Trading Jimmy Butler was the only way out of basketball hell for the Bulls, but given their drowsy history, it didn’t look like there was a chance in the other hell that they would do it.
And the idea of sending Butler to their nemesis, coach Tom Thibodeau? Shut the hell up!
But the Bulls did all of that Thursday night, and they did it well.
They sent Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves, reuniting him with Thibodeau, and in return, they received leaper Zach LaVine; Kris Dunn, a point guard the Bulls coveted in last year’s draft; and 7-foot shooter Lauri Markkanen from Arizona, the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft.
The Bulls rightly were asking the world for Butler, an excellent two-way player, and the Timberwolves dropped some version of it at their doorstep.
This is what rebuilding looks and feels like. It’s exciting, painful and frightening all rolled into one. Losing Butler, who has been nothing but top-notch on and off the court, is difficult. But the Bulls weren’t going to win by bringing back Butler, 35-year-old Dwyane Wade and 31-year-old Rajon Rondo. The idea of having to watch what we watched last season almost guaranteed catatonia.
All you need to know is that Markkanen is 20, LaVine is 22 and Dunn, the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft, is 23. LaVine averaged 18.9 points last season. Markkanen’s outside shooting should open things up for coach Fred Hoiberg’s offense. Dunn struggled his rookie season with the Timberwolves, averaging just 3.8 points and 17.1 minutes a game, but his defense was excellent.
If you have questions about Dunn, you should. Will he turn out to be the player lots of people thought he was going to be? Nobody can say for sure. LaVine tore an anterior cruciate ligament in February and missed the rest of the season. Scary stuff, all of it, but it can’t be emphasized enough: This should be scary. When you’re a .500 team with little room for improvement, there’s no reward without risk.
It’s OK to be very concerned that vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, the two guys who got the Bulls into this fix in the first place, pulled off the trade, but remember that they found Butler with the 30th pick of the 2011 draft. Fair’s fair.
Someone must have referred to Wade as fading because he tweeted recently, “18.3 points a game in 29mins on 43% shooting at 35 years old. If I’m 25 with the same numbers, I’m getting 150 million. #Fading #Petty.” But he misses the point entirely. His numbers were empty calories. The Bulls were never going to win with him, Butler and Rondo.
It’s possible we’ll look back on this trade as a disaster, but it was the right thing to do in the moment. Watching a great player like Butler being wasted on a mediocre team is brutal. Apparently, many of you disagree with that assessment because you kept buying tickets. The Bulls led the league in attendance, and given chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s reluctance to lay a hand on a golden goose, it was hard to believe the Bulls would trade the only commodity they had. Kudos to them for having the willingness to go in a different direction, even if things look fuzzy in the distance.
There was no love lost when the Bulls fired Thibodeau in 2015. Too many people in the building found him difficult to work with, and he found too many people inside the franchise lacking in basketball acumen. Thursday’s trade says two things: (a) the organization is above letting petty differences get in the way of a deal, and (b) their belief in the players they are acquiring is extremely high.
Maybe Hoiberg finally will get to see his offense run the way it was meant to be run — “run” being the operative word. It’s hard to see where Wade would fit into this, other than as a mentor to a lot of young players. It’s not hard to see why he’d stay for a rebuild: If he opts into the second year of his contract, he’ll make $24 million next season.
These are interesting times in Chicago. The Bulls’ trading Butler isn’t as shocking as the Bears’ picking Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick in the NFL draft. LaVine is much more of a known quantity than Trubisky is, but it’s still stunning that an organization known for doing nothing when something, anything was required would pull off such a big move.
On Tuesday, I wrote that many of us were wasting a lot of time talking about a Butler trade that was never going to happen. The column’s basis was the Bulls’ inertia over the last decade or so. The Sun-Times’ back-page headline touting my column read “What Bull!”
Turns out something was bull, but it wasn’t the Butler discussion or the Bulls’ resolve.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.