Jimmy Butler says a bittersweet goodbye to Chicago and the Bulls

Jimmy Butler high-fives fans as he leaves the court at United Center. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/TNS/Getty Images)

After six seasons in the Windy City, Jimmy Butler’s no longer a member of the Chicago Bulls. The 27-year-old guard finally found himself on the move on Thursday, following years of trade rumors that had amounted to naught, as he was packaged with the No. 16 pick in Thursday’s 2017 NBA draft (later used on Creighton center Justin Patton) and shipped off to the Minnesota in exchange for shooting guard Zach LaVine, point guard Kris Dunn (Minnesota’s first-round pick in the 2016 draft) and this year’s No. 7 overall selection (later used on Arizona 7-footer Lauri Markkanen).

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Butler started his time in Chicago as a late first-rounder out of Marquette fighting for playing time on a 50-win title contender under hard-charging head coach Tom Thibodeau. He ended it as a three-time All-Star and All-NBA Third-Teamer who needed to do damn near everything to drag a Fred Hoiberg-led club to a .500 record and a first-round exit. A lot went down for Butler over that half-dozen years, personally and professionally; as such, as you might imagine, he expressed some mixed emotions over his exit to rejoin his old head coach in the Twin Cities.

To Bulls fandom and the people in the organization at large, Butler expressed his appreciation in a Friday afternoon Instagram post:


The lengthy caption reads:

Chicago,

What can I say?! I truly struggle with the words because you’ve been so much more than just my home for the last 6 years, you’ve been my life! You’ve embraced me like a son and pushed me to get better every day, every season.

I can honestly say that I have always been incredibly motivated to succeed; it’s just the way I’m built. But I know I owe so much to the person I am now, and to the player that I’ve become, to you.

You always pushed me to never give anything less than my absolute best night in, night out. That’s what you expected. That’s what you deserved. And, I hope you know that’s what I dedicated my life to every time I walked into the facility or stepped on the floor of the United Center.

Thank you to the entire Bulls organization and Reinsdorf Family for taking a chance on me in 2011 and for giving me the opportunity to play the sport I love for such a great franchise. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I was drafted and when I played my first minutes. It’s an experience that I wouldn’t have wanted with any other team and I’m so thankful to you for giving me that opportunity.

Chicago, I love you. Thanks for embracing a kid from Tomball like one of your own. On to a new home and a new organization. Thankfully, with some familiar faces! PS… AND PROBABLY MOST IMPORTANT! THANK YOU TO EVERYBODY BEHIND THE ORGANIZATION THAT DO NOT GET THE SHINE THAT THEY DESERVE!! YALL ARE THE REAL ALL-STARS!! – Jimmy G. Buckets (@staceyking21)

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It’s a fitting tribute to all those who supported Butler’s journey from out-of-the-rotation swingman to the ranks of the league’s best, most effective and most efficient two-way players, a legitimate superstar whose addition turned the Wolves into the toasts of draft night. But then, there’s the other side of the coin: the contentious relationship between Butler and a team led by the front office of vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman.

The duo gave Butler a five-year, $95 million maximum-salaried contract extension when he became eligible for one two summers back, but never seemed fully comfortable with the idea of Butler being Chicago’s unquestioned leading man, forever dangling his name in trade talks until, finally, they found the deal they wanted. (Which, given the return they got, seems kind of insane.)

Butler noted as much in a pair of phone interviews with Bulls beat writers on Friday. First, from K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

“Me disappointed? Never. Nothing ever shocks me. I knew it was going to happen. I’m not going to sit here and say that I didn’t,” Butler said by phone from Paris, where he is vacationing.

“They chose the route that they chose. I’m not mad at that. I can’t say that it caught me off guard. I just feel like I didn’t know when it was going to happen. They weren’t convinced I wasn’t good enough — whatever you want to call it, I don’t know. But it’s OK. I’ve already moved past it. I’m going about it the same way I always go about it — working to be better. And I will do that in a Timberwolves uniform.” […]

Asked to summarize his relationships with executive vice president John Paxson, general manager Gar Forman and coach Fred Hoiberg, Butler said: “I’m not getting into that. That’s a business relationship. It’s all a business. They still gave me an opportunity. Business is business. We’re going to be businessmen and shake hands. I’m going to do what I did in a Bulls uniform in a Timberwolves uniform. And when we play the Bulls, I’m going to go at them just like I would go at anybody else.”

And from Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

“I guess being called the face of an organization isn’t as good as I thought. We all see where being the so-called face of the Chicago Bulls got me. So let me be just a player for the Timberwolves, man. That’s all I want to do. I just want to be winning games. Do what I can for my respective organization and let them realize what I’m trying to do.

“Whatever they want to call me … face … I don’t even want to get into that anymore. Whose team is it? All that means nothing. You know what I’ve learned? Face of the team, eventually you’re going to see the back of his head as he’s leaving town, so no thanks.”

Whatever conflicts existed within United Center over Butler’s chosen method of leadership are a moot point now. Butler joins Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Ricky Rubio on a Wolves team with a real chance to become something special under Thibodeau, about whom Butler told Johnson, “We all know how I feel about him and what he’s done for me and my career.” The Bulls move in their “new direction” (helpfully visualized by ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande) staffed by a core of a check-cashing Dwyane Wade, ever-stalwart Robin Lopez and a slew of young pieces who may or may not be very good.

Still, some wounds still feel a bit raw for Butler after hearing non-stop chatter that he was on his way to any of a handful of different destinations, only to get the news on draft night while on vacation in Paris.

“It’s crazy because it reminds you of what a business this is,” he told Cowley. “You can’t get mad at anybody. I’m not mad, I’m not. I just don’t like the way some things were handled, but it’s OK.”

His trainer, Travelle Gaines, did not seem to feel like it was all OK, and he shared as much in no uncertain terms on Twitter on Thursday night.

“That’s his tweet,” Butler told Johnson. “I don’t control his Twitter. He has the right to say whatever he wants to say. Whoever has a problem with it, take it up with him. Don’t call my phone. Don’t say anything to me about it. I don’t control that. And I’m not going to try to control it. That is his choice, his words. Of course I know about it. I didn’t have too much to say about it to him. I just told him, ‘Hey, you did that. You deal with the consequences if there are any.’ But I don’t think there will be. That’s all there really is to say to it.”

To be honest, it seems like there might be much, much more to say about it — Butler’s insistence that he’s “not mad” came only after multiple versions of “I guess being the face of the franchise doesn’t mean jack” — but that Butler, in the afterglow of a trade that gives him a change of scenery, some monstrous young teammates and a coach with whom he feels comfortable, would table that tempest for another time. All we’re left with, then, are questions about what might have been had everybody been able to get on the same page, and a farewell that’s fond in some respects and frosty in others.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!