2012-13 salary: $1,066,920 | Age: 23 | Season stats: 8.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg
Season recap: After struggling to find a consistent place in Tom Thibodeau's rotation for the first couple months of his second season, Butler flourished toward the middle of January when Luol Deng went down with a hamstring injury. By the end of the season, Butler was being counted on to play 48 minutes a night and be a defensive presence for a Bulls team that advanced to the second round of the playoffs. In a short span, Butler has become revered in Chicago for his work ethic and has quickly become an integral part of the organization's future. He has worked hard on his jump shot over the past year and has become much more consistent from beyond the arc. He is also one of the most solid defenders on the team and is routinely counted on to slow down the other team's best player, especially when Deng is on the mend.
Season lowlight: Butler scored just four points and missed two crucial free throws in the waning seconds in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks on March 31. He was just 1-for-8 from the field in 44 minutes.
Final grades: Regular Season: B Postseason: B+
Notes: The Bulls don't want to move Butler, especially given that he has a couple more years on his rookie deal before an extension is likely hammered out, but he has become one of the team's most valuable assets. The Bulls don't want to move him but they would if it was part of a package that brought another star to Chicago.
Quotes: "It brings a smile to my face, obviously," Butler said in April of being a possible two-guard of the future. "But I try not to get too caught up in the future because it's not promised. You never know what could happen. Right now I live for the moment and I praise every moment that I'm given because it's a blessing. But knowing that they want me to be here alongside Derrick (Rose), (Deng) and all these other guys, that makes me smile."
What's next?: Butler has to continue to work on his jump shot and become more consistent from the outside. His teammates and coaches love him because of his work ethic. If he wants to improve his game he'll have to live in the gym again this summer and try to make the next step in his progression.
The idea of trading Deng would have seemed preposterous just a few months ago, but then Deng got injured and Jimmy Butler stepped in to fill his role. In many ways, Butler is a Deng clone -- just younger. Butler is a solid defender who has the ability to play heavy minutes night after night and his offense continues to get better over time. Obviously, Deng is a two-time All-Star and his offensive game is much more polished than Butler's, but Deng is 28 years old, he's dealt with several major health scares recently and he may have to have surgery to fix his ailing wrist this summer. Most importantly, Deng is heading into the final year of his deal worth more than $13 million. Butler will be heading into the third year of a team-friendly rookie contract that has him locked up for a couple of more years for a fraction of Deng's salary. He is the perfect type of player to build around because he is young, cheap and only getting better.
"The coaching staff is going to have to dial down a little bit during the regular season," King said Thursday on "The Carmen & Jurko Show" on ESPN 1000. "Because I think now three years in a row you've seen the Bulls players ... they had the best record the first two years (of coach Tom Thibodeau's tenure), and then at the end of the season they're breaking down.
"That can be attributed to a lot of different things, but I think that's extended minutes. I think they're going to have to dial back on playing time on some of these guys, Luol Deng, your veteran players, Joakim Noah, playing 44, 45 minutes a night, you just can't do that."
Deng led the league during the regular season at 44.8 minutes per game. He has a wrist injury and missed the Eastern Conference semifinals after complications arose from a spinal tap designed to detect spinal meningitis.
Noah was 43rd in the league at 34.1 mpg and has dealt with plantar fasciitis throughout the season.
The theme already started in earnest Thursday, one day after the team's season ended with an Eastern Conference semifinals defeat at the hands of LeBron James and Co.
Coach Tom Thibodeau made that very case a part of his final address to the team at the Berto Center, especially since the Heat eliminated the Bulls from the playoffs two of the past three seasons.
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireTom Thibodeau hopes Marquis Teague can have as productive a summer as Jimmy Butler had last year.
"I'm looking forward to next year. It just depends on who we have coming in. If we have the same guys back that would be great and we would have a strong case for beating them. That's the main thing Thibs mostly said, just get guys back healthy and motivated to make a strong comeback. He believes we can beat them."
Despite free agents like Nate Robinson, Marco Belinelli, Nazr Mohammed, Vladimir Radmanovic and Daequan Cook, the Bulls will still return a solid starting five. Derrick Rose will be joined by Jimmy Butler in the backcourt, while Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah will line the frontcourt.
"We'll have to see," Thibodeau said when asked if the Bulls can overcome the Heat. "We have a lot of work to do to do with that. Miami, you have to give them a lot of credit. They are the defending champion, they are playing at a high level, and it takes a big-time commitment to beat them."
Which leads to another theme of Thibodeau's final address to the team. This summer will play as crucial of a role as any in next year's success.
"Jimmy, I thought, had a terrific year and it started last summer," Thibodeau said. "His commitment to work and improvement was special. Actually, I spoke to him for a while, and he's already talking about this summer and what he wants to do, and he'll be back here shortly. He'll take a brief vacation. You just love his attitude and approach."
Thibodeau hopes that the next young player to take advantage of the offseason and make himself productive the following year is guard Marquis Teague, who is scheduled to participate in the summer league.
Perhaps good health and improved youngsters will give the Bulls what it finally takes to get past the Heat, because it will take more than they had this season. Thibodeau, though, still wasn't backing off his claim that his team still had enough to beat the defending champs, even shorthanded.
"As I said, I wish we could have played a little better in this series," Thibodeau said. "I thought [Wednesday] night's game was very winnable, couldn't close it out. I thought we played well in Game 3, couldn't win that one, but it gives us something to work toward."
Rose and Joakim Noah had permission to skip coach Tom Thibodeau's final meeting and both reportedly remained in Florida.
