The Bulls did what Thursday?
They traded in his prime Jimmy Butler, one of the most decorated and honored players in franchise history, a three-time NBA All-Star and 2017 starter, 2016 Olympic gold medal winner, three-time all-defensive team player and the league’s 2015 Most Improved Player. Traded that guy?
Yes, and now the franchise can begin to see some light and a future again.
I know, I know, it’s the Bulls own web site, so what do you expect?
But last year when the Bulls traded Derrick Rose, I didn’t agree and said so. I’m never a big advocate, as well as it worked for the baseball Chicago Cubs and is in process for the White Sox, of stripping a team down to rebuild. Saw that with the Bulls in the early 2000s. It still gives us all nightmares.
So I wanted to see the last remaining elements of that group that looked like 2012 champions ride it out. Let Rose play out his deal; maybe extend Joakim Noah for a year; perhaps Pau Gasol. But it was time. I understood. The community had become injury and dashed hope weary.
But the Bulls decided to extend it for another year in a different form with Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez. Champion veterans; past their primes sure, but all to be supported by Butler.
It didn’t work.
It was time.
The harsh truth of the Bulls gigantic trade, Butler and the No. 16 draft pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the No. 7 pick, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, was that the Bulls no longer had a path to anywhere significant and substantial. All they really had was Butler, who was too good to ever allow the Bulls to become too bad. And as the grinder he was as compared with the transcendent star athlete like Kevin Durant, LeBron James and perhaps even Russell Westbrook, he wasn’t quite good enough to carry the load even with some help. The team playing .500 ball without a playoff series win the last two years with Butler an All-Star and some decent supporting players (Gasol in 2015-16, Wade, Rondo and Lopez last season) suggested a ceiling.
Get into free agency again? We know how that’s gone, even if the Bulls have done OK with the signings of the likes of Ben Wallace, Carlos Boozer and Gasol. But never the true difference maker. Even if the Bulls had the cap room this summer, which they don’t, did they have a shot at Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward? Then spending hundreds of millions of dollars on 30-year-old types like Kyle Lowry or Paul Millsap? Jrue Holiday? Serge Ibaka? George Hill?
Really, where were they going?
Sixth in the East? Fifth? With the aging Wade and Rondo?
Plus, free agency is less certain than before with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that increases even more the salaries for players to resign with their current teams. Sure, the Warriors landed Durant. But what did all those big money free agents from last season do? Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, Chandler Parsons, Evan Turner, Dwight Howard, Gasol, Courney Lee, Harrison Barnes, Jeremy Lin, Arron Afflalo, Al Horford, Eric Gordon, Dwyane Wade? Wade was rated by Sports Illustrated the 10th best free agent last summer.
Sure, maybe pile on another guy and see if he could do something. But where were you going? And now Jimmy was closing in on 30 after next season when he’d be eligible for a contract worth more than $200 million and the team pretty much locked in to him being the centerpiece moving forward. Look, Jimmy is terrific. As Bulls vice president John Paxson said in post trade comments Thursday night at the Advocate Center, few players ever have advanced themselves as far as Butler has through sheer determination and work ethic.
But sometimes it only gets a team so far, and it’s difficult to see where the Bulls would have gone from there.
Plus, the unhappy reality is the community had noticed. TV and radio ratings suffered; even the closeout playoff game at home against the Celtics in April seemed an anticlimax. Who was excited to see this group return again in this form? And who believed it had a bright future?
It was a community demanding it was time to do something.
So the Bulls did.
It was the right thing to do.
Of course, they have to get it right now, but it was a start.
The Bulls have several young players from recent drafts, though basically none were lottery picks.
They got two Thursday in seven-foot shooting big man Lauri Markkanen and point guard Kris Dunn, the No. 5 pick from last year’s draft whom the Bulls pursued then and almost began a rebuilding. But they decided they had enough to make one more run led by Butler. Butler asked the Bulls to let him recruit Wade, and the Bulls agreed.
But the two never could really connect on the floor, mostly taking turns with their offense and the team eventually having its best run of the season late in the year when Wade was out injured.
Dunn was a limited reserve for former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota, though we know Thibodeau doesn’t like to feature his reserves. So the Bulls get a strong defensive oriented point guard and big man shooter lottery picks. Then there’s LaVine, a 2014 lottery pick who was breaking out as a shooting guard and slam dunk champion before an ACL injury last winter. He’s in rehabilitation and the Bulls will work with him to return perhaps late in the 2017-18 season. They said they were confident he is progressing appropriately.
Which makes the possibility of a core of three lottery picks with athletes and three-point shooting, previous weaknesses. Then it’s unlikely the Bulls are a playoff team this season, which means another lottery pick in 2018. So, yes, as Paxson says, the building is on them. But there at least appears to be a foundation.
And they get to begin to work in first round picks like Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Paul Zipser, Jerian Grant, take a look at Cameron Payne, perhaps bring back free agent Nikola Mirotic. With the trade of Butler, the Bulls get a substantial salary cap exception and with Wade going off the books after this season and perhaps Rajon Rondo this summer and certainly next, the Bulls will be well below the salary cap.
They aren’t going to pursue veteran free agents this summer, but maybe add a young player who fits if one becomes available.
And join the NBA’s 21st Century.
The Bulls had been mired in a slower style game given a general lack of athletic players and three point shooting. They thus begin to address those weaknesses and finally give coach Fred Hoiberg a chance to coach his style of open court play with movement and passing and shooting.
It’s going to mean a losing season, and Minnesota gets the best player in the deal, which makes them the immediate winner. Butler joining Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins could be a huge boost for the Timberwolves.
But the Bulls now have a future and not just a past.
It was time.