LOS ANGELES — The front office finally got it right.
Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have made many missteps the last three seasons. They have been the faces of an organization gone wrong while having very little accountability from their bosses.
But it’s time for some praise.
Last season was a crossroads. The locker room was a collection of cliques gone wrong. Though the decision was unpopular in many parts of Chicago, Paxson and Forman chose the right clique, and his name was Jimmy Butler.
That meant allowing Joakim Noah to pack up his metal lunch pail and hard hat and ride off into free agency. That meant taking hometown kid Derrick Rose and all his dysfunction and making it New York’s problem. That meant resisting the urge — by choice or otherwise — to trade Butler on draft day and blow up the product all together.
Now there’s at least hope for an organization that was a punch line far too often last year. Is it ready to dethrone LeBron James and the Cavaliers? Heck, no. But it finally has a face of the franchise that actually cares about the product and moving it in the right direction.
The longer Rose has been gone, the more head-shaking stories come out about him. According to multiple team sources, his game preparation was so inadequate that coach Fred Hoiberg had no choice but to pull him into the office before tipoff and try to go over the game plan again. Even then, Rose either forgot or chose to ignore what was asked of him, especially on the defense.
That’s why Butler, as well as Dwyane Wade, have been stressing game film and preparation to their teammates.
“I saw everybody working on their body, everybody watching the film, and I was like, ‘This is the way it’s supposed to be,’ ” Butler said Sunday while talking about the preparation that went into beating the Lakers.
Butler did his part. With Wade getting a day to rest, Butler played 40 minutes and had 40 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Entering Monday, Butler was 12th in the league in scoring (25.1 points per game) and sixth in free-throw attempts (9.5 per game), all while guarding the opposition’s best player on most nights. That’s an MVP candidate, folks.
And though the Tomball, Texas, native has gone Hollywood, he’s more Chicago than Rose ever was. He’s blue-collar, his style of play is physical and he never is done working on his weaknesses.
His mission last summer: Get stronger and improve his three-point shot. Check and check.
“I don’t want to say I enjoy contact, but I’m not soft by any means,” Butler said of his physical style. “Let’s just get that out of the way. It’s part of the game. I always talk about other sports I can play, but I think this one is just the right amount of contact for me.”
So who does he pattern his style after?
When reminded that Brown is a wide receiver for the Steelers, Butler said, “Yeah, but he’s physical. So I want to be like Antonio. Thank you.”
A strange answer, but as Wade put it, “We’re all in Jimmy Land.”
“He’s playing with a tremendous amount of confidence,” Hoiberg said of Butler. “He feels like every time he steps on the floor that he’s the best player out there.
“More often than not, he’s right.”
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