30 Teams in 30 Days: In trading Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls make youth a priority
Top pick Markkanen, young veterans Dunn and LaVine key to rebuilding plan
Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.
NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today’s team: Chicago Bulls
2016-17 Record: 41-41
Major additions: Kris Dunn (trade), Zach LaVine (trade), Justin Holiday (free agency), Quincy Pondexter (trade), Lauri Markkanen (Draft)
Major subtractions: Jimmy Butler, Michael Carter-Williams, Rajon Rondo
The lowdown: No team in the NBA saw its fortunes make a reversal this summer more than the Bulls, a reeling franchise that saw its lone evidence of credibility disappear with the trading of Jimmy Butler to Minnesota.
By agreeing to take Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn in return, a pair of young players with questions, the Bulls conceded that a rebuilding plan is necessary and in the works. This was perhaps inevitable after last season, when Chicago desperately tried to salvage Butler by placing him with Dwyane Wade and Rondo, a mish-mash unit that ultimately failed to deliver on the pie-in-the-sky promise they raised.
By midseason, Rondo was feuding with Butler and Wade over leadership issues with Chicago’s young players and chemistry became problematic, especially between some players and coach Fred Hoiberg. All in all, it was a disappointing experiment that gave the front office no choice. Change was necessary.
Not re-signing Rondo was a no-brainer, and trading Butler wasn’t exactly a sin, but did the Bulls get a fair return on the deal? The basketball universe is skeptical, based on the unscientific reaction, although not quite as bad as what the Pacers heard about their Paul George deal.
Coming to the Bulls is Dunn; a year ago today he was hailed for having a terrific showing in the Las Vegas Summer League for the Timberwolves and fans were busy making trades from their sofa for Ricky Rubio. Well: Dunn was disappointing as a rookie and Rubio never felt a sweat. Dunn’s primary issue was shooting, as he made 37.7 percent of his shots overall and 28.8 percent of his 3-pointers. Also, keep in mind that Dunn is already 23 years old because he wasn’t one-and-done, unlike most lottery picks.
LaVine underwent knee surgery last season and comes to the Bulls with an injury cloud as he recovers. As Bulls fans know, the team doesn’t exactly have a good history with surgically-repaired players (Derrick Rose). It’s very possible that LaVine won’t be ready until the last few months of the season. Compounding matters is LaVine will be eligible for a contract extension after this season, but won’t be able to give the Bulls a long enough look at his recovery for them to make a long-term commitment at big dollars. That would be risky.
That said, LaVine, if healthy, would be a solid addition. He’s exciting to watch (former two-time Slam Dunk Contest champion) and has improved his jumper drastically over the last few years. In the right situation, and if his rehab goes well, LaVine would be a 20-point scorer and fan favorite.
With their No. 1 pick, the Bulls took Markkanen, a seven-foot shooter who falls into the “Next Dirk” category that fans love to use as comparison and projections. He was good in college but the transition to the NBA is always tricky. His initial taste of the NBA didn’t go well at all as Markkanen shot poorly in at Summer League and didn’t show any impact in other areas of his game.
The Bulls didn’t spend much in free agency, adding only Justin Holiday — the younger brother of the New Orleans Pelicans’ Jrue — who looked promising during his short run with the Knicks last season. However, Holiday appears to be a rotation player at best, someone to serve as a (hopefully) valuable backup.
In a sense, the Bulls put themselves in a good position by trading Butler. They can push the reset button, fall into the lottery and pray for help in next summer’s Draft. Plus, they’ll have money to spend.
They’re approaching training camp with the unsolved issue regarding Wade: Will the Bulls buy him out? Wade is obviously a poor fit to a rebuilding program and it would be best for him and the organization to move on. Of course, money could be a holdup. Wade is due $21 million this season and so it’ll come down to how much less is he willing to take to be free (and perhaps sign on the cheap with the Cavs and with buddy LeBron James).
They also will miss backup guard Cameron Payne for a few months as he suffered a fractured foot during summer workouts.
The question that must be asked by the organization: Is Gar Foreman and John Paxson the right tandem to oversee the rebuilding process? To be fair to Foreman and Paxson, they built a solid team several years ago, only to see it crumble once Rose suffered a knee injury. That wasn’t their fault, and anyway, the Bulls stayed competitive for a few years during Rose’s recovery.
But this is a what-have-you-done-lately business, and in that sense, the Bulls under Foreman and Paxson haven’t done much. The Butler trade will probably decide their fate. If Dunn and LaVine become foundational players, Chicago will proceed to the next era.
Coming Next: Milwaukee Bucks
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