With all of this swirling speculation and attention over the Jimmy Butler trade that completely altered the Bulls’ short and long term futures, I think that the vast majority of fans probably overlooked the fact that the front office also did something else extremely significant that night. By acquiring Zach LaVine as one of the key components of their deal with the Timberwolves, GarPax also tasked themselves with having to make another franchise trajectory-altering decision just a year removed from their greatest verdict of that variety.
The 2017 draft was perhaps the most important and wide-reaching scenario that GarPax have found themselves in since Gar received his promotion to Director of Player Personnel in 2004 and gradually fused himself into Paxson to create GarPax, one of the most infamous overseers in professional basketball. Ultimately, the two concluded that the best course of action would be to move on from Butler, evidently not confident they could build a team around that singular elite talent.
Many Bulls fans grieved at the loss of the franchise’s most beloved star since Derrick Rose, while a few others were glad to finally be rid of a player they considered drunk on his own “leadering.” Some fans were just satisfied that the front office had finally picked a plan after the team floundered in NBA limbo for more than a couple of seasons. Across all corners of the NBA world, the move was met with an extreme amount of varying opinion, most of which ranged from mixed to outright bad.
As for appraising the assets themselves that the Bulls got back for Butler, those critical of the deal centered on the lack of comfort that comes with mortgaging a team’s future on three massive question marks—albeit ones with optimistic outlooks. Essentially, the Bulls went from the “Three Alphas” to the “‘Lil Alphas,” and none of them to that point looked like they could come close to matching Jimmy Butler. And while the subsequent sell-off of a 2nd round pick generated a significant amount of negative attention in its own right, many pointed out the paradox in GarPax’s reasoning of sending out their own first round pick in a deal designed to kick off a rebuilding stage for the Bulls franchise.
Is that something the Bulls had to do? With LaVine’s salary making up just a small portion of what the two teams had to align fiscally to make a deal happen, is it conceivable to ask if the Bulls could have instead taken on a couple of guppy contracts while getting to keep their original first round pick? That’s a deal that admittedly sounds much worse at face value given the Bulls were surrendering a consensus top 15 player. However, doesn’t keeping a first round pick sound safer than anchoring a significant amount of the trade’s long-term success in a player that will have—at most—37 games of evaluation in a Bulls jersey before becoming a restricted free agent, all of which come on the heels of an ACL tear?
It is the height of counter-productivity for a franchise openly attempting a rebuild to deliberately pigeon-hole itself into this kind of an enormous predicament with such vast implications, yet such little time to assess relevant factors. Now, GarPax have merely fifteen games left of forthcoming evidence before they must decide whether or not—and if so, for how long—the Bulls want Zach LaVine to help guide them on their hopeful return to NBA relevancy.
Obviously, those that have taken to task evaluating LaVine this season would prefer a greater sample size—and he improved both his shooting and overall efficiency every year before he got hurt last season—but fans have to remember that the front office chose this tiny window with which to evaluate post-injury Zach LaVine. It’s hard to imagine LaVine’s stats will undergo a dramatic facelift amid the last month of the season given LaVine shot just 31.8% from the field over his last five contests, so the vague picture before us is probably what we’re stuck with. Would you feel comfortable having the Bulls rebuild with the scant evidence they’ve accumulated so far? A high-usage, currently-inefficient, one-way player as a key cog? That’s more negative hyphenations than I’m comfortable with.
[coming up, part two: we’re here regardless, time to do our best to actually evaluate what contract LaVine should get with the Bulls]