AL HAMNIK: Butler in position to serve the Bulls well in 2013-14

2013-10-05T17:45:00Z 2013-10-06T20:07:45Z AL HAMNIK: Butler in position to serve the Bulls well in 2013-14Al Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
October 05, 2013 5:45 pm  • 

Maybe hanging out with Hollywood tough guy Mark Wahlberg at the Berto Center last month rubbed off on the Bulls' Jimmy Butler.

Not that he needed a gut check.

They don't serve milk and cookies in the NBA, just sharp elbows to all the wrong places and killer picks that leave you seeing stars.

While in Chicago for a few weeks to film the latest "Transformers" movie, the 42-year-old Wahlberg visited the Berto Center to play 3-on-3 with a few of his colleagues and some Bulls' rookies.

They played full-court, by the way.

Butler didn't participate, of course, but instantly hit it off with Wahlberg and got to see true Boston toughness up close. This is Butler's third season and his game, his fearlessness, continue to grow.

Point guard Derrick Rose, 526 days after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament, played in his first preseason game Saturday in Indianapolis. A hard guy to impress, he spent several minutes at Bulls Media Day last week raving about Butler's offseason progress.

"We're adding Jimmy (to the starting five) and that's huge. He came out to L.A. for about a week to work out with me and I saw how driven he is," Rose said. "He's a great young player with unlimited potential."

Butler played in only 42 games his rookie season, appeared in all 82 last year because of an injury-riddled roster, and averaged 14.5 points and 7.1 rebounds in his 20 starts.

He then started all 12 postseason games, averaging 13 points, 5 rebounds and 41 minutes a night.

The die had been cast.

This kid is a keeper.

"I learned so much. My confidence got so much higher. My belief that I could do the job definitely showed," Butler said.

"Derrick sets such a high bar for all of us. We try to be great at everything."

To a player, the Bulls believe they can challenge Indiana and Miami in the Eastern Conference and possibly win a seventh NBA championship. But, unlike the past, they must stay healthy to the finish line.

With Rose and Butler now in the starting backcourt, Chicago's inside game will benefit from a lack of double teams on Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng.

Excited, are we?

"It's a blessing to have guys like that walk on the court with me," Butler said. "When things aren't going so well, those guys are going to be there to pick you up.

"They're always going to have your back, in any situation, on and off the floor."

The feeling is mutual toward Butler.

Fade back to Game 1 of the Conference Semifinals against Miami, when the former Marquette star cooled off the Heat with 21 points and 14 rebounds in 48 minutes.

"Playing faster and getting wide open because Derrick draws so many double teams," said a smiling Butler of the advantages to his own game now.

"I'm super excited."

Take a number. You're not alone.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

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