Jimmy Butler tap dances around ESPN report of contract issues with Bulls

Jimmy Butler tap dances around ESPN report of contract issues with Bulls

OKLAHOMA CITY — Jimmy Butler’s been embroiled in too much controversy over the past few days to start another media fire, so engaging in some tap dancing that would make the late Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines proud was on the menu Wednesday morning.

Butler was asked about a story told from ESPN Radio host Ryen Russillo about the season before Butler signed his max contract with the Bulls, claiming the Bulls front office threatened to play Tony Snell over Butler during the year to depress his market value as Butler was heading into restricted free agency.

Russillo was telling the story in response to the recent Bulls drama over the past week, saying there’s a level of distrust from Butler to the Bulls and it stems from the contentious negotiations.

“Somebody said that? Wow... Really? You heard that, too?” queried Butler before Dwyane Wade chimed in, saying “Yeah, I heard that (story from Russillo), too.”

Butler was asked about his relationship with the front office in general — something that’s been a topic of discussion as his name has been in trade talks or at least the rumor mill.

“It's good. They're my bosses,” Butler said. “We talk like men if I have a problem, if they have a problem; we talk like we're supposed to. I think it's very professional.”

If there is any contention as Russillo claims, it could’ve started following the 2013-14 season where Butler first started to make waves as a solid “3 and D” player, where he averaged 13.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and nearly two steals for the Bulls.

Butler wasn’t going to give the story any validity, but didn’t give a full denial, either.

Enter the tap shoes, as Butler had a coy smile when telling the story.

“I'll tell it to you like this. That s**t happened so long ago I didn't think it was a matter of anything,” Butler said. “We went into contract negotiations. I said I would hoop and play the year out. I did that, had a decent little year. We won't go into detail about what was said, what wasn't said, it's not anybody's business.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Butler and the Bulls were at an impasse of sorts, with Butler willing to take a four-year deal worth $48 million and the Bulls’ offer topping off at $44 million. So according to Russillo, the Bulls threatened Butler with the notion of playing Snell, who was coming into his second season after being the 20th pick in the 2013 draft.

Russillo said the front office went to then-coach Tom Thibodeau with it, but with the front office and Thibodeau already nearing separation, Thibodeau used playing Butler as a way to get back at general manager Gar Forman and John Paxson.

Whether the Thibodeau part is true or not is hard to say, but it isn’t difficult to see a front office going that route.

Butler took his game to another level in 2014-15, winning the Most Improved Player award, becoming the Bulls’ best player and making the All-Star team for the first time.

He signed a five-year deal worth $95 million in the summer of 2015, after Thibodeau was fired.

“We got a deal done, I thought it was a fair deal. That's that,” Butler said. “But for anybody to say this or say that...I don't know. To tell you the truth, I don't remember what went on. My agent was in there handling the majority of it. And then, my main thing was to just worry about basketball so I can't tell you what was said or what wasn't. One, because it was so long ago, and two, because it ain't y'all business anyways.”

While Snell struggled through the next two seasons and was traded to Milwaukee in the preseason for Michael Carter-Williams, Butler has made another jump, elevating himself to a Top 15 or Top 10 player, depending on who you ask.

He was asked if he shocked the front office with his play and development over the last four years.

“You couldn't say I would pan out this way. I couldn't say that either,” Butler said. “I just work hard. Crazy part is I think I can still surprise them even more because I continue to work. Continue to be myself, do what's asked of me. Do what I can to the best of my ability. Yeah, they were shocked, surprised, excited for me and the future. But nobody could see this coming.”

Options if the Bulls trade down: Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura

Options if the Bulls trade down: Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura

On draft night, there is a decent possibility that the Bulls front office looks at their draft board and collectively decide that they can get a player with No. 7 pick value later in the first round. They could be inclined to feel this way more than in most years due to the 2019 draft class being such a toss up after the top three picks. If the Bulls traded down in the draft, I am assuming they would be netting a valuable future first-round pick, likely with some minimal protections. In this series, we will be looking at prospects the Bulls could take should they trade down in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Rui Hachimura per The Stepien:

71 percent at the rim

44.2 percent on short midrange

47.6 percent on long midrange

52.1 percent on NBA 3s (12/23)

Boylen talked a ton this season about “toughness” being a key tenet of the new Bulls culture moving forward. The idea of that “toughness” didn’t translate on the court heavily, though the Bulls did improve slightly in rebound rate under Boylen.

