Jimmy Butler’s tirade against his teammates caused Rajon Rondo to fight back on social media and the question looms: is this leadership? Butler’s animus was accompanied by Dwyane Wade who also went on a teammate rant. This much is apparent. The Chicago Bulls will live and die on the performance, leadership and exploits of Jimmy Butler who has now been pushed onto the throne. Butler will be the air from which the oxygen circulates, and for better or for worse, it will be his glory or his blame.
Today it is his blame. Criticized by respected veteran players, not for his frustration, but for his methodology, Butler has been characterized as a good player who has never won anything and lacking necessary leadership traits. Remember last year at this same time Butler called coach Fred Hoiberg’s leadership “C” level. But instead of his teammates, he rolled Hoiberg under the bus.
“I believe in the guys in this locker room. But I also believe that we probably have to be coached harder at times. I know Fred is a laid back guy and I really respect him for that. When guys aren’t doing what they are supposed to do, you got to get on guys, myself included.” (Dec. 2015)
O.K. Jimmy. Will do. It’s not leadership to go straight to the media because you are frustrated. Shaming teammates doesn’t create good will or make them want to follow you. You are the max player on this team.
If the Bulls don’t make the playoffs in 2017, Fred Hoiberg is off the hook. It will be Jimmy Butler’s fault. It was Butler who could not find a way to make nice nice with Derrick Rose last season and even though the NBA is littered with star players who don’t like each other, there seemed something a little bit passive-aggressive unhealthy about the Rose and Butler duo who were supposed to rely on each other in the backcourt. Both said everything was fine. But athletes are judged by results. The Bulls did not make the playoffs.
Now Rose is gone and Butler has an ally in Wade, which is one of the reasons the Bulls liked the idea of Wade (besides selling tickets), this effect on Butler in the positive. But Rondo is in snit over the slamming of teammates in the media. Rondo went to the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce knew how to be leaders card.
It’s hard for the city to take a step back in the current saga. The Derrick Rose used to be here wound scab is still present. The worst thing that happened to Derrick Rose was fate and bad luck. He was a perfect player and then his knee broke. And then it happened again. And then he was a little bit injured. And then his hamstring was acting up. And then his face broke. And then he couldn’t play in all the games he wanted to play in. And then he couldn’t defend the way he used to because his lateral quickness had suffered, never to return. He wasn’t as quick as he used to be. He wasn’t as good as he used to be. Making shots in an efficient manner was a non-sequiter. This wasn’t Derrick Rose. To add insult to injury, an unapologetic Jimmy Butler was more than eager to take Derrick Rose’s place.
And so here he is. Try as he might, Jimmy Butler attempted to lead the Bulls last year. He was appropriately angry in situations that needed a team response. But something about it felt forced and rehearsed, like he was pretending to be a leader rather than being one. He called out the coach. He called out his team. It was interesting to note that Pau Gasol said the 2015-16 Bulls team was the only team he had ever been on where the players didn’t call a team meeting the entire season. That was indicative of their on-court behavior and how they played like strangers that didn’t like each other very much and didn’t like their coach.
What has changed besides Rose in New York, Tony Snell in Milwaukee and Wade back home?
With Rose out the way, Jimmy Butler has free reign to do whatever. But leading us here was a hidden ball trick. This Bulls team wasn’t built to compete. They don’t space the floor. They don’t defend when they have to. They fall asleep. They play slow. They are overly dependent on Wade and Butler and the surrounding personnel is average at best. Add in Rondo craziness from time to time.
Jimmy Butler signed a mega contract in the summer of 2015 and he didn’t disappoint the next season. He averaged a career high 20.9 points a game and shot 45.4%. He pulled in 5.3 rebounds and dished 4.8 dimes (a career high) and 1.6 steals. He was a terrible 3-point maker, 31.2%. He ranked second among shooting guards in on-court impact, only trailing James Harden. For the second year in a row his PER was 21.3. He had a 50 point game (Philadelphia), two 40 point games (Detroit, Toronto), a 17 rebound game (Detroit), back-to-back double digit assist games (New Orleans, Philadelphia), a 5 steal game (Sacramento).
This season Butler is averaging a career high 24.9 points. He is an All-Star. He is drilling 45.9% of his shots. He is pulling in 6.6 rebounds (a career high) and 1.8 steals. His three-ball has improved, 35.4%. He is the third best NBA player when measuring on court impact, trailing Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry and ahead of Kevin Durant and LeBron James. His PER is 26.2. He had an amazing 52 point game against Charlotte, four 40 point games (Lakers, Brooklyn, Toronto, Atlanta), two back-to-back 12 rebound games (Portland, Utah), a 12 assist game against Dallas, a 6 steal game in Atlanta.
Despite his extraordinary play, it is a different world now that Rose has been Shaq-ed. (The Lakers moved O’Neal to give Kobe Bryant the run of the team and that is what the Bulls have done for Jimmy Butler. The difference? Bryant was a 3-time champion, the best at his position, a top-5 player.)
And so Jimmy Butler has a lot of explaining to do via his leadership, production and willing the Bulls forward. They are now being made in his image and he has the responsibility of taking them somewhere. It’s hard to do that when you are slamming the same people you are supposed to be leading.
“Motherf_______ just got to care if we we win or lose. I understand that if you’ve got an open shot you take it. But at a point in the game like that, no offense, but you got to get the ball to your best players. That’s how the game goes. Let it come down on my shoulders or D-Wade’s shoulders. Let us be the reason why. “
Jimmy Butler has his wish. He and Dwyane Wade are the reason why. Not the losing, everyone is accountable for that. But for the Bulls collapse.
photo via llananba