Don’t tell him but Jimmy Butler’s star is shining

SHARE Don’t tell him but Jimmy Butler’s star is shining
SHARE Don’t tell him but Jimmy Butler’s star is shining

Taj Gibson (left ankle) was expected in Boston on Thursday night, but he might not be ready to go Friday afternoon against the Celtics.

Joakim Noah (left knee, left eye) and Derrick Rose (hamstring) participated in practice, but their availability has yet to be decided.

At least the gang is starting to get back together again, and, frankly, Jimmy Butler could use the help.

“I mean, [Butler has] been incredible,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s a star. And he does it on both ends of the floor. He’s an amazing player.

‘‘We’ve had him play the point, we’ve had him play the two, the three, and [in the loss Tuesday against the Nuggets], he played the four, and he hasn’t had any opportunity to practice the four.

“He’s smart; he’s tough; he does whatever the team needs.’’

And the Bulls are about to find out that all those traits come with a hefty price.

In turning down the Bulls’ take-it-or-leave-it contract extension at the end of October, Butler said he was “gambling on myself.’’

Guess who’s winning?

According to a source, Butler turned down a four-year, $40 million-plus offer from the Bulls. After watching Klay Thompson get the max four-year, $70 million contract from the Warriors, Butler was willing to test the market as a restricted free agent and force the Bulls to make the tough decision.

Through the first 15 games, he’s averaging a team-high 21.6 points and 1.62 steals to go along with 6.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

He’s well on his way to stardom. Just don’t tell Butler.

“I’m not a star,’’ Butler said. “I’m a good role player on a really, really good team, a really, really deep team. I like being a role player. Star has never been next to Jimmy Butler’s name. It never will be. I’ll always be an under-the-radar dawg.’’

Yeah, sure.

More than just the numbers, Butler has been conducting himself like an elite player. He’s the first one to practices and shootarounds and is usually one of the last guys to leave. Butler also leads the league in minutes at 39.2 per game.

Some of the other players in the top 10 in minutes are LeBron James, James Harden, Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving, i.e., a collection of All-Stars.

Two years ago, Butler told Thibodeau that he’d welcome heavy minutes. He’s not about to back down.

“Never could I regret that,’’ Butler said. “This is what I love to do. My teammates and coaches think that I can help the team win whenever I’m out there 40, 40-plus minutes. I’ll take that. That’s a lot of respect, and it’s only given me confidence.’’

When it was pointed out that the minutes leaders are mostly league superstars, Butler smiled and said, “It says that superstars in this league play a lot of minutes.’’

And what does that make Butler?

“I’m just lucky enough to be in the same category as those guys,’’ Butler said.

Luck has very little to do with it.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @suntimes_hoops

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