Bulls: Jimmy Butler's past won't be too far out of sight


Bulls: Jimmy Butler's past won't be too far out of sight

The reality of Jimmy Butler never being able to escape his past came in a moment of levity during the announcement of his max contract signing with the Bulls, when a reporter’s deep voice sounded like the booming one from his previous coach.

“That sounded like Thibs for a second there,” Butler said.

Even Tom Thibodeau’s former combatant, Bulls GM Gar Forman, had to chuckle at the irony. But as the newfound wealth surrounds Butler, evidenced by his picture displayed on a screen outside the United Center on Madison and Wood, and having the entire NBA world know he’s deserving to be mentioned in the same breath as a Finals MVP (Kawhi Leonard) and Pacers swingman Paul George, Butler insists he won’t lose sight of his roots.

As he sat on a dais in a VIP room inside the renovating United Center, his college coach, Marquette’s Buzz Williams was 15 feet to Butler’s left, proud but not satisfied with the player who turned out to be his biggest recruit a handful of years ago.

“It’s not about the deal anymore. Let’s get toward your legacy,” Williams said. “That’s the thing that get misconstrued. He was the first player who signed. He sent his national letter of intent from a McDonalds. That doesn’t sound good so nobody talks about it.”

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What Butler did talk about was a text message he received from Williams early Thursday morning, hours before he was to sign a contract that would provide him wealth and security beyond his wildest dreams, telling him that Forman has signed far better players than Butler, a playful reminder of how far he has to go.

Not far from Williams was his trainer, Chris Johnson, a man who quit his job with the Houston Rockets to work almost exclusively with Butler on his game and his body, keeping him in tip-top shape.

Not long after that text message from Williams, Johnson was running Butler through a strenuous workout, the first of two they would have Wednesday, on the third day of a five-day workout set they’ll have this week.

“If there’s 10 stages to his potential, he’s at about a stage three,” Johnson said afterwards. Confident comments to be sure, but best believe the hard-driving Johnson won’t allow Butler to forget where he came from or how far he has yet to go.

“We feel it’s a big win for both sides,” Forman said. “He’s getting a max contract that he’s worked for. He’s earned it. We’re getting one of the better two-way players in the NBA.”

Butler developed into that last season, after he and the Bulls couldn’t agree on a contract extension that would’ve been a bargain in hindsight. Turning down an eight-figure contract showed Butler’s ability to bet on himself, but given his hardscrabble past, some sleepless nights were sure to follow before he proved himself.

“I was extremely nervous and I talked to everybody about it,” Butler said. “But I was confident enough to know the work I put in last summer, where my place would be in the league and on this team. I had to prove myself and I felt I did a great job this season.”

“Everybody” being his two brothers, Jermaine and Ifeanyi, Johnson his trainer and his agent, Happy Walters. The season that ensued couldn’t have turned out better for the man who won the award for being the Most Improved Player, and he came back to the bargaining table with every possible chip in his favor.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Jimmy Butler jersey]

And if the rumors about Butler wanting out were to be believed, he showed his effective business sense in signing a long-term deal, not long after the Bulls were perhaps spooked enough by the threat of Butler leaving by giving him a maximum offer sheet, essentially limiting his options, preventing other teams from coming in to swoop down to present Butler with a deal containing early termination options.

“He never wavered, and said he wanted to be in Chicago,” Forman said. “We were always very confident Jimmy would return to the Bulls. When July 1 came and we gave him the max qualifying offer, that showed our commitment to him, how much we believed in him and how important he was to our future.”

And Butler is critical to the present. As much as the Bulls have been caught up by other franchises this summer, losing Butler would’ve been a death knell to the “right now”.

“I know where I wanted to be,” Butler said. “I knew I was wanted and that’s all anybody wanted, was to be wanted.”

As Butler enters the next phase of his basketball career, he won’t be hard-pressed to find a few in his corner who’ll remind him of how great he isn’t and how far he has to go: Johnson and Williams will make sure of that.

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games


Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East


Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.