Time for Butler and Rose to prove, or build, their on-court chemistry


VIDEO: How does Jimmy Butler’s reported deal help the Bulls’ future?

CHICAGO – Jimmy Butler got a lot of mileage, and an even bigger pile of moolah, from gambling on himself last season with the Chicago Bulls.

From this point forward – from the moment he signs that five-year, $95 million contract he reportedly accepted Wednesday when NBA free agency began – it’s the Bulls and their fans who are gambling on Butler.

So he might as well stop now with the “basketball’s just a day job” statement he tosses around a couple times in a RollingStone.com interview posted Thursday. And he needs to get a whole lot more convincing that the relationship between Bulls backcourt mate Derrick Rose and himself is solid enough, professional enough, to get Chicago’s NBA entry where it wants to go.

Butler’s most pertinent comments were what he said about published reports that he and Rose were at odds last season in what some felt was a battle over pecking order within the team.

Here’s what Butler, in the interview conducted after the Bulls’ postseason but before his free agency, told RollingStone.com:

“I don’t think we have any issues. I think we’re fine. I think we’re two basketball players that want to win games. That’s where I’ll leave it at. I think we just wanna win, bring a championship the city, to the organization. I think that’s our job. And I think we’re gonna do whatever it takes to make that happen. I have a lot of respect for the guy.”

Before we parse that, some context: Rose still is the darling of many Chicagoans, a native of the city’s South Side who established himself soon after he arrived in 2008 as the Bulls’ best player since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen by becoming the youngest MVP in league history in 2011. Three knee surgeries and 185 missed games over the past three seasons allowed Butler to develop into the team’s most impactful player.

Rose’s rehabs and Butler’s own injuries have limited their time together on the court – they have teamed in only 53 games, with the Bulls going 33-20. Butler had a breakout 2014-15, earning an All-Star selection and Kia Most Improved Player Award honors while Rose played inconsistently and missed 31 games.

In Chicago’s two rounds against Milwaukee and Cleveland, Butler averaged 22.9 points on 17.8 field-goal attempts while Rose averaged 20.3 on 19.6. In their Game 6 elimination by the Cavaliers in May, a noticeably passive Rose took only four shots after halftime and scored two points in 17 minutes compared to Butler’s 12 shots and eight points in almost 22 minutes.

The reports of friction surfaced soon thereafter. General manager Gar Forman addressed them on Draft night (“I’ve read about the friction. I haven’t seen it”) without quelling any.

So what should people make of Butler’s “I don’t think we have any issues. I think we’re fine” comment? Or his “I think we’re two basketball players that want to win games. That’s where I’ll leave it at” remark? While he also said he never read the reports – healthy enough, given what passes for media these days – he stopped well short of a full-throated condemnation, not to mention expressions of camaraderie with Rose.

Was it an indication that Butler doesn’t enjoy playing alongside Rose? Was it a hint that whatever chafing might exist is coming from Rose’s direction rather than his own? There’s not enough there to work with and, frankly, any sweeping pronouncements now might ring hollow until all concerned step on the Advocate Center practice court.

But the bottom line for Chicago’s NBA fans is, there’s no time and even less tolerance for any high-school stuff. If the Bulls’ window as an Eastern Conference contender is still open at all, it’s an opening that’s narrowing. Rookie coach Fred Hoiberg is going to have plenty to do without coddling Butler and Rose into playing nice together. If Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe could manage to mesh their way to a Knicks title back in the day, if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook find enough basketball to get all the way to The Finals, Rose and Butler can.

Butler’s emergence is what the Bulls have been hoping for – and what Rose long has needed: a backcourt sidekick with game and ability to lessen his load offensively and handle defensively perimeter players Rose can’t. Butler, meanwhile, has spent four seasons doing terrific work, yet almost everything he’s achieved has felt like a bonus. Now those things and more are expected – and they’re being paid for at top dollar.

So toying with a music-and-culture journalists about hanging with Mark Wahlberg, wanting to impress Taylor Swift with his singing voice and portraying himself only as a basketball player by day is fine in July. Butler is known within the Bulls as a fun-loving cut-up and he seems playful in the interview overall. After his hard-knocks upbringing in Tomball, Texas, and No. 30 selection out of Marquette as the final first-round pick in 2011, he has earned the right to walk through a few new doors opened to him.

