Jimmy Butler emerged as the Chicago Bulls’ most important player this season.
The fourth-year wing player has become one of the top two-way players in the NBA, averaging 20 points per game while guarding the opponent’s best player nightly.
The timing couldn’t have been better for Butler. On the eve of a contract year, Butler reportedly turned down a four-year, $US40 million contract extension from the Bulls.
It was a risk at the time. Butler was coming off a season in which he played through injuries and his numbers suffered, posting woeful shooting percentages of 39% and 28% from three-point range. As always, turning down a contract means a player is betting on himself. Butler not only had to avoid injury this season, he had to outplay the $US10 million a season he was offered.
Now Butler’s gamble looks genius.
As a fourth-year player, Butler can earn a maximum contract that’s worth 25% of the salary cap, according to Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ. With the salary cap projected at $US67 million next season, if Butler gets a max contract, he can earn over $US16 million next season. If he remains with the Bulls, they can also offer him a five-year contract (while other teams can only offer four) with 7.5% raises each season (while other teams can only offer 4.5%). If the Bulls offer him a maximum contract, Butler could earn ~$US96 million over five seasons — more than double his extension at the beginning of the year.
Butler prepared himself for the best season of his career. He reportedly went all summer without cable or Internet so he’d be forced to go to the gym and train when he was bored.
With Derrick Rose in and out of the lineup, Butler took on an increased offensive role, and while his usage rate jumped from 16.8% to 21.6%, his shooting percentages jumped, too, showing increased efficiency.
Butler’s brilliance is now at the forefront at the most important time for the Bulls. In Game 2 of their first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, Butler took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 of his 31 points.
Butler’s game oozes confidence, whether it’s taking players off the dribble and dunking in traffic:
Or isolating and knocking down a pull-up three over 6’11” Giannis Antetokounmpo:
Butler was mic’d up for the game, and in the midst of his fourth-quarter explosion told coach Tom Thibodeau, “They can’t guard me, man.”
Though Butler’s earning potential this summer is huge, the only thing stopping him could be the NBA’s rules. Butler will be a restricted free agent, which means the Bulls have the right to match any contract offer he receives. As opposed to offering Butler a five-year, $US96 million max contract themselves, the Bulls could wait for another team to offer him a four-year, $US71 million max deal and simply match it.
Nonetheless, Butler took a gamble and it’s going to pay off massively. He’s turned into one of the best players in the NBA, and he’s going to get paid as such.
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