LOS ANGELES -- Jimmy Butler has earned a trip to his first All-Star Game.
"It's an honor," Butler said before Thursday night's game against the Los Angeles Lakers. "I think everybody would love to make the All-Star team in their career. I feel like I've come a long way since I started here, since I started playing basketball, but I guess you could say that that's one thing that you would want as a kid growing up is to be in this league and to be an All-Star at that."
Butler, who is averaging 20.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, is in the middle of the best season of his four-year career. He praised his trainer, Chris Johnson, for helping instill confidence in him before the season. Butler turned down a multi-year deal from the Bulls before the Oct. 31 deadline and will become a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Bulls executive vice president John Paxson told ESPN Chicago 1000's "Waddle & Silvy Show" last week that the Bulls would match any offer for Butler, even a max offer.
"It just goes to show that I'm confident in my game," Butler said. "You can say that it's All-Star-worthy right now, but I still feel like I have a long way to go to get to where we want to get as a team. This work this summer, it's starting to pay off, but I don't want for it to end just here. I think there's still a lot better I can become."
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was happy to find out that the 25-year-old is headed to New York.
"We're thrilled for him," Thibodeau said. "He's worked extremely hard to put himself in that position. I know his teammates are excited for him. The most important thing is what he's done for our team. To help carry the load being down players early on is exactly what we needed. But the fact that he's a two-way player, doesn't take any plays off. He's had a great first half of the season."
Butler blocked out the contract talks before the season and carried the Bulls offensively, along with Gasol, for the first two months while Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah worked their way back from various injuries.
"I think the important thing is just the way he approached it," Thibodeau said of Butler's summer and the contract discussions in training camp. "Taking the weight off was critical for him. I thought he had a great training camp, he hit the ground running. And I thought that each year that he's been with us he's gotten a lot better. His drive, his intelligence, and obviously you can't do that without being very talented. When you combine all of those things, I think it's huge."
Butler was just happy to be able to share the honor at lunch with his family. He said his mom and brothers were on hand when he told them the news on Thursday afternoon.
Even though defense seems to be optional in All-Star Games, Butler joked that he will still get after it.
"They might not [play defense], but I do," he said. "So if you see me diving on the floor and people are like, 'What is he doing?' I can't help but be the player that I am."