The fact that Jimmy Butler will play somewhere other than Chicago this coming season isn’t much of a surprise. That his new home is Minnesota and he was sold for pennies on the dollar, however, is.
No one should blame the Chicago Bulls’ for deciding to “set a direction”, as vice president of basketball operations John Paxson described it. Aside from the (fool’s gold) optimism gained by taking a 2-0 series lead over the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs before Rajon Rondo suffered a thumb injury, the Bulls had no reason to think they were in position to contend.
And look no further than what Indiana are going through right now for what being ‘patient’ gets you with a star on a middling team.
In practice, acquiring assets for Butler was the right move. The execution… that’s where Chicago made their mistake.
In no universe should a 27-year-old star entering his prime, with two years left on his team-friendly contract that pays less than $20 million per season, be traded for an underwhelming package of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and essentially a pick swap of No16 for No7.
Where to start? How about with the pick swap. For a team in need of as many assets as possible, the Bulls should have drawn a line when proposed with the idea of surrendering their own selection.
It just has the feeling of a clueless front office making a concession to get the deal done. Teams should be scrap and claw for every negotiating point in a trade and from the outside, it looks like Chicago failed to do that.
Depending on your assessment of Lauri Markkanen as a prospect, you could easily criticise the Bulls for how they used that No7 pick. But that’s besides the point because the trade was already a fleecing before the Arizona product donned a Chicago cap on stage with commissioner Adam Silver.
As far as LaVine and Dunn go, the former is still recovering from a season-ending ACL tear, while the latter showed little offensive promise in his rookie season. The Bulls better hope they hit on at least one, otherwise they’re looking at a potential sixth man who can score and not provide much else, along with a rotation player, respectively.
On the flip side, Chicago’s loss is Minnesota’s gain.
Butler gives the Timberwolves a three-headed core to build around, accompanying Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
He also reunites with former coach Tom Thibodeau, who was in need of a veteran presence to help shape the young guys and cultivate a defensive edge which was the signature quality of his Bulls teams.
As with any trade that involves picks and young players, the true verdict is out and won’t be known for years. Nevertheless, this is as one-sided as a deal for a star gets.