding the hot guy. When Zach got going in the second half, we did the same thing, so... I think that's part of it."

LaVine scored 21 of his 22 points in the game over a seven-minute stretch between the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third. For the third time this season (and second time in three games), LaVine and Markkanen each tallied 20 points. It rang hollow.

So did the team's end-of-fourth-quarter execution, an area they excelled in over the two-game win streak they rode into this one. LaVine, again, controlled the majority of the team's crunch-time possessions, but this time, the team fell short — mustering only 15 points in the final period.

"We could've executed, not turned the ball over," Markkanen said. "Simple plays. Obviously everybody's going to look at the last play, but it's not about that. We had some good looks before that that we gotta make the plays that we need to finish the game off."

Markkanen committed two turnovers and bricked a forced, late-shot clock jumper in the final two minutes. "I could have done a better job making the plays I needed," he conceded.

The Bulls go as LaVine and Markkanen do, and their stilted play tonight reflected the team's oft-polarizing offense. After two games of fresher air, Markkanen — 'back' for a half, a leader on the floor — ultimately took one step back.

"You know, that's part of the learning," Boylen said. "People adjust in the second half to what you did in the first, and you gotta adjust again."

What that adjustment will be remains to be seen.