By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Nants ingonyama bagithi baba
Sithi uhhmm ingonyama
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba
Sithi uhhmm ingonyama
Ingonyama nengw’ enamabaal
Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala
Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala
I have no idea what any of those words mean, but they are the opening lines to the classic Disney tune “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King, so they probably have some message of positivity and love and togetherness, like employing handicapped people to let your spoiled brat cut in line at a Disney theme park. Don’t even pretend you don’t jam out to that song if you hear it while alone.
The rest of it deals with the cyclical condition we on Earth exist in. We are born (yay!), we live (meh), we die (finally!… I mean, sorry), and new life is created in our stead. The Lion King taught me that in the very Hamlet-esque way the awful, evil Scar helped kill Simba’s dad. Basketball is the exact same way. No, it is, I swear.
Derrick Rose was born into Chicago sports, shone brightly for a few years, and then died. Or he’s mostly dead, at least. We mourned, then we proved Shakespeare’s Mark Antony right, as his evil lives after him, while his good is interred in folding chair memes.
But in Rose’s absence this 2012-13 season—and really because of Rose’s absence—new life has blossomed in the form of a once-questionable draft pick, Jimmy Butler. Questionable in that many fans and media when Butler’s name was called by David Stern were like, “Wha?” As we learned of his back story, we thought “Oh, that’s nice. But can he play?” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau seemed hesitant to give Butler a chance in his rookie season. 8.5 minutes per game in 2011-12 is evident of that (though Butler had a Per 36 average of double digit points in that limited action).
This season Thibodeau was forced mostly due to injury to let Butler show his stuff. Through the first eight games of this season, he averaged only about 12 minutes a game. But he was a +35 in those games. His desire and toughness were without question when he was given floor time. And slowly the minutes grew. At the regular season’s conclusion he was averaging 26 a game and had a Win Shares score of 7.0.
Then came the playoffs, and while Wednesday night against the Miami Heat will likely be Butler’s and the Bulls’ final game of the season, it was in those games that he became much the favorite of not only Chicago fans but NBA fans around the country. 40.2 minutes. Over 40 damn minutes Butler has averaged per 2013 postseason game.
He joined Allen Iverson, Nick Van Exel and Moses Malone as the only guys to play all 48 minutes in three straight playoff games in the modern NBA, and Butler is the first player since 1973 to play every minute of a Game 6 and 7. He added another full game played in Game 3 of the Heat series before logging just a paltry 46 minutes in Game 4 on Monday.
Butler is by no means a superstar, and I understand the blue collar fan mentality longs for a lunch pail minutes drone and will sacrifice considering whether a guy can actually play or not if he’ll do the basketball equivalent of running into Dan Ryan traffic, but mediocre doesn’t get that kind of playing time, even on an injury-ravaged squad like these Bulls. Notice how Thibodeau has had no reservations about sitting other “healthy” guys for entire games even though his active roster is an NRA member’s range poster of President Obama. And while I’d trade a healthy Rose for what I had to watch this year, Butler’s growth doesn’t happen to the extent it did if No. 1 plays after Christmas.
I acknowledge that this season is ultimately a failure and disappointment for the Bulls organization. Success relied on Rose’s rehab going like pretty much every other ACL rehab goes and him getting back out on the court in the second half of the season and helping the team make a still-unlikely run at the Heat. The specter of “will Derrick come back” has hung over this team that has responded by consistently shouting “Boo!” in its face and going out and playing pound-for-pound some of the best basketball in the league with limited resources (Monday night excluded and almost forgivable as the echo of coffin nails rang in their ears).
Jimmy Butler has been a huge part of this Chicago basketball season even existing in the second round of the playoffs, which, while not exactly a medal of honor, is still better than many expected with all the obstacles that had to be dealt with—no superstar, injuries and illnesses, Scalabrine withdrawal, etc. He may share the backcourt with Rose next season and into the future, which could create a pretty formidable duo that Gar Forman and John Paxson will attempt to build around. Ironically the Bulls organization might not have known it had a solid shooting guard option had its superstar point guard not been absent. A new option grew from a more publicized option being taken away.
So while we prep this season’s Bulls eulogy and lower the ravaged carcass into the ground probably by night’s end, a little bit of positivity shines through. And that will help light the way to a next season of uncertainty with at least the sureness that No. 21 will go back to work. Sing it, Sir Elton.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.