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No ‘vindication’ as Bulls brass and players tiptoe around Jimmy Butler drama

There was no chest-thumping or “I told you so’’ chatter from the Bulls’ brass during the media session Monday.

But vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman certainly had reason to gloat, especially when a jacked-up-looking Lauri Markkanen strutted by the gathering media at the podium.

“It’s never about [vindication],’’ Paxson said firmly.

Paxson and especially Forman did their best to tiptoe around the drama going on in Minnesota, but they obviously couldn’t avoid discussing it altogether.

video by Annie Costabile

After all, Tom Thibodeau was one of the Bulls’ more successful coaches before he was dismissed and took over the same role with the Timberwolves, and Jimmy Butler was arguably the most dominant two-way player the Bulls have had since Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan.

Trading Butler last summer to Minnesota to jump-start the Bulls’ rebuild and landing Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the draft pick that eventually became Markkanen was lambasted by many, but with Butler on the verge of being traded after falling out of favor with Timberwolves ownership, the deal is being viewed in a very positive light.

“That’s still to be determined,’’ Paxson said when asked if they feel like they won the deal. “We’ve got young guys. It’s never about vindication. We did exactly what we thought was the right thing for the organization last year — to rebuild — and we walked out of that night and were comfortable then, and we’re comfortable now.

“It’s not on us to make any real comment on that. We obviously respect Jimmy as a player. He was here; we know how great he is. He did a lot of really good things for the organization. But that’s not our concern. When we made that deal last summer and acquired Zach and Kris and got Lauri in the draft, we moved on. We have too much to worry about internally to become a better team.’’

Forman took an even more hands-off approach.

“We’ve got enough to worry about right here at the Advocate Center,’’ Forman said. “These young guys have to continue to grow, develop and build a chemistry with each other. So we feel good about where we’re at, but we know we still have a lot of work to do.’’

LaVine, who’s still friendly with Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns and forward Andrew Wiggins, said the entire situation was tough.


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“Regardless, I appreciate my time in Minnesota,’’ LaVine said. “They drafted me; I grew up there. I wish them nothing but the best. But this is my team here in Chicago. I’m worried about Chicago. There’s nothing for me to be worried about in Minnesota. I wish them the best.

“I know my boy Karl’s really excited. He just got his five-year, $190 million deal, deserves all of it. ‘Wig’ got his deal, so I think they’re all excited about the year. Everybody goes through some adversity, good or bad decisions. Either way, I think they’ll be OK, and I just wish them the best.’’

Then there was Markkanen, who seemed to be trolling the whole situation last week, tweeting out a picture of himself in his Timberwolves hat before the deal for Butler was announced on draft night in 2017.

“Just a throwback picture, no special meaning,’’ Markkanen said. “I thought Bulls fans would love it. And it was just harmless fun. No shots taken.’’