But focusing on the untapped promise not just of himself but the Bulls overall, and building the chemistry with Rose (vice versa) needed for them to function nightly as one of the NBA’s elite backcourts has to be a 24/7 commitment. It need not wait till training camp, either.

The Bulls gambled on Rose to the tune of five years and $94.3 million right after his MVP season, and largely have lost on that deal. It’s on Butler to see that it doesn’t happen again, especially for some silly reasons.

9 Comments

  1. wtf says:

    D-Rose and Jimmy G have got this. Bulls 2016 champions

  2. jorge says:

    Nobody can beat the Cavs if they are healthy.
    They can compete? Yes, buy i don’t see any team winning 4 games to LBJ Love and Irving healthy. Plus Mozgov Thompson Shumpert and Delly doing the dirty work and now they are hungry and know they can beat anybody. The only way to stop the Cavs is when LBJ shoot 35 times and you stop the others guys but with Irving and Love he is not going to do that again. I heard that Mo Williams and Prince wants to play with LBJ thats a good veterans. We don’t know if JR is going to play but imagine… Mo Williams, JR, Prince, Thompson and Verajao thats a good veteran bench that can give you good 20mts.

    • karakol8125 says:

      The thing is that the Cavaliers bench is much better than the bulls, or I should say that they have more gameplay experience. Look at JR he is a guy that can come of the bench and spread the floor can take control of the ball and has a lot of confidence, you have thompson who grabs a lot of offensive rebounds and can produce good minutes, I don’t really like Delly but he can play good defense. The bulls have an inconsistent Taj Gibson (I think it is a lack of finding him on the court and he can’t really shoot like boozer could), Aaron brooks that can bring energy but I think is doesn’t have that playmaking that the bulls need of the bench (maybe I just prefer Little Nate cause he is was explosive), Tony Snell didn’t have enough minutes to prove that he is a good player of the bench. But maybe this new coach can bring some young energy to the team

  3. sports fan says:

    Their chemistry will be fine & Rose will have a healthier season than the last one. And Hoiberg won’t run his players into the ground. He’ll rotate them better & pull them out early when he can. Don’t count the Bulls out, as long as they stay healthy they’ll have a better chance to beat the Cavs than they did last season.

  4. taekayo says:

    Things are about to turn around in Chicago. And I think Rose and Butler would mesh just fine. Thibs, for being the defensive genius that he is is very much appreciated to the teams development over the years. But the fact remains that the way he overuse his players makes them injury-prone every time. The players always play with one leg once the post season comes. I just hope the new coach would be able to rest the key players and give their young ones playing time to develop during the course of the regular season. Their big man line-up is very deep, so hopefully Pau and Noah would be preserved for the playoff push. The same goes especially for Rose. Butler have the time to steadily develop and not carrying all the burden, as this will be his team in the future. For now, they just focus on being a good and healthy unit, then they can make that push to win it all.

  5. harriethehawk says:

    I’m happy for Jimmy Butler but I’m not sold on the Bulls. Too many red flags. Derrick Rose’s health, new coach, Noah has been unreliable and they couldn’t beat the Cadavaliers. I think the chemistry will be fine and the least of their worries.

  6. Sammy says:

    Jimmy Butler must continue to perform at the same level. One year doesn’t make you a superstar, but it does get you a contract. Rose is a superstar. The only question is will he be healthy. Playing together is a no brainer. One man can’t win a title. Lebron showed us that this year. I believe Rose has the character to make it work. Rose is Jordan and Butler is Pippen. That will show next year. This is a good lesson for all young athletes to learn about playing together and being a good teammate.

    Reply

  7. Sammy says:

    Jimmy Butler must continue to perform at the same level. One year doesn’t make you a superstar, but it does get you a contract. Rose is a superstar. The only question is will he be healthy. Playing together is a no brainer. One man can’t win a title. Lebron showed us that this year. I believe Rose has the character to make it work. Rose is Jordan and Butler is Pippen. That will show next year. This is a good lesson for all young athletes to learn about playing together and being a good teammate.