Bulls guard Jimmy Butler is a self-made star.
He rose from a junior college to the Big East to a late first-round pick to an NBA rotation player to the league’s Most Improved Player and an All-Star.
It’s a story to celebrate.
But his rise has engendered some minor hard feelings within the team. There is a sense that Butler relishes the trappings of stardom a bit too much, and that he doesn’t do enough to support his teammates — as a playmaker or a cheerleader. The Bulls have been unusually vulnerable to infighting when things go bad during a game. They are not a team that socializes together off the floor.
This is a classic case of winning curing all ills and losing exacerbating any problems.
There has been smoke surrounding Butler’s relationship with Derrick Rose. Though Butler denied a beef, there mere discussion could cause his teammates to look at him with more scrutiny. After all, who is Butler to criticize Rose’s work ethic if Butler isn’t doing everything right himself?
But that’s an impossibly high standard in the best of times, and these aren’t the best of times.
Butler has contributed to Chicago’s problems in the short term, publicly calling on Fred Hoiberg to change his coaching style. That might pay off in the long run, but the immediate effect was increasing the perceived turmoil around the team.
It’s important to take a step back and realize where Butler came from. The Bulls drafted him as a rugged wing who’d focus on defense and hustle players and hopefully develop into a reliable spot-up shooter. He’s improved remarkably as a ball-handler and distributor, but passing isn’t his forte. He has more than doubled his assists per possession since his rookie year.
Whatever problems Butler has handling stardom, they don’t show on the floor. He’s one of the league’s best players, because he plays so hard.
Perhaps, there are issues off the court. If so, they’re worth addressing.
It’s a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, but nothing would boost Butler’s standing among his teammates more than winning. But how does Chicago win if its best player – the one who’s speaking loudest publicly – doesn’t command the respect of his teammates?