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Rumor: Bulls told Jimmy Butler during contract-extension negotiations they’d stick him behind Tony Snell if he didn’t sign

Bulls-Butler Basketball

Chicago Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler shakes hands with general manager Gar Forman during a news conference Thursday, July 9, 2015 in Chicago. The Bulls took what they believe is a big step, announcing a maximum five-year contract for their All-Star shooting guard on Thursday. They are hoping Butler can build on a breakout season, form a dominant tandem with Rose and help them emerge from the Eastern Conference after they came up short last season. Butler’s deal is worth $95.5 million. (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT CHICAGO TRIBUNE; CHICAGO SUN-TIMES OUT; DAILY HERALD OUT; NORTHWEST HERALD OUT; THE HERALD-NEWS OUT; DAILY CHRONICLE OUT; THE TIMES OF NORTHWEST INDIANA OUT; TV OUT; MAGS OUT; NO SALES


In the summer of 2014, Jimmy Butler was eligible for a contract extension. The Bulls reportedly offered him four years, $40 million.

That seemed low even at the time, but this is how rookie-scale contract extensions should work. If Chicago didn’t extend him, Butler would be a restricted free agent the following year. The Bulls would still control his future, incentivizing them to lowball him in hopes he valued security. If Butler passed, Chicago could always re-sign him or match any offer sheet.

But, according to one report, the Bulls -- in the backdrop of a disconnect between general manager Gar Forman and then-coach Tom Thibodeau -- went even further in playing hardball.

Ryen Russillo of ESPN:

What I was told is -- and I don’t know who it was in the front office; I don’t have a name -- but that he was told, “Well, if you don’t take this, we’re going to play Tony Snell your minutes. We’re going to play Tony Snell over you, and then good luck trying to get this kind of money when your number sare down. And that, if it’s true -- and it’s what I was told, and I believe it, but it’s the same thing of any gossipy industry that you’re in -- then it doesn’t make sense that Jimmy Butler can’t stand the front office and loves Thibs, because Thibs apparently went, “No, I’m not playing Tony Snell over Jimmy Butler. Are you freaking kidding me?”

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

That’s certainly not the denial I expected, but a few things to keep in mind:

  • Butler excelled between the contract-extension window and free agency, winning Most Improved Player earning much larger deal. The Bulls eagerly signed him in 2015 to a de facto max contract worth $95 million over five years. In fact, they were so convinced of Butler’s value, they extended him a max qualifying offer.
  • It’s not clear, even if we completely trust Russillo’s telling, that Bulls management ever instructed Thibodeau to play Snell over Butler. Thibodeau could have heard it from Butler himself and reacted to the idea.
  • Butler was reportedly ready for Chicago to fire Thibodeau. That obviously doesn’t disprove this report, but it shows a limit on the Butler-Thibodeau bond that runs counter to what Russillo presents.
  • The Bulls planning to reduce Butler’s playing time purely as retribution for passing on a contract extension would be bad. But it seems entirely plausible a more innocent message could’ve been misconstrued in retellings. What if a Chicago executive told Butler something like: “Hey, just warning you, your starting spot is not assured. Tony Snell has been working hard, and he could overtake you. If he does, it’ll be more difficult to get paid next summer.” That’d be a non-story.
  • Even if the story isn’t true, Butler was reportedly bothered by Forman not shutting down Butler trade rumors. Butler might not rush to stop a narrative that embarrasses Forman.