LOS ANGELES—Jimmy Butler knew what he had to do. He usually does these days.
“Coach,” he told Fred Hoiberg before the Chicago Bulls faced the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, “I’m going for 40 tonight.”
Butler kept his word, and then some. Less than 24 hours after scoring 22 points and chasing around J.J. Redick in a 102-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, he bullied his way to a season-high 40 points, with just one three-point try (which he missed), to propel the Bulls to a 118-110 win at Staples Center while Dwyane Wade rested.
“I just felt like that’s what my team was going to need from me, to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “To be aggressive, put the ball in the basket. With our second-leading scorer out, I know I have to pick up the pace a little bit.”
Butler got to the free-throw line 14 times (making 12). He crashed the glass for seven rebounds. He dished out six assists. He even beat out a taller, younger and bulkier Julius Randle on a jump ball late in the game.
“I told him that was the best play he made all night,” Hoiberg said.
Butler’s stellar play has been but the biggest key to the Bulls’ 9-5 start during a 2016-17 NBA season that looked to be a long slog in the Windy City.
Over the summer, Chicago’s front office all but tore down a roster that had slipped since the halcyon days of Derrick Rose’s MVP run. Out went Rose, along with Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Kirk Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy Jr., among others. In came nine new faces, none more recognizable than Wade’s.
How would Hoiberg—a man long known as “The Mayor” for his people-pleasing demeanor—be able to wrangle a locker room run by three outsized personalities (i.e., Butler’s, Wade’s and Rajon Rondo’s), let alone fashion a competitive club on the court?
To start, with a long lunch.
Shortly after the Bulls signed Wade to a two-year, $47 million deal, Hoiberg flew out to Los Angeles to consult with the team’s next hometown hero. They had a three-hour meeting, broke bread together, worked out together.
And they talked—about Wade’s Hall of Fame career, what it takes to win, the lessons he’d learned about leadership during his 13 seasons and three title runs with the Miami Heat.
“As far as building chemistry with different …