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Today’s Fastbreak Roundtable: Dissecting Jimmy Butler’s Comments

November 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg (right) instructs guard Jimmy Butler (21) during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Bulls 106-94. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler made waves with some recent comments seemingly directed at new head coach Fred Hoiberg. A group of Today’s Fastbreak contributors got together to discuss those comments and whether this signals big trouble for the Bulls.

Jason Patt: Jimmy Butler called out his new head coach after the Bulls’ loss to the Knicks on Saturday. He followed up today by saying he had no regrets about his statements, but he also claimed he wasn’t calling out Fred Hoiberg, which seems pretty bogus to me. What are your guys’ thoughts on all of this?

Michael Wonsover: I think Jimmy Butler’s words are true, but he had no business saying them to reporters.

Butler can be a great leader, but he needs to learn that’s not the way to send a message to your team. Butler should individually talk to the guys that he thinks aren’t working hard enough. He shouldn’t publicly call out the coach to get his point across. I also agree with what Ricky from SB Nation tweeted about this matter. The Bulls played the same way under Thibs last season. You just never know when the Bulls are going to show up with energy. They aren’t good enough of a team to play without energy. That’s why they got crushed by the Knicks (the 4OT game didn’t help either).

Butler and Hoiberg at least made up in an hour-long conversation behind closed doors. But the next time Butler has a point to make, he shouldn’t say it to reporters. Say it to the person’s face. Butler is a leader on the floor, so he can be one in the locker room as well.

Kelly Scaletta: It’s not a Bulls season until it’s a soap opera.

I think he probably said something in the frustration of the moment which means more than he’s saying now, but not as much as it was taken to me. Is it possible for nuance to exist in the Internet age?

I mean, there’s some truth to what he said, there is more “quit” in this team than they’ve shown in the past. And Jimmy is usually the one going the hardest, so a lot of the “The way to send the message is to show it on the court” chatter I’m seeing on Twitter sort of ignores that.

I agree with Michael that Jimmy should have found a better way to say it. And we don’t know specifically who he was targeting. But it just seems on the whole to me to be blown out of context. And let’s face it, the group that didn’t want Thibs fired are seizing on this as proof. Though, I think some forget there was quit in the Bulls last year too.

The Bulls get more fake controversy than any team in the league. It comes with the territory. Jimmy should have known better than that. He’s been here long enough to know. So I agree with Michael that making those comments to the media was ill-advised.

We’ll probably end up talking about this for the rest of the season.

Trenton Jocz: That Jimmy seems more interested in being known as a leader than actually being a leader. Stuff like warming up by himself (according to K.C. Johnson’s report) and not joining the team on their Napa trip don’t seem like big things in the grand scheme, but now he’s talking about holding people accountable when he’s already been isolating himself.

If he wanted to walk the walk about being the leader, none of this would have come out. It sounds like Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol (who has also complained about his touches) lit into the team at halftime versus the Sixers and it wasn’t discussed until now. Noah didn’t need that leaked to the press to be a leader; he just does it. Instead, even Butler’s attempts to downplay the story this morning featured more talk of him publicly establishing himself as a leader. It all feels very self-promotional.

Jason: I definitely agree that this shouldn’t have been taken to the media, even if Butler was frustrated and if there are true aspects to it. It’s just not necessary to bring that kind of drama upon the team in the coach’s first year.

The point Trenton made about Butler really trying too hard to be a leader is an interesting one. He’s never really been a leader before, and he made it a point before the season to say he felt he should be one. Now it does seem like he’s really trying TOO hard. That K.C. Johnson story Trenton mentioned had a few interesting tidbits about Butler flipping out at practice and how his leadership style has rubbed some the wrong way, and that Noah even had to talk to him about it. Like Hoiberg, Butler is learning as well, and hopefully he learns from his mistakes.

Dec. 16, 2015 - Chicago, IL, USA - The Chicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler (21) drives on the Memphis Grizzlies' Jeff Green (32) in the first half at the United Center in Chicago on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015 (Photo by Chris Sweda/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

Chris Sweda/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Kelly: Is there room for “learning to be a leader?”

Michael: How long have we talked about the Bulls needing a leader? Derrick Rose used to be the target of everyone’s criticism about leadership, but now he’s not a good enough player (or vocal enough) to command attention from his teammates. Noah is coming off the bench. Gasol is probably playing his last year in Chicago. Butler is clearly the guy that should be the leader of this team. The players will listen to what he has to say, and he doesn’t have to come across as a leader by doing the things Trenton talked about. Real leaders don’t show their leadership in front of cameras or reporters.

Trenton: The part I don’t get is who Butler (and people who think the Bulls have an effort problem) is actually talking about. It’s obviously not Noah or Taj Gibson. Doug McDermott has clearly worked hard to improve his defense and he moves efficiently in Hoiberg’s offense, while Kirk Hinrich, for all his faults, is playing well this year and always plays hard.

