The Bulls are bad, Kris Dunn is injured (sprained MCL) and out 6 weeks, so it’s time to talk about Jimmy Butler.
I’ve been putting this off because I was waiting for Butler to be traded. I was hoping to compare what the Bulls got for Butler to what the Timberwolves will eventually get. All trade talks seem to have stalled at this time, so before Lauri and Dunn get back and the Bulls are tolerable again, I’m going to weigh in.
Let’s start with my understanding of Jimmy Butler:
1. Jimmy is a self made Super Star.
2. He is a top 15 player (maybe even top 10) in the NBA.
3. He is one of the best offense/defense oriented players in the NBA. That is, he is in the same conversation with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as one of the best 2-way players in the league.
4. Jimmy works extremely hard at basketball.
5. He is capable of catapulting a team into the playoffs.
6. He is a perennial All-Star.
7. Jimmy Butler is Hollywood as Hell.
It’s this last point that NBA fans, and Chicago Bulls fans in particular, seem to be hung up on.
Jimmy Butler is a diva. He knows what he wants, and, like a two-year-old denied a juice box, he will throw a temper tantrum to get it. Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, what Jimmy wants is out of Minnesota. I WANT OUT, and if I don’t get my way, I WILL PLAY THE VILLAIN. Fine, it’s certainly not an attractive look for an NBA super star to cultivate, but let’s not pretend like this sort of behavior is out of place in a league dominated by personality.
Playing the villain seems to be the quickest way for a super star to win a championship. Unhappy Cleveland Cavalier, LeBron James, takes his talents to Miami after teasing several teams with the possibility of his joining them, breaking the hearts of millions of fans across multiple NBA franchises, instantly becoming the most despised villain in the league. Fast forward several years, to Kevin Durant, who wants out of Oklahoma City. He can’t stand sharing the ball with Russell Westbrook. He wants to win championships. Durant leaves the plucky, try hard, upstart franchise of OKC, joining the Golden State Warriors, the juggernaut of the West. Not only does he drop the carefully cultivated “Nice Guy” facade he wore in OKC, he uncovers his tattoos and embraces the dark side. Kevin Durant, like LeBron James, is now an NBA Champion and an NBA Villain.
Which brings us to…
8. Jimmy Butler is one thirsty MFer (as the kids might say)
Jimmy Butler is a smart man. He sees how the league has rewarded the Diva Super Stars, and he wants his share. He is painfully aware that nothing in this world is guaranteed. He is in no way, shape, or form entitled. He knows the things you work super hard for, the things you over work for, can be taken away at a moments notice. Butler wants to use any leverage he can, to get as much as he can, while he can get it.
It’s easy for us 9 to 5ers to bust on a millionaire basketball player for throwing a temper tantrum over what seems like peanuts, but let’s remember where Jimmy Butler came from…
Butler was a homeless teenager, kicking around from friends couch to friends couch until a family had pity on him and took him in on a more permanent basis. As a young NBA player he watched as Derrick Rose went from MVP to sad internet meme:
He saw how the Bulls front office used the media to demonize Rose. How they insisted that Rose was medically cleared to play basketball, while ignoring Rose’s own pleas that he was not 100%. The front office talked about all the other players on the team fighting through their own injuries to compete for the playoffs, not acknowledging that every player is an individual with their own set of needs. If Luol Deng played through a snapped tendon in his forearm, than Rose can play at half speed after a second ACL tear… And we fans ate it up. Rose became a selfish player, too fixated on saving his Nike contract to help his team in the playoffs.
Jimmy Butler had a front row seat to the sad demise of Derrick Rose as a Chicago Bull. He even helped the destructive narrative along. He knows the NBA and it’s fans will make you a villain if you fail as a hero, and he is willing to accept that label, so long as he gets what he wants out of it.
But here is where Butler is wrong in his approach. You don’t become the villain and then make your move. You make your move, and by making said move, become the villain. He has done things out of order.
