Nick Friedell counts down the days until training camp opens with a look at five Bulls storylines to watch this season.
In a league full of players who believe in themselves and aren't afraid to tell you, Jimmy Butler has carved out a niche as being a guy whose words don't overstep his actions.
The Chicago Bulls guard always believed he could get to an All-Star level, a feat he accomplished for the first time last season. Coaches and teammates consistently marvel at his ability to take the next step in his development year after year and the work ethic that goes along with that kind of consistent jump.
But as Butler enters his fifth season just about three months after signing a max extension worth more than $90 million, it's going to be tough for him to top his breakout campaign when he averaged 20 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists. That's why Butler is going to a tried and true formula as he readies himself for a year in which he will no longer fly under anyone's radar -- he wants to take the mindset of underdog again.
"I'm very excited because I think a lot of people think that my last season was a fluke," Butler said during Team USA's minicamp in August. "And I really don't care what they think, but I want to prove to myself that it wasn't. I want to show that I can get better from last year to this year. That's my goal -- continue to get better every year like I have."
Butler is motivated by what others around the league believe. He uses it as fuel for the motivational fire like great players before him. But the 26-year-old also understands that for him to take another step in his game, his team will have to take another step as well.
"I think the numbers will show, Butler said. "But I also think when you look at how efficient, or how [much] further we go in the playoffs, it's going to show how much better I got this offseason. I think the main thing is confidence, like it's always been. I'm gaining more and more confidence to do whatever I want to do out there on the basketball floor. Whether it's shooting 3s, whether it's getting to the rim and finishing, whether it's ballhandling. I'm confident enough because I worked on it and I'm going to do the exact same thing in the games."
Butler said he has been working on his point guard skills a lot this summer with trainer Chris Johnson. He mentioned high pick and rolls as an area he is feeling confident in heading into the season.
"I want some triple-doubles," Butler said. "So I got to get my handle right so I can pass and get it to guys to make shots."
Butler's ascension to stardom didn't come overnight -- he worked hard to get to where he is now. But his ability has always been recognized.
"He was always a guy that we said had a chance at being great," New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony said. "He had a lot of upside when we played him. When we see him he was always a guy that we talked about being one of those guys, one of those rising stars in our league."
Butler wants to take out the "rising" part of that moniker this season and just be a star. That's why he's been training on and off in San Diego with Johnson all summer. That's why he's talked openly about advice he's gotten from confidants such as actor Mark Wahlberg and his former coach at Marquette, Buzz Williams, who tells him to keep working and pushing himself as hard as ever after signing the massive extension.
The reigning Most Improved Player Award winner seemed noticeably more comfortable in his surroundings and as easy-going as he's been with the media in Las Vegas. Even he admits his path to NBA stardom is hard to believe.
"I'd probably punch them in the face and tell them to stop lying to me," Butler said, when asked what he would have said to someone who would have told him back when he was in junior college in Texas that someday he would be trying out for Team USA. "Because I would never ever, ever, ever believe that. I never thought I would be in the NBA. I damn sure never thought I would have a chance to represent Team USA, but now that I'm here I think I got to make the most of it. I think I got a shot at it. Let me see."