From the time for Boylen took over, the Bulls ranked 14th in defensive rebound rate and 25th in total rebound rate, up from 16th and 28th respectively under Hoiberg. Those numbers are a bit of smoke-and-mirrors with all the factors at play this past (weird) Bulls season.

But Boylen did have a much heavier focus on generating points inside first, with the team ranking third in the league in points in the paint per game during his tenure. Rui Hachimura fits in extremely well with the idea of the Bulls punishing teams inside with low-post scoring depth, resulting in open looks on the perimeter.

Hachimura stands 6-feet-8-inches tall, 230 lbs., with a 7-foot-2-inch wingspan. He is a very physical player and utilizes his wingspan incredibly well in traffic. Hachimura posted a 17.4 percent defensive rebound rate over his three-years at Gonzaga. I mentioned above how Hachimura embraces contact and his career average of 7.5 free throw attempts per 40 minutes helps showcase his ability to be a wrecking ball in the paint.

He has the potential to excel as a small-ball center with the right personnel surrounding him. The fact that he can grab a defensive board and initiate the fastbreak makes him an even more valuable prospect. But when you consider that lineups with he and Markkanen as the two bigs on the floor would have five capable ball-handlers, the idea of Rui in Chicago becomes even more enticing.

Overall, Hachimura is a great prospect with a solid skill set that should allow him to be a decent scorer from day one, it all just depends on how much of an opportunity he gets.

The Bulls--as John Paxson has reiterated many, many times now--feel comfortable with the starters they have at the two, three, four and five positions, with point guard being their main area of weakness. While the Bulls don’t necessarily need another big, they do need to add productive players who are young. With Boylen’s emphasis on having multiple ball-handlers, driving the ball and points in the paint, Hachimura would be a logical selection, though No. 7 overall could be a bit of a reach for the 21-year old big.

His defense definitely has a long way to go--as with most NBA draft prospects--but Hachimura’s situation is unique since he literally had a language barrier to overcome when he first got to Gonzaga in 2017. The belief right now is that Hachimura is in a comfortable spot right now in terms of both speaking and understanding English, as reporting from Sam Vecine of the The Athletic (LINK is behind a paywall) and others has backed up.

With that being said, the Japanese forward still makes too many mistakes on the defensive end of the floor to be a surefire top 10 pick.

He is at his core an offensive-minded player, and as a result has not exactly developed much in the way of defensive intensity over the years. Hachimura averaged 0.6 steals per game and 0.5 blocks per game for his NCAA career.

For comparison’s sake, his steal and block rates are almost identical to Marvin Bagley III during his time at Duke. Bagley had a highly productive rookie season with the Kings--landing a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First-Team--but the Kings defense was still four points worse when he was on the floor per cleaningtheglass.com ($).

Despite having similar measurements to Bagley, I don’t believe that Hachimura posses quite the level of athleticism that Bagley does, making his path to becoming an above average defender that much harder.

Ultimately, if Hachimura’s awesome shooting numbers from NBA 3-point range (41.7 percent) on a small sample size (36 attempts) aren’t smoke-and-mirrors, he will greatly outplay his draft position. Hachimura shot 52.1 percent on his NBA range 3-pointers and also has a career 74.6 percent free throw percentage. Whether he was diving to the rim on pick-and-rolls with Lauri spacing the floor, or playing in a high/low offense with another big on the bench unit, there is a clear path to Hachimura being effective in Chicago. It would just take a ton of patience from the Bulls new-look coaching staff.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: The Bulls need a point guard. The Bears Top 100 list continues


Sports Talk Live Podcast: The Bulls need a point guard. The Bears Top 100 list continues

0:00- Will Perdue drops by to talk hoops. What will the Bulls do this summer to address their point guard need?

7:00- The Bulls need a point guard. Derrick Rose is a free agent. Should they bring him back home?

11:30- Carman says the Bulls should consider trading for Lonzo Ball. Kap yells at him.

16:30- Will talks about this year's playoffs and if anybody will be the Warriors?

20:00- The Bears Top 100 list continues to dominate discussion. Chris makes the case for Jay Cutler to be higher. He gets yelled at.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: