By Mike McGraw
Jimmy Butler considers himself a humble kid from Tomball, Texas, but last summer he decided it was time to hit Hollywood.
He attended the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, then made a second trip to the West Coast to work out with Derrick Rose. So Butler must have met some celebrities who appreciated his hardworking, 48-minute style on the basketball court.
"Actually, I did," Butler said. "I was eating dinner and Tyson Chandler came up to me and shook my hand and said, 'Man, I really respect you and how hard you play and your game.'
"That's like, wow, he knows who I am. I'm from Tomball. Nobody's supposed to know who I am."
Hold on a second. Tyson Chandler, that's your celebrity? The former Bull and current New York Knicks center isn't exactly a Hollywood A-lister.
"He's an NBA player," Butler responded. "I'll take that each and every day."
So that's the way it goes for Butler. Actually, he did play pickup basketball with actor Mark Wahlberg later in the summer. Wahlberg was in town filming whatever number "Transformers" movie they're up to, and he requested a Berto Center visit.
Butler was in the building, doing what he does best during the summers. Coach Tom Thibodeau has dropped hints that Butler took another step forward, which will be interesting to see when the preseason schedule begins Saturday at Indiana.
"I think his confidence shooting the ball, that's continued," Thibodeau said. "I love his attitude and approach. That hasn't changed from the day he walked into the gym, and I hope it never does. I think if you have those type of characteristics, you'll continue to improve."
When the playoffs ended, Thibodeau announced that he expected Butler to remain a starter. After playing sporadically as a rookie, the No. 30 draft pick from Marquette was one of the league's biggest surprises last year. In the playoffs he averaged 13.3 points and shot 40.5 percent from 3-point range.
Butler has a plan in mind for how he expects to continue the improvement and not flatten out in his third NBA season.
"Keep doing what I've been doing to get to this point," Butler said. "Never stop working because when you stop working you're either going to stay the same or people will pass you and you're going to get worse.
"I feel like as long as I stay in the gym, I think I can keep getting better."
Training camp provided the first opportunity for the Bulls to test out the Butler-Derrick Rose backcourt.
It seems to be a natural fit, since Butler handled most every challenge last season, but it's still a first-time experience. With Rose sitting out all of last season, these two haven't spent much time in the same lineup.
"He's playing with a lot more confidence," Rose said of Butler. "We're just trying to get him comfortable. He's been knocking down his shot."
Butler already has recognized how Rose should make his job easier and probably bring a new dimension to the Bulls' fastbreak.
"It's fun. He makes everything so much easier," Butler said of Rose. "You get out in the open floor, he's putting the ball in the air for the highlight plays or he's finishing himself.
"It's crazy because I've never really done it before. I've just watched.
"Put that ball in the air and dunk it, hang on the rim, scream, all that good stuff. It's crazy. People may think I'm a little athletic, but seeing the things he does …"
OK, after hanging out in the gym with Rose on those California summer days, it's no wonder Butler doesn't get star-struck easily.