Trading Jimmy Butler wasn’t the worst thing in the world to do for the Chicago Bulls – a rebuild was probably going to happen at some point. But the trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves didn’t really put them in a position to head in the right direction right away. It probably means this is going to be a long, painful process.
Whether or not the Bulls promised Butler he won’t be traded doesn’t matter at this point. The fanbase didn’t have a lot of faith or feel too warmly about the pair of people making the basketball decisions, Gar Forman and John Paxson. But I think there was a bit of an optimistic feeling after the team did manage to make the playoffs and looked good against the Boston Celtics while Rajon Rondo wasn’t injured.
The Bulls aren’t in full tank mode, but trading Butler certainly showed everyone that competing for a playoff place isn’t a top priority. Maybe if they had the ability to dump Dwyane Wade and Rondo without it costing them anything they would have. But Wade wasn’t going to give up almost $24 million for a chance to play on a winning team (he has 3 championship rings).
The players the Bulls got leave them without someone to build around moving forward. Kris Dunn was a huge disappointment in his rookie year. Zach LaVine seemed to make progress, but coming off an ACL injury is always tricky, and he’s due an RFA extension after next season. Lauri Markkanen could become a very good stretch ‘4’, but expecting anything beyond that might be a bit presumptuous. And the Bulls do have Nikola Mirotic with the upcoming extension, and the Bulls aren’t sure how much they want to commit to him.
The situation right now leaves the Bulls with almost clean slate in the 2018 offseason, which is the best Paxson and Forman could do right now. They might look for other first round picks during the season, hoping teams get desperate for someone like Rondo. Moving Wade and his $24 million is going to be very difficult moving, but maybe some sort of buyout is in the future.
The Bulls were always about making a push for the playoffs and even further over the last 9 seasons, regardless of who was playing for them and what their DL situation was. Fred Hoiberg, who is often compared to Brad Stevens, now has the sort-of-rebuilding project Stevens got when he was hired for the Celtics, which went along rather smoothly, although how fast he can help the Bulls become contenders again is a big question, especially considering he doesn’t have the kind of support and aura of promise Stevens has had since becoming an NBA coach.
The success of these moves won’t be just measured by the ability of LaVine to become a leading player after a serious injury, Dunn turning himself into legitimate starting point guard and Markkanen showing he’s more than just a stretch shooter. In the end, success or failure is measured by the ability of this team to go from this point and quickly position itself as not just a playoff contender in the East, but a team with the foundation to win a championship. Right now, it looks like something that’s going to take quite some time to create. It has nothing to do with the feeling that the Timberwolves won the trade; it has everything to do with the outlook of the Bulls not looking like a team that can rely on what they have now and build a contender out of it.