Bulls fill a need with Marquette's Butler
Bulls general manager Gar Forman gave reporters a few nonspecific quotes about the upcoming NBA Draft earlier this week at the Berto Center.
At one point, Forman talked about wanting head coach Tom Thibodeau involved in the process. So we should have known.
Naturally, the team with a defensive-minded coach chose a defensive stopper with the only pick that's likely to end up on the roster next season. The Bulls chose 6-foot-8 forward Jimmy Butler from Marquette with the final selection of the first round.
Within the first few seconds of a teleconference with reporters on Thursday, Butler talked about how defense will be his specialty and mentioned a couple of unpopular rivals without being prompted.
"I'm going to put in the work to be able to guard LeBron (James) and Dwyane Wade and all those guys so the Bulls can get to that championship," Butler said from his home in Tomball, Tex.
"I'm working on my outside shot, so I'm going to be able to knock that down. But I think the biggest thing is defense. I'm going to be a pest. I'm going to take up everybody's space, make them work for every little thing."
The Bulls couldn't talk about their other first-round selection and he probably won't be wearing a uniform for a few years, anyway.
They sent the No. 28 and 43 picks, plus some cash, most likely, to Minnesota for the No. 23 pick, which was used on 6-foot-10 forward Nikola Mirotic.
Mirotic, a 20-year-old native of Montenegro, is one of those multiskilled European big men with an accurate outside shot. He played a supporting role in Real Madrid's run to the Euroleague Final Four this season.
He won the Euroleague Rising Star Award, an honor that previously went to future NBA players Ricky Rubio, Danilo Gallinari, Rudy Fernandez and Andrea Bargnani.
Mirotic also signed a five-year contract with Real Madrid, so he'll likely remain in Europe for a few more years. The Bulls waited two years for center Omer Asik after acquiring him on draft night 2008 and that move seemed to be a smart decision.
It was interesting that the Bulls could have selected Providence shooting guard Marshon Brooks with the No. 23 pick, but chose not to address that position at all Thursday.
For now, the focus will be on Butler, who has an interesting life story. The Texas native became homeless at age 13 when his biological mother no longer wanted to care for him. He stayed with friends for a while and was eventually taken in by the Lambert family, who joined him for senior night at Marquette.
"I just think it toughened me up, because I had to grow up at a young age," Butler said. "I never had anything, but I made it. I never complained. I just put my head down and kept pushing through everything. That's my story. This is my family and I wouldn't change anything for the world."
Butler attended Tyler (Tex.) Junior College for a year before moving on to Marquette. Last season, he averaged 15.7 points and 6.1 rebounds. He was named MVP of the Portsmouth Invitational, a tournament for draft prospects, and measured an impressive 39-inch vertical leap at the Chicago predraft camp.
"We've known about Jimmy for a number of years," Forman said. "His junior college coach in Tyler, Tex., is actually a very good friend of mine that I've known for 20 years.
"The thing that we're so excited about with Jimmy is his versatility. He's 6-8; he's got a strong frame, a nice body. He's a good athlete and he's a very, very versatile defender."
In the playoff loss to Miami, the Bulls could have used someone besides Derrick Rose to step up and hit a big shot late in the fourth quarter. But there was also an obvious need for another strong defender at the small forward spot, who could give Luol Deng a break from guarding James.
Deng did an admirable job against James for most of the Eastern Conference finals, but the Bulls seemed to wear down late in games and James took advantage of their defensive lapses. In the NBA Finals, Dallas rotated DeShawn Stevenson and Shawn Marion on James.
"Defense is a big thing for me," Butler said. "I really take pride in my defense. I take it personal when somebody scores on me. I know you can't shut guys down every night, but you can give it your best effort and that's what I'm going to do on both ends of the floor in every game."
Clearly, Butler has already spoken to Thibodeau. When the expected NBA lockout ends, there will be no need for introductions.