While other NBA teams added key players to bolster their line-up, the Chicago Bulls spent last summer losing their big guns.
The Chicago Bulls traded franchise player Jimmy Butler on draft night, sending their all-star guard to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the 7th pick of the 2017 draft which turned out to be Lauri Markkanen from Finland.
Butler was the Bulls best player and their heart and soul. But there was dysfunction in Chicago and Butler was at the center of it. Butler questioned Fred Hoiberg’s coaching and that eventually led to the trade. Aside from trading Butler, the Bulls also bought out Dwyane Wade in the offseason and with their top two scorers from the 2016-17 season gone, the team was headed to a full rebuild.
Not Expected To Be Pretty
The Bulls struggled in their first season without Jimmy Buckets. The moment they traded Butler and gave up Dwyane Wade, Chicago was headed for a rebuild and we knew that wasn’t going to be pretty.
Even before the season began, the fight between Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic during the preseason was an ominous sign. The 3-20 start only proved that the struggles were real. But slowly but surely, the Bulls got their bearings – somewhat and turned the season into a learning and growing experience.
Portis had a career season, doubling his scoring average to 13.2 points per game. They shipped Mirotic to New Orleans for a first round pick. Robin Lopez and Denzel Valentine each had solid seasons. And yes, the three players they got in the Jimmy Butler trade also showed plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future.
Optimistic About The Future
Rookie Lauri Markkanen showed that he can be a unicorn in his own right. The 7 footer from Finland showed a three point shot that led to comparisons with Dirk Nowitzki. Kris Dunn averaged 13.4 points, 6.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game and showed the stuff that made him the 5th overall pick in the 2016 Draft.
Zach LaVine, the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade, arrived hurt in Chicago after suffering an ACL injury in Minnesota last season. LaVine also finished the season on the injured list after dealing with tendinitis in March.
But despite playing just 24 games, the outlook is bright on LaVine. When he was on the court, he displayed the offensive prowess that could make him one of the Bulls’ cornerstones of the future. LaVine averaged 16.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in 24 games played this season.
Wolves Back in the Playoffs
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Timberwolves have made the playoffs in Jimmy Butler’s first year there. And while the Wolves are a longshot to win the Western Conference (According to Betway odds as of 4/11/18 ) at +5000, they are a dangerous team with Butler returning from injury.
After going 8-9 without Butler, the Wolves won their last three games to earn the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Butler didn’t just return to action in those final three contests, he gave back the Wolves their old swagger. After scoring just 18 and 15 while playing with minutes restriction in his first two games back, Butler erupted for 31 points in 42 minutes during the do-or-die game against the Nuggets.
Butler is expected to play a major role as the Wolves try to do the impossible and defeat the best team in the league in the first round of the playoffs. But even if they fall short against the Houston Rockets, this will be a season to remember and one to build on. After all, this is Minnesota’s first playoff appearance in 14 years.
Who Won The Trade?
Right now, it looks like the Wolves won the trade because they are in the playoffs and the Bulls are not. But that’s not necessarily the case. The Wolves already had a good line-up even without Butler. They had two former #1 picks in Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins on their squad. Butler only provided them with the leadership and experience.
But the Bulls got Markkanen, Dunn and LaVine for Butler. These three could easily be their core for the future. Plus, because the Bulls did not make the playoffs and have the 6th worst record in the league, they are going to have a lottery pick in this year’s draft. Considering the depth of this year’s class, the Bulls are likely to add another piece to their rebuilding puzzle.
Given the dysfunction they had when Butler was around and the rebuild they have right now, it was but logical to pick the latter. After all, the Bulls didn’t look like they were going to be title contenders with Butler leading them. It was also the right time to move into a new direction, whether or not Butler was a distraction.