Derrick Rose had just won the NBA MVP award, and the Bulls were coming off a 62 win season leading up to the 2011 NBA draft. Their 5-game dismantling in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Miami Heat that year made it clear the Bulls needed offense, badly. The Bulls selected guard Jimmy Butler from Marquette University with the 30th pick in the first round that year, and if you’re anything like me, you probably gave the TV screen a look of confusion before asking, “who is this guy?” I followed college basketball pretty closely at the time, and Marquette was a team I liked watching, but this guy’s name didn’t ring a bell. He averaged 12 points and nearly 6 rebounds a game during his 3-year career as a Golden Eagle, but still I was clueless. I dropped my head in uncertainty while ESPN replayed the highlight reel from his college career, and as impressive as those highlights were, I still wasn’t convinced this was the guy the Bulls needed.
As a rookie, Butler didn’t see much floor time, largely due to Coach Thibs’ rumored philosophy against playing rookies, and the addition of Richard Hamilton to the Bulls’ roster. It wasn’t until Jimmy Butler’s first Summer League game that following year, that I made aware of his talent and potential. He exploded in the Bulls 4 games during Las Vegas Summer League, averaging close to 21ppg on 43% shooting. Though, it was only Summer League, Jimmy finished fourth in scoring, behind Portland’s Damian Lilliard and the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, and emerged as a blossoming talent in the league.
Jimmy Butler saw a major increase in minutes the following season with injuries to Derrick Rose and Luol Deng, going from 8.5mpg as a rookie in 2012, to 26mpg in 2013. Last season, Jimmy’s minutes continued to increase, he led the Bulls in minutes per game with 38.7. Coming with the increased floor time, Jimmy would also be tasked with guarding the other teams’ best player; A job typically reserved for Luol Deng, until he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers midway through last season.
With Derrick Rose playing just 10 games the last 2 seasons, due to injuries in both knees, Jimmy Butler quickly became a fan favorite while helping the Bulls stay relevant. Now, heading into the 4th and final year of his rookie contract, the Bulls are faced with the option of extending his contract early or allowing the NBA All Defensive 2nd team guard become a restricted free agent next summer. In my opinion, the question isn’t whether or not the Bulls should extend Jimmy’s contract now – they definitely should, but the question may be, “how much is the 4th year guard worth?” Jimmy increased his points per game output last season to 13.1, up from 8.6ppg the previous season, however, he watched his field goal percentage drop from 46% in 2013 to 39% last season.
The Bulls will have until October 31 to come to terms on an extension with Butler, and it’s being rumored that Jimmy is looking for something similar to the 4-year, $63 million contract Utah Jazz swingman, Gordon Hayward, received this past offseason. The Jazz forward averaged career bests last season at 16.2 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds a game, on 43% shooting.
With Jimmy Butler’s offensive production is not quite that of Gordon Hayward’s, and the Bulls having already committed close to $58.6M for the 2015/16 season and $43.8M for 2015/16, Jimmy may have to settle for something in the $9 to $11 million a year range. He could also opt to play this season out and test his market value as a restricted free agent next offseason, but he’ll need to make some serious offensive improvements to demand a $15M/year salary, from any team.
It would be in the Bulls’ best interest to get an extension done sooner rather than later. If the Bulls fail to reach an agreement with Butler, they could be watching him accept an offer sheet from another team next summer, worth more than the Bulls are willing or able to match, as seen in the recent past with promising big man, Omer Asik. The Bulls will need to do some serious number crunching and negotiating with the Butler camp to make sure they can keep Jimmy Buckets in a Bulls uniform for years to come.