Storyline: Hoiberg-Butler Dynamic

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So I enjoyed your ESPN segment, but wanted to follow up with a question. When you said the Bulls took the “Fred Hoiberg route,” what does that mean? Jimmy Butler: “That means like everybody knows me and Fred had some riff-raff. We didn’t agree on many things. And I think eventually, everybody was like, ‘Yo, they’re either going to build the team around Jimmy, or they’re going to go the route with Fred, the up-and-down, shoot a lot of threes or, you know… Look, I iso-ed a little bit (smiles). Yeah, I iso a little bit. And that’s not the way that Fred plays the game. And that’s what I was saying, that it was either, ‘We’re going to build the team around me for a little bit and allow me to distribute the basketball, iso in pick and roll. Or you go with Fred – go up and down, shoot a lot of threes, that type of stuff. That spread type – kind of Golden State-esque, you know what I mean? They went that route, and that’s all I’m saying, and that’s fine. That’s what I was saying. Nothing’s wrong with that.”

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It put Hoiberg in an awkward position of sorts and Butler received criticism for calling out his coach publicly. No matter where people sat in terms of the comments, it made for scrutinized co-existence that will only be more scrutinized until the wins start piling up. “We had a lot of conversations and I don’t see any issues with Jimmy Butler and I,” Hoiberg said. “The biggest thing as a staff is we have 15 guys that we gotta coach and hopefully put them in situations and utilize their skill sets and get the most out of them.”

The days of Thibodeau overextending Noah in a meaningless regular-season game seem like a distant utopia. Chemistry issues continue to plague the Bulls’ locker room, league sources told The Vertical. Grumblings range from Hoiberg’s inability to hold players accountable – a complaint registered publicly by Butler last December and one that lingers in the locker room today, a source said – to Butler’s shoddy shot selection to the disconnect within the team offensively.

“I still got respect for him,” Butler said after scoring 28 points in a 102-100 overtime win over the Indiana Pacers. “I don’t think it’s a different light. Nothing I do is to disrespect anybody. I think he realizes I’m going to be here, I realize he’s going to be here, so we got to deal with each other anyways. I think that he’s holding me accountable for everything. He talked to me whenever I was low energy last game, and I fixed it. That’s the type of guy he is. He has the utmost confidence in me because he continually put the ball in my hand when he didn’t have to.”

“I think we’re both learning a lot about each other,” Butler said. “He’s probably learning how moody I am on a daily basis, to tell you the truth. And it’s hard, but I think he lets me be who I am. He handles everything that I do very well. I’m not a big communicator, I’m not great at it, but he’s always talking to me. He’s always asking, ‘How are you doing? What can we do?’ He’s always asking my opinion on a lot of things. Yeah, it helped a lot.”

That’s the problem for the Bulls. They say the right things but they don’t follow the words up with the right actions. When asked about Butler’s comments, Gasol, who wasn’t in New York City on Saturday after being given the night off to rest, actually seemed to agree with Butler’s sentiment. The veteran believed Butler should have kept his commentary “indoors” but didn’t condemn him the way he could have. “I don’t mind those comments,” Gasol said. “I think those comments are positive. Those comments and those attitudes doesn’t raise my eyebrows. I think it’s good that certain guys want to take ownership and say, ‘Hey, let’s go.’ But that also comes with responsibility. It’s not just on the floor, but off the floor in everything you do. So from that standpoint, absolutely, go ahead. I don’t disagree with it. I think Jimmy’s obviously one of the main guys here. But that’s not singling out who’s the leader, who’s the biggest star, who’s the whatever. It’s a team sport. It’s a team game and we all have our role and we all have to do it well in order for us to function and win.”

“Do I regret it? No,” Butler said, who has assumed a more vocal role in the locker room since signing a 5-year, $95 million contract this past offseason. “A little frustrated after a loss, yeah, but then again I put a lot of it on myself now because I got to lead better. … I know that we have what it takes to win here. I mean, people are going to think what they want to think. People want me to lead, you take my leadership for what it is. Some people may like it, some people don’t. Money has absolutely nothing to do with it. I feel like I’ve been here long enough, I’m one of the so-called vets that I can’t allow stuff to happen when I see it happen, so I put that on myself.”
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