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsTom Thibodeau hopes surgery won't be necessary for Joakim Noah, who was plagued with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
Coach Tom Thibodeau seemed most concerned with the health of Noah and Deng. Asked if Noah would need surgery for plantar fasciitis that has affected both of his feet since coming into the league, Thibodeau said that route hasn't been determined.
"Obviously, we'd like to avoid the surgery," Thibodeau said. "He has responded a lot better. He has found something that has worked. Hopefully the surgery won't be necessary."
As for Deng, who was never able to get completely healthy after the spinal tap before the final series of the season against the Miami Heat, rest will be the key.
"He's actually feeling better," Thibodeau said. "But he's de-conditioned. It was a very unusual circumstance. We have to make sure that he's completely healthy."
In addition, Taj Gibson will have a knee and ankle injury checked out as the summer moves forward.
It all made for Thibodeau's toughest coaching challenge.
"I think every year you're faced with new and different challenges," Thibideau said. "The Derrick part, we had an opportunity to prepare for. We had no idea going into the season what would happen. Would we get him back after the break? Would he miss the whole year? We knew that was a possibility. You hope for the best and plan for the worst. There were a number of other injuries we had to deal with. I loved the fight in the team."
Please don't touch or do anything that would have any significant impact on this team.
We all know that it's almost by nature that general managers make serious changes or drastically "tweak" their teams in the offseason if they don't win their last game, but just once let this team be the exception to that rule. Gar, you've gotta let this one ride.
Nick Friedell grades the Bulls, and ESPN Chicago gives you a chance to vote on which players you would keep, and which you would let go.
The Bulls' core, led by a presumably healthy Derrick Rose, will be largely intact barring a major trade this summer. The same cannot be said about the bench. With that in mind, let's take a quick look at the Bulls roster and see who will likely be returning next year. And decide for yourself with our Take Him or Trash Him.
Derrick Rose: After sitting out the entire season as he recovers from a torn ACL, the 24-year-old superstar will have a lot of pressure on him to produce. As long as he is mentally ready to go, he should be fine. He's also the only untouchable on this roster.
Joakim Noah: The emotional big man enters into the third year of his $60 million contract. He played at an All-Star level this year but he knows he must find a way to get his foot problems in order.
Rose is a former MVP who contributes more than scoring and assists, although added scoring alone would have made a difference. But he also creates better spacing for his teammates, drawing in defenders with penetration and freeing up shooters. He's a better on-ball defender than Nate Robinson. He's also an inspirational leader, and while motivation or inspiration wasn't a problem for the Bulls, the presence of Rose would have added another element.
Tom Thibodeau knew this, which is why he consistently maintained it wouldn't have been be a problem integrating Rose into the lineup after such a long absence.
Can anyone argue Rose wouldn't have been an upgrade over 20-year-old rookie Marquis Teague, who gained valuable experience this postseason and has flashed moments of potential after sitting out most of the regular season?
Rose would not have been just another warm body while Kirk Hinrich was out with a calf injury, Luol Deng recovered from an illness and complications from a spinal tap and Rip Hamilton was glued to the bench.
Jimmy Butler's 3-pointer clanked away just before the buzzer of their 94-91 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 5 on Wednesday night. They gave fans a reason to be proud in a year that was meant to be forgotten without Derrick Rose. Tom Thibodeau proved once again why he is the one of the best coaches in the league by squeezing every last drop of talent out of a roster that wasn't built to win a championship, let alone attempt to flourish in the playoffs.
But if there's one takeaway from this season aside from the fact that the Bulls' heart is unquestioned, it's this: The Bulls do not have more than enough to win a championship with no matter how many times Thibodeau tries to convince his players and fans into thinking it.
Obviously, the tenor of the entire season would have been different if Rose played. Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng would have given Thibodeau's roster a major boost if they hadn't gone down with various ailments in the final few weeks.
But even if all three of those players were healthy and accounted for, that doesn't change the fact that the Bulls don't have enough talent to match up with the Heat. The fact that the Bulls had a successful year that exceeded expectations without Rose shouldn't change the fact that Gar Forman and John Paxson have constructed a roster that is still missing a major piece.
Hamilton, who played just four games in the postseason, had just rattled off 15 points in 35 minutes in a 94-91 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 5. He kept keep coming back to the fact that in his two years with the Bulls he and the rest of his teammates had never been healthy at the same time.
"That was purpose of taking a buyout in Detroit," Hamilton said. "That was the whole purpose -- to try and win another championship. That was the reason. I (saw) a great opportunity to get that. With all the injuries and things like that that's a hard thing to swallow sometimes."
"I would love to (come back)," said Robinson, whose Bulls were eliminated by the Miami Heat on Wednesday. "Honestly, I really would. But knowing the guys that we have here, I know it's probably limited space for me, but we'll see how it goes. (I'll) talk to my agent and stuff like that and figure out what's the best plan for me. God has blessed me this far [to] continue to play the game that I love. I love this team, I love these guys, and if I could stay here it would be wonderful."
Robinson didn't even have a fully guaranteed contract until the first of the year, but he figures to draw multiyear offers from other teams this summer. Given the Bulls' current cap situation, the veteran guard understands that the financial implications may preclude him from returning to Chicago.
A lifelong Michael Jordan fan, Robinson said he has enjoyed his time in Chicago, although it didn't turn out the way he would have liked.
"It's disappointing," said Robinson, who averaged 15.8 points a game in the playoffs. "So close, but yet so far away at the same time. But this has been a great season for our team, man. We played together. This is a bunch of brothers that love each other and play for each other, and this has been the best team I've been on."
If Robinson returns, he would have to fight for playing time with Kirk Hinrich, Marquis Teague (who just completed his rookie season) and Derrick Rose (who is expected back after missing the entire season because of a knee injury). Those three guards already have guaranteed deals for next year.