The Chicago Bulls’ trade of Jimmy Butler during Thursday night’s NBA draft signaled the start of a full rebuild for the team. In essence, part of the rebuild seemingly started last June, with Derrick Rose’s trade to the New York Knicks, and continued with the deadline trade of Taj Gibson (and Doug McDermott) to the Oklahoma City Thunder in February. However, other personnel moves didn’t seem to fully acquiesce with an actual rebuild. But with Butler now heading to the Minnesota Timberwolves, reuniting with Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls got rid of, by far, their best player — the only player on the roster who would continue to make them a likely playoff team. Now, it is likely the Bulls will use (at least) next season as a year to position themselves firmly into the lottery and build towards the future. However, the Butler trade could have netted the Bulls into a clearer, brighter path towards the future, but failed to do so.
In exchange for Butler (and their No. 16 pick), the Bulls received Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 overall pick in the draft, whom the Bulls used to select Lauri Markkanen out of Arizona. Normally, when a player of Butler’s caliber is traded, the team giving up the clear best player in the trade normally receives at least one future draft pick, particularly when that star player has more than a year left on his deal. However, other than the No. 7 pick, the Bulls didn’t receive any future, or additional, draft picks. In fact, after already giving up their No. 16 pick to the Timberwolves, the Bulls later traded away their only other draft pick of the night (No. 38) to the Golden State Warriors, who used it to draft Jordan Bell out of Oregon.
Lavine is an explosive athlete, who has shown good scoring (18.9 PPG last season; 13.8 PPG for career) and shooting (38.7 percent from three last season; 37.8 percent for career)ability in his three seasons in the NBA, both as a starter and a reserve. However, coming off an ACL injury, it is reasonable to question how soon he will be able to regain his incredible athleticism. Additionally, Lavine will soon be up for a contract extension, so the Bulls will have to decide if Lavine will be healthy enough to live up to what is likely to be a max (or near-max) extension.
Dunn, on the other hand, just one year removed from being the No. 5 pick of the draft, struggled mightily in his rookie season, to averages of just 3.8 points and 2.4 assists on 37.7 percent shooting from the field in 17 minutes per game. However, at 23 years old, Dunn still has plenty of room to grow, and the Bulls would like to believe they just traded for their point guard of the future — four months after seemingly trading for their point guard of the future in Cameron Payne.
Markkanen is probably the most intriguing prospect in the trade. The 7-footer shot a scorching 42.3 percent from three point land in his lone season at Arizona. A team like the Bulls, who ranked in the bottom third last season in three-point percentage and attempts per game, desperately needed a shooter, and a shooting big man, in particular, is a very valuable commodity in today’s NBA.
The Bulls are building towards their future in an unorthodox fashion, however, their rebuild still bodes some questions, such as:
What does the team do with Dwyane Wade?
After picking up his $24 million player option with the Bulls a couple days before the draft, Dwyane Wade now finds himself in a bit of a dilemma. He’ll get his money, but at 35 years old, Wade should want no part in the rebuild the Bulls are likely headed towards. Despite joining the Bulls last year for reasons beyond basketball, Wade can’t be content playing for a team that will likely be one of the worst in the league next season. As a result, it’ll be interesting to see what happens between Wade and the Bulls. While no longer the same player he was 10 years ago, Wade showed he can still produce, averaging 18.3 points last season in 29.9 minutes per game. Whether he is traded or receives a buyout, it is very unlikely that Wade finishes (or maybe starts?) next season as a member of the Bulls.
Do the Bulls pick up Rajon Rondo’s team option?
Rajon Rondo was signed to a two-year deal last summer, with a team option following the first year. The Bulls have until June 30 to decide whether or not to pick up that option. Rondo had an up-and-down first year with Chicago, but finished the season strong, particularly in the playoffs, where he led the team to a 2-0 series lead in the first round of the playoffs before breaking his thumb. With three younger point guards already on the roster, the Bulls can probably afford to let Rondo go and give one of them the keys to their rebuild. However, with none of them currently better than Rondo is right now at age 31, the Bulls could opt to keep him another year in order to help mentor those younger point guards.
What will the Bulls do with their other free agents?
The Bulls have four players headed towards restricted free agency — Michael Carter-Williams, Cristiano Felicio, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Nikola Mirotic — and one player headed towards unrestricted free agency — Anthony Morrow. Age-wise, all of their restricted free agents are in their mid-20s and can likely afford to remain with a rebuilding team. However, with a myriad of point guards already on the roster, Carter-Williams might be let go. After being traded to the Bulls during last February’s deadline, Lauvergne and Morrow each saw very little minutes on the court, so it’s likely they’re both let go, as well. Felicio is potentially an intriguing piece for the Bulls’ future. He’s a big body who can develop into a rim protecting and inside scoring big who may be retained, which leaves Mirotic. The drafting of Markkanen makes Mirotic’s return less predictable, as the pairing may become redundant and leave a lot to be desired defensively. Nonetheless, Mirotic is the most interesting free agent the team has heading into the summer and will likely be the most sought after in free agency.
What other moves will the Bulls make this offseason?
If a true rebuild is indeed in the Bulls’ plans, the team has a decision to make in another veteran player, namely Robin Lopez. The center averaged a solid 10.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 28 minutes per game last season, his first with the Bulls. At 29 years old, he’s still in his prime and has proven to be a productive player wherever he goes. With two years remaining on a fairly reasonable contract, a Lopez trade can likely get the Bulls at least a future second round draft pick, which can be useful. Any additional personnel moves from here on out needs to be made with an eye towards the future and building a team that fits the schemes coach Fred Hoiberg wants to run, which isn’t something that could’ve been said the last couple offseasons.
The draft night’s trade is likely the true jumping off point of a Bulls rebuild. However, judging from what the team received for Butler and the front office’s questionable track record, more questions will likely continue to be asked rather than answered over the next few months. The direction of the team still isn’t fully clear, but by trading Butler, what does become clear is that the Bulls weren’t fully committed to him as their franchise player. The Bulls must now fully commit to rebuilding the team and looking towards the future, and next season will go a long way in determining just how long this potential rebuild in Chicago will take.
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