Bulls

Jimmy Butler: 'Hopefully I’m not going to get traded'

Jimmy Butler: 'Hopefully I’m not going to get traded'

NEW ORLEANS — Every All-Star isn’t created equal, even by the slimmest of margins as the best 24 NBA players take their turn on the midseason stage.

So Jimmy Butler being announced among the first five as an All-Star starter had to represent some form of validation, now that he’s not a novice at the whole experience and he’s able to go through the motions of the hectic weekend without breaking much of a sweat.

But despite being a three-time All-Star and routinely mentioned as one of the game’s top 15 players or even top 10, he can’t shake the trade rumors that have seemed to follow him since this time last season.

As he finished up his All-Star experience at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, clarity was nowhere to be found—although heading to some tropical island for a couple days to actually unwind with clear water and warm air seemed to be the best therapy if he’s stressed by the uncertainty of the next few days.

“What’s Thursday? Oh, trade deadline,” Butler said. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Am I anxious? Come on, man. I don’t worry about it. It don’t bother or scare me none.”

“Hopefully I’m not going to get traded but I don’t know. I don’t control that. Control what I can control, like going on vacation.”

Surely it has to be frustrating for a guy who’s elevated his game yet again, averaging 24.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.8 steals for the Bulls in 51 games. But he refuses to let it damper his All-Star spirits, playing with some of the best players in the world and a few guys he calls friends, like DeAndre Jordan and Kevin Durant.

“Not for me,” said Butler of the potential stress. “Not saying I’m untradeable but I don’t think about that. If I’m not in a Bulls uniform, I’ll give you a hug and say goodbye to you.”

Moments after Butler made his statement in the media room, the floodgates opened for the trade market as fellow Olympian DeMarcus Cousins was traded from the Sacramento Kings to the New Orleans Pelicans for what seemed to be mere fodder, pennies on the dollar for the most talented center in the NBA.

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While Cousins is far more of a handful than Butler could be, the trade almost signals a consistent truth that always bears repeating—that short of a select few, anybody can be traded.

Even a franchise altering talent like Cousins, who was traded to the city he was physically in for All-Star weekend, and included in the package of players was a guy who hit him in the groin last week (Buddy Hield), resulting in a Cousins outburst and ejection.

Butler has made his name with the Bulls, although not necessarily on the All-Star stage, a player who values defense and doesn’t have as much flash as some of the game’s shinier players.

With a six-point outing in 20 minutes, Butler was an on-court afterthought despite being a starter for the first time.

“Six? Should’ve gone for eight,” he sarcastically deadpanned.

In a relatively jovial mood through the weekend, Butler joked about the talk surrounding him and tried to brush it off as mere chatter as opposed to the franchise not seeing enough in him to make a firm commitment for the long-term, as the Boston Celtics are always hovering.

League sources expect the Celtics to engage the Bulls in conversations for the next few days, but nobody has a great feel for what either side is truly looking for.

But as Butler insisted, he’s only controlling what he can control, which is making himself a fixture for All-Star games to come as opposed to some of the first-timers who don’t know if they’ll get back here again.

“I think I got two underneath my belt,” Butler said. “I know what they’re feeling the first time, It’s so surreal like maybe I do belong here. That’s how I was thinking. Now it’s how do I get here every year? I think that’s the fun part, that’s the challenge. A lot of those guys have done it 10-plus years, hopefully I’m one.”

The only question seems to be, which uniform will it be in because the crazy season has begun.

 

Assessing Zach LaVine's chances in race for NBA All-Star reserve spot

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USA Today

Assessing Zach LaVine's chances in race for NBA All-Star reserve spot

Zach LaVine is making his All-Star push.

In the Bulls’ past 33 contests, LaVine is averaging 28 points per game on 45.6-40.4-83.5 shooting splits, with historic performances against Charlotte (49 points, 13 3-pointers), Cleveland (44 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists; 42 points, 21 in the fourth quarter) and more. His current stat line of 25.2 points per game on 44.3% shooting, 38.8% from 3-point range and 19.7 field goal attempts per has only been achieved by once over a full season in Bulls franchise history — I’ll let you guess who did it

He's been sensational and has won the Bulls a handful of games near single-handedly. But will it all culminate in an appearance in his first career All-Star nod? That question looms over Chicago with the city set to host All-Star weekend for the first time since 1988. 

