Bulls' offseason questions begin with Butler
The biggest question heading into the Bulls' offseason is what will happen to their best player, guard Jimmy Butler.
Butler's future with the team may have more to do with his compatibility with general manager Gar Forman than how well Butler and Derrick Rose mesh as teammates.
Butler's rise to becoming the Bulls' best player was a rough one. He struggled with how to become a team leader, sometimes rubbing teammates the wrong way. He spoke out in December about how coach Fred Hoiberg needs to coach the team harder, although that may have been Butler's way of disguising a message to certain teammates that they need to work harder.
Butler also clashed with Forman, a situation that could conceivably lead to a trade, just a year after Butler won the NBA's Most Improved Player Award and signed a five-year $95-million contract extension.
But let's back up a little bit and examine how this came about. Butler's life story became well-known when he was first drafted by the Bulls in 2011 as the last pick of the first round. The native of Tomball, Tex., a Houston suburb, was left to fend for himself at a young age and lived with a series of friends before being informally adopted by a local family.
Butler wasn't a basketball prodigy like Rose. He spent a year at Tyler Junior College, then moved on to Marquette as a hardworking role player. His tremendous work ethic helped turn him into a two-time NBA all-star, but Butler isn't used to being the go-to guy on his teams. Fitting into the new role has been a work in progress.
After growing up without a permanent father figure in his life, Butler found several quality role models on the Bulls. Older teammates Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer took Butler under their wing. Assistant coach Adrian Griffin became a father figure, while former coach Tom Thibodeau found a way to play to Butler's strengths.
What do those four people have in common? Well, none of them are with the Bulls anymore. Maybe Butler's frustration with those changes explain why he vented to management.
From a basketball perspective, Butler's future with the Bulls seems obvious. You win with stars in the NBA and Butler is a top-15 player with a chance to move higher. He's one of the best two-way players in the league, he can take over in the fourth quarter and is in the conversation with Klay Thompson and James Harden as the league's best shooting guard.
So for the Bulls to trade Butler, they need to get a star in return. Here's one unlikely scenario that could make sense: Oklahoma City loses Kevin Durant in free agency this summer and worries about losing Russell Westbrook in 2017, so they offer Westbrook for Butler, who is signed for at least three more years, and another asset. That trade, in theory, would make sense for the Bulls. Moving Butler for two or three decent players doesn't make sense.
The Bulls could say Butler didn't mesh well with Rose. They could point to some friction between Butler and Joakim Noah after Butler talked about how the Bulls lacked leadership.
Those are problems that can be figured out. Butler is smart enough to make it work and, besides, he's not the first NBA star to rub some teammates the wrong way. There's no reason Butler needs to be traded.
Will he be traded? That answer may be determined in the coming weeks as Michael Reinsdorf, John Paxson and Forman decide on who will have the most input when it comes to rebuilding the Bulls this summer.
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