Jimmy Butler's hostile takeover was exactly what the Bulls needed
This all could have went south for Jimmy Butler so quickly.
For a minute there, it looked like Butler's hostile takeover of the leadership role the Bulls so badly needed to fill might have tangible fallout. Zach Lowe wrote that "his rise has engendered some minor hard feelings within the team" and that "there is a sense that Butler relishes the trappings of stardom a bit too much."
Nick Friedell went even further on a podcast appearance:
He's really rubbed some people the wrong way with how he's going about things. So, it's something to watch for, and it's something that I know is on the minds of the front office in that, "Can we trust this guy to go out and to be who we need him to be every night, and can he lead us the way that a championship-caliber team needs to be led?" And early on, the returns have been no.
I saw trade proposals that were shipping Jimmy out to Phoenix for Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker, or to the Lakers for D'Angelo Russell. I listened to a podcast pushing the idea of trading him for the No. 2 pick in this year's draft to select Duke's Brandon Ingram. This was all from Bulls fans, mind you, even if both instances were guilty only of having fun on the Internet -- a crime punishable by death in certain countries.
20 days later, somehow, everything is good again. The Bulls have won six in a row to get up to second in the East standings, Butler is playing out of mind and the only thing in my head is the Biggie lyric about Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis.
Tell 'em, Walhberg.
— Mark Wahlberg (@mark_wahlberg) January 4, 2016
It's good to be Jimmy Butler right now.
It started against the Pacers, when Butler went off in the fourth quarter to save the Bulls in a game it seemed like they were destined to blow, then won it with this ludicrous tip on a play he and Pau Gasol connected on for at least 10 straight games:
Four days later, in Toronto, Butler authored the game of his career. After scoring only two points in the first two quarters and catching an elbow in his face from DeMarre Carroll that resulted in stitches, Jimmy had himself a decent second half.
Just 40 points on 19 shots, while smothering DeMar DeRozan on the other end. Watch it again because this type of effort requires multiple viewings. The Bulls -- the same team with real chemistry issues just a couple weeks prior -- celebrated with an impromptu group hug. I'm not crying, I swear.
JIMMY G. LEADERSHIP. pic.twitter.com/3cQGOnR1UI
— Nillz (@TheBullsShow) January 3, 2016
Two days later, against the Bucks, Butler went for 32 points and 10 assists. By the time he put up 19 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in a win over the Celtics on Thursday, it almost felt like an off night.
All of this is happening while Butler is second in the league in minutes per game a year after leading the NBA in that category. Tom Thibodeau died for these sins, but nothing you can do will kill Jimmy Butler.
He's just playing with so much confidence right now -- like a man who knows he's one of only 245 people Taylor Swift follows on Twitter. Like a dude who gets to go home every night, look at his boombox aquarium and think that's mine, I bought that ****.
Butler's game could always best be described as rugged. He's never been the most skilled offensive player, but he has a way of willing himself into 20 points almost every night, even while guarding the opposing team's best wing. There's no complaining about needing offensive touches or whining about his workload. The dude just goes out and does it every night. And this -- this! -- was the guy the franchise was purportedly so worried about less than a month ago.
Sure, there's times when Jimmy Buckets turns into Jimmy Ballstopper, when he's waving off screens at the top of the key and breaking Fred Hoiberg's offense. His outside stroke has been a bit off all season -- he's shooting just 33 percent from deep. It all only makes it more remarkable the guy is somehow better this season than he was last year.
Personally, I never had a problem with Butler's comments. Was it weird they came after the second half of a back-to-back where the Bulls just finished a four overtime game? Was it strange that the Bulls very obviously had the exact same issues giving consistent effort and energy last season even with a taskmaster like Tom Thibodeau at the controls?
Sure, but whatever. The Bulls were winning some games, but anyone who watched them knew they weren't good. Imagine how Jimmy felt playing next to these dudes, with Pau never boxing out then crying when someone else didn't do it, with Derrick's effort varying wildly from game to game, with some odd coaching decisions by Hoiberg popping up too frequently.
Someone needed to say something, and Jimmy took matters into his own hands. There were real changes, too: John Paxson met with the team, Hoiberg scheduled practices on off-days and everyone finally seemed to take notice that the lethargic play wasn't acceptable.
Jimmy did that ****. He changed everything. It sounds ridiculous that one man's words could have so much impact, but we're talking about professional sports here: the entire concept of this is pretty stupid. Sometimes you need a Tomball cowboy to ride in on his hypothetical horse and stir things up. The Bulls are better for it.
So: are the Bulls truly fixed? Probably not. They still need to trade a front court player Pau, still need to pray Mike Dunleavy can get healthy, still need hope the more aggressive Derrick Rose we've seen lately is here to stay. I don't think the Bulls will continue winning every game. Call me crazy.
There's no question that things are better now, though. So much of it is because Jimmy Butler wouldn't let it get worse.