By: Antonio Martin
Championships never come easy. Talent needs luck. Luck requires preparation. Preparation enhances confidence. The Baby Bulls are confident now and want to join Jordan’s Bulls among the gloried Windy City teams. Derrick Rose is back and will no doubt carry the load but who serves as the important X-factor up the coach’s sleeve to get the team to June?
Jimmy Butler will be that guy, Bulls fans continue to say. The 6’7 swingman from Tomball, Texas has evolved into that starting shooting guard the Bulls needed to pair with their MVP since Ben Gordon left. Keith Bogans tried but never had the talent. Ronnie Brewer relieved Bogans in spurts, but was never a viable offensive threat. Richard Hamilton was targeted to be the veteran savior, but wasn’t given the post-season stage to prove his worth with D. Rose.
Butler, the 30th pick in the 2011 draft, was still attending classes at Marquette University the last time Rose and the Bulls played the Miami Heat when it really mattered. Coming in the league at first, Butler had to learn on the fly due to the lockout season and that hindered his rookie party. Thibodeau doesn’t play rookies often, and he made that clear in 2012 with Butler only averaging 8 minutes per game and almost three points a game.
“So I think when you look at Jimmy — unfortunately for him, he was drafted the year of the lockout – he missed the entire Summer League and fall [training camp]. And when we finally did resume play, there weren’t a lot of practices because you had the condensed schedule with a lot of games each week in a short amount of time. So when you did have a day off, it usually was a team meeting or film session. But right after that season, Jimmy came in and he immediately started working towards the next season.”
A year later all bets were off when Rose tore his ACL during the opener of the 2012 playoffs.
Last season, forced the team to look in the mirror, rather than at Rose to win games. And that they did winning 45 games and upsetting the Brooklyn Nets in seven games. As the Bulls lost to the hated Heat in the conference semifinals, Butler seemed to enjoy the opportunity shoved his way.
With Luol Deng watching from a hospital bed, Kirk Hinrich hampering on the sideline, and Nate Robinson asking for the nearest trash can during timeouts, Butler seemed unfazed by the circumstances.
In the five games, the second-year pup averaged 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 43 percent shooting from the field in 44 minutes, all while guarding the four-time league MVP.
Butler has the chance to be better than his predecessors with his offensive game vastly improving and his defense close to something Father Thibs would demand from his first born child. Over the past five months, Butler has endured league wide success and recognition, and now is asked to serve as Robin to Rose’s Batman in the backcourt.
“I don’t see why not,” Thibodeau told the Chicago Tribune newspaper during the summer. “The way he played this year, he earned that spot. He has great versatility. He became much more confident and competent – running pick-and-rolls, catch-and-shoot, putting it on the floor, posting up. His improvement offensively was tremendous. And his defense has gotten better and better and will continue to improve.”
Butler has to be that guy Rose can rely on if the Bulls want to stop Miami’s three-peat and continue to dominate the rest of the upgraded Eastern Conference. The more playmakers you have, the harder a team is to defend. Butler’s continued progression could give the Bulls the advantage it needs to change the script written three years ago.
Think “Big Shot Bob” of 95 Rockets. Think of the sane Lamar Odom of the 2009-11 Lakers’ years. Think of the bearded James Harden that didn’t show up in the 2012 Finals loss, but saved his Thunder numerous times in the Western Conference Finals versus the Spurs who managed to give up a 2-0 series lead.
Every team needs “the x-factor” that gives the unit an extra boost of confidence. A player that isn’t essential in a team’s overall success, but can likely guarantee a needed win if he provides a big performance.
As the Bulls begin their quest for a seventh championship, they look among each other and ask themselves who can be the difference?
Hopefully, Bulls’ fans and players can look back ten years from now and say “Jimmy was that guy”.