The Bulls Got Out of the Middle and Decided to Tank, Which Was Really Smart


I can’t tell if Chicago Bulls fans were disillusioned by Michael Jordan’s six titles 20 years ago, or by the wasteland that occurred after he left, but they universally seem to hate the Jimmy Butler trade, while I actually like it.

The reasons I liked the Bulls trade are 3-fold:

  1. The Bulls talked about trading Jimmy Butler last year (to Minnesota!). Then, he claimed the front office was spying on him. There was plenty of friction. Last week, there was talk of Butler going to Cleveland. Add it all up: He had two more years in Chicago and then would opt out. Chicago snuck into the 8th spot in the East on the final night of the season, and lost in the first round (yes, they led Boston 2-0. Was the 2-0 lead fool’s gold or did it portend a bright 2017-2018 season? We’ll never know).
  2. Without room to spend in free agency this year, the same team was going to try and make a run for the top four in the East. Attainable? Perhaps. But any way you slice it, the Bulls were a middle-tier team in the East. You never want to be in the middle. It’s virtually impossible to make a leap from middle to elite when two of your top four players are past their prime (Wade, Rondo). Chicago was running in quicksand, and time was running out on Butler’s contract.
  3. It’s unfortunate that Derrick Rose kept getting hurt. The Bulls core of Rose-Noah-Deng-Boozer got to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011. LeBron’s Super Heat eliminated them. Same thing happened in 2013 (with Butler ascending and no Rose). In 2015, Butler and Gasol got bounced by … you guessed it, LeBron (this time in Cleveland).

The run was over.

Now, the rebuild begins. It’ll center around a high-flying 22-year old coming off an ACL injury (Zach LaVine), a very promising 20-year old who could be a Rookie of the Year candidate (Lauri Markkanen), and a 23-year old who who barely played in Minnesota last year, but was highly-touted coming out of Providence in 2016 (Kris Dunn).

The Bulls will go into July with three players 30 or older (Rondo, Wade, Anthony Morrow) on the roster, and two of those, may not be with the team by the end of July (Rondo and Wade). They won’t want to be around for the rebuild. Chicago shouldn’t let it get ugly.

So now you’re in a better situation: You’re starting over. You’ll have one of the five youngest rosters in the NBA, and almost certainly headed for a Top 5 pick, with this possible 2-deep rotation:

PG: Kris Dunn (6-foot-4)/Cameron Payne
SG: Zach LaVine (6-foot-5)/Jerian Grant
SF: Paul Zipser (6-foot-8)/Denzel Valentine
PF: Nikola Mirotic (6-foot-10)/Bobby Portis
C: Robin Lopez/Lauri Markkanen

The Bulls haven’t had a Top 10 pick since 2008 .. when it landed Derrick Rose. The year prior? Joakim Noah at #9. In 2006, they landed LaMarcus Aldridge at #2 (but quickly traded him); in 2004, they got Ben Gordon at #3. In 2003 it was Kirk Hinrich (7); in 2002 Jay Williams (2); in 2001, Eddy Curry (4); in 2000, Marcus Fizer (4).

If you’re wondering about the GM situation, it was Jerry Krause in the early 00s, then John Paxson from 2003-2009, and then Gar Forman, the guy who has drafted really well, but Jimmy Butler’s trainer is not a fan.

In summary: I’d prefer to tear it down and build it up again. Like the 76ers did. Hopefully it won’t take four years – remember, they had three top five picks suffer season-long injuries – but by the end of next year, the Bulls should have an idea which young players have a future there, and which don’t.