MORRISSEY: Um, that Jimmy Butler trade isn’t looking so one-sided now
Jimmy Butler scored 38 points for the Timberwolves on Tuesday night, and I’d bet more people in Chicago responded with “that’s nice’’ than “what could the Bulls have been thinking?!’’
That’s a long way from June 22, when the Bulls sent their star to Minnesota in a draft-night trade that brought them Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and first-round pick Lauri Markkanen in return. Remember the caterwauling? The tearing of garments? The torches and pitchforks?
If there was a consensus, it was that the Bulls got fleeced, though I don’t believe “fleeced’’ was the actual word used. An injured player, a disappointment and a man named Lauri in return for a three-time All-Star? So Bulls-ish.
It’s a little easier to see a brighter future for the team these days. Markkanen is good already and might someday be great. Dunn, the punching bag for so many critics on draft night, was averaging 14.7 points, 7.2 assists and 5.2 rebounds in December heading into Wednesday’s game against the Jazz. LaVine, the jewel of the trade, hopes to be back in January after months of rehab for a torn knee ligament. He was averaging almost 19 points a game when he got hurt last season.
It was clear that the Bulls had to do something after last season. They were stuck in the middle in the NBA, the definition of running in place. They were good enough to make the playoffs but not even close to vying for a championship. That meant a draft position in the midsection of the first round, and that likely meant a middling basketball player.
The fan fury didn’t erupt because the Bulls traded Butler, who was tough on both ends of the floor. It erupted because lots of people thought the Bulls didn’t get enough in return for him. I thought they did.
Here’s what I wrote on draft night:
Trading Jimmy Butler was the only way out of basketball hell for the Bulls, but given their drowsy history of standing pat, 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 old nemesis, coach Tom Thibodeau? Shut the hell up! But the Bulls did all of that Thursday night, and they did it well.
If there had been a poll asking fans if I should be hung or shot, they would have voted “yes.’’ A journalism-industry columnist called me a “homer’’ for approving of a trade that so many national experts had panned. If you have a few hours, I can tell you all the things I’ve been called in my career. A homer – a sportswriter who sees and speaks no evil about the teams he or she covers – is not one of them. But these were the out-of-proportion emotions that the Butler trade stirred up in people.
It’s much too early to call the trade a success for the Bulls. It is fair to say it’s headed in the right direction.
Watching them lose so many games is not fun, but this is what rebuilding looks like. It’s what tanking looks like. Lose in earnest and hope to get the No. 1 overall pick in the draft – someone like Arizona center DeAndre Ayton or Duke forward Marvin Bagley.
One of those players to go along with LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn? Yes, please.
Markkanen can score inside or out. Every team wants a 7-footer who can do what he can do. Not every team made a trade to get one.
If LaVine can get back close to normal, it means the Bulls will get a player who is on an upward trajectory toward being a force in the NBA. Everybody has seen his leaping ability. Not everyone knew about his work ethic, which is so impressive that even Thibodeau, the noted drill sergeant, praised it in Minnesota.
There’s a small sample size for Dunn, who struggled in his rookie season after the Timberwolves used the fifth overall pick on him in 2016. We don’t know if what we’re seeing now is real or an aberration. But the toughness is there, and the offensive skills, which seemed to be either dormant or missing last season, are starting to show themselves.
The Bulls have a chance to be good in a few years. A lot has to go right, but the idea behind the Butler trade was solid. Build talent, lose games and pray that the right ping-pong ball gets picked. (Whenever the Bulls want to knock off their recent habit of winning games, it would be very much appreciated.)
I couldn’t have taken one more game of watching Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo do whatever it was they were doing last season. It was time for something fresh, new, and, yes, bad.
Butler is a great player. He deserved better than to be on a team that was going nowhere. He’s not a Bull anymore, but that fact is a lot less distasteful now in Chicago than it was on draft night. Or is that just the homer in me humming the Bulls’ player-intro song again?