The obvious culprits would seem to be Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol, except Johnson’s report says a source close to Butler asserted that the comments are not directed at Rose, while a Joe Cowley report from the summer notes that Butler respected how hard Gasol went in practice every day. I can see how the Bulls have an effort problem in terms of attention to detail in the new offense, but that’s not the same as taking inferior teams lightly. Maybe Jimmy is referring to guys like Nikola Mirotic and Tony Snell, young players who have stagnated, but that’s hardly enough to affect the whole team or merit sounding the alarm.

Kelly: Exactly, Trenton. And that’s part of why I think we need to evaluate the comments in context. He said something out of frustration after getting blown out by an inferior team coming on the heels of a quadruple-overtime loss, a back-to-back and no sleep. Maybe it was nothing more than Jimmy just feeling pissy and lashing out at the world in general.

Jason: I’d say part of that is definitely true, but this isn’t a completely isolated incident, as I mentioned before.

It’s also worth nothing that there are rumblings that Butler hasn’t embraced Hoiberg’s offense, and quite frankly, sometimes that’s evident on the floor. I love Butler and he’s clearly the Bulls’ best player, but there have been times where he ball-stops and takes poor shots in isolation. And apparently part of the offensive changes Hoiberg has made have been to appease Butler’s craving for isos. It’s a bit weird that Butler wouldn’t embrace an uptempo game that should play to his strengths.

Michael: Butler jacks up some of the most mid-range jumpers in the league, and he hasn’t been efficient on those shots. Mid-range shots make up for 37.1 percent of Butler’s attempts and he’s converting on 34.5 percent of those shots, which is well below league average. I’d like to see Butler cut more as well as play more in the mid-post. People have been critical of Hoiberg’s offense heavily leaning towards mid-range shots, but that’s more personnel than his preferred style. Butler, Gasol and Rose take a ton of shots from the mid-range. The players need to buy into the system as well.

Kelly: Some the alley-oops that have been set up for Jimmy are pretty impressive, so you’d think he’d be more receptive to the offense.

And I certainly don’t mean to imply that Jimmy is perfect here, but I just think the criticism needs to be measured. He does work hard and does do a lot by example.

Trenton: I could see these comments being benign if the behind the scenes drama didn’t come out. He’s clearly causing problems, and even going back a few months, there’s quotes from Gibson and McDermott that sugarcoat it to sound complimentary but ultimately confirm that Jimmy has “gone Hollywood.” I think it’s a testament to Chicago’s culture that the only reason these ugly details were released is because Jimmy made himself the story.

Kelly: But I wonder how much of that “behind the scenes drama” that came out is interpretation.

I mean, it’s like Bulls fans are pretty quick to turn on their stars. It’s kind of sad to me.

And for some clarification, I think there’s room between “Jimmy needs to grow here” and “Jimmy has become poison to the team.” KC’s article was not pretty. I’m not excluding Jimmy’s culpability.

Trenton: Is cursing out your coaches in film sessions and alienating teammates to the point where Noah had to pull him aside simply interpretation? I don’t think so. And as has been pointed out, he’s clearly looking for shots that are “get mine” kind of looks. Hoiberg tweaked the offense to appease Jimmy, who’s now saying Fred has to hold them all accountable. Part of me connects the dots between the Bulls visibly being less connected on the court and the effect these things have on team chemistry.

Kelly: I think those are instances of interpretation, yes.

How did Jimmy respond when Noah talked to him? Did he know his team was feeling alienated by it?

Players cuss. Was his statement during practice a volatile argument? Did he storm out of the room?

I mean, it’s easy enough to lay out breadcrumbs that lead to a specific conclusion. That doesn’t mean you have the whole loaf of bread.

Jason: It definitely does seem like there’s been some negative effect here, although I don’t think this situation is a death knell for this season or anything. That might be simply taken care of by the players not being good enough.

Michael: I don’t think it’s fair to turn Butler into a villain, but it is fair to question his intent. He’s smart enough to know that voicing concerns to the media is a big no-no. When given the chance to go back on his comments, he instead said he didn’t take back anything. Butler is a great guy by all means, just look at what he went through as a child, but he’s smart enough to know this isn’t a good look. Hopefully he keeps this kind of stuff outside the public eye in the future.

Nov. 24, 2015 - JIMMY BUTLER (21) and MASON PLUMLEE (24) exchange words in an altercation. The Portland Trailblazers hosted the Chicago Bulls at the Moda Center. (Photo by David Blair/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

David Blair/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Kelly: How about this? Sometimes these conversation need more than two options.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where a 1 is “Innocent and innocuous comments get blown out of proportion” and a 10 is “Butler has gone full-scale Hollywood and he’s train-wrecking the team with his attitude,” where do you put the situation at? I’m going with a 4.

Trenton: Kelly, I think that’s totally fair, I just lean against it because there’s so much smoke now that’s it hard to deny the existence of a fire. I’d go with about a 7. I agree with you guys that he’s not an outright villain and this won’t submarine them or anything, but it does feel very striking to see a Bull so clearly out for himself after years of unselfishness.

I guess my worry is, what reason do we have to expect things to change? Butler had a chance to fix the situation this morning, but instead only supports Hoiberg’s offense because they both have five year contracts and “we have to make it work,” and in Kobe-esque fashion, said “People want me to lead. You take my leadership for what it is. Some people may like it, some people don’t.”

