Nikola Mirotic

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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-

Warriors’ Zaza Pachulia may miss Eurobasket with ankle injury

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When the Golden State Warriors won the title last June, Zaza Pachulia walked around the court with the Georgian flag draped around his shoulders. He’s a man proud of his nation, and he was excited to represent them this summer in EuroBasket (after his government awarded him the Order of Honor after winning the title).

But it looks like you can add Pachulia to the insanely long list of guys out for the European championships. Pachulia has suffered an ankle injury, and while it’s not serious enough to slow him in Golden State’s training camp in a month, it could be keeping off the Georgian team for the tournament, according to his coach.

A final decision will come over the weekend.

Here’s a partial list of the players missing this EuroBasket: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Marc Gasol, Nikola Jokic, Danilo Gallinari, Enes Kanter, Marcin Gortat Ersan Ilyasova, Omar Asik, Andrea Bargnani, Nicolas Batