Former Apache Butler embraces veteran role on Bulls

FORMER TYLER JUNIOR COLLEGE All-American Jimmy Butler (left) guards Dallas Mavericks’ Harrison Barnes during Saturday’s NBA game at American Airlines Center in Dallas. Butler is in his sixth season with the Chicago Bulls. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

DALLAS - Jimmy Butler’s latest trip back to Texas was rather short.

Butler, who is averaging 25.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists this season, was in Dallas with the Chicago Bulls on Saturday for the second night of a back-to-back; 24 hours after Chicago defeated the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers at Chicago’s United Center.

However, the Bulls didn’t arrive in Dallas until about 3 a.m. the morning of the game and were without Dwyane Wade, who didn’t travel with the team. Chicago looked sluggish from the start, spotting the Mavericks the game’s first seven points on their way to a wire-to-wire 107-82 blowout win, which was only Dallas’ fourth victory of the season.

But it wasn’t like Butler, who had 26 points, his 17th time in the Bulls’ first 19 games to score 20 or more, nine rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes and 40 seconds of play, didn’t do his part. However, the 27-year-old All-Star and former Tyler Junior College standout didn’t pin this loss on being on a back-to-back during his postgame remarks to the media.

“It’s on everybody. I don’t think anybody played well tonight. We didn’t do what we were supposed to do, either end of the floor,” Butler said. “We didn’t play with energy on either end of the floor, didn’t execute on either end of the floor, and the game got out of hand really quickly. Unfortunately, this time we couldn’t dig ourselves out of a hole.”

With Wade, who has 13 years of experience in the league, not on the trip, Butler, now in his sixth NBA season, was one of the more veteran voices on what is a young Bulls squad. In fact, only four of his current teammates have been in the league longer than Butler.

Butler remembers how great the Chicago veterans were to him when he first came to the Bulls in 2011, so he takes mentoring his younger teammates seriously because he can empathize with where they’re at, both on and off the court.

“Oh yeah, (I have) a lot of confidence in them. I think they need to have more confidence in themselves than we (the veterans) can put in them,” Butler said. “That’s all it comes down to. We’ve got some really good players, but they have to believe it first before anybody else can.”

And a big way he and his veterans continue to display leadership is by making sure that team chemistry or esprit de corps remains high. As Butler remembers from his own ups and downs as a young player with the Bulls, there are plenty of good days and there are bad days for an NBA player, no matter their level of experience.

But now that he’s a veteran, he knows how vital it is for him and his teammates to make sure that no one on the roster feels left out and that everyone remains engaged.

“We need everybody. We just got to make sure that we’re closer than anything. We’re all we have and if somebody’s drifting away, it’s our job to pull them back and it’s our job as a team.” Butler said.

And one specific way he and his teammates maintain that strong chemistry is by realizing that no matter the result, good or bad, the important thing is to move on, learn the lessons from that win or loss and shift their focus on the next chapter of an 82-game regular season.

“Basketball’s basketball, tough loss, big win. You just got to string together wins,” Butler said. “We let one slip away, again (in Dallas). I know we will bounce back, but we got to stop losing ones that we’re supposed to win. What can you say? The same thing we always say, we learn from it. We go study, we’ll get better.”

As far as his specific message to his younger teammates, he channels that same sage advice he received earlier in his career from his vets, keeping his words of wisdom basic yet no less impactful about just what it takes to make it and to stick in the NBA.

“Work, show that you deserve to be out there and when a chance presents itself, you go out there and you show what you’re capable of,” Butler said. “I think that’s what we got to keep these young guys and this bench, even the starters, realizing work is what’s going to get you out there and production is what’s going to keep you out there.”

Stephen Hunt is a Frisco-based freelance writer.

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