CHICAGO — Jimmy Butler finally has what he has always craved.
A force on both ends of the floor, Butler has turned himself into one of the best two-way players in the NBA through hard work and determination. He’ll be looking for his third straight All-Star appearance later this season and is hellbent on trying to prove that he can lead the Chicago Bulls back to the playoffs after a disappointing 2015-16 season.
But as the Bulls go through their first week of training camp for the new season, Butler has found something he has been searching for the past several years. Not only does he have the complete respect of his team, he has confidence in knowing that for the first time since he has been in the league, he is viewed as being the face of the franchise.
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The long shadows of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are gone, both having moved on to the Knicks, and Butler is left to stand on his own in front of the bright lights, with nothing encumbering his view of the future.
Butler is “the man” for the Bulls and he is embracing all that comes with that mantle.
To understand why this means so much to the 27-year-old, you have to know from where he has come in his basketball life. The 30th pick of the 2011 NBA draft, Butler wasn’t expected to be much more than a defensive stopper coming out of Marquette. When he came to the Bulls, teammates and coaches loved his work ethic, but he couldn’t find minutes in Tom Thibodeau’s rotation because of an inconsistent jumper and a roster filled with solid veteran players. But as Bulls personnel recall, even as a young player trying to find his way in the league, Butler was always a leader in self-confidence.
In recent years, Butler has been open about the fact that he often used to tell Thibodeau he should be playing more. Ultimately, Butler got his chance and developed into a player around whom the Bulls could build. But as Butler grew into both his body and his game — earning the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award after the 2014-15 season — he could never shake the perception from some of his older teammates that he was still the fun-loving kid from Tomball, Texas.
While they appreciated what he accomplished, some veteran teammates wanted Butler to take a backseat within the framework of the locker room. While the relationship between Butler and former MVP Rose always drew the most attention, multiple league sources have indicated over time that it was, in fact, the relationship between Butler and former All-Star Noah that deteriorated the most.