The conversation below is between Josh Clement (a contributor at Canis Hoopus) and Tyler Pleiss (a contributor at BlogaBull). We wanted to share our thoughts, and advice, with the respective fan bases about the players that have been traded in the blockbuster Wolves-Bulls draft day trade. The conversation below has been lightly edited and spanned the free agency period.
From BlogABull, we want to sincerely thank Josh and Canis Hoopus site for contributing to this discussion.
Josh Clement: So how are you doing with the Bulls trade? Obviously, things seem to be quite apocalyptic over at Blogabull, as Bulls fans are tremendously unhappy with the Gar-Pax combination (Gar Forman, Bulls General Manager, and John Paxon, Bulls Vice President of Basketball Operations) and this trade, especially with the decision to include the #16 pick, the choice of Lauri Markannen, and later selling the 2nd round pick to the Golden State Warriors. I can't fault you for questioning the decision-making skills of the front office, as well as their ability to create a direction for the franchise. It's a place that Wolves fans are quite familiar with from the last decade-plus.
Is there any silver lining for you? Do you feel like this was the right time to pull the trigger? Any positive thoughts on the return?
Tyler Pleiss: Oh man, I'm going to be struggling with this trade for the foreseeable future. This one of those trades that is just hard to see this Bulls franchise recover from, especially given who is in management. If there were others in charge, then I could probably see some sort of silver lining, but with the return Chicago got for Jimmy Butler, there is none.
While I feel like it was the right time to deal Butler, given that the Bulls were in basketball purgatory and wasting years of his prime, the return for him was horrific. If you're a franchise that's going to trade away its franchise player, you better make sure you're getting a potential star in return in addition to multiple picks. As we saw, GarPax did neither of those. In fact, they managed to give up their #16 pick with Butler. It's just astonishing how bad this front office is at their job, pure negligence.
That being said, it's good to see Minnesota move into the right direction after so many tough years. With Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony-Towns, and now Jimmy Butler being reunited with Tom Thibodeau, Wolves fans have to be in seventh-heaven right now, correct?
Josh: The state of Wolves fans is one of euphoria. Some of us were always concerned about the fit on Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, as both players were much better on offense than defense. It seemed untenable to plan on both players massively developing their skill set on defense. Getting Jimmy Butler changes all of that, not to mention he immediately opens up the Wolves path to real contention, which is what the Wolves should be doing considering how good Karl-Anthony Towns is right now.
However, the Wolves certainly have a bit of an odd roster construction right now, at least before free agency begins. The team actually somewhat mirrors the Bulls last year, as Ricky Rubio (pours one out for having this discussion before Rubio was traded) and Andrew Wiggins are amalgamations of Rajon Rondo and Dwayne Wade. Zach LaVine was basically the only three-point shooter on the Wolves last year and the team still shot the least threes per game in the league (just barely beating out the Bulls for last place).
How do you think Butler fits onto the Wolves, as of today, and should we be worried about the potential spacing issues that the Bulls faced last year? Or is the talent upgrade so immense that is just not worth being concerned about?
Tyler: Wolves fans are going to fall in love with Jimmy right away, if they already haven't. He'll bring a professional mindset and work ethic that will surely rub off on the younger guys. But as you mentioned, Butler's defensive acumen will be much needed for the Wolves. This will be especially critical considering Tom Thibodeau's often complex defensive schemes. Having Butler in the fold will be invaluable, as he'll be able to assist guys like Wiggins, KAT, Gorgui Dieng, and others in getting acclimated to Thibs principles.
As far as fit on the other side of the ball, I don't think it will be nearly as drastic as what the Bulls experienced this previous season. One thing to keep in mind is that it seems Thibs may be intent on moving Rubio (he was), aiming to sign a point guard who can space the floor, and play off the ball from Butler, Wiggins and KAT. If he's able to do that this coming month, it'll be huge for the new big three.
However, if Thibs ends up keeping Rubio in the fold, Wiggins, Butler, and even KAT are capable enough shooters (better than Rondo and Wade), that it shouldn't cause as many issues. Whichever way he does choose to go, I think a big aspect will be how much Thibs goes small with either Wiggins or Butler at the four next to KAT. If he can figure out an effective lineup doing that, so dangerous!
