The Chicago Bulls haven't been to the draft lottery since 2008, when they selected Derrick Rose No. 1 overall. After missing the playoffs for the first time in his five-year career, Jimmy Butler will sit in New York City representing the Bulls at the NBA draft lottery. But before he finds out where the Bulls will pick in the 2016 draft, the 26-year-old star guard reflects on the struggles of the season, the direction of the Bulls franchise and whether he can make the Olympic team this offseason.
Nick Friedell: You're representing the Bulls at the draft lottery. What does it mean to you that they sent you there on this platform?
Jimmy Butler: It means a lot. I think it's just me going to see what it is. I was in New York doing a college visit with my little cousin and we had talked about it a couple weeks ago. It just means that they want me to represent us. I don't think it's too much more than that. I just think it's a good opportunity for 'em.
Friedell: Do you think to them it's a good-faith thing toward you -- "We want you here. We want to build around you?"
Butler: Some people may look at it as that. I can't say that I do or that I don't. I feel like there's another question that you're wanting to ask me within that question, so I figure I'll answer that whenever you ask it because I know that it's coming.
Friedell: What question? You want to be in Chicago. You told me last month that you wanted to be in Chicago for the future?
Butler: Of course. I love the city of Chicago. I've played here my entire career. Let's not get that misunderstood. I love the guys that we have on the roster. We continue to bring in high-character guys. I'm learning with [Fred] Hoiberg. I'm not perfect, I'll tell you that. But I'm ready. I think I have to be able to help this team win games, though, that's for sure.
Friedell: Now I know what you thought I was going to say before. So I'll just ask and you can answer however you want. Do you think when training camp starts this fall that you're still going to be on the Bulls?
Butler: Yeah, I think so. I definitely do. I do think that with the year that we did have last season -- it's unacceptable. So you have to then, truth be told, you got to look at everything. I didn't do my job, so truth be told, can I help this team win? That's the question that's brought up. And I can't be mad at that. You can use whatever excuse you want to use, but we didn't make the playoffs. That's all anybody sees and that's rightfully so. So do I think I'm going to be here? Yeah, I think so. But that's just me thinking.
Friedell: What makes you so confident that you can be both the star of the team and the leader heading into next year?
Butler: I'm just going to do what I've done my entire life and that's continue to work. Everything else will fall into place. Just got to continue to be who I am and play basketball the right way. When I don't worry about anything, I don't overthink this, we'll be fine. I'll be fine. Hopefully, that means that my team will be fine as well.
Friedell: What did you learn most from last year that you'll take into this year. Specifically, in regard to the leadership part of it?
Butler: I think what I learned as a whole is that talk is cheap and learn to keep your mouth closed. I think that's a lesson I've had to apply in life the hard way at times. Just because maybe I do talk too much. That's on the basketball aspect of it, the leadership aspect of it, all aspects of it. Just be quiet, just do what you're supposed to do.
Friedell: If I've heard one criticism in the past year and a half or so it's that people say that you've changed. What do you say to the people who say that you're different now than you were when you came into the league?
Butler: There's a couple things I could say. If you're not changing, you're not keeping up with the times, to tell you the truth. I don't think anybody ever stays the same. I'm not the same person I was -- I mean, I'm not the same person I was now than I was September 14th of 1989 when I was [born]. So obviously people change. I'm not the same player that I was when I was a rookie. Whenever I was a rookie nobody cared if Jimmy Butler scored a point or not. Now if I don't score a point, then what? Everybody's all [like], "He's not worth this. He's not this good of a player. Yada, Yada, Yada." Yeah, you got to change the way that you look at things.
As a person, I don't think that I've changed. I still have the same people around me every single day that are here with me now in New York. I don't change. People may think that but I don't care because I don't listen to what people say about me too much. I don't read the media -- I probably won't read this, that you're doing right now, truth be told. I just stay in my lane and continually work and be who I am.
I know who I am. OK, you want to laugh, you want to make jokes [about] the humble kid from Tomball, [Texas]. I'm still from Tomball, man. I'm still humble. I just live in different cities now.
Friedell: How do you think you've changed in the past two years -- both as a player and a person?