Holding out, demanding a trade, berating teammates, coaches, and the owner, Jimmy Butler has successfully made himself a villain in the league. Not just a villain, but a possible “Cancer” (with a capital “C”), which is much worse. A villain can be redeemed, or at least become an anti-hero: A “Cancer” can only ever be cut out.
In the long run, I hope Jimmy Butler will be okay. I hope he finds some peace with his next contract, his next team, but I doubt that is possible. He is super competitive. He is seemingly driven by a deep-seated insecurity stemming from his early life. An insecurity that demands his version of success, whatever that might be. What he must learn is, there is no amount of money, outside respect, or winning that can ease the sort of trauma he has been through, only time, love and self-acceptance will give a person peace. Until Jimmy gives himself a break, he will remain thirsty, always grasping at something outside of himself, searching for the peace he can only find within.
So… Jimmy Butler is a villain, maybe even a “Cancer,” and here we are asking ourselves for the umpteenth time, “Did the Bulls win the Jimmy Butler trade?”
It’s easy to compare the Bulls to the T-Wolves and think Chicago got the better end of the bargain. That’s the wrong approach. I fooled myself into thinking that way too. You must take what has happened in Minnesota out of the picture. The question Bulls fans are left with is the same as it ever was: Are Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and Lauri Markkanen worth the absence of Jimmy Butler?
LaVine, Dunn, and Markkanen are all injury prone. LaVine is a spectacular offensive talent, but an awful defender. Kris Dunn is extremely “meh” on offense, but a gifted defender. Lauri Markkanen is pure potential. As much as I love what LaVine has done this season (3 straight 30+ point games to start the season), as much as I’m on board with the leadership potential of Dunn and his blanket like defense, as eager as I am to witness Markkanen blossom into a super star, there is a Damaclean sword of doubt that still hangs over the Bulls. How do you ever replace the all around, All-Star caliber play of Jimmy Butler? Is a talented prospect, and two half players enough to replace Jimmy in the aggregate? I tend to think no, but in reality, the jury is still out on that answer.
If the Bulls had traded Butler for a single player, let’s call him Zach Dunn from Finland, a man with the offensive talent of Zach LaVine, the defensive prowess of Kris Dunn, and the basketball potential of Lauri Markkanen, then the Bulls would have clearly won the trade. Instead, that talent, prowess, and potential is spread across three separate players, three separate positions, and three separate roster spots. Again, going from one fully realized All-Star to three flawed players is an inefficient exchange. Not that Butler isn’t flawed himself, I just spent several hundred words going over his off the court warts, but just watching the Bulls these last few games should make any fan appreciate Butler all the more.
In the first week of 2018-19 NBA basketball season the Bulls have…
…struggled to defend the perimeter: Jimmy can do that.
…struggled to communicate on defense: Jimmy can do that.
…struggled to get defensive stops: Jimmy can do that.
…struggled to secure rebounds: Jimmy can do that
…failed to contain opposing super stars: Jimmy can do that.
…missed the services of a lead ball handler: Jimmy can do that.
…failed to close out tight games: Jimmy can do that.
The natural reaction to all this might be, “Well that’s because Dunn and Markkanen were injured.” And while that’s true, it still doesn’t change the fact that Jimmy Butler is better at all those things (and more), than the combined talents and skills of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and Lauri Markkanen.
Not for the last time I ask you, are LaVine, Dunn, and Markkanen better than the absence of Jimmy Butler?
We can only answer: Not yet.
But after all is said and done, I don’t think that was even the question the front office was asking itself when they traded Butler. It won’t be the question the Timberwolves try to answer when they eventually part with him either. Because he’s the villain, possibly a “Cancer,” the question the Bulls faced, and the one Timberwolves and NBA fans are now asking themselves is this: Is Jimmy Butler’s “Hollywood as Hell” persona worth it?
We’ll see which franchise takes the risk in finding out.
You must be logged in to post a comment.