From a Bulls standpoint, is there anything to be optimistic about LaVine or Dunn? What should we expect from our end with those two?
Josh: As you may have already seen in Summer League, Kris Dunn is a bit of a divisive player and really has struggled on offense. He was given a real opportunity last year to take the reigns, at the very least, as the lead back-up point guard for the Wolves. As an older rookie, he was supposed to be "NBA-ready" and be able to manage an NBA styled offense. That was not the case. He struggled with shot selection, his handle was loose, and his decision making was poor. He eventually started sharing the floor with Tyus Jones and playing off-ball, which is how Wolves fans sort of have been imagining his future as he seems more comfortable in a sort of slasher role where he does not have to facilitate.
On defense, it is an entirely different story. His ability to get steals, as well as block shots, is incredible. He fights through picks extremely well and just hounds the opposing guards. He has an uncanny ability to be in the right place to get steals and will be a defensive terror for years to come.
As for Zach LaVine, the script is flipped. LaVine was supposed to be a long-shot for success in the NBA and his rookie year showed that. LaVine was placed in the ill-fitted role of point guard for almost a year-and-a-half and he was one of the worst players in the NBA during that time. However, as a shooting guard, he is simply faster than almost anyone on the court. LaVine is amazing in transition and functioned as the Wolves de facto three point shooter last year. He can score in buckets when he has it going and suddenly will have 20-30 points after a run of a few threes.
LaVine's decision making has improved, although he still should not be playing point guard, and before his injury he was starting to develop a great two-man game with Gorgui Dieng as a side pick-and-roll action. He may not be able to handle being the "guy" on offense, as he still struggles sometimes with creating a good shot in half-court sets by himself and does not really create shots for other, but he is an amazing offensive weapon for any team and is a perfect 2nd or 3rd option with his three-point shooting and transition offense.
On defense, LaVine was starting to get a bit better with on-ball defense, but he simply gives up a lot of strength to a lot of the guys he matches up with on game-to-game basis. He will never be a tremendous defender, but he was certainly improving throughout the year. His off-ball defense isn't great. Like a lot of young players, he gets lots on rotations and will often be in the wrong spot. That kills you when you have several other young players who have similar problems. However, as he gets older he will likely get better at this as well. He's never going to be a "positive" on defense, but he likely won't ruin a defense all by himself.
So that's kind of the full scouting report on the former Wolves. If the Bulls land a high pick next year and get someone to be "the guy," I think LaVine especially will fit in very well. Of course, he is also going to cost a good amount of money next year too.
So do you have any final thoughts of what Wolves fans should expect for next year with Jimmy (and now Taj), do you think the Wolves will be making noise in the playoffs?
Tyler: I can't reiterate this enough, having two players like Butler and Taj around the younger guys on the Wolves is going to be so invaluable. You're going to love them from an on-court and work ethic standpoint, but also a professionalism element and that will most definitely rub off on the pups like Wiggins and Towns who will surely soak up every ounce of their knowledge and experience. You're really going to see those younger guys make strides throughout the year playing with Butler and Taj, but also with their ability to understand Thibs’ and his system. Honestly, I think I might be more excited for Wolves fans than they are themselves.
But as for the playoffs, I think most should be cautiously optimistic heading into the season. While the Wolves now have the pieces to the puzzle, the biggest task will be putting them into place. You're asking a team that won 31 games last season to make a significant jump, probably 20+ wins, in an ultra competitive conference that is perhaps the strongest we've seen in recent memory after all of the moves that happened. Making the playoffs should be the main goal for this team, and I'd be surprised if it didn't, but whatever noise they can make once they get in will be an added bonus.
Josh: Well just the idea of the Wolves making the playoffs is almost enough to make us excited as the drought has been real. We are incredibly excited for Jimmy to be on the Wolves next year. As for the Bulls, while LaVine and Dunn might not be the perfect players right now, both are incredibly hard workers and they seem ready for the challenge of helping the Bulls rebuild.