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NEW YORK — Right as the Philadelphia 76ers were making the first pick in the 2017 NBA draft, the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves were finalizing the first blockbuster deal of draft night.
As first reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein and K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, the Bulls have agreed in principle to send All-Star shooting guard Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft to the Wolves in exchange for the No. 7 pick, shooting guard Zach LaVine and point guard Kris Dunn, Minnesota’s first-round pick in last year’s draft.
The trade reunites the 27-year-old Butler with Tom Thibodeau, the coach that helped him develop into one of the best all-around players in the NBA during his time in Chicago. Last year, the young Wolves were one of the most explosive and efficient offensive teams in the NBA, ranking 10th in the NBA in points scored per possession. They struggled to get stops, though, finishing 26th among 30 teams in defensive efficiency and frequently giving away big early leads with dispiriting second-half collapses.
Butler gives Minnesota an elite perimeter defender and a legitimate No. 1 late-game offensive option to pair with talented up-and-coming stars like former Rookies of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and stalwart playmaking point guard Ricky Rubio. He’s also under contract for the next two seasons at a relative bargain rate under an old collective bargaining agreement max deal, giving Thibs plenty of time to figure out how his once-and-future linchpin fits in alongside the two he inherited when he went to the Twin Cities last year.
One person who seems to be happy with Butler leaving the Windy City: his trainer, Travelle Gaines, who wasted no time taking a parting shot at Bulls general manager Gar Forman:
So, not a ton of heartache at the separation there, it seems!
From the Bulls’ perspective, the move seems to indicate a desire to rebuild after last year’s attempt to reload around a core of Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo sputtered to a 41-41 mark and a first-round playoff exit — and after a couple of prior dalliances with dealing Butler wound up coming to naught.
Rondo’s $13.4 million contract for next season isn’t guaranteed, and it remains to be seen whether the Bulls want to bring him back. Wade has announced his intention to exercise his player option for next season, citing the “24 million reasons” he has to stick around. Butler, though, is gone.
Chicago’s front office never seemed entirely comfortable with the idea of making the former late first-round pick out of Marquette the face of their franchise, despite his steady year-over-year improvement into one of the sport’s best overall players. (The fact that one more All-NBA berth would have made Butler eligible for a five-year, $200 million-plus super-max contract under the terms of the new CBA’s Designated Veteran Player Exception reportedly gave them pause, too.)
With two years remaining on his deal, the Bulls knew the time was now to move him if they wanted to extract as much value as possible in return. It’s very much an open question, though, if they actually did.
LaVine showed during his time in Minnesota that he’s an explosive athlete and electric scorer with a wonderful shooting stroke. He’s also coming off a torn left ACL, and he’s one year away from hitting restricted free agency. Dunn was considered a high-level two-way point guard prospect coming out of Providence last summer, one the Bulls were reportedly fond of during the 2016 draft process. But he struggled in his first year in the pros, rarely looking comfortable operating either on or off the ball.
Adding another young prospect at No. 7 — Arizona 7-footer Lauri Markkanen, considered one of the draft’s best stretch bigs — could be a boon down the line.
“I’m just excited to get to Chicago, and I’m going to bring a lot of energy,” Markkanen told reporters at Barclays Center. “I can do a lot of things for the team, and not just shooting the ball. I can stretch the floor a lot and I can help the team on rebounding.”
In the here and now, though, it looks like the Bulls are going young and, quite possibly, going south.
It ought to be interesting to see how that works out for D-Wade.
The Bulls’ loss is Minnesota’s gain. Importing a talent of Butler’s caliber is impressive enough. He just averaged 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.9 steals in 37 minutes per game, while shooting 45.5 percent from the field, 36.7 percent from the 3-point arc and 86.5 percent from the foul line. He ranks as one of the most efficient producers of offense the league has to offer, while also playing top-flight defense against the opposition’s best scorer every night.
But adding a player that good who also fits a team need clearly and neatly, and doing so without the worry that he’s a one-year rental about to hit the road, looks like an absolutely stellar move for Thibodeau and company — one that could help vault Minnesota into contention for its first playoff berth since 2004.
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