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Butler rejects 'superstar' label

Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND -- Jimmy Butler wants to be a superstar. He just doesn't want anybody to refer to him as one -- at least not yet.

The 25-year-old All-Star swingman continues to build a name for himself throughout the league after a breakout season in which he has earned the reputation for being one of the best two-way players in the game. His postseason performance, including a Game 1 outing against the Cleveland Cavaliers that included 20 points and solid defense on LeBron James over 44 minutes, has earned him even more accolades.

But when Butler hears someone refer to him as a superstar, he tries to end that talk quickly.

"Superstar?" Butler said during Tuesday's media availability. "I don't want to hear none of that. I don't want to hear none of that. I just want to be a basketball player."

Earlier this season, Butler referred to himself as being just a role player on a really good team, but the numbers -- and more importantly, the confidence his teammates and coaches have in him -- show he has taken another step in his evolution as a basketball player.

"I guess I've gained a lot of respect around the league, I'm not going to knock that," Butler said. "But I think superstar is a push. I guess I was an All-Star this year, but still, I just want to play the game. I just want to win. I don't care what people label me as. Never will care. I think winning speaks for itself."

Butler's mentality is largely why Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau loves Butler so much. It's also why Thibodeau has declined giving a firm answer all year when asked about the potential of Butler's ceiling.

"I've been around guys who have improved, and sometimes I think we lose sight of -- it has been incremental," Thibodeau said of Butler's progression. "But now all of a sudden, where he is, he's gone step by step. When you look at where he is today and you think back to where he was four years ago, each year he made a good jump. I don't want to put a lid on it, I don't know where it will end up, but he has all the characteristics that would lead you to believe that he will continue to improve. He's very, very talented. He's very hard working. He's smart. And those type of guys always improve. They always add to their game, and that's what he's done."

It's hard to know for sure exactly when a player has taken the leap from being an All-Star to a superstar, but Bulls teammate Derrick Rose has been through the process before. At 22, he became the youngest MVP in league history. Now, at 26, he's trying to work his way back from three separate injuries. He knows how difficult that journey can be to the top of the basketball world -- and he knows how hard it is to climb back up when you've fallen down.

"I really didn't think about it," Rose said. "It was something that people kind of just threw on me, threw the speculations out there, then all of a sudden I was an All-Star. Then all of a sudden, whatever you call it, superstar or whatever. But it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of focus and concentration."

Butler has all of those characteristics, which is why the Bulls remain so high on his future. But they also know he's got to continue building his game to get to the next level -- and stay there.

"It's going to take some time," Rose said. "This is the matchup right here [against James] that could definitely build his confidence as far as being a superstar player. He's playing against a player where he's extremely talented. He puts so much pressure on the defense just with him having the ball. And Jimmy -- he's got to take that challenge. I think that last game he showed up. I think we did a great job with having bodies in front of him. And I think it's going to take a little minute for Jimmy to get there."

For his part, Butler is just trying to enjoy the ride. This kind of production wasn't expected from him as the 30th pick in the 2011 draft, especially at this point in his career. But Butler always believed he was capable of this and he has always believed this was possible. That's why he remains unfazed by the stage he finds himself on now.

"I think as long as I continue to work on my game, I'll be here to stay," Butler said. "Hopefully play for a long time if I'm healthy. I think people may know who I am a little bit now, but I still got a long way to go. I think this is the next step -- in the playoffs -- helping the team advance, helping us win. But I don't do it by myself. I got teammates for that, and they'll be a big reason why I'm still here."