The Bulls’ Jimmy Butler, who was already expected to be one of the hottest names on this summer’s free agent market, is helping himself with his playoff performance, writes Sam Smith of Bulls.com. Smith argues that Butler has been the MVP of the Cleveland series through its first three games, averaging 19.3 points and five rebounds per game while playing stellar defense against LeBron James. “We’re trying to make LeBron work as hard as we can, which is what Jimmy is doing,” teammate Mike Dunleavy said after Friday’s Game 3. The Bulls are hoping to sign Butler to a long-term deal this summer, but are expected to have competition from the Lakers, among others.
There’s more from the Windy City:
- Butler’s first choice is to stay in Chicago, reports Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today. The Bulls can match any offer that the restricted free agent receives — likely starting at $15MM per season — and that seems fine with the fourth-year guard. “This is a place for me. I love playing with the guys that we have,” Butler said. “They continue to bring in great, high character guys that fit the team role. I love it here. I’m happy to be here.”
- Butler credits his improvement to intense summer workouts and advice from former teammate Luol Deng, according to Shams Charania of RealGM. Charania says Butler has evolved into a perfect backcourt partner for Derrick Rose and the Bulls would love to keep him. However, he noted that Butler went to Marquette University and the Bucks have enough cap room to be a dark-horse threat.
- Tom Thibodeau, who could lose his job despite leading the Bulls to the NBA’s fourth-best record since 2010, is a victim of increased expectations across the NBA, according to Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal. “I think there’s a heightened, unrealistic definition of success around the league: Championship or bust,” said former Portland assistant general manager Tom Penn. “And it’s caused a number of these coaches recently to become free agents too early.” Thibodeau’s fate will likely depend on the length of the Bulls’ playoff run.