Trevor Block – Indy Writer
Chicago, IL – Much of the conversation surrounding the Chicago Bulls of late has dealt with their perceived chemistry issues.
While it may be beneficial to explore why the Bulls win big games and lose others, the frustration of fans stems from the team’s potential to play with the best in the league, but their inability, at times, to do so. Take the game against Oklahoma City on Christmas Day for example. The Bulls played very well against a streaking Thunder team toting two of the most dynamic scorers in the NBA. Even when the game got close in the fourth quarter the Bulls were able to hang on and pull out a victory on national television.
Then they played Dallas the following day, losing that game by letting up a whopping 118 points, the second largest total for Bulls’ opponents this year. Dallas isn’t necessarily a poor team (currently fifth in the West at 19-13), but letting up 118 points is never a recipe for success.
These types of inconsistencies are what prime the media and fans to question the togetherness of the team. Not to mention the questionable wording of interviews from team leader Jimmy Butler. Butler has declared himself the best player on the team in interviews, in one way or another, multiple times this year. Additionally, Bulls writer Nick Fridell has publicized that Jimmy’s overall attitude has changed from his previous seasons in the NBA, saying that he has “rubbed some people the wrong way with how he goes about things.”
This could be a fabrication of what is actually going on in the locker room, but Butler has undoubtedly changed since signing a 5 year $95 million contract extension over the summer. However, was it not the Bull’s intention to bolster Butler’s responsibilities on the court and off the court? All good teams have an unquestioned leader who is the best all-around player on the court. It would be difficult to find someone who would say that Butler is not the best player on the Bulls. Jimmy deserves the respect of a team leader, a playoff team leader.
But therein lies the problem that Fridell and others have highlighted. Butler’s methods of establishing himself as the leader need to change. A leader is chosen organically, not self-appointed. Butler’s play should dictate his status as the leader of this team. And it has.
Take a look at the Bulls’ most recent game against the Indiana Pacers. Butler led the team to an overtime win against one of their most threatening division rivals. Not to mention he drew the toughest guard of the night, tasked with stopping MVP candidate Paul George. Jimmy’s offense was stagnant until the fourth quarter, in which he scored 15 of his 28 points. Butler then had the game winning tip, over Paul George, off an alley oop pass from Pau Gasol. What else can the best player/leader on a team do?
He continued his team leader role during postgame interviews by praising Pau for his exceptional pass that led to the game winning tip.
“That’s on Pau,” said Jimmy. Real recognize real.
Jimmy did everything right from a team leader standpoint last night, showing those who question the chemistry of the team and Jimmy’s role in it that it could all be just a bunch of hoopla. And as for how his teammates felt about him taking over (again) in the fourth quarter, I’ll just leave this here:
“To tell you the truth, [my teammates] kept giving me the ball,” Butler said. “I wasn’t making shots earlier but they told me to stay aggressive.”
Side note: Another strong game from rookie Bobby Portis, ending with 16 points and 7 boards against the Pacers. That’s two straight games that Portis has gotten more than 25 minutes of playing time.