The Chicago Bulls sold low in the opening minutes of the NBA Draft and dealt their superstar, Jimmy Butler, to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and the No. 7 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, which became Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls sent their own No. 16 pick, as well.
The Bulls are in position to rebuild again (kind of), but with a 23-year-old sophomore in Dunn, LaVine just coming off an ACL injury, and a middle-of-the-lottery pick who is widely viewed to be one-dimensional. That’s not nearly enough of a return for a team losing an in-his-prime two-way star under contract until 2019.
The Bulls are suggesting this is a fresh new direction for the franchise. But with the Celtics interested and stockpiled with picks, this isn’t the trade Bulls fans could have hoped for when they were in the conversation. The move feels premature for a team that didn’t have to move Butler just yet. In fact, Butler reportedly preferred to stay in Chicago rather than go for a championship run with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
So what are the Bulls doing? Good question.
Trading Butler didn’t make the Bulls’ vision clearer. It needed to.
Chicago played a cluttered lineup of non-shooters, including Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo last season. It didn’t work. Now Wade plans to opt in to his contract for next season, which hurts the idea of a total rebuild, and he’ll be surrounded with mid-level assets.
None are trending to be franchise cornerstones, which is what they gave up in Butler. So why did Wade pledge to opt in again? Why even sign Wade last summer? Hope he enjoys his $24 million.
LaVine and Dunn are underwhelming prospects at this stage.
Bulls general manager John Paxson painted this trade as giving the Bulls three lottery picks in return for Butler.
Paxson: "This is the first opportunity where we felt a deal presented itself that made sense. We got 3 lottery picks today." pic.twitter.com/kgJ80mp9Tj— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) June 23, 2017
That’s technically true. It’s also a very generous reading of the situation.
In LaVine, Chicago has a player who thrives on his athleticism, but has yet to play since tearing his ACL in midseason. He showed tremendous improvement in his second season, raising his three-point shooting percentage to 39 percent, and he scored 19 points per game. He can be a solid piece. It’s highly unlikely he’ll ever be Butler.
In Dunn, the Bulls take on a 2016 No. 5 pick who proved little in his first season. He was strong enough to validate the Timberwolves shipping off Ricky Rubio, whom they shopped for most of the season, and at 23, he’s already behind his peers in development. He shot a poor 37 percent from the field and 28 percent from three-point range, wasn’t much of a playmaker, and could never command point guard minutes that were there for the taking. The Bulls were fans of Dunn last season, but he proved little this year.
Is Dunn even any better than Michael Carter-Williams, Cameron Payne, or Jerian Grant?
Markkanen adds shooting. Not much else.
Markkanen was one of the best tall shooters in NCAA history, firing 59 percent from the field and 42 percent from deep. That’ll put him into NBA rotations from the jump, but he’s far from the alpha rookie Chicago needed to make a splash in this draft. Markkanen notably struggled to find his shot in the Wildcats’ Sweet 16 exit to Xavier. He took just nine shots in a two-point loss — the final shot of the game wasn’t his either.
The Bulls traded for young pieces. None of them are projected to come close to filling what Butler brought.
The Bulls traded their own pick too!
Adding to the dread of the underwhelming blockbuster, it was later reported that the Bulls had to give up their own pick in the process. Chicago needed that one for its rebuild, and in a trade where they were already giving up the clear best piece, it made little sense for the Bulls to have to cough up another piece.
Bulls fans should be upset
Trading Butler, a terrific player on a great contract until 2019, makes sense if the Wolves were getting a frontline player back. The Celtics, with their collection of assets, could have provided that.
The Bulls are now the least talented team in the NBA. Both in breadth of player value, but also in any high-end prospect. Their best asset is a pick that only becomes great if they’re terrible. Their management can’t plan and are even worse at executing, plus everyone thinks they’re a joke.
This Wolves trade did not. Unless Dunn, LaVine, and Markkanen are far better than we expect, the Bulls’ front office will be ruing this deal for a long time.