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Jimmy Butler trade rumors update: a cold war with Boston

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It’s quiet on the Butler-Celtics front, although Niko might be on the way out

NBA: All Star Practice Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

With DeMarcus Cousins finally traded, and not to the Celtics, eyes are turning to Jimmy Butler-to-Boston rumors. If the Bulls do decide to start a rebuild by trading Butler, the Celtics are a natural fit given their “treasure trove” of assets and proximity to legitimate title contention. Butler wouldn’t guarantee the Celtics anything, but he’s a proven two-way stud in his prime on a great contract who’s had success against LeBron James.

But as of right now it’s basically all quiet on this front. The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson reported Monday night that the Bulls and Celtics “haven’t held substantive talks” on a Butler trade since June when there were draft-night negotiations, and Jimmy’s camp isn’t expecting anything to happen.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe followed up Johnson’s report with his own reporting on the situation, calling a trade unlikely:

Regardless: a deal for Butler now seems unlikely, unless the Bulls are posturing. There is some debate over whether Boston did or did not ever include the 2017 Nets pick in an official offer, but they'd have to for Chicago to really engage. Perhaps clarity will come at the lottery, after Chicago sees how far Butler can take their current team and everyone knows where Boston will pick. (New rules allow Boston to place protection on the Nets pick. But even if they could offer a top-1 or top-2 protected pick to Chicago, it's not clear they would, and it's not clear that Chicago would accept it.)

Chicago might even demand both the 2017 and 2018 Brooklyn picks. The 2018 pick isn't as valuable as this year's, since the Nets could sign a few free agents and inch up the standings. But name one team that is a lock to be worse than Brooklyn next season. Look at that roster!

Given Butler’s talent, age and contract, I believe the Bulls should indeed ask for both the 2017 Nets swap and 2018 Nets unprotected first-round pick. I’d also look to get Jaylen Brown in the deal, but I could certainly live without him if both of those Nets picks are included in the deal. The point of a Butler trade is to rebuild around elite young talent, and the possibility of getting both of those potential top-five picks (or higher) in addition to the Bulls’ own picks in strong drafts is enticing. If there’s ever a point where both those picks are on the table, I’d pull the trigger, regardless of what else is in the deal (some salary filler, maybe another young player).

However, there’s no indication Danny Ainge is willing to go all in on Butler like that, and Lowe notes that the Celtics’ status quo is the safest route for them. Ainge could very well be willing to ride it out with this group as a quasi-contender and keep those picks and hope they turn into stars down the road that can take over when Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford are old/gone.

So would the Bulls be willing to make a deal that involves just one of those Nets assets? If the 2017 swap isn’t involved at all the Celtics can take a hike, but if something like that swap (unprotected), another future first, Brown and filler is on the table, do you do it?

Given there’s still only a 25 percent chance of the Nets swap being the No. 1 pick, I’m skeptical the Bulls would pull the trigger right now on a deal like that. Hence why Lowe mentions the Bulls possibly waiting for more clarity after the lottery so there’s not as much of an unknown.

As intriguing of an idea as a rebuild is, we’re still talking about trading away a 27-year-old All-Star who’s developed into at worst a borderline top-10 player. While Butler may have his leadership warts, he’s a hard worker and a guy you should be looking to build around, not trade. The Celtics’ assets offer a unique opportunity to expedite a rebuild, but the right deal still needs to be made and leaving so much to chance would be tough. And, of course, even if the lottery went the Bulls’ way we’re still hoping they draft a guy who can get on Butler’s level.

It’s at this time where I’ll again point out just how bizarre the Bulls’ offseason was. After trading Derrick Rose, not trading Butler and moving on from Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol, actually building a roster around Butler’s talents should’ve been the play. That way, if things didn’t actually pan out, it would’ve been easier for the Bulls to make a decision to jettison Butler and get on with this rebuild.

Instead, the Bulls went with high-priced band-aids that were an obviously awkward fit on the court, and there’s been some off-court drama as expected. Butler’s not blameless there, but his brilliance on the court is the only thing keeping this operation afloat, and it leaves you wondering if the Bulls should still commit to Butler and an actual smart “retooling” around him. In either scenario I’d prefer changes in the front office, but that looks like a pipe dream.

As of right now, my guess is that there’s no Butler trade but that we’ll see something happen in the summer. Things could change (hey, Boogie!), but with the Bulls just a game out of the sixth seed and the Celtics seemingly not making that Godfather offer, I don’t see how something gets done.

But, hey, it looks like Nikola Mirotic may be a goner, if you’re into that type of thing (via KC):

Where the Bulls have been aggressive, sources said, is in shopping Nikola Mirotic. The Clippers are one possible destination, although Mirotic's status as a restricted free agent this summer limits the return value.

yfBB recently talked about how the Bulls may as well just trade Mirotic since they don’t want to pay him, and I agree at this point. While I think Niko still has value and there’s a good player in there somewhere, it just doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen for him in Chicago. It’s disappointing given the hype and wait for him to come over, but it is what it is.