By Mike McGraw
The task at hand for second-year Bulls forward Jimmy Butler is to take over the perimeter defensive role held by Ronnie Brewer the past two seasons.
That has been more of a challenge than meets the eye.
You see, Butler and Brewer were practically inseparable last season, probably the closest pair in the Bulls’ locker room since the early days of Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni.
You might have to go back to Steve Kerr and Jud Buechler to find two Bulls players who hung out together so often.
It was common to see Butler sitting at his locker for a half-hour after games, fully dressed, waiting for Brewer to finish getting ready to go. They always worked together after practice and usually were the last players to leave the court.
Pro sports can be a cruel business. Good news, Jimmy, your role is about to expand. Hope you don’t mind saying goodbye to your best friend to make it happen.
“It was tough. Ronnie’s my guy, like a brother to me,” Butler said Thursday at the Berto Center. “He taught me a lot of different things, and I got to kind of mold my game after him a little bit. I don’t want to say I’m just like Ronnie, but I’m a lot like Ronnie.
“It’s always tough to see that guy leave because he put me under his wing. I was his guy, his rook. I was everybody else’s rookie, but he put the most time in with me.”
Brewer left in the well-documented bench purge of 2012. Facing a huge luxury-tax bill, the Bulls had no choice, really, but to replace Brewer, Kyle Korver, Omer Asik and C.J. Watson with less expensive alternatives.
Brewer signed with the New York Knicks for the veteran’s minimum. He’s sidelined by arthroscopic knee surgery but should be back in a few weeks.
Butler said there was no bitterness toward the Bulls from Brewer, who has a very upbeat and down-to-earth personality.
“I think maybe he kind of knew it was coming, but he’s still the same guy,” Butler said. “Whenever I could on the weekends, when Thibs (coach Tom Thibodeau) would let me go, I’d go to Arkansas and kick with him and his family and his people.
“I went down to Arkansas three or four times over the summer, instead of going home or staying here, just because we grew so close. I feel like that friendship, that brotherhood will last for a lifetime now.”
Butler is hoping the lone season they spent as teammates will aid his NBA career. The former Marquette forward figures Brewer was a perfect role model because their skills are so similar. Butler is an inch or two taller, while Brewer probably has better handles.
“When I see him play, it’s like, ‘I’m athletic, I can guard, I can make the open shot. I can do what Ronnie does,’” Butler said. “I think that’s what made it so easy for me to catch on to everything. Because I’d look at him, see him out there doing it, and I’d try to do it.”
With a chance to put what he learned from Brewer to the test, Butler had a rough go in the Bulls’ preseason opener Tuesday. He hit 1 of 11 shots for 2 points, to go with 6 rebounds and 2 steals in 25 minutes of action.
“I don’t think it was as much nervous as it was so anxious to do well,” he said. “I was moving extremely too fast. Watching on film, that’s not me. That’s not team basketball. That’s not the way that we play. That definitely can’t happen.”
Thibodeau needs to decide whether to leave Luol Deng on the floor with the second unit, as he did last year, or give those extra minutes to Butler. The Bulls also have Vladimir Radmanovic waiting in the wings to grab some minutes at small forward.
Butler is trying not to use preseason to prove he deserves more playing time.
“I think if I think too much about it, I’ll shoot like I shot last game,” he added. “I was out there trying to do way too much, and that’s not the game I have.
“I should never do that. When I don’t think about it, I’ll just play basketball and be OK.”
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