Butler: Easily as a player, just the way that I go about things now. Obviously I have my trainers with me almost everywhere that I go. So I never miss working out -- I think that's important. That's the biggest change, to tell you the truth. As a person, I've just done a lot more maybe to build my brand. Is that as a person or as a player? It's a little bit of both, but I think off the floor now people may know who I am a little bit more -- yes, outside of basketball -- just because they may see my face on a commercial here or a billboard here. Or talking about this or talking about that. That's the person off the floor. I think basketball is always on the floor, that's the player aspect of it. But it's just minor, minor changes. And I think it's for the better, if you ask me.
Friedell: You've always said you could improve on every aspect of your game. As you walk into this summer given that the contract talk is behind you now, what especially do you think you have to improve upon most heading into next year.
Butler: I don't ever pick any one category over another. Because like I've told you before, I'm not perfect in any one of these categories. So have to continue to improve at all of them. But I don't put too much pressure on myself because I know that I'm going to work. I know that I'm going to continue to get better. I have the best trainer in the world in Chris Johnson and Travelle Gaines [and] that's going to get my body right and keep me confident in what I do. So I'll play basketball the right way and I'll continue to improve like I've been doing. I'm very confident in that.
Friedell: You mentioned a few weeks ago that you were planning on working out with Derrick [Rose] over the summer. Is that still the case?
Butler: Yeah, we just got to both get out to L.A. I believe he's still in Chicago right now. And then it's all about what time everybody starts. Obviously, I'm going to try and make this USA team, so that puts everything pushed back a little bit if I do make it because obviously I'm going to be playing for the USA team. So that being said, I really don't start basketball training until like June 13th [or] 15th, something around there. So if we could get a few [workouts] in then, of course. But once July hits, it's when I really start to key in on making that USA basketball team.
Friedell: How would you assess your chances of making that team?
Butler: I don't know. Am I a talented enough player? I really do not know. I think that the pool of those guys are some high-level athletes, some guys that can really play. But I've never backed down from anybody, I won't start now. I think it would be an honor to play alongside those guys and represent this country, so we'll see when the time gets here.
Friedell: You've never wavered on the fact that you felt that you and Derrick could dominate together. After what you went through last year, why do you still believe that can be the case?
Butler: Because I know the type of player he is. Same with me. I know the mentality he has. I know the mentality I have. I think that everybody just wants to say that we can't play together so they can start something. I don't see anything wrong with what we have. I just think that we have to continually be on the floor at the same time. Injuries happen, obviously. But if we're healthy and we're doing what we're supposed to be doing, I think we can be really good together. That's just the truth.
Friedell: We've talked a lot about how you've gotten to this point. Are you sitting there right now in New York City and is there a part of you that's going, "I'm the face of the Bulls. I'm trying out for the Olympic team" -- is there any part of your brain that allows you to think about all that has led up to this point, especially after last season?
Butler: I wake up and I think about that every day. Me and my brothers, my trainer, we probably talk about it three, four times a week because we've, each and every one of us, has come so far from whether it's Tomball or my trainer being from Waco, another one being from New Orleans. It's just really, like, surprising, I mean, yeah. Unexpected? Yeah, because it's just small-town people pulling together at one goal. And the craziest part about it is that goal is for me. They don't get all the credit, but they still love what they do. They're still going to help me be the best on and off the court. So yeah, when I sit here I always want to have them with me because we're a team. Just like the Bulls is my team, the organization, that's my team [of family and friends]. Like, "Hey, if I need this done. Hey, I need to train here, get a gym here." That's why they do [it] for me. So yeah, we sit here and we talk about it. It's a dream come true for each and every one of us. It's like, yeah, I'm in the NBA, but at the same time we all are.
"I know the mentality he has. I know the mentality I have. I think that everybody just wants to say that we can't play together so they can start something."Jimmy Butler on why he and Derrick Rose could dominate together
Friedell: Is that the biggest transition as far as the Bulls go -- you feel, like, that ownership now? That this is your team?
Butler: I didn't 'this is my team,' like that.
Friedell: I know. I know you didn't. I'm just saying as far as getting to that point in your career. In that stage of your career -- putting in the work that goes into that.
Butler: That's a good question. I think everybody wants to bait me into saying that, but like I always say, I play my role. Whatever that role may be. On any given night. On any given day. You go out to help the team win. It don't matter how many points you score, how many assists you have, how many rebounds -- if you don't win it doesn't matter if you have a career year or a down year. All anybody's going to remember is: Did you make the playoffs? Did you win a championship? So whoever's team it may be you got to help that team win to the best of your abilities.