We already know LaVine won’t be a starter — that much was decided on Jan. 23, when the East’s top five of Kemba Walker, Trae Young, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Pascal Siakam and Joel Embiid was announced. With the rest of the rosters set to be filled out this coming Thursday (Jan. 30), let’s take a realistic look at how LaVine stacks up against a crowded pool of candidates for seven reserve spots (which coaches will ultimately vote on):

The Locks

The guys with pretty much no chance of being excluded from the team. These are worth getting out of the way, so as to pare the competition down to who LaVine supporters should focus their attention on, and also offer a realistic look at how many spots are truly — albeit unofficially — up for grabs:

Ben Simmons, G: Simmons could have easily cracked the starting lineup, and I don’t think anyone would have complained. 16-8-8. Fifth in assists per game. League-leader in steals per game. And the Sixers are 6-3 since Joel Embiid went down in early January (30-17 overall), with wins over the Celtics and Lakers.

Khris Middleton, G: The Bucks are building an argument as one of the best regular season teams of all time with an unprecedented +12.6 point differential and +12.1 net rating. Middleton, averaging 19.4 points and 5.8 rebounds on nearly 50-40-90 splits (49.8-41.9-89.1) is far and away their second best player, and allows them to not just survive, but continue to flourish in non-Giannis minutes. Milwaukee needs two in there, and he’s their Robin.

Jimmy Butler, F: Not Butler’s best shooting season, but he brings All-Defense level intensity every night, is posting 20-7-6 averages and is the unquestioned leader of a Miami Heat team that has surged to a 32-14 record, second in the East. Book it.

Bam Adebayo, F/C: Adebayo has blossomed into a uniquely skilled two-way player this season — he’s currently second among centers in assists per game (4.8) and third in steals (1.1), while also averaging a double-double and 1.1 blocks per contest. He’s a wrecking ball down low and on the perimeter. The numbers are outstanding, yet still don’t do him justice.

The Favorites

With four of seven spots gone before you can say ‘NBA Stats’ we move on to guys that seem likely to nab a spot, but aren’t ‘stake-my-life-on-it’ level locks.

Domantas Sabonis, F/C: If you subscribe to the belief that the great and/or overachieving teams of the league need at least one selection, the Pacers, who are currently 30-17 without Victor Oladipo, certainly qualify. And Sabonis has been their best player; an offensive hub (18.1 ppg, 4.6 ast) and menace on the glass (12.8 reb) of a different era. He should almost certainly be a shoo-in.

Jayson Tatum, F: If Boston (30-15) is to get two All-Stars, Tatum’s case feels more compelling than Jaylen Brown’s. Averages of 21.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals on star volume (and respectable enough efficiency) pass the sniff test when considering the Celtics’ net rating plummets from +11.1 (112.9 ORtg; 101.8 DRtg) to -1.2 (106.3 ORtg; 107.5 DRtg) when he sits.

The Rest

Here’s where LaVine lies, and the competition remains stiff.

Kyle Lowry, G: The defending champion Raptors have hardly skipped a beat since losing Kawhi Leonard and Lowry is among the biggest reasons why. He's playing 37 minutes per game, ranks second on his team in scoring and is the unquestioned leader of a 32-14 squad that would only have one All-Star if he doesn’t make it. It hasn’t been his most efficient shooting season, but his two-way ability and all-around game (7.3 ast, 4.5 reb, 1.2 stl per) set him apart.

Malcolm Brogdon, G: Brogdon is a cool 17 and 7 every night, and a staple to that aforementioned, pleasant-surprise Pacers team. He’s a winning basketball player and is absolutely deserving (as all of these people are, frankly), but with just 33 games played this season, he’s probably a half-step below Lowry, Beal and LaVine.

