There was an obvious backlash from the fans as Chicago traded their best player in Butler and got back what looks like a very bad return: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and moving up 9 spots in the draft to select Lauri Markkanen.
It was a fleecing. This should come to the surprise of nobody though, as noted in a great article by longtime Bulls observer Mark Deeks (formerly of ShamSports.com), this has been how the Bulls have traded in the Paxson era:
Chicago has an uncanny knack for waiting until their quality players are at their lowest ebb, then moving them for minimal returns. Boy, do they seem to do that a lot.
Most of the draft experts feel the same way. While they may not be criticizing the idea of the trade itself, it was the execution that was the obvious mark of criticism.
It's almost like Chicago management exists in an alternate world. Sometimes that meant trading multiple picks to bet big on Doug McDermott. Other times it meant lowballing Jimmy Butler in contract talks a few years ago. More recently it meant selling the world on the Three Alphas, then trading for Michael Carter-Williams and Cameron Payne just a few months before they add one more overwhelmed former lottery pick in Kris Dunn.
I don't know. Whatever you thought of Butler's future in Chicago, it's hard to believe that the Wolves package was the best the Bulls could've gotten for him, particularly if you include February's Celtics talks in the discussion. It's even harder to understand what Chicago sees in Dunn, a player who struggled for almost the entire season last year. At 23 years old he was supposed to be ready to contribute immediately, and he wasn't. He probably still isn't. LaVine is coming off an injury. He's at least got some upside.
The Timberwolves made this pick for the Bulls in a deal for Jimmy Butler. The returns on that trade are Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and this selection, but the Markkanen selection is a questionable one for Chicago by any measure. Although his considerable shooting ability at 7’0” gives him plenty of room to develop as a scorer, Markkanen’s all-around skill set needs a lot of work. There are concerns that his defensive struggles could seriously limit his upside. The Bulls weren’t looking to address a big need here, and eliminating that variable there were better prospects available at this spot. Chicago rolled the dice, and surrendered its best player in the process. It’s a tough sell.
Without being in the room for trade talks, it's tough to know what kind of offers the Bulls passed on to make this deal. But given that Dunn and LaVine should have relatively little trade value and Chicago had to give up its own firstround pick to move up just seven spots (a move equivalent to the value of the 23rd pick, per my trade value chart), it's hard to imagine there wasn't a better deal available.
If this truly was the best the Bulls could do for Butler right now, then I'm not sure I understand the urgency to move him. In the worstcase scenario, where Butler's trade value eroded further, Chicago could have just held on to Butler and tried to compete in the Eastern Conference during his prime.
I get the argument for moving Butler because the Bulls aren't particularly competitive with him, but not if this is all they could get in return. This package doesn't set Chicago up for a future any brighter than the eighthseed purgatory the team was already in.
The Bulls are essentially putting all of their eggs in the Markkanen basket. The odds that he ends up as good as Butler seem incredibly low, and that's the measuring stick that he'll unfairly be judged by for the rest of his career in Chicago.
The inclusion of the 16th pick makes the trade even more lopsided and confusing. Why did the Bulls feel a need to add value on their end to a similar offer they turned down last year, especially after LaVine tore his ACL and Dunn was so disappointing? There are no good answers here, and that's become a common theme with this management team.
The only redeeming feature of this trade is how bad the Bulls have made themselves. With Butler off the floor, they played like a 20-win team last season. There's a good chance that the Bulls could draft a stud next year, and early returns have that class looking promising up top. That's about the only hope that fans have to look forward to for now.
the Bulls were seemingly out to prove that rotting an NBA franchise from the inside out doesn’t have to come from an embarrassing, viral display of ego-driven paternalism. It can happen the old-fashioned way: with a terrible trade.
Bulls fans are ostensibly getting what they want in a dedicated rebuild, but management has stunningly found the least palatable way to serve it up. Nikola Mirotic is now the longest-tenured Bull, and as a restricted free agent this summer, there’s no guarantee that even he’ll be on the roster come opening day. The Bulls are starting anew, but, as of right now, they’re a collection of players that their fan base seems to have no real connection to. Lauri Markkanen is the best shooter from this draft class, and under the right conditions, he can become an elite weapon. But he doesn’t project to be the kind of cornerstone player that Chicago fans can rally around — especially not when he’ll have to carry the burden of being the Bulls’ centerpiece in the Butler trade.