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Butler focusing on his play, not new deal

CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler would rather not talk about the looming contract extension hovering over him as the regular season nears.

He discussed the matter when camp opened last week and sounded hopeful a deal would get done before the Oct. 31 deadline for first-round picks heading into their fourth season. He wants to stay in Chicago, and the Bulls want to keep the 25-year-old defensive stalwart.

Having said that, Butler feels understandably uncomfortable talking about his future. When the topic of the new TV deal that the NBA signed with ESPN and TNT came up recently, Butler deflected questions as a knowing smile crossed his face.

"I don't know nothing about a TV deal," he said. "I just know that it's my contract year and I got to play well and I want to help win. That's all that I know."

But Butler, and most assuredly his agent, Happy Walters, knows more than that. The new TV deal will affect Butler and every other NBA player on some level. The difference for Butler is that even if the deadline to sign an extension passes without coming to a new agreement with the Bulls, he would become a restricted free agent this summer and will still become one of the first players to sign a deal in the new cap era. Only time -- and negotiations between the players and owners -- will tell just how much the cap will rise, but everyone is expecting an economic windfall.

In the short term, Butler is doing his best to avoid the chatter surrounding his future. After shooting just 1-for-7 in his first preseason game Monday, he responded Tuesday by going 7-for-9 from the field in an overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons.

Talks are ongoing between the Bulls and Walters regarding Butler's new deal, but the Bulls front office appears to be taking the same approach it did with Taj Gibson a couple of seasons ago: Wait until the very end and then see how the numbers shake out on both sides.

Should the Bulls give Butler what he wants now without risking another team making him a big-money offer in the summer? And exactly how much is Butler asking for?

While neither side wants to negotiate publicly, it's fair to assume that Butler would be looking for somewhere around what close friend and former Bulls teammate Luol Deng received from the Miami Heat this summer -- around $10 million a season. Walters may want even more than that given that Butler is just 25 years old and made the All-NBA defensive second team last season. Deng is a two-time All-Star and a better all-around player, but he has a lot more NBA mileage on his legs than Butler.

From the Bulls' perspective, Butler has become one of the players coach Tom Thibodeau trusts the most. Like Deng before him, Butler is counted on to defend the opposition's best perimeter player and play 40-plus minutes a game. But his shooting remains inconsistent. Butler shot 39.7 percent from the field last season and just 28.3 percent from behind the 3-point line. In the end, this might be the biggest reason a deal won't get done. The Bulls are a much deeper offensive team than they were a year ago, but they still need Butler to hit shots consistently.

Thibodeau was asked after Thursday's practice if he was disappointed in Butler's offensive performance last season.

"I don't know if I would say I was disappointed in him," Thibodeau said. "That's why I understand the value of training camp. I think Jimmy missed a lot of time in training camp last year. I didn't think he was in great shape. I thought his defense was terrific. I thought he did a lot of things that were good, but I never thought he found a rhythm. And that's why it's so important to practice and play and get yourself ready for the season."

Butler and Derrick Rose played only eight games together last season after Butler injured his toe in the first month of the year and Rose missed the rest of the season after tearing the medial meniscus in his right knee.

Thibodeau is convinced that Butler will perform even better this season playing alongside Rose.

"We asked him to do a lot. His role changed," Thibodeau said of Butler's performance last season. "At the beginning of the season it was a much lesser role than it was after Derrick got hurt and then Luol got traded. But Jimmy is a terrific player, and he does a lot for us. He's an important part of winning."

But how much is that worth to the Bulls?

The answer likely will become clearer in the next few weeks. The guess is that the Bulls would be willing to lock up Butler to a four-year extension around what Gibson got, which was about $34 million in total. If you're Butler, do you bet on yourself, believing that you will shoot better than you did a year ago, especially since the pressure will be taken off by playing alongside Rose?

Ultimately, Butler is going to have to figure that out for himself. But there's no doubt that his teammates believe he can be better this season. He spent a lot of time in the gym this summer and acknowledged that he feels lighter after dropping about 10 pounds in the offseason.

"He got a chance to work on his game during the offseason, got away from the gym, got away from the Berto Center and the Bulls staff," Gibson said. "Got a chance to just free his mind, and it's tough because he feels he can do more, we know he can do more, and I'm expecting him to do more. Seeing his last game, it was a good sign for him. Just got to keep building."