Bulls

Jimmy Butler 'happy' for Tom Thibodeau, puts blame of season on 'my shoulders'

Jimmy Butler 'happy' for Tom Thibodeau, puts blame of season on 'my shoulders'

The news about former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau agreeing to terms with the Minnesota Timberwolves to coach and take over its basketball operations had already made its way to Jimmy Butler, who became an all-star under Thibodeau’s watch.

Thibodeau was controversially fired from the Bulls last spring after five seasons, and it took him less than a year to get another job—along with a substantial raise and the power that comes with having final say over personnel.

“I have heard about Thibs, I knew it would come up sooner or later,” said Butler at the grand opening of Bonobos guideshop in downtown Chicago. “I’m happy. I’m happy for that guy. I’m not surprised, not at all. We’ll see what he does over there.”

Butler developed from a late first-round pick in 2012 to a player who received a maximum contract last offseason, and admitted it was tough and demanding to play for the former coach.

“A little bit of both. He knows what he’s doing,” Butler said. “Very smart, he knows the game, he’s a winner, he’ll do whatever it takes to win. I wish him the best of luck. But I’m a Chicago Bull, so we gotta go against those guys.”

Thibodeau will take over a franchise that has arguably the best collection of young talent in the NBA, headlined by Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, with pundits already penciling in the Timberwolves to be amongst the living this time next season, in the playoffs.

[MORE: Goodwill joins Pro Basketball Talk podcast to talk Bulls]

Thibodeau led the Bulls to the playoffs in each of his five seasons, but when they fired him and replaced him with Fred Hoiberg, an up-and-down season ensued, leading to the Bulls missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Butler, as he’s done through the season, said the Bulls’ underachieving starts with him.

“I think it starts with myself,” he said. “If I can make this team win, and do whatever it takes every single night, I can take it.”

“I put it on my shoulders, I’m the reason we didn’t make the playoffs. And I’m fine with that. I’m not happy with it but I’m fine with it. Because  it’s only gonna make me stronger, make me better. Moving forward, I have to be able to make us win enough games to be able to make the playoffs.”

Butler’s numbers improved, one year after being named Most Improved Player, and he repeated as an All-Star. But it wasn’t enough to keep the Bulls afloat, as they experienced an eight-game dropoff from last season.

“I feel that way because I wasn’t consistent enough,” Butler said. “I had good games, I had average games, I had decent games and I had some terrible games. I don’t wanna have terrible and decent games. Averages games can get us over the hump but really good ones can help us win.”

Of course, Butler was queried about the ongoing uneasy pairing between himself and Derrick Rose in the Bulls’ backcourt, repeating the two will work out together over the summer to build more on-court chemistry, but playfully dismissed rumors of discord.

“When we lose, it’s always a problem,” Butler said. “You gotta find something to talk about. It’s a great story (but) it has nothing to do with it. Yeah, we’ll work out together, figure out ways to co-exist. I think we did a great job of it this year, yeah we were injured but that wasn’t an excuse. We always have enough to win, and moving forward if we’re healthy, we’re nice.”

Bobby Portis happy with sixth-man role as extension deadline hovers

Bobby Portis happy with sixth-man role as extension deadline hovers

A reserve role suits Bobby Portis so much that his already-wide eyes got bigger when the prospect of entering a season with a defined role was broached following the Bulls’ first practice.

Wide eyes like when he pops off the bench nearing the halfway point of the first quarter. Wide eyes like when he knows shots are coming his way, and this year, those eyes are aiming for a Sixth Man of the Year award.

“It feels good,” Portis said, almost cutting off the query because he was so excited at the notion.

“It kind of made my summer easier. I knew I wasn’t fighting for a starting spot. I knew I wasn’t fighting for minutes. I just worked on my game the most I could and worked on that role.”

The start to his season was marred by his incident with Nikola Mirotic but that’s only the first line in Portis’ story as he developed and matured on the floor into a dependable contributor after languishing behind the likes of Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and Mirotic his first two seasons.

So pardon him if he cuts off a question to express his joy—he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder for the first time in a long time.

“Last year they said it was make or break for me,” Portis said. “Every year I guess is make or break. I’m having fun, enjoying my teammates, trying to be more of a leader this year, lead by example. Do all the little things.”

His 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds look fine, but even on a lottery team that wasn’t focused on winning Portis established himself as a core piece and a trophy of sorts for the front office as a mark for their player development program.

He went from a power forward who wasn’t athletic enough to a matchup nightmare as a backup center, coming off the bench to launch from any and everywhere, hitting 80 3-pointers at a 36 percent clip.

“I get to come off the bench and score a lot. Who doesn’t like to score the ball? That’s a fun gig,” Portis said. “Coach has trust in me to shoot the shots I want to shoot. It’s a fun gig to have.”

With Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker and Lauri Markkanen expected to have main roles as scorers, one has to wonder if Portis will be as needed offensively—and if he isn’t, the team-first approach will be put to the test.

But this is also someone who volunteered to go to the bench last year when he saw he wasn’t quite a great fit in the first five shortly after the All-Star break.

“We were experimenting with some different lineups,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “And after I think it was after the third game he started and he came and said ‘Coach, can you put me off the bench again?’ You don’t hear that very often at this level.”

That consistency, and Portis’ overall demeanor that can possibly play a big part in this faceless team developing a true identity has led to Portis and the front office entering into discussions about a contract extension before he reaches restricted free agency.

The Bulls have until Oct. 15 to get a deal done with Portis, a prospect very much out of his hands. But the goal of being a sixth man is something very much in his hands, and should he become a top candidate it would surely mean the Bulls are in a better position than most expect.
Just in this decade alone, every award winner has played for a playoff team save for Lou Williams last season for the 42-40 L.A. Clippers.

“I really like that role,” Portis said. “I look at other guys around the league---Eric Gordon, Lou Will, guys like that. They come in and change the game. I feel I can do that for this club. It’s fun doing that.”

23 Days to Opening Night: The Greatest of All-Time

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AP

23 Days to Opening Night: The Greatest of All-Time

Need we say more?

There isn’t a number more synonymous with greatness in basketball - and maybe in all of sports - than No. 23.

We’d list of all M.J.’s accomplishments but there isn’t enough room, even on the internet.

All we know is no Bulls player (or Heat player) will ever don the No. 23 uniform again.

And honestly, once LeBron James retires, it’d be pretty cool to see the NBA retire the number for good. Now we’re just getting nostalgic. No. 23 is No. 1.