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Bulls mates bolster Jimmy Butler’s belief system

Kobe Bryant Jimmy Butler

Kobe Bryant, Jimmy Butler

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Updated: March 1, 2013 7:11PM



The search for a nickname ­continues for Jimmy Butler.

Not his search, mind you — just seemingly everyone around the Bulls guard/forward.

Center Joakim Noah seems to have settled on “Jimmy Boy,’’ giving a little Texas flavor to the Houston-raised second-year player. Teammates teased him about being “The Kobe Killer’’ and “The Black Mamba Charmer’’ for the way he held Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant to 7-for-22 shooting and just 16 points in a Bulls victory last week.

Butler has heard them all: “Jimmy the Kid,’’ “Jimmy Buckets,’’ “King Slayer’’ . . . another day, another nickname.

But if a nickname that sticks is coming for Butler any time soon, it likely will find the 6-7, 220-pounder back on the bench. All-Star forward Luol Deng is expected back from an injured right hamstring that sidelined him for five games, which allowed Butler to climb onto that starting stage and make himself noticed.

“Definitely my confidence has picked up, but I’m telling you, a lot of the credit goes to my teammates because night in and night out, every day, they are telling me I can do this,’’ Butler said. “Like when I was matched up against Kobe, [Wednesday night] against Tayshaun [Prince], starting off slow on offense and then making shots late, the credit goes to them because they’re telling me to keep playing hard, keep shooting the ball, keep guarding, keep hustling. It’s stuff like that you hear and you’re like, ‘Let’s do this, let’s win this as a team.’ ’’

Basically, it’s the type of encouragement that was absent during Butler’s rookie season, not because his teammates didn’t believe in him but because he was lost. Learning the system of coach Tom Thibodeau is like figuring out a Rubik’s Cube, and playing time is handed out based on what’s been earned on the defensive side of the ball.

Your salary, your draft status — throw all of that out the window. So, of course, it’s a natural tendency for a young player to think, ‘‘Coach hates me . . . I don’t belong in the NBA.’’

‘‘I feel like that’s the easy way out,’’ Butler said, admitting he had to fight those thoughts. ‘‘Anybody can say that, but there’s a time and place for you. I mean, you got Luol in front of you — come on, an All-Star, a great player, so you’ve just got to wait your turn.

‘‘That’s a big, big part of this organization — working. I feel like that’s the Chicago way. Nothing is given to you — you earn it. You practice and play so you can be the best, and that’s why this city is so good at everything, because everyone has that blue-collar work ethic.’’

It’s that type of mentality that has endeared Butler to his veteran teammates.

‘‘I love playing with Jimmy,’’ Noah said. ‘‘He just has that toughness about him that just fits the Bulls perfect. I’m so proud of him because it’s tough sometimes to play behind Luol, but he’s somebody who is always in the gym, always working hard even though he might not be getting the time he’s wanted. But he’s somebody that’s always been a team-first guy, and for him to be helping us in this way, it means a lot.’’

And it’s not about to change just because the minutes are about to go back down.

‘‘I feel like I’ve done a great job filling in for Luol, and I’m glad to get Lu back because I feel like he’s a big part of our team,’’ Butler said. ‘‘When I come back off the bench, I will play the exact same. I’ve gained a little more confidence in my offensive game, and I’ll still play the same way on defense, so I feel like coming off the bench or starting, you’re always going to get the same results from me, the same Jimmy Butler.’’

No nickname necessary.



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