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The problem with trading Jimmy Butler

It's a lot easier in theory than in practice.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin O'Connor of Celtics Blog hit me up earlier this week. He had a theoretical trade offer to propose. It's that time of the year.

Celtics get: Jimmy Butler

76ers get: No. 3 pick

Bulls get: Jahlil Okafor

My response was a swift and heartfelt "lol nah". He countered.

"What if Butler is basically demanding a trade behind closed doors? And what if Avery Bradley -- #FirstTeamAllDefense -- is also headed there?"

This isn't to burn KOC, who does some excellent work during draft time, but I think it underscores just how hard it is to trade Jimmy Butler. Dealing Butler is an idea the Bulls and their fans have been considering for months. It's also a lot easier to do in theory than in practice.

It isn't hard to build a case for why the Bulls should consider trading Jimmy Butler. He clashed with Fred Hoiberg from the very start of the season, asking for Thibodeau-era sets to be put back into the offense as early as training camp. Where Hoiberg's offense was supposed to be predicated on ball movement and tempo, Butler was often guilty of slowing things down and trying to do everything himself.

By the time Butler publicly criticized Hoiberg after a December loss in New York, the idea of trading Jimmy Butler had gone mainstream. The front office refused to promise Butler would be back at its end of the season meeting with reporters, with Gar Forman saying the team must "explore all options". A report quickly followed that Butler was "growing wary" of management.

Butler is the most valuable trade chip on the team and it stands to reason the Bulls could conceivably get a haul in return for him. But when you start to think about the tangible pieces that would be required for the Bulls to actually pull the trigger, it becomes apparent that finding a workable Butler deal is almost impossible.

Butler will turn 27 years old in September and is under contract through at least 2018-19, with a player option for the season after that. As the NBA salary cap continues to sky rocket, the max contract the Bulls handed Butler last season looks more and more like a bargain. There's a very real possibility noted garbage man Harrison Barnes will be making more money annually than Butler next year.

What the Bulls have in Butler is a two-way wing in the prime of his career locked into an incredibly team-friendly contract. He's comfortably a top 20 player in this league and maybe even a bit better than that. He's a two-time All-Star who keeps getting better every season. No one would have foreseen Butler's development as a pick-and-roll ball handler last season. No one would have thought his assist rate would climb from 11.1 in 2013-14 to 14.4 in 2014-15 to 21.4 last year.

The Bulls don't have to trade Jimmy Butler. Even in a hypothetical scenario where Butler wanted out like the one O'Connor suggested, he doesn't have any leverage. It's certainly true that the Bulls failed last season because the pieces didn't fit and the team's most talented players refused to buy in to what Hoiberg was selling. To me, that means get rid of everyone else. Keep Jimmy Butler and go from there.

We know the Celtics want Butler. We know Boston's assets are purported to be among the best in the NBA. But is there any possible package that would make the Bulls bite? I don't think so. Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and the No. 3 pick in this draft isn't doing much for me. When I proposed that package to O'Connor (a Celtics fan), he said there was no chance he would do it on Boston's end.

Again: this stuff is hard.

We know the Timberwolves want Butler. Is Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and the fifth pick going to get it done? No chance, and I have long liked LaVine more than most of my friends and family. Throw in Andrew Wiggins or no deal. Well, the Wolves aren't going to do that. Trades are hard.

* * *

I finally heard a good Jimmy Butler trade offer last week. The SB Nation sites do a mock draft every year, and the Jazz bloggers wanted Butler. Here's what they offered:

Jazz get: Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy

Bulls get: Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood, No. 12 pick, 2018 first rounder

Now that's a haul. I was torn. So I asked the other writers for this fine site: should we pull the trigger on this?


I asked my IRL friends, too. "Blow up the Bulls" was the first response. I asked Nate Duncan, who deemed it a "tough call". Jonathan Tjarks said who said he would "do it in a hot minute" if he was the Bulls. The Bulls would get a 25-year-old big man who is solid at both ends of the floor in Favors. They would get a versatile 24-year-old wing in Hood. They would get the No. 12 pick and keep their No. 14 pick to add young talent. It was an easy trade to talk yourself into. Imagine this lineup:

C Derrick Favors / Cristiano Felicio

PF Nikola Mirotic / Bobby Portis

SF Rodney Hood / Doug McDermott

SG E'Twaun Moore / Denzel Valentine

PG Derrick Rose / Wade Baldwin IV

The Bulls would be younger, they would have more shooting and they would come away with an extra 2018 first rounder in their pocket. It was a great offer. Ultimately, I turned it down.

The biggest truism for team building in the NBA is you need stars to win. I look at the roster above, and I'm not seeing any. If the Bulls did this trade, they would be in a position where they would have a lot of quality young players but no true No. 1 option. It would put them in a position where they would ideally want to trade for a star in the prime of his career who plays both ends of the floor like .... Jimmy Butler.

In the NBA, stars only get traded when their team runs out of leverage. That's what happened with Kevin Garnett, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. The one notable exception is Minnesota trading Kevin Love to Cleveland, but that happened under special circumstances. The Wolves actually got fair value back in Wiggins. The vast majority of the time, that's not happening.

The Bulls are under no obligation to trade Jimmy Butler. If you want to give them Andrew Wiggins and the fifth pick, they will think about it. If they are offered Brandon Ingram and D'Angelo Russell, we can probably work out a deal. But the idea of trading Butler for anything less than $1.10 on the dollar just isn't going to cut it.

Jimmy Butler is one of the best and most valuable players in the NBA. If you want him, you better be prepared to pay up. Otherwise the Bulls will be very happy to keep him in Chicago.