Jimmy Butler wanted to be the face of the Bulls. It meant something to him. It stood for something.
“It doesn’t mean a damn thing,” the three-time All-Star told the Sun-Times by phone Friday from Paris. “I guess being called the face of an organization isn’t as good as I thought. We all see where being the so-called face of the Chicago Bulls got me. So let me be just a player for the Timberwolves, man. That’s all I want to do. I just want to be winning games, do what I can for my respective organization and let them realize what I’m trying to do.
“Whatever they want to call me . . . face . . . I don’t even want to get into that anymore. Whose team is it? All that means nothing. You know what I’ve learned? Face of the team, eventually you’re going to see the back of his head as he’s leaving town, so no thanks.”
Such has been the last seven days for Butler — “the craziest week I think I’ve ever gone through.”
It started with what was supposed to be a nice vacation to London and then Paris. Then Cleveland Cavaliers players and personnel began reaching out to Butler both directly and through back channels to convince him to push for a trade to the Cavs. That quickly went out the window as Butler was warned that the Cavs were going through some chaos in the wake of general manager David Griffin being pushed out.
By Wednesday, Butler said, he was all but assured the Bulls wouldn’t move him because their asking price was too high. Then, on Thursday, while he was hanging out with Bulls teammate Dwyane Wade and others in Paris, “Bam, just like that,” Butler said.
The Bulls traded Butler, plus their No. 16 overall pick in Thursday night’s draft, to the Timberwolves for guards Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine and the No. 7 pick, which they used to grab Arizona stretch-four Lauri Markkanen.
“It’s crazy because there was me talking with guys about Cleveland, then all the outside rumors with Boston, Minnesota, Phoenix, then the feeling that I’m not going anywhere,” Butler said. “I mean, I had so many people telling me what could possibly happen, but I just got to the point where I stopped paying attention to it.
“It’s crazy because it reminds you of what a business this is. You can’t get mad at anybody. I’m not mad — I’m not. I just don’t like the way some things were handled, but it’s OK.”
The Bulls are calling this a rebuild, but there are strong indications the front office also didn’t want to have to eventually pay Butler nearly $246 million had he qualified for the super-max extension.
Butler didn’t want to get into that, only saying, “I gave all to that city and to that team. I can’t say I didn’t do that. But what can they say? That I wasn’t a good enough player? I don’t know what you can call this.”
There also were undertones from the front office that Butler couldn’t coexist with coach Fred Hoiberg. Attempting to clear that up, Butler went back to his comments from two years ago when he said Hoiberg needed to “coach harder.”
“People are going to think what they want to think,” Butler said. “Fred had the same objective that I did. He wanted to win. I do agree that we go about it differently, but I don’t care what anyone thinks about me as a basketball player. I have no bad things to say about Fred at all. Maybe we didn’t see eye-to-eye on some things and a few things could have been handled different at different times, but like I said back then and I say now, I don’t regret anything. I don’t take anything back. I am who I am, and I’m not perfect in any shape or form.”
The coach Butler will be concerned about pleasing now is former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, with whom he has been reunited in Minnesota.
“I love to be challenged by my coaches,” he said. “I feel like I’ve talked so much about how I love Thibs and respect what he does, going back to my rookie year. He’s done so much for me. It’s great to be back with a guy like that. The guy knows how to win. I know his style of play, and I feel like I’ll fit in with that core that they have over there.
“We’re going to be really good. I believe that. We’re going to be — at least I’m hoping — the toughest team that takes the floor every night. That’s what we can bank on. That’s something we can control. If we can do that to the best of our abilities, we’re going to win some games.’’
And what about how his former team will fare without him? Butler only reiterated that he’d be fine.
“All you hear them say is it was great to watch me grow, and every single year I seemed to get better,” he said. “That was all nice to hear, but I guess it wasn’t enough. That’s OK. I’m not mad.”
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