Bradley Beal, G: Talk about an All-Star push — Beal is averaging 35.8 points and 6.3 assists per game on 59.6% shooting over his last four games, bringing his season averages up to 28.1 points and 6.3 assists on 45.4-31.4-84 splits. Staggering numbers. He’s on a ‘bad team’ (the Wizards are 15-30) but so is LaVine. Beal’s two prior All-Star appearances boost his cache, as well.

Derrick Rose, G: Great story. But at 26.6 minutes per game and on a 17-31 team, he simply doesn’t carry the load or impact winning like some of these guys.

Jaylen Brown, G: He’s been tremendous this season, but 41.9% shooting in January drops him a touch below Tatum as the Celtics’ No. 2. They’re probably not getting three.

Kyrie Irving/Spencer Dinwiddie, G: On here as a formality. Irving has played just 17 games this season, and despite gaudy scoring numbers, coaches likely won’t show out for him the way fans did. Dinwiddie has tapered off since a torrid start to the season — he’d be a good story, but doesn’t stack up. 

Andre Drummond, C: Another formality. Not quite there.

The Verdict

Assuming six of the seven spots are filled by the above locks and favorites, that leaves LaVine to contend for one opening with ‘the rest.’ And of ‘the rest’ the most compelling cases are certainly Lowry, Beal and Brogdon. Here’s how all compare statistically:

Lowry: 1,296 minutes (37 per); 20 points, 7.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals; 40.9% FG, 34.3% 3P; 23.1% usage rate; 4.5 win shares

Beal: 1,347 minutes (35.4 per); 28.1 points, 6.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 1 steals; 45.4% FG, 31.4% 3P; 32.6% usage rate; 2.9 win shares

Brogdon: 994 minutes (30.1 per); 17.1 points, 7.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 0.7 steals; 43.9% FG, 34.3% 3P; 26.4% usage rate; 2.7 win shares

LaVine: 1,677 minutes (34.2 per); 25.2 points, 3.9 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals; 44.3% FG, 38.8% 3P; 31.7% usage rate; 3.8 win shares

Lowry’s case stands out as someone carrying a heavy load on both ends of the floor for a contending team. Brogdon’s minutes disparity looms large. LaVine and Beal’s high usages (LaVine is second in the league in total minutes) and prolific scoring are notable. And in spite of the Bulls’ 19-30 record, it’s hard to say LaVine hasn’t impacted winning — he’s eighth among qualified players in the NBA in fourth quarter scoring (7.1 points per) and fifth in fourth quarter usage (35.7%) without a drop in efficiency shooting the ball.

Still, if I’m being objective (and predictive), Lowry is the call — he profiles simliarly to Butler as a proven player leading a great team with solid enough stats. LaVine vs. Beal is a toss-up, with the hometown advantage working in LaVine’s favor and reputation working in Beal’s. From here, though, the reserves are for the coaches to determine.

The Loophole

If LaVine doesn’t get in straight up (probable, though not definitive), there is always a chance he could squeak in via injury replacement. If any selected players are unable to participate, NBA commissioner Adam Silver selects their understudy.

Tatum is currently batting a groin ailment — he’s missed the Celtics’ last two games and is doubtful for their impending matchup with Miami — but doesn’t yet seem in danger of sitting through the All-Star break. Embiid (torn ligament in left hand) has missed the Sixers’ last nine games, but is now listed as questionable on the team’s injury report, a sign that he is near a return. (That's not to root for anyone's harm, just an update.)

So, while LaVine’s chances at his first All-Star berth are more realistic than some might think, it will still be an uphill battle. Bulls fans can only hope opposing teams’ head coaches are in the mood for a bit of home-cooking this February.

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Remembering Kobe Bryant

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AP

Bulls Talk Podcast: Remembering Kobe Bryant

In a heartfelt and emotional episode of the Bulls Talk podcast, Jason Goff is joined by NBC Sports Bulls insider KC Johnson and Bulls writer Rob Schaefer to discuss and remember the late great Kobe Bryant.

(1:20) - Feelings when the news were confirmed

(14:52) - Favorite memory of Kobe

(28:10) - Kobe and Michael Jordan

(35:50) - We don't get to see the victory lap of Kobe in life

(46:00) - Post NBA Kobe was going to be great

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Bulls Talk Podcast

Subscribe:

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.