Cristiano Felicio

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Bulls blew the Jimmy Butler trade, and they’ll pay the price for years

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Jimmy Butler was a one-man wrecking crew.

Now, the Bulls are just a wreck.

A half decade of frustration since Derrick Rose‘s injuries sent the franchise spiraling off course culminated in a lousy trade of the star wing, an intentional blowup after years of unintentional blowups.

The Three-Alphas idea was poorly conceived and predictably faltered. Fred Hoiberg has looked out of his element in the NBA, and his rosters haven’t fit his preferred style. Five straight first-round picks – Marquis Teague, Tony Snell, Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine – have produced little value in Chicago and stressed the Bulls closer to their breaking point.

But they still had Butler.

Butler has grown steadily as a player, approaching superstardom. Using win shares and teams’ actual wins, he accounted for more than a third of Chicago’s victories – a higher percentage of his team’s wins than anyone in the NBA, save the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns. But unlike Towns, Butler actually led his team to the playoffs. Butler could have again single-handedly carried the Bulls into the playoff race this season, which isn’t nothing.

Perhaps, the prospect of another early postseason exit was no longer appealing. Chicago has gone nine years without a losing record, but has advanced past the second round only once since Michael Jordan’s last championship, reaching the conference finals in Rose’s 2011 MVP season. There would have been nothing wrong with choosing to rebuild in aim of something bigger, and Butler – locked into a team-friendly contract for two more seasons – would have given the Bulls a huge leg up.

Instead, they squandered that elite asset.

Chicago traded Butler to the Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and moving up from No. 16 to No. 7 in the draft. That last aspect is the cherry on top of an awful trade. The Bulls didn’t even get an additional first-rounder! They gave up their own in a deal that still would have been awful if they hadn’t.

LaVine is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in February, a troubling injury for someone whose upside is tied to the athleticism he displayed while winning the last two dunk contests. Chicago will have him for only one year on his cheap rookie-scale contract before paying him market value (or so), either with an extension this summer or in restricted free agency next summer. Maybe the Bulls can get LaVine on a discount due to his knee, but they would be assuming real risk.

What did they see in him to make him the centerpiece of their Butler return?

LaVine has garnered attention by upping his scoring average in three NBA seasons – 10 to 14 to 19 points per game. Though LaVine’s efficiency is solid thanks to a smooth 3-point stroke, his heavy workload under Tom Thibodeau – 37.2 minutes per game, third in the NBA – contributed to LaVine’s impressive traditional statistic. He ranked 37th in points per game, but just 69th in points per possession, which is not so nice.

For all his athleticism, LaVine hasn’t really applied it to defending, rebounding or drawing fouls. His injury raises questions about whether he’ll maintain the athleticism necessary to make a jump. Just 22, LaVine still has time to blossom. But it’s worth acknowledging how one-dimensional he is.

Dunn, the No. 5 pick just last year, is actually older than LaVine. A rough rookie year was particularly disappointing, considering Dunn’s age. He has a way to go before his production warrants playing time, though he’ll see the court to develop – especially on this team.

Lauri Markkanen was a fine pick at No. 7, but the shooting big will have to majorly exceed expectations to make this a worthwhile package for Butler.

After surrendering with the Butler trade, Chicago looked directionless in free agency. Quickly securing Cristiano Felicio on a four-year, $32 million contract might have been commendable last year. In 2017 – a tighter market, especially for restricted free agents and big men – it’s a misread. Justin Holiday looks like decent value on his two-year, $9 million contract. Nikola Mirotic remains a restricted free agent.

Getting a second-rounder for paying a portion of Quincy Pondexter was a wise use of resources. Committing to rebuilding sooner and convincing Dwyane Wade to opt out of his $23.8 million salary would have created more room for similar salary dumps. We’ll never know whether Wade would have gone for that, but he might have.

The saving grace of this offseason: Chicago should be bad. Really bad. Maybe worst-in-the-league bad. That’ll net a high draft pick, unlike the Pacers, who are trying to win a moderate amount after their own flop of a star trade.

But the Bulls could also remain bad for years as they try to build back up. Their young core is lacking, and they don’t have a single extra first-rounder.

They never should have been this destitute after starting the summer with Butler.

Offseason grade: D-

Rumor: Young Bulls ‘can’t stand’ Dwyane Wade

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After a loss last January, Dwyane Wade (in conjunction with since-traded Jimmy Butler) lashed out at his Bulls teammates for not caring enough. Those younger players didn’t receive the message gratefully, questioning why Wade didn’t practice more.

The simple answer: Wade is 35, and he and his team are better served if he saves himself for games. But Wade also should have known his schedule left him ill-suited to criticize harder-working teammates.

The whole saga exposed the inherent tension that occurs when an accomplished veteran with declining skills is thrust into a leadership position on a mediocre team.

