Bulls-Timberwolves offseason trade proving to be a win-win for both franchises
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The plan for Zach LaVine stays the course.
Looking like an All-Star-caliber talent in just 19 minutes of work in his debut Saturday changes nothing. Coach Fred Hoiberg reiterated that on Sunday.
That means around another 20 minutes in the Monday afternoon game against Miami, same plan Wednesday against Golden State, and then re-evaluate before the Jan. 20 game in Atlanta. It’s sensible, but also concrete.
Suffering a torn left anterior cruciate ligament last February and considered the “key piece’’ in the draft-night trade that sent Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, LaVine is one of the few players in the league who is athletic enough to take almost a year off to rehab, only to then strut back on the court looking smooth in every basketball move he makes.
But as good as he looked in the victory over the Pistons, it’s fair to now ask will he remain the “key piece’’ in that offseason deal the Bulls made with the Timberwolves?
Point guard Kris Dunn also arrived in that package, plus a swap of draft picks, which helped land a certain 7-foot Finnish exchange student named Lauri Markkanen.
Dunn is the fifth-leading scorer (averaging 13.8 points) in the 2016 draft class, and his 6.3 assists trail only Ben Simmons in that group. More important, his jump from Year 1 to this season now actually clouds just how high his ceiling reaches.
He has an off-the-charts work-ethic – safe to say almost Butler-like – and also humble enough to accept coaching — a trait he has shown while working on his outside jumper.
Then there’s Markkanen, who leads the rookie class in rebounding and three-pointers, plus sitting third in points per game with 15.5. He is the “Baby Unicorn,’’ and that comes with just 40 NBA games.
“It’s scary what he could become,’’ Bulls guard Justin Holiday said.
And Holiday knows a little something about unicorns, playing with the original one last season in New York in Kristaps Porzingis.
“Wait until [Markkanen] learns all the tricks and subtleties of the game that vets learn,’’ Holiday said. “He’s going to get stronger, smarter … his game will only get better.’’
The other layer of Markkanen’s accelerated impact is he has made Nikola Mirotic expendable. Mirotic wants to be elsewhere, and now eligible to be traded starting Monday, what he brings back in return can be directly linked to landing Markkanen.
That’s why it’s safe to say this proved to be one of the better NBA trades made in the last few seasons in which both teams involved not only profited, but got exactly what they wanted.
The Bulls jump-started the rebuild at an accelerated pace, the Timberwolves (sitting fourth in the West) jump-started the pursuit of the Herculean task of trying to climb atop the West.
There’s nothing wrong to tipping the cap and acknowledging both organizations won.
“Do I pay attention to them? No,’’ Butler told the Sun-Times earlier this week when discussing this year’s Bulls. “But do I see their scores and what they’ve done? Of course. Hell, I wish them the best. I don’t have hard feelings toward any of the players there.
“I don’t consider what they’re doing a surprise. That’s the league for you. You got guys that can put the ball in the basket, just playing basketball, make shots, you’re going to come up and catch people on certain nights. You can’t take anybody in this league lightly for that exact reason.
“I feel like without question it was a trade where both sides benefited.’’