Michael: I’d probably say a 4 or 5. He’s the last guy I’d worry about being a true poison to a team, a la a DeMarcus Cousins or Rajon Rondo-type. Every team would love to have Butler. This will be forgotten in time.

Jason: I’d put it as a 5 as well. It’s not something that’ll blow everything up right now, but it’s at least something to keep an eye on moving forward. Butler did seem mostly unapologetic about it, so not sure how much of his demeanor will really change. You can argue that having a Kobe/MJ mentality like this isn’t a bad thing, but Butler really isn’t on that level.

Here’s another question. How much of this may be a byproduct of Thibs’s maniacal tendencies?

Michael: I think people are overblowing the differences between Thibs and Hoiberg. The Bulls are second in defensive efficiency right now, up from 11th a season ago. Hoiberg is still playing Butler 38 minutes a game. Sure Hoiberg isn’t screaming ICE! ICE! on the sidelines, but he’s a basketball lifer as well.

People have been quick to make out Hoiberg as some clueless rookie coach. He hasn’t even been given a chance yet. I’ll need to see more than just a quarter of the season to already give up on Hoiberg. I think he has a chance to bring out the best in his players like Thibs, but he certainly isn’t there yet.

I also don’t think this team is missing Thibs’s ways of overplaying players and driving them into the ground. If the team loved Thibs as much as they publicly say, he’d probably still be the coach.

Trenton: I’ve mentioned this elsewhere (including Trust The Podcast, the official podcast of Today’s Fastbreak!), but some of the Hoiberg criticism thus far is very hypocritical. He’s messed up some timeouts and rotations, but if he was really full-fledged forcing his offense onto this roster that, based on Jimmy and Pau, loves their isos, he’d be compared to someone like Chip Kelly, who’s running his fast-paced offense whether his defense can handle the pace or not.

Hoiberg is allowing the players some freedom while trying to incorporate his tendencies, and he’s also been far more willing to mix up rotations than Thibs ever was. Snell and McDermott have both started games, and every big has had their moments. He’s even willing to shake up his rotations to include Bobby Portis because the rookie has earned the opportunity. In contrast, it wasn’t until late March last year that Thibs played Mirotic even 20 minutes in a single game when the team was healthy.

Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg talks to the media.

Caylor Arnold/USA TODAY Sports

Kelly: I think that there are some Bulls fans who didn’t want to see Thibs go. And that’s a completely understandable position. As a result, I think there’s an element that wants to see Hoiberg fail so they can say, “I told you so.”

I thought the Bulls would be a LOT more entertaining than they have been.That said, it’s not like they have a losing record. I feel like five weeks is premature to declare Hoiball as dead. And I think Trenton makes a lot of fair points about distinguishing between the two.

Personally, sometimes the Bulls soap opera wears on me.

Jason: I think it wears on everybody, ha.

And interestingly enough, I just heard Nick Friedell say on the radio that Jimmy was one of the guys who wanted Thibs gone….although KC said Jimmy still talks to Thibs. So who the hell knows what to think!

Trenton: Yeah, to analogize to another Philly football coach, I’ve compared Thibs to Andy Reid. He can still be a good coach while not being the right coach anymore. It was clear that the players needed a change, but that doesn’t mean I think Thibs will do a bad job at his next gig.

Sometimes coaches just run their course, and that was true even without considering all the organizational strife between Thibs and the front office (where both sides held culpability). The Bulls didn’t start off on fire under Thibs either, and it’s clear the East isn’t going to run away from them. If the Bulls happened to miss the playoffs, a whole lot more than Hoiberg will have gone wrong.

Jason: Have to think this team is too talented to miss the playoffs, but even then I don’t have much excitement for this group as it stands now. Long season of course, and I really hope things can change. Because I want to believe!

Michael: They’ll make the playoffs for sure, but I don’t know if that’s a good thing. Really need some young talent right now. Drafting late every year and not making it to the ECF kinda stinks. Guess it beats being the Sixers.

Kelly: Haha!!! There ARE things worth than death. Being a Sixers  fan probably tops that list.

Being a Bulls fan is hangnail bad. It’s annoying, but not that bad.

Michael: Still, considering our worst fears for Derrick Rose actually came to life (not to mention with Noah to an extent as well), things have been pretty bad as of late. If not for Jimmy Butler, there might be nothing to look forward to right now.

Jason: Not to mention Niko stinks. Good grief. #FreeBobbyPortis

Kelly: Dougie has been a bright spot in many ways. He’s improved his defense  to “being able to stay on the court” bad. And he’s really a pretty good scorer.

Michael: Yeah, the whole Niko thing really hurts. Looked like he was gonna be another Jimmy Butler situation where a franchise cornerstone came out of nowhere, but he’s just so awful. Really hard to defend him at this point. McDermott is good, but he isn’t even consistent offensively, let alone defensively.

Jason: And now it looks like Niko may start at SF. It’s getting weird in Chicago!

Kelly: Sigh.

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