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.”

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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.”

Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again


Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again

Jimmy Butler is in hot water with the Wades ... again.

Maybe not really, but the two former Bulls teammates exchanged pleasantries on Instagram after Butler commented on a photo Dwyane Wade's wife Gabrielle Union posted poolside, saying: "WELL DAMN!!"

Wade, a three-time all-defensive second team, came to his wife's defense when Butler posted a video the next day with the caption: "The good, the bad, and the ugly...", prompting Wade to respond: "Put well damn in caps on my wife photo again and you're gonna see what the good, the bad and the ugly is like."

*Mic drop*

It appears this won't affect Butler getting an invite to the next get together. Or so he hopes...

"Well that escalated quickly," Butler responded to Wade. "Point noted.. I'm still coming to the bbq tho 😂😂😂"

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

Lauri Markkanen has been making headlines this offseason, mostly for bulking up considerably, and making appearances around Chicago at Nike camps and Jabari Parker’s camp, but as the season nears, his on-the-court exploits are starting to come up as well. On Thursday, Sports Illustrated put Lauri Markkanen on their list of five breakout candidates for the 2018-19 season

SI writer Michael Shapiro had this to say about Markkanen:

Markkanen has all the tools to be a future All-Star, and it looks as though he has the mindset, too. He seemed to take his matchup with Porzingis personally in early January, demanding the ball down the stretch en route to a career-high 33 points in a road victory. The Bulls enter 2018-19 on the outside of the East playoff picture, but Chicago is now home to the NBA’s newest unicorn.

High praise indeed for Markkanen, and well-deserved praise considering that he finished with a usage rate lower with the Bulls than his college stint at Arizona, yet still was able to have an impact on the Bulls. Shapiro mentioned Markkanen’s burgeoning off-the-dribble game as the skill that most stood out, and speaks to the Finnish big man’s All-Star potential. 

While the 21-year-old’s threes lived up to the hype, it was his prowess of the bounce that made the biggest impression. Markkanen showed a deft handle and array of canny fakes in the post, adding a mean streak to boot. The Finnisher lived up to his nickname, unafraid of contact and eager to fight for position in the post. The stereotype of the soft European big man doesn’t apply here.

The numbers back this up. 

Among the Bulls top 10 players in drives per game last season, Markkanen finished second in field percentage (on drives) at 46.1 percent. If that numbers rises, or more likely, Markkanen drives to the basket more, his scoring total will increase. And when it came to finishing around the paint in general, he shot  67.6 percent on shots from zero-to-three feet, making him the third best in that range out of the Bulls top nine rotation players last season. Yet among the same group of players, Markkanen ranked sixth in shot attempts from zero-to-three feet. With the presence of Wendell Carter Jr., and another year of internal growth from Bobby Portis- bigs that can stretch the floor -Markkanen should be the recipient of more plays putting him in a position to score around the basket.

On a roster that will surely give big minutes to Parker, Kris Dunn, Carter, Chandler Hutchison and a working-his-way-back to form Zach LaVine, Markkanen may be surest 3-point shooter on the floor. This means defenses will key in on his outside shot. If players are routinely closing out hard on Markkanen- as they should -this will open up more driving opportunities for the nimble seven-footer. 

The third or fourth season is usually when young players take the leap from good to great, but Markkanen will be playing with the most talented group of teammates he has ever been surrounded with. How he handles playing with this group will go a long way towards establishing what kind of player he will be in the future, specifically if he is an All-Star caliber talent. On the 2018-19 Bulls, someone will have to hover around a 20 percent usage rate, making them a clear third-option, whoever that player is, his last name should not be Markkanen.