CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls decided to rebuild without Jimmy Butler rather than reload with him.
The Bulls launched a roster overhaul Thursday night with a big trade, dealing the three-time All-Star and the rights to No. 16 pick Justin Patton of Creighton to the Timberwolves. In exchange, the Bulls got No. 7 overall pick Lauri Markkanen of Arizona along with Minnesota’s Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn.
“When you look at it, we got three lottery picks out of it, young guys that we’re jump-starting this thing with,” Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said. “It is rebuilding. When you do this, you understand it’s going to be difficult. There are going to be a lot of bumps along the road. … It’s going to be the little things and the incremental things we hope to see along the way. But it’s necessary. This is something we felt we had to do at this time.”
The Bulls made the playoffs on a tiebreaker with 41 wins after missing out the previous year. But they addressed their biggest question with one huge move on Thursday.
Chicago could have tried to build with Butler. Instead, the Bulls gambled by trading away one of the league’s best two-way players and their most successful draft pick in recent memory.
Kicked out of his house in Tomball, Texas, by his mother when he was 13 and with his father out of his life, Butler ultimately rose to stardom in Chicago after being selected No. 30 overall in 2011.
But he clashed with former MVP Derrick Rose. He criticized Fred Hoiberg during the coach’s first season. And in January, Butler and Dwyane Wade questioned the team’s effort. That drew a pointed response from Rajon Rondo and fines for all three veterans.
Butler, who turns 28 in September, could have been in for an even more massive payday had he stayed in Chicago.
He was third-team, All-NBA this year, and one more all-league selection within the next two seasons would have qualified him for a designated-player exception under the new collective bargaining agreement. That in turn would have put him in line for a contract worth more than $200 million starting in 2019-20 had the Bulls kept him.
Chicago and Minnesota discussed a deal last year on draft night that involved Butler, LaVine and Dunn, though Paxson said it was “never really something that was put on the table.”
“This was the first time a deal came across our desk that justified going in the direction of a rebuild,” he added.
Paxson insisted it was “by far” the best deal Chicago was presented.
With the Bulls diving headfirst into a rebuild, Wade could be a buyout candidate. Dunn’s arrival could also squeeze out Rondo, with the Bulls holding an option for next season on the veteran point guard. General manager Gar Forman said the Bulls haven’t made a decision on him. The deadline is June 30.
As for the 35-year-old Wade?
He told the Bulls he is opting in for a second season with his hometown team at nearly $24 million this week. That was before Butler got dealt.
“I think if Dwyane had been really concerned about it, he might not have picked up his option before the draft,” Paxson said
While Butler reunites with former coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota, Chicago gets a rising star coming off a torn ACL in LaVine as well as last year’s No. 5 overall pick in Dunn to go with Markkanen.
It’s a bold move for the Bulls as they try to climb in the Eastern Conference after getting knocked out of the playoffs by Boston in the first round. It’s also a sign that they’re trying to give Hoiberg a roster that fits his pace-and-space offense, something they did not do in his first two seasons.
Chicago ranked 23rd in scoring and 24th in 3-point accuracy last season.
A 7-footer from Finland, Markkanen gives the Bulls a shooter they lacked last season. He averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 42.3 from 3-point range in his lone season at Arizona. And he has little doubt his shot will translate to the NBA.
“I’ve been working on my shot, shooting NBA 3s,” Markkanen said. “There’s no difference for me. I can make that shot even better than college 3s.”
The addition of Markkanen — a scoring force on the perimeter and in the post for Arizona — raises questions about the future of Nikola Mirotic, though Paxson said the Bulls intend to bring him back. The 6-foot-10 forward is set to become a restricted free agent.
LaVine, a two-time slam dunk champion, was averaging a career-high 18.3 points before his third season got cut off at 47 games.
Forman wouldn’t put a timeline on when he will be ready. He said LaVine will have a physical in Chicago next week.
Chicago also drafted Oregon center Jordan Bell in the second round with the No. 38 pick and sent him to Golden State for cash.