Jimmy Butler’s postgame comments about Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg will be met with some shock and likely some criticism for how it came out.
But it indicates Butler is ready to take on a different role for the franchise, one that could be necessary in the coming years.
"I believe in the guys in this locker room, yeah," Butler said to reporters in New York after the Bulls’ loss to the Knicks on Saturday night. "But I also believe that we probably have to be coached a lot harder at times. I'm sorry, I know Fred's a laid-back guy, and I really respect him for that, but when guys aren't doing what they're supposed to do, you got to get on guys, myself included. You got to do what you're supposed to do when you're out there playing basketball."
Did he say Hoiberg couldn’t coach or the franchise made a mistake with his hiring? No, he didn’t.
He also wasn't campaigning for management to bring back Tom Thibodeau and all the drama that came with it.
Butler isn’t a player who’s been coddled or someone who was projected as a star at every turn. He’s turned into a max player because he poked and prodded at his limits while being poked and prodded by influential figures who brought out the best in him at that time (Buzz Williams at Marquette, Thibodeau in Chicago).
He’s a worker, a grinder in every sense.
Butler is a great player, and great players at every level of sport want to be coached. They know they don’t know everything, and there are times when the effort or concentration isn’t up to par.
Great players don’t mind being held to that standard, even through gritted teeth and rolled eyes, because of what’s waiting on the back end of that foul language.
This doesn’t look like a max player who’s now feeling himself deciding to make it known he’s the new sheriff in town, as some will make it appear to be.
Fans have longed for a player of his caliber to show the emotional investment to the results in the way they do with their pocketbook and their voices on various mediums.
Being upset that it comes from Butler dilutes that thought, or believing this hasn’t been simmering for quite some time. One can probably surmise Butler has been holding this frustration in for quite awhile, and that he’s so invested in the franchise he could no longer find it tolerable.
Butler has entered the strata where he’s put in the work to make his voice heard, and shouldn’t apologize for it, no matter what he says Monday before the Bulls’ next game against the Brooklyn Nets.
For all the personnel changes that will likely take place over the next couple of years, Butler will be the constant, a rock of consistency whose thoughts will matter at all levels of hierarchy.
What Butler has done, besides ruffle a few feathers above and below him, is take the next step in what a franchise player should do. Butler is pointing out problems as he sees it, even as the team is winning at a decent clip.
Isn’t that essentially what management and ownership did with Thibodeau? The Bulls were winning, enough to be one of the top five teams in the league during his tenure but people didn’t like the “how.”
His grinding style, the way he wasn’t as diplomatic and couldn’t play nice with Gar Forman and John Paxson.
Butler isn’t so concerned with the record as he is the “how:" Some guys breaking off plays to do their own thing, disrupting the rhythm of what’s trying to be developed and what’s worse, seeing the actions go unchecked by the head coach.
“It's not even about being coached a certain way for five years," Butler said. "It's making everybody do their job. We weren't doing what we were supposed to be doing, what we wrote up on that board before the game, and nobody spoke up about it. I did probably not enough times, but I think that he has to hold everybody accountable. From the No. 1 player all the way down to however many guys we got.”
Isn’t that what you’d want from a franchise player, someone who embraces the responsibility of what’s going on and saying, “This isn’t good enough?"
Perhaps with Thibodeau’s looming presence over the years there wasn’t room for a voice to be developed in the locker room. But now Hoiberg doesn’t carry himself that way. It’s more understated, more subtle.
He’s figuring things out, for sure, and neither Butler nor anyone should think the Hoiberg who’s here 25 games into Year 1 will be the same Hoiberg he’ll be in Year 2 or Year 3. As much as he’s been a part of a front office in Minneapolis to locker rooms in various stops as a player, his most recent experience is as a college coach, where he operated as a CEO more than a daily taskmaster.
Thibodeau cast a very large shadow during his time in Chicago. Not because of his booming personality or charisma, but his ability to produce results without the panache.
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Hoiberg has been very deferential to the success Thibodeau enjoyed in the five years while trying to change the identity of the team on the floor. It’s hard to tiptoe the line between respect and stepping out of your predecessor’s shadow, and it could’ve played a part in his soft-pedaling of players in the locker room.
Make no mistake, Hoiberg can’t change his stripes and turn into a Thibodeau clone overnight because that’s not what this franchise needs. And players can sense a fraud a mile away with coaches, they can see within a millisecond if a guy’s full of it or being himself.
All it takes is for Hoiberg to bench or get on one player of substance for a screw-up, maybe even if it’s Butler, to show the players there are consequences to things not being done the way it was laid out to be.
A message has been sent from the Bulls’ best player, who’s finding his voice whether you like it or not, and will continue to voice his observations because he’s earned it.
Now it’s on Hoiberg to use a voice he already has, because he’s earned it with his title and backing from the front office.
And 15 eyes in the locker room are on him, as well as everywhere else.