The Chicago Bulls have no idea how good they have it. It’s a franchise positioned in one of the country’s biggest markets, blessed with a proud tradition, an international fanbase and an endless reservoir of money. Employing Michael Jordan in the ‘90s gave this team the type of brand loyalty that cannot be bought. It’s the reason they lead the league in attendance every year regardless of how good the product is and why you can travel the world and still find a Bulls jersey wherever you go.
To be the Chicago Bulls is to work with a massive advantage that should be the envy of the other 29 teams in the league. The only people who seem oblivious to this are the cronies at the top of the organization who have been cashing checks and operating without any semblance of accountability for the last two decades.
A franchise as proud as the Bulls should not be a mom-and-pop shop that values personal relationships over winning. It should not have smaller scouting and development departments than most of the league. It should not be punting on Jimmy Butler in the prime of his career or shamefully selling a second round pick for money during a self-proclaimed rebuild.
Gar Forman and John Paxson have been exposed so many times over the last five years. They traded Kyle Korver for savings on the bottom line only to watch him turn into an All-Star in Atlanta. They ran off Ron Adams and Tom Thibodeau for what essentially amounted to insubordination. They made two terrible Doug McDermott deals, lost the Tony Snell trade and signed Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo when they promised to get younger and more athletic.
Trading Jimmy Butler for pennies on the dollar is the last straw. It’s a deal that encapsulates everything that is wrong with this organization and shows fans why they should have no faith anything will change as long as Forman and Paxson remain in charge.
Butler was just about the only thing Forman and Paxson had going for them. They could whiff on five straight draft picks and botch free agency every year but they still had Butler to drag the team up to competency. He overachieved more than any Chicago athlete I can ever remember, fulfilling 200% of his potential through his own self-will and determination. The Bulls would probably like to tell you that they made Jimmy Butler, that his ascent is a byproduct of their culture and infrastructure. The next few years are about to prove how wrong that idea is.
Butler did it himself because he had no other option. He first made his name as the iron man defensive stopper who played 48 straight minutes almost every night in the 2013 playoffs to defend LeBron James. As the foundation of a great team cracked around him, Butler took it upon himself to carry the offense, too. He blossomed into a three-time All-Star, a perennial 20 point per game scorer, a crunch time bully and this season an All-NBA performer.
Watching Butler put a weak franchise on his broad shoulders over the last three years showed how lucky the Bulls were to have him. It was easy to imagine how garbage the Bulls would be without him. Now we don’t have to use our imaginations any more.
The trade with the Timberwolves is simply unforgivable. If the Bulls were going to trade Butler, they needed premium picks in this draft and future drafts. They had to give themselves more shots at acquiring another superstar who could carry this franchise like Jimmy Butler. Instead, the Bulls got none of that, trading only for an old point guard prospect who can’t shoot, an electric athlete recovering from a torn ACL and a pick swap that moved them up just nine spots in the draft order. The Bulls got an F for this deal only because that’s as low as the grade scale goes. In truth, even an F doesn’t show just how shortsighted and stupid this trade was.
The Bulls have decided to rebuild, but this Butler trade already starts the rebuilding effort off at a massive disadvantage. This trade already puts a hard cap on how good the team can be before their new reality even has the chance to set in. Consider:
- The Bulls made this trade because they value Dunn more highly than any other franchise in the league. Why, I’m not quite sure. Dunn spent four years in college only to turn into one of the very worst players in the league as a rookie. His 43 percent true shooting percentage is legitimately embarrassing. He’s a long guard with good defensive potential but he can’t shoot with NBA range. He’ll be lucky to become an average NBA starter, let alone the type of building block that can help replace a superstar like Jimmy Butler.
- LaVine has always been a favorite of mine. He’s one of the game’s top athletes, grew into an outstanding three-point shooter last year and is still only 22 years old. He is also coming off a torn ACL, a curious injury for the Bulls to discount considering it’s the same one that ruined their last great era. Even if LaVine can regain his elite athleticism, he still only projects as a top-40 player at best: he doesn’t play much defense, doesn’t get to the free throw line and isn’t an elite creator for others. He’s a fun player, but a flawed one. And that’s if he’s healthy.
- Lauri Markkanen is an elite shooter at 7-feet tall. Lord knows the Bulls need shooters. The problem is everything else: he’s going to be a major liability defensively and on the glass. With Markkanen in the lineup, it’s already going to be extremely difficult to build a great defense. Without a great defense, it’s hard to build a great team.
The Bulls have struggled in the post-Thibodeau era largely because they have had too many one-way players. Jimmy Butler was a rare exception. Now the Bulls just traded him for three more one-way players. It immediately lowers the ceiling for this rebuild before it even begins.
Including their own No. 16 pick in this trade was a disgrace. Not getting any future picks from Minnesota was humiliating. The best asset the Bulls got back in this trade is the value of their own pick, which might end up at No. 1 because that’s how awful they’re going to be.
Bulls fans better hope it lands at No. 1, too. This needs to be as idiot-proof as possible. Because if the picks lands at No. 4 or No. 6 next year you can bet the clowns making the decision will take a four-year college player with some glaring warts to his game.
I wrote two years ago that the Bulls have no conviction in their own ability to evaluate talent. Falling ass backwards into Wade and Rondo proved that. Dealing for Michael Carter-Williams and Cameron Payne did, too. This Butler trade feels like the ultimate example: they are a team that felt compelled to do something yet had no idea how to do it. In the end, they were played by none other than Tom Thibodeau. The poetic justice is just too sweet.
Gar Forman is a liar and a dumbass. John Paxson should have just quit 10 years ago when he tried to do it the first time after choking Vinny Del Negro. He can’t handle the stress that comes with this job. If I had to come to consensus with Forman on every decision, I wouldn’t be able to, either.
In a vacuum, a rebuild isn’t the worst thing in the world. The Bulls certainly weren’t going anywhere with Jimmy Butler. The problem is, that’s their fault, not his. They blew it by signing Gasol and Wade and Rondo, by missing on every draft pick, by believing they could build with Butler, not around him.
If the Bulls are going to rebuild, they need their own Theo Epstein. A smart person at the controls making the best decisions for the long-term health of the franchise. Instead, it’s Forman and Paxson, who have done nothing but embarrass themselves and this city since Thibodeau and Butler helped dragged their ass up to respectability.
With Gar Forman and John Paxson in charge, the Chicago Bulls will never prosper. If you think it’s bad now, it’s only going to get worse.