Consider that backdrop as Wade and Chicago dance around a buyout.

Nick Friedell on ESPN discussing Wade getting bought out:

This is inevitable. It’s coming. It’s a matter of when, not if.

But right now, guys, it’s just kind of a staring contest. Everybody’s looking at each other saying, “OK, how much money are you willing to give up?”

And Gar Forman, the Bulls’ GM, at summer league, said, “Oh, we’re not having conversations.” I don’t think that’s the case. I think Dwyane’s agents and the Bulls are wanting to get this thing done.

But I’d really be surprised if it happened before the season. I still think it’s more likely that it’ll happen probably somewhere in December or January.

But this is a divorce that’s going to happen. It’s just going to take some time.

The young players on the Bulls really can’t stand Dwyane, and it’s the little secret in Chicago. They have had enough.

Wade’s January criticism was reportedly particularly directed at Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams, neither of whom are on the roster. (Mirotic, a restricted free agent, will likely return.) Even if Wade’s comments cast a wider net, Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser, Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio are the only young players still on the team from that time. None of those players deserve much influence in how the franchise operates.

Still, no matter what the young players want, it’s clear Wade no longer fits on a rebuilding Chicago. They might get their wish.

Wade is set to earn $23.8 million in the final season of an expiring contract. That salary could prove useful in a bigger trade.

If bought out, Wade would count as dead money against Chicago’s cap at his buyout amount. They Bulls should obviously be amenable if he sacrifices enough, but a small discount doesn’t justify locking into that money rather than having a trade chip available.

If Chicago is deep into the cellar as expected after the trade deadline, a buyout would be completely logical then. Maybe the Bulls even assess the trade market sooner and conclude Wade’s huge expiring contract won’t facilitate a trade.

It’s easy to see a buyout happening eventually. In the meantime, Wade and his younger teammates will just have to get along. I trust Wade’s professionalism to make this situation at least tenable, but Fred Hoiberg might have his hands full building cooperation with all the people involved.

Report: Chicago Bulls reach four-year, $32 million deal to keep Cristiano Felicio

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The Chicago Bulls are high on Cristiano Felicio. He’s a cult favorite among Bulls fans.

And while nobody is really sure yet how good he can be, the Bulls have locked him up so they can find out. Felicio was a restricted free agent, but the Bulls quickly signed him to an extension on July 1, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

That salary isn’t too much for a big with potential, it’s just below the league average salary. If Felicio develops as the Bulls hope, this is a steal.

Felicio has bounce in his legs, he finishes well and is a solid rebounder because of it. He started to show a nice midrange game last season, but if he can learn to hit the three ball he becomes far more dangerous. The Brazilian big man can get lost on the defensive end, but also can cover that up thanks to his athleticism.

He’s still a bit of a project, but one that the Bulls and their fans are high on. And they get to see him through the process now.

After trading Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, where do the Bulls go from here?

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Jimmy Butler is now a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. In a draft day trade, the Timberwolves received Jimmy Butler and reunited him with his old coach from Chicago Tom Thibodeau. In exchange for the shooting guard, the Chicago Bulls received the No. 7 overall pick — Chicago took Arizona’s Lauri MarkkanenKris Dunn, and Zach LaVine.

The question now in Chicago is this: now what?

Butler, 27, was the superstar the Bulls needed post-Derrick Rose. Now, with Butler gone, the Bulls will need to rebuild in a year in which they have young assets mixed with older, more expensive players that don’t seem to match up. After a year in which Chicago just barely made the playoffs with the eight seed, they are going to need to readjust their entire roster. That could mean new landing places for Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Robin Lopez.

Forget on the on-floor performance for a moment, the real question for Chicago will be how to properly allocate their resources when it comes to salary in the coming season. Wade, 35, will reportedly opt into the final year of his contract to play for his hometown team despite Butler moving to Minnesota. Chicago will earn the right to pay Wade $23.8 million for this upcoming season. Rondo is in much the same boat, with $13.4 million left in the final year of his contract.

From a wins perspective, both players would no doubt be highly crucial to any wins this new Bulls team would garner in the coming season. But both players have a staggering amount of salary left, and would no doubt take up valuable playing time for the young, newly acquired players that the Bulls should want to develop.

The most obvious choice for both Rondo and Wade would be waivers or buyouts. Rondo’s contract only has $3 million left on it if he is bought out before June 30. Despite a solid playoff performance, Rondo does not have a $13 million value to the Bulls in terms of playing time, and they don’t have a need for whatever erratic play he may bring to the table.

While the Butler trade created a $15.3 million exception for the Bulls, Wade’s contract stands as an albatross that is in the way of both free agency this season and extensions for young players in the coming season. Chicago is facing restricted free agency for Nikola Mirotic come July, and will need to figure out what to do with younger players like Michael Carter-Williams and Cristiano Felicio.

