CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler doesn't want to lie.
He's just played 48 minutes in a hard-fought 101-98 loss to the lowly Toronto Raptors and he looks exhausted. But while his body looks beat up as he sits slouched in a chair in front of his locker, his words paint a much a cheerier picture. The idea that Butler, who dropped in a career-high 28 points and pulled down seven rebounds could be the two-guard of the Bulls future, is very appealing to the Marquette alum.
"It brings a smile to my face, obviously," Butler said. "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), (Luol Deng) and all these other guys, that makes me smile."
Butler's recent performances should make Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls front office smile even brighter these days. In just his second season, Butler has proven that he should at least be part of the conversation as to who should replace Rip Hamilton at the two-guard spot when he Hamilton leaves this summer. Butler came into Tuesday night's affair averaging 8.1 points and 3.7 rebounds in almost 25 minutes. It's clear to his teammates why the happy-go-lucky 23-year-old is having more success this season.
"Confidence," Hamilton said of Butler. "From a physical standpoint, you look at him (he's) 6-7, 6-8, 225, strong. Just confidence. Understanding the NBA game. It's different than being in a college (setting)."
In Hamilton's mind, the key difference for his young teammate is the fact that he has improved his shooting dramatically. Butler has improved his field goal percentage by almost six percentage points from last year to now.
"Before when he came in he used to shoot darts," Hamilton said with a laugh. "He used to shoot dart shots and I used to say, 'Yo, just get underneath the basket and just shoot high-arching shots so you can practice and get a rhythm of shooting the ball up. You jump so high you think you can jump over everybody but you're shooting darts.' So (the difference is) just understanding his shot, how he can get his shot, how to play in the NBA is different than the college game."
Butler bridged the gap by putting in the work. Coaches have repeatedly praised his work ethic over the summer and they were happy with the time he spent working on his game. Instead of just being viewed as a defensive stopper, Butler worked out to prove he was an offensive threat as well.
He wanted to take the next step in his development and it appears that he has. Is he the two-guard of the future? Only time will tell -- but he has certainly given the Bulls plenty to think about.
With Butler's emergence, the Bulls have to think long and hard as to whether they should shop Luol Deng over the summer. If the Bulls feel like Butler is a long term solution, they could conceivably trade Deng for younger, cheaper pieces and move Butler to the three position while trying to go after a two-guard next summer. They could also decide to keep Deng and Butler and form a solid defensive duo. Either way, it looks as if Butler has worked his way into a lot more playing time in the future.
So does he prefer to be the two or the three of the future?
"No," he said firmly Tuesday night. "I'm doing whatever I want to do right now. The future? Hell, tomorrow's not even promised, not to even think (about) next season. We'll just keep going right now, keep winning these games and go into the playoffs."