After almost one year of endless rumors and speculation, it’s official: the Bulls have traded Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kris Dunn, Zach Lavine, and the seventh pick in yesterday’s draft.
This is finally the signal Bulls fans have expected that the team has committed to a major rebuilding project.
The rebuild is now on but three or four seasons of darkness lie on the horizon, patiently waiting for “The Process” to work its magic.
But for the Bulls, with John Paxson and Gar Forman at the helm, there may be no process to trust.
Most Bulls fans always knew trading away Jimmy Butler was going to happen at some point but it nonetheless still hurts to trade away a top 15 player in his prime.
After knee injuries caught up to Derrick Rose, Butler was the face and heart-and-soul of the franchise, a fan favorite and an ideal civic representation of Chicago.
Now, that is all gone, and finding another Jimmy Butler, arguably the best two-way player in the league, is highly unlikely.
Quickly, let’s recap the Bulls’ end of the bargain:
Kris Dunn is a nice point guard prospect, though he averaged less than four points per game in extremely limited playing time. He has decent potential to become an effective defender and facilitator within an offense, but he does not appear to boast the offensive skill set to become a solid scorer.
Zach Lavine, currently on the shelf with a torn ACL, did average 19 points per game last year, though he is still an incredibly raw offensive talent that remains unlikely to give much on the defensive end and is turnover prone.
Lauri Markkenen, drafted with the seventh pick from Minnesota, is a decent prospect with strong shooting range for a big man, but it will take a number of years for him to become an effective NBA player.
The chances of any of these players even come close to matching Jimmy Butler are slim to none.
Certainly not the best way to begin a likely long, arduous rebuilding process.
Given the players the Bulls received from giving away a perennial All-Star, the rebuilding process may be doomed right at the starting line.
The process of rebuilding a team is nothing to be taken lightly as it requires great sacrifices and an all-in commitment.
Part of that sacrifice involves conceding a handful of bad seasons and relevance.
An organization cannot choose to undertake a massive rebuild project and simultaneously remain relevant — that is not a false dichotomy; an organization cannot have their cake and eat it too.
The 76ers are the perfect example. The franchise has spent the last five seasons in complete irrelevance, displaying some of the most awful basketball imaginable.
The front office led by GM Sam Hinkie understood that sacrifice, and committed to tanking (a strategy many decry as cynical and exploitative). For now, the strategy has seemed to work as the Sixers have a crop of potential NBA stars in Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Markelle Fultz.
The Sixers and their fan base have totally bought in to trusting the process, and the great young talent now assembled in Philadelphia is a testament to that trust.
The organization certainly trust the process but now can the process trust the organization. The central question remains: can the young talent assembled actually perform?
If not, then trusting the process was simply an exercise in magical thinking.
Closer to home for Chicago sports fans are the now successful rebuilding projects of the Cubs and Blackhawks. For a period of time, both teams were utterly irrelevant in their respective sports as the organizations acquired great young talent. Both rebuilding projects worked as the Blackhawks went on to win three Stanley Cups and the Cubs made history.
Nonetheless, those tanking and rebuilding projects were exceptions to the countless rebuilding projects that have fizzled out.
Unfortunately, given the track record of the Bulls front office the prospect of trusting any process appears daunting.
The organization had an opportunity to begin the rebuilding process last off-season. Instead, they opted to sign to aging guards in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. During the season, the team stupidly traded away young talent in Doug McDermott after they gave up so much to acquire him a few years earlier.
Sure, Forman and Paxson have made great decisions in the past like drafting Rose and Butler. But they have made many boneheaded decisions too like drafting Tony Snell and Marcus Teague.
Even hiring Fred Hoiberg, whom the front office assured the fan base was a smart hire, has backfired as he has been unable to put any imprint or influence on the team.
After yesterday’s trade, the front office has indicated the direction they want to go in, but that direction is not characterized by any clear core philosophy.
The Bulls are no longer directionless but they are still identity-less.
As the inconsistent 2016-17 season proved, the front office hopes to commit to the impossible task of rebuilding and staying relevant.
Despite trading Butler, the Bulls are still trapped between rebuilding and relevance. They seemingly want to accept being bad, yet hope to keep the fan base excited.
When training camp begins in September, there’s a good chance the Bulls’ roster will be populated by two aging, injury prone guards, a veteran center in Robin Lopez and an inconsistent three-point shooter (that can’t do anything else) in Nikola Mirotic.
Not exactly the recipe for a team truly committed to a difficult rebuild.
That is part of the reason why trading Butler to Minnesota was so frustrating. The Bulls easily could have traded Butler to the Celtics for their top pick via Brooklyn. If the Bulls simply traded Butler for the Celtics’ first round pick in 2018, they could possibly have two top 10 picks next season.
But, alas, shortsightedness is a defining characteristic of the Forman-Paxson regime.
For the first time since the early 2000s, the Bulls are facing a major rebuilding process.
Unfortunately, there may be no “Process” to put one’s trust.