After decisions are made this summer for those players, the Bulls will need to figure out how to sign LaVine to an extension. Given the market for players of his caliber and position, LaVine will almost certainly command a number comparable to what Wade’s salary currently occupies on the Chicago cap space.

This is all before we even get to Lopez, who has $26 million left on his contract for the next two seasons. While he is still a productive player, at age 29 it’s unclear at how much Lopez factors into Chicago’s future plans. Given his contract situation it might be better to try to move him as a means to acquire new assets that are closer in age to the Bulls’ new core.

If your head is not spinning by now, you’re one of the lucky ones. It just gets worse from here.

It seems highly probable that Rondo will be waived or bought out in order to minimize the impact he has on the cap this season. He doesn’t glean much on the trade market given his current full contract value, and his an uneasy play (despite his playoff prowess) is something that that has driven potential trade suitors away.

What to do with Wade is an entirely different conversation. If Chicago decided to buy him out this summer it would be a clear choice of direction in terms of both the roster makeup and the playing time allotted to the new young backcourt at the United Center. The Bulls would immediately become ultra flexible, and able to match a restricted offer for Mirotic without fearing any kind of retribution down the line for when they try to sign other players in free agency or offer LaVine an extension.

Then again, they could wait to buy him out until later in the season, say, around the All-Star Game, all the while taking in ticket sales for Chicago fans to see their hometown star. There is no doubt that Wade would be a good influence on younger players in the locker room, despite the high price tag. If they want to buy him out later in the season, he could join another team in time for a playoff run. That might convince Wade to take a larger amount off of his contract come buyout time.

Lost in the sauce of all this contract talk is just what the Bulls are doing with their future. LaVine looked excellent before his ACL injury in 2016-17, and Dunn had promise despite a disappointing first season in Minnesota. By all accounts, the Bulls gave up too much in their trade with the Timberwolves, with most lamenting their decision to send the No. 16 pick to Minnesota despite Chicago giving up the best player in the swap.

There’s also the matter of the Bulls trading Jordan Bell to the Golden State Warriors straight up for cash considerations. Bell was an excellent player at Oregon, and would have a fit right in with Chicago’s new young core. Given that there is an issue with the Chicago front line when it comes to Mirotic’s RFA contract and Felicio’s free agency, the idea that Bell would not have fit in with the young Bulls is sort of baffling.

Yes, Chicago selected Lauri Markkanen with the No. 7 overall pick, but the University of Arizona product is not projected to be enough of a influence to suggest Bell had to be moved. Bell is almost certainly getting sent to the G-League for the Warriors, but he could have played a role for a team in Chicago that needs theirs defined. If the Butler trade was symbolic of their new direction, perhaps the Bell-for-cash swap was most emblematic of how the Bulls do business.

At the end of the day, Chicago’s trade with Minnesota sending Butler back to Thibodeau feels hilariously lopsided, and pushes the full reset for the Bulls in the years since Rose, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson led the team. Unless either LaVine, Markkanen, or Dunn exceed Butler’s performance for Chicago, it’s unlikely that history will look kindly at this trade. When the Bulls brought in Wade and Rondo last season, it looked like the team that once challenged in the Eastern Conference had started their decline. Once Rondo and Wade are gone, we’re likely to see the bottom for Chicago.

Report: Taj Gibson ‘absolutely’ would’ve left Bulls in free agency if they didn’t trade him

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Last year, the Bulls kept Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol – both on expiring contracts – past the trade deadline with the apparent intent of re-signing them. Noah (Knicks) and Gasol (Spurs) walked in free agency, leaving Chicago with no return.

The Bulls didn’t fall into the same trip this year. The traded their veteran big man on expiring contract, Taj Gibson, to the Thunder.

Why the different approach?

Gibson was clearly headed in a different direction.

Ken Berger of Bleacher Report:

Gibson, 31, was absolutely going to leave as a free agent this summer, league sources say. The Bulls were not going to re-sign him.

There are numerous possible reasons Gibson would have been intent on leaving Chicago. But, even though Gibson was Fred Hoiberg’s most vocal public supporter in the locker room, this will only intensify questions about how much veterans respect Hoiberg. Jimmy Butler keeps saying he wants to stay with the Bulls, and even that invites questions about his relationship with his coach. Hoiberg just hasn’t inspired much confidence.

This could also be about the Bulls. How interested were they in keeping Gibson? They have semi-interesting young bigs in Cristiano Felicio, Bobby Portis and maybe still Nikola Mirotic (and Joffrey Lauvergne, acquired in the Gibson trade). It could be time to test them.

Chicago’s direction is unclear, and perhaps Gibson saw the writing on the wall. He’ll turn 32 before free agency, the clock on his remaining productive years winding down. His fit with the Bulls was no longer great, and apparently that was realized already.