Part of the cycle of the end of the Bulls season, after the front office barfed all over themselves in a rushed presser, is the guys covering the team emptying their secret notebooks. Usually this is done on the radio, I suppose it seems less permanent and report-y that way? Do they think people won't write it down? Do they not know how much I enjoy wasting my time on this team?
Specifically, they all seemed to remark on the interpersonal relationships between the players. I'm not sure how much of the following can be considered bulletproof, but it's certainly interesting. It's also worth noting that while the players are discussed, a lot of that stuff can be controlled by either the guys bringing them in or the personality of the head coach. Though we know already know those two aspects of the Bulls were outright failures this year.
First here is some ol' sourcin' in a newspaper article, as KC Johnson laid it out plainly:
According to multiple sources, Hoiberg came away shocked by how dispassionate certain players' demeanors were, both on and off the court. As a 10-year veteran used to locker rooms run by Reggie Miller with the Pacers and Kevin Garnett with the Timberwolves, Hoiberg believed he inherited a mentally strong team.
He didn't. And the seeds of those signs first bloomed in Tom Thibodeau's last season.
If you recall, KC also had some inside info from that infamous team meeting (kidding, who can even keep track of all the meetings and locker room speeches that were going to save this season) where Joakim Noah went at both Butler and Rose for being silent.
Then there's Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald, who so blithely drops in the quote "Jimmy clashed with Gar Forman" that I'm not sure if it means anything. Could just be that Gar didn't like Jimmy going after Hoiberg. McGraw also had this somewhat specious argument that included another note: that Butler went directly to management.
Butler isn't used to being the go-to guy on his teams. Fitting into the new role has been a work in progress.
After growing up without a permanent father figure in his life, Butler found several quality role models on the Bulls. Older teammates Luol Deng and Ronnie Brewer took Butler under their wing. Assistant coach Adrian Griffin became a father figure, while former coach Tom Thibodeau found a way to play to Butler's strengths.
What do those four people have in common? Well, none of them are with the Bulls anymore. Maybe Butler's frustration with those changes explain why he vented to management.
Then there's Twitter peen and mostly-a-hack Joe Cowley of the Sun-Times, who was on Boers and Bernstein on 4/14. Again, take for this what you will, he's said (but not reported) similar things plenty in the past couple years. It was definitely some entertaining stories, anyway.
First, on how Joakim Noah went from marginalized by Hoiberg to injured and out for the year:
I talked to several people that have indicated that the best thing that happened to the Bulls, because it could've wound up worse, was Joakim Noah going back to New York for his rehab and staying away from this thing. Because he would've become a locker room cancer. He had a couple veterans on his side, and I'm telling you right now: if he didn't get out of town when he did, the little comments and snide remarks to Jimmy Butler...Jimmy wasn't having any more of those, and you would've seen fists thrown.
[Later he referenced it again] I'm telling you, the idea that Noah would've held this thing together if he was around...it would've instead just been a bigger divide...Jimmy gave Joakim a couple passes at first with his little jokes but told Noah 'these comments are going to stop'.
Here's Cowley on the locker-room factions that went up with 'Team Butler'. I think Cowley has been the mascot of that team in the past, but here goes...:
This stuff has been festering for 2 years. Last year, when Noah and Derrick Rose were allowed to get away with being pulled out of drills, not having to work as hard....Joakim being convinced by the front office that Thibodeau wasn't good for his career anymore.
Then you had Jimmy and Pau. Pau is very good [at politicking], saying "you know Jimmy, look at us busting our ass, and look at [Noah and Rose]" to get Jimmy riled up.
Jimmy comes in this year and declares himself the leader, and he has a point. His mindset is: I've been paid, I work like it, I take in the young guys, I bust my butt in practice and try and work on my game. Meanwhile [Rose and Noah] get away with whatever they want.
So that started it. Now, once you start beating your chest that way and you have young guys behind you, you slowly have a divide.
ESPN.com's Nick Friedell was on for the full AM1000 'Chicago Gamenight' show the night after the season ended. There was a lot of anecdotal stuff, including how Pau Gasol's media availability helped give him 'the benefit of the doubt'. To me, Friedell often gets casually into psychology in a way I don't find credible (aka every "these guys don't look like they're enjoying eachother' tweet) , but again: he's been with the team all season so he undoubtedly can get some sense of what happened.
All season he's dropped nuggets about how Jimmy Butler had 'changed', and midway though this show he got into specifics.
Jimmy has rubbed people the wrong way. He badly wants to be viewed as 'the guy'. As long as Derrick and Joakim are still here, Jimmy cannot be that.
Jimmy is a very good guy, who earned everything he got in this league and in life. You have to earn respect in a locker room, and Jimmy is still viewed by a lot of guys in that room as the guy who had no jumper, worked hard all the time, and was still just trying to find his way. [Friedell then gives the younger/older brother analogy].
I think Jimmy has a lot of respect from the younger guys. Doug McDermott has been open about training with him last summer and I think they built a relationship. Bobby Portis, those kind of guys...they view and see Jimmy differently than does Joakim, Derrick, and Taj.
Why did Jimmy change? A lot of reasons. Part of it was the contract, part was seeing what it's like when you are a star. He loved being in L.A. and that whole lifestyle. Nobody questioned his work ethic, they were questioning how he could function as the leader of the group. He wanted it to happen, it didn't happen this year. This was before Noah's injury, and there was friction. So many people focus on the Jimmy-Derrick relationship, but I don't think [in terms of personal animosity] it was ever that bad. But there was a lot of tension between Jimmy and Jo. Jo wanted to always wanted to be the big brother, take care of everybody else. It started in the back-half of last year, Jimmy seeing he was becoming the best player on the team and wanted others to respect his voice more than in the past. I think Jo [dismissed it, seeing Jimmy as still a role player].
I don't think you can see a situation where Jo and Jimmy return. I would be shocked if all three of Jo, Jimmy and Derrick are at training camp.
[The Jimmy saying 'coach harder' night] was when things started to change. Because it brought it out in the open. I think the organization was taken aback by how it showed he changed.
Then you have wacky old Sam Smith on Fox Sports Radio over the weekend, who kind of dismissed the 'Butler's getting special treatment' report from the final road trip as 'overplayed' (it was Chris Broussard, thus not even worth linking), but Sam have this:
Jimmy has had an interesting evolution that I haven't seen as much in the NBA. Someone where they go from sort of nothing to having this colossal ego. He's really kind of full of himself. Hangs out with Mark Wahlberg, lets us all know about that a lot. He announces that he's the leader and guys are looking around thinking 'what is he talking about?"
The odd thing is that he's a really nice guy, but doesn't like to socialize with the players. They had that team bonding trip in San Francisco in November where they all went to wine country, and he was the only one who wasn't there.
As was pointed out by the BaB commenter who found this, it's not even so much the content here so much that it's that Sam Smith works for the Bulls and can certainly be perceived as an Org. hatchet-man.
So what does it all mean? I think mostly that it's an underachieving team in obvious transition so these things are going to happen. Nothing that some winning wouldn't fix. But to get more winning you probably have to see:
- Jimmy mature and embrace leadership more...correctly
- Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah realize they aren't the players they used to be and change their attitude
- Trade Rose, let Joakim walk, or both. All these mentioned writers have also reported the Bulls want Joakim back, but I have a feeling the money won't be close.
- Their coach 'nuts up' himself