In Desperate Attempt to Save Their Jobs, Bulls Front Office Trades Jimmy Butler
The Chicago Bulls front office went all-in on a rebuild during Thursday night’s NBA Draft. Front office executives Gar Foreman and John Paxson (Gar/Pax) continue to botch decisions and burn bridges on their way to disappointing the Bulls’ fan base time and time again, and Thursday night was the straw that broke the camel’s back. This time, Gar/Pax flipped the franchise upside down by trading the city’s most beloved athlete Jimmy Butler for 70 cents on the dollar.
At the conclusion of the 2017 season, it became abundantly clear that the Bulls were a franchise without a direction. The roster as it stood before Thursday’s draft was nowhere near championship contention, and because of poor salary cap management Gar/Pax had two options: 1. Shed salary through trades to (likely fail to) sign a big name free agent, or 2. Trade Butler when his stock is highest and avoid the situation in Indiana with Paul George. Gar/Pax chose the later, but failed in its execution.
Before we get into the meat of the deal, let’s throw it on the searing burner and look at the trade on the surface. Before Thursday night’s draft began, The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski dropped a famous “Woj Bomb” that a trade sending Butler to Minnesota had been finalized. In exchange, the Bulls received guards Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, as well as the No. 7 overall draft pick. After the trade had sunken into the minds of displeased Bulls fans, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst tweeted that Chicago would also be sending the No. 16 pick back to Minnesota. Twitter erupted.
Now, let’s toss this deal on the grill and get into the center of the trade to discover why Bulls Nation is so outraged.
Dunn is a 23-year-old, second-year point guard who played horribly in his rookie season. Dunn averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 assists with an 8.1 player efficient rating in 78 games, and he ended the season dead last in the NBA in true-shooting percentage. The Bulls loved Dunn during last year’s draft process, so they probably overvalued him while putting together this trade. Gar/Pax clearly have faith that Dunn can finally be the answer at point guard. I’m not so confident.
LaVine is best known for his high-flying dunks as evidence by his back-to-back NBA Slam Dunk Contest Championships in 2015 and 2016. But, the 22-year-old combo guard tore his ACL just last February. Sure, he was averaging a solid 18.9 points and hitting three’s at a 39-percent rate, but there’s concerns that LaVine’s isolation-heavy playing style makes him destined to be a stat stuffer on a bad team. With LaVine on the floor last season, the Wolves went 16-31. After LaVine’s injury, they finished the season 12-18. LaVine is a high-risk return for a top-15 NBA player.
Then, there’s the No. 7 overall selection. Pushing through the fact that the Bulls pulled the trigger on the trade without waiting until the Timberwolves’ pick was on the clock to see who was available, Gar/Pax reached for Lauri Markkanen, the 7-foot Swedish forward out of the University of Arizona.
I don’t hate Markkanen, in fact I think he could be a good NBA player. However, there was a ton of value on the board and an opportunity to get a franchise guard in Dennis Smith Jr. or Malik Monk. Instead, the first piece of the Gar/Pax rebuild is a sharpshooting big man that can’t rebound or defend. Yes, he has a silky smooth shot, but that’s where his game begins and ends. I can’t stress this enough, Markkanen is a 7-foot version of Doug McDermott.
On the ESPN broadcast, Jalen Rose compared Markkanen to Channing Frye, a guy who saw all of 11 minutes in the 2017 NBA Finals because he couldn’t defend or rebound. Markkanen’s ceiling is that of Ryan Anderson, a fine player to have on a roster, but far from a player to build a team around and not even close to the best available option at No. 7.
In the grand scheme of things, losing the No. 16 pick hurt the worst. I loved Minnesota’s selection of Justin Patton with that pick, and he would have made a great front court mate with Markkanen.
Then, right when the Bulls had the opportunity to salvage the night with Oregon forward Jordan Bell – the perfect small-ball center and exactly what the rebuilding Bulls need – falling to their second round pick, Chicago sent Bell to the Golden State Warriors for cash. CASH!
When you get into the nuts and bolts of why and how the deal went down, the central theme is job security in the front office. Blowing up the roster by dealing away top players allows Gar/Pax to extend the timeline until the Bulls are a championship contending team. They’ve effectively pushed the reset button with ownership, and trading away the rights to Patton and Bell both purposely stalled the rebuilding process and saved owner Jerry Reinsdorf a few million dollars, killing two birds with one stone.
Based on draft night decision making, it is clear that Gar/Pax are attempting to save their jobs at the expense of the franchise and the fan base. They sit back and pitch a rebuild by trading Butler for less than his worth, then have the audacity to give away two incredibly valuable and young assets to save a few bucks. It’s despicable behavior that this fan base doesn’t deserve.