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Blessing already has been delivered for Bulls’ Jimmy Butler

Bulls guard Jimmy Butler is fouled by Sacramencenter DeMarcus Cousins as he drives basket  second quarter Chicago Bulls-SacramenKings NBA

Bulls guard Jimmy Butler is fouled by Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins as he drives to the basket in the second quarter of the Chicago Bulls-Sacramento Kings NBA game Wednesday October 31, 2012 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 22, 2012 6:26AM



HOUSTON — The cowboy boots, the country music that often fills his Beats By Dre headphones . . . Jimmy Butler is Tomball, Texas, through and through.

So to be back home during Thanksgiving week has special meaning for him — more than it would for most 23-year-olds in the NBA and more than it would for most people, period.

Butler’s family background has been well-documented since the Bulls drafted the guard/forward out of Marquette with the 30th overall pick in 2011. Told by his mother, ‘‘I don’t like the look of you — you gotta go,’’ Butler was on his own at age 13, borrowing a bed, a room, a pillow from different friends until befriending Jordan Leslie the summer before his senior year of high school. Leslie’s mother, Michelle Lambert, noticed the way Butler interacted with the rest of the family and knew the youngster needed a break.

They gave him one, making him a part of their family. They’re the only family he knows now — maybe the only one he really ever knew.

‘‘It means a lot to me to be here this week, definitely so,’’ Butler said Tuesday as the Bulls prepared to face the Houston Rockets. ‘‘That’s all part of my past. It is what it is. It’s been talked about, written about, but, yeah, when I come home, I feel like I’m the person I am today because of everything I went through. I don’t blame anybody — I’m past all that. I am who I am and I love the person that I am, but it definitely means a lot to come back here and play in Houston, which is only 25 minutes or so from Tomball, see my people.’’

Butler paused.

‘‘But this is still a business trip,’’ he added.

It’s that sort of attitude that had NBA general managers raving about Butler’s makeup when he was coming out of college.

Yes, this is a ‘‘business trip,’’ and business is picking up for Butler. Through most of the preseason and the first three games of the regular season, he was a second-year guy fighting for scrap minutes behind reserve Marco Belinelli. But this trip has changed things. Belinelli and most of the second unit have struggled, especially defensively, and coach Tom Thibodeau has been searching for a group to lock that down. Butler has been in that group.

Even more telling is that Butler has been given fourth-quarter minutes in crunch time, including Sunday in the Bulls’ loss at Portland. Butler and Taj Gibson were on the floor with starters Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah most of that final quarter against the Trail Blazers.

Thibodeau wouldn’t go into details. When asked if he’s now rethinking how he’s handing out the minutes for his reserves, he said, “We’ll see. We’ll see how it unfolds. A lot of it has to do with match-ups.’’

That’s all Butler can ask for.

‘‘I want Coach to be able to count on me to go in and get stops or bring that energy with certain plays,’’ Butler said. ‘‘You’ve just got to accept your role on each and every team. Whenever you do that, that’s when a team starts to pull together. They start to get it, start to click. I feel like that’s where we are right now. I know that we’re going to be fine.

‘‘If I get my playing time being the energy guy off the bench, then I want to be the best at it.’’

As far as the rest of this holiday week goes for Butler, he won’t be able to spend Thanksgiving Day with his family, with the Bulls headed back to Chicago, so he’s cherishing the time now.

He doesn’t need one day to remind him of how thankful he is.



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