I’ve fancied myself a “Butlermaniac” since day one. Nobody has ever shown more blind optimism and enthusiasm about Jimmy Butler than me. Since Butler “broke out” during the second half of the 2012-2013 season, I maintained that he was destined to be a great player and that the Bulls would be wise to let it play out. Turns out I was right. Butler has indeed become a superstar and is likely in the top 10-15 players in the NBA (I have him closer to 10th). What else could you ask for a player that you drafted 30th in 2011? Jimmy Butler has become the type of two-way force that generally leads to championships. I’ve always believed you can build a championship team around Butler, but you’d have to be careful who you put around him. Obviously, the Wade/Rondo/Butler trio was doomed to fail, but we’re seeing how Rondo and Butler with Mirotic, Valentine, and others can succeed. The Bulls have gone 6-4 since Dwyane Wade was lost for the regular season and Butler is averaging 28.3 points, 7.7 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 2 steals, shooting 53.9% from the field, 56.5% from three, and is still at 80.9% from the free-throw line. These are elite numbers of this ten game stretch and he has inched the Bulls closer to a playoff spot. It’s been a bright spot for fans in the midst of a dark and dreary season.
But this has also created a dilemma for Bulls management. It’s easy to blow things up when the team plummets to the lottery for the second straight season and you can find a scapegoat. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor recently stated that a league executive told him that Butler is “as good as gone” this offseason. This was before the Bulls won four straight games and became locked in a battle for the 6th, 7th, or 8th seed. I wonder if Bulls management still sees it that easy? There have been reports of a split in the front office as to whether Butler is a guy you can build a team around. Maybe that’s why they brought in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. Maybe Bulls management just couldn’t fully commit to giving Butler the keys to the kingdom. Has that changed given his recent performance? If the Boston deal is still on the table at the draft and they can land Markelle Fultz, will the Bulls choose potential over the sure thing they already possess?
These are questions only Bulls executives can answer. Frankly, I’m not sure they know either. Honestly, I’m not even sure which path I would choose. If you had asked me in early March what I would’ve done, I would’ve said, “Trade Butler to the Celtics if the offer is still on the table, draft Fultz (hopefully), and begin the slow, painful process of rebuilding. It’s time.” But Butler has again shown why this is not an easy decision. Would Fultz be able to provide the overall brilliance Jimmy Butler does on a nightly basis? Has Butler just been given a raw deal as the “superstar” of the Bulls and never had the right situation? I could buy into that. He was paired with Derrick Rose, who thought and still thinks this is 2011 and never could relinquish the reigns to Butler (or Kristaps Porzingis for that matter). Then the Bulls brought in Fred Hoiberg, whom was a decent college coach and seems to be a terrible NBA coach that has no respect from his players. Just look at the bench players DANCING DURING A GAME.
Further complicating the decision is the amount of disrespect Jimmy Butler shows Hoiberg and the rest of the coaching staff. It’s obvious that Jimmy Butler doesn’t respect his coach and many people think that’s the big reason you trade him. While coaches have their place in the NBA and having a good coach is important to ultimately win a title, Fred Hoiberg and most coaches are expendable. You’re telling me you’d rather keep a guy who has shown no ability to coach at the professional level over a top 10 player in his prime?! That’s crazy. I agree that Butler should behave more professionally towards his coaches and set an example for the team, but at the same time, it has to be frustrating seeing the bad decisions made by your coach every single game. I think Butler is a guy who needs you to earn his respect and Hoiberg hasn’t been able to do that. You know who else was like that? Michael Jordan. To me, it’s the ultimate hypocrisy to laud Michael Jordan for his competitiveness and determination and ignore his off-court antics such as mooing when Jerry Krause came on the bus, flipping the training table over with Scott Burrell on it, punching Steve Kerr in the face, and others. Obviously, this is Michael Jordan we’re talking about, but in the mid-80s Jordan had accomplished very little. He was a fantastic player, but was still surrounded by question marks. Should we extend that same courtesy to Jimmy Butler?
Honestly, I have no idea anymore. Butler is my favorite player since the Bulls dynasty ended and I hope he continues on in a Chicago Bulls jersey. Furthermore, I hope Bulls management is able to build a championship team around him and find him an actual NBA coach. I don’t have much confidence in any of that and I don’t know that he will be a Bull next season. All I know is he’s making that decision more complicated. Gar and Pax have a difficult decision to make this offseason. Hopefully, they make the right one.
Brandon Pence is the co-founder of B2 Hoops and the founder/editor emeritus of “The Bulls Charge.” Follow him on Twitter here.