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.”