(CBS) Bulls star Jimmy Butler on Wednesday called his relationship with Bulls executives John Paxson and Gar Forman “good” following a report that cited “incredible animosity” between the sides stemming from the negotiations and discourse in the season prior to Butler signing his maximum deal in July 2015.
Around the time Butler needed to make a decision in late October 2014 on whether to accept the Bulls’ four-year extension offer worth around $11 million annually coming off his rookie deal or choose to enter restricted free agency, a member of Chicago’s front office threatened that the team would give more of his minutes to reserve Tony Snell so as to depress Butler’s production, leverage and market value the following summer, ESPN’s Ryen Russillo said on “Mike & Mike” on Tuesday.
Butler neither confirmed nor denied that report when asked about it at the Bulls’ shootaround Wednesday ahead of the evening’s game against the Thunder in Oklahoma City. Butler rejected the Bulls’ initial offer, then went on to sign a five-year, $92.3-million deal in July 2015 after a breakout season in which he was named the league’s Most Improved Player.
“That (stuff) happened so long ago I didn’t think it was a matter of anything,” Butler said, according to ESPN.com. “We went into contract negotiations. I said I would hoop and play the year out. I did that, had a decent little year. We won’t go into detail about what was said, what wasn’t said, it’s not anybody’s business. We got a deal done, I thought it was a fair deal. That’s that. But for anybody to say this or say that … I don’t know, to tell you the truth, I don’t remember what went on. My agent was in there handling the majority of it. And then, my main thing was to just worry about basketball so I can’t tell you what was said or what wasn’t. One, because it was so long ago, and two because it ain’t y’all business anyways.”
Butler added he currently has a “good” relationship with Paxson and Forman, ESPN.com reported.
All this comes after a hectic week in which the Bulls found themselves garnering national attention for a controversy stemming from Butler and fellow star Dwyane Wade calling out their teammates for not caring enough, only to have their leadership questioned by veteran guard Rajon Rondo a day later in an inflammatory Instagram post.
Butler was at the center of trade discussions last June on draft night, when the Bulls contemplated a complete rebuild. As the Bulls sit at 24-25 and play inconsistent ball, some around the league believe the Bulls would be willing to part with Butler via a trade.
If that’s the case, his standing in the relationship with the front office could play a part, and that was a topic Russillo addressed Tuesday.
“Butler’s like, ‘I’m going to get my money,'” Russillo said. “Everybody knows the way this market works in the NBA, you’re going to end up getting your money because somebody else would’ve made him a big offer. And the way I was told the story was it wasn’t the coaching staff but it was someone in the front office that went to Jimmy Butler and said, ‘If you don’t sign this extension, we’re going to play Tony Snell over you. We’re going to give (him your minutes), and that’s going to drop your minutes and your numbers down. And Butler is like, ‘Are you kidding me? Tony Snell? This dude I kill in practice? Like that’s what you’re going to do? You’re going to try to depress my market by playing a lesser player more than me?
“Now once (coach Tom Thibodeau) found out, no way, not doing that. That’s why Butler and Thibs are like just locked in and respect each other so much.
“So Butler doesn’t trust the front office because he feels like they were going to do this to him, and that’s why there’s always this animosity.”
The Bulls’ first-round pick in 2013, Snell played wing like Butler but never developed into a consistent player. Butler would average 20.0 points in 2014-’15, when the Bulls fell to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Thibodeau was then fired in late May 2015.
Butler is averaging a career-high 24.5 points this year and has been named an All-Star for the third consecutive season.