Chicago Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler had friends in high places as soon as he was drafted into the Association.
Fresh off winning the 2011 MVP award, Bulls point guard Derrick Rose quickly welcomed the Marquette product to the family.
"He actually texted me when I was in the Houston airport getting ready to come here," Butler told reporters at his introductory news conference at the time. "And he said, 'Congratulations. Welcome. Maybe come by tonight and just chill out and get to know each other.' And so, that was that."
And what did the bonding consist of?
"We went to his house and just watched the BET Awards for the most part," Butler added. "And just talked about basketball, [about] my life."
It was an important moment for Butler, whom Chicago selected with the No. 30 overall pick. Before he'd ever set foot in an NBA game, he was developing a rapport with one of the league's very best players—and the face of a Bulls franchise seemingly destined for big things.
"It's crazy," Butler then explained. "I used to watch him on TV. Now I'm a teammate, but I try not to let that show too much to tell you the truth. He's a good dude. He's just like me for the most part and he just wants to win."
But the on-court relationship between the two never quite materialized.
Over the course of Butler's first three seasons, Rose played in just 49 games due to a torn ACL in 2012 and a torn meniscus in 2013. The setbacks derailed the floor general's meteoric ascendance and limited Chicago's postseason exploits.
Butler's development would have to occur alongside reserve point guards like Kirk Hinrich, D.J. Augustin and Nate Robinson—all forced to adopt more significant roles in Rose's absence.
To be sure, the 24-year-old has quickly turned heads nevertheless.
After a rookie campaign in which he was sparingly used, Butler started 20 games during his sophomore season and earned minutes from head coach Tom Thibodeau on account of his stout perimeter defense. Last season, he averaged 13.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 38.7 minutes per contest.
By now, Butler is a central fixture in Chicago's rotation and figures to remain a prominent contributor even with rookie Doug McDermott, veteran Mike Dunleavy and second-year man Tony Snell competing for minutes on a deep wing.
Still, Butler is another step or two away from All-Star honors. He made just 39.7 percent of his field-goal attempts last season, including an even more troubling 28.3 percent clip from beyond the three-point arc.
Some of those efficiency problems can be attributed to the pressure placed on Butler to create shots in an offense with few playmakers.
With Rose in the fold, that could change. Instead of desperation heaves and forced drives to the bucket, Butler should discover more quality touches with a premier distributor at his side. Whether he's getting open spot-up looks on the wing or benefiting from Rose's ability to orchestrate the fast break, there will be plenty of opportunities to improve that field-goal percentage.
At the very least, Rose's ability to break down defenses and draw attention should give Butler some space to work with.
This has been the hope for some time.
On the brink of the 2013-14 opener—when Rose was ostensibly in store for a full season—Bleacher Report's Kelly Scaletta wrote, "The anticipation of seeing the two working together is positively electrifying, whether you’re a Bulls fan or just a lover of basketball."
Of course, things didn't exactly work out as planned. Through Rose's only 10 games, he averaged just 15.9 points and 4.3 assists in 31.1 minutes per game. He made a mere 35.4 percent of his field-goal attempts, showing every bit of the rust that had accumulated during his season away from the floor.
With a more sustained return to action, Rose figures to be far more effective—and is thereby positioned to help Butler continue his evolution.
It doesn't hurt that the former MVP is getting his feet wet with FIBA Basketball World Cup play this summer. In advance of the NBA's preseason action, Rose is returning to game shape and attempting to regain at least some of his All-Star form.
"I know the questions [about health] are going to come and they're going to be there the whole year," Rose recently told reporters. "So I can't get tired of it. I'm feeling good right now. Just trying to get in better shape, get in better condition, so that when I do need to score the ball, then it'll be there."
The New York Times' Harvey Araton described Rose's participation with Team USA as a "no-lose proposition," noting, "He can shake off rust, re-establish a rhythm [and] get comfortable with an altered NBA role and reality."
Rose's return is more than an X's and O's advantage for someone like Butler.
It's the kind of development that will translate into all kinds of intangibles—improved chemistry, composure and a collective belief that the Bulls can again vie for a championship.
For his part, Butler is exuding the confidence you might expect from a guy whose team is finally at full strength. Even the new and improved Cleveland Cavaliers—with LeBron James and Kevin Love—aren't testing his faith.
"They're just another force we're going to have to go through," Butler recently told CSNChicago.com's Mark Strotman. "I don't think anybody plays this game to lose, that's for sure. I think we can beat anybody at any given time and I'm excited, I'm looking forward to it."
"We're ready for whatever," added Butler. "As long as we play the type of ball that we're capable of playing, and just stick to how hard that we play, I think we're going to be great as long as we stay healthy."
Rose sounded a similar tune when faced with the question of Cleveland's overnight improvement.
"For us, I think it wouldn't change anything," Rose told reporters. "We know that no matter who we play that we have a legit change to beat anyone in the league. But at the same time, we know it's not going to be easy at all because guys are getting better."
Despite three seasons of limited action, Rose is no stranger to the threat James poses in the Eastern Conference. His Bulls lost to James' Heat in five games during the 2011 conference finals, the season before Butler entered the league.
As much as Rose will do for Butler, Butler will likely return the favor with his stifling defensive presence on the wing—a presence that can at least slow James down in a future postseason matchup.
Indeed, this should be a relationship that cuts both ways now that it may finally come to fruition.
It's been three years since Rose and Butler became fast friends, and the rest of their respective careers could very well depend on one another in important ways—ways that should become evident enough in the season ahead.
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