Wake-up calls at 5 a.m. for summer workouts in San Diego forged camaraderie between Jimmy Butler and the visiting Doug McDermott, but it didn’t stop Butler from incessantly trash talking his teammate in Bulls practice, leading McDermott to believe Butler forgot whose side he’s ultimately on.
“It didn't feel like he was on our team for a second,” McDermott said. “Talking crap to all of us. That's just kind of the way he is. He has a completely different mindset. He really wants to win. It's been really obvious the first few days of practice.”
Whether it’s showing little to no mercy on poor McDermott on the defensive end or showing off even more improvement on the offensive end, Butler is making good on his word that his new maximum contract would only make him work harder as opposed to relaxing.
“I knew Jimmy was good (before). But he’s been awesome,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s so strong right now. He’s in great shape and another guy where the amount of work he put in in the summer is paying off.
“He’s probably in the best shape of anybody out here. He’s all over the floor, offensively, defensively. There aren’t a lot of two-way players in this league but he’s definitely one of them.”
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Who knows where Butler ranks in the hierarchy of two-way swingmen in the class of a healthy Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, but it’s clear he’s not resting on the laurels of having two significant jumps in his game in the first four years.
It wasn’t long ago when the Bulls balked at giving Butler a nearly $50 million deal in camp this time last year, unsure of whether he could improve enough as a consistent offensive weapon.
But now, Hoiberg is openly stating he believes Butler has yet another leap to go, after last season’s leap that netted him an All-Star appearance and discussion among the league’s top 20 players.
“I think so. In talking to him, he wants to add to his game,” Hoiberg said. “Every offseason, he’s in here working on stepbacks, one-footers, runners. His 3-ball looks great right now. He’s such a well-rounded player. And when you have a guy who has that type of drive and desire and work ethic, he’ll continue to get better.”
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Being impressive in the first couple days of training camp certainly differs from doing it when the lights are brightest, but Butler has made quite the impression on his coach and teammates.
McDermott came to San Diego to train with Butler for a couple weeks, under the watchful eye of Butler’s trainer, Chris Johnson. It appears to be another step in the maturation of a player now validated but not spoiled by stardom, becoming more vocal on an everyday basis.
“I know going into this camp he really talked a lot about that,” Hoiberg said. “With the amount of veteran guys we have, we should be able to lead by committee with this group. That’s something he wanted to do going into this camp.”
And even if it’s playing point guard, as Butler is wont to do, Hoiberg won’t set any limits on the player who came into camp clearly on a mission.
“He has the confidence,” Hoiberg said. “There’s no doubt about that. You can put him anywhere on the floor and he can make plays, make baskets. So, yeah, if he’s got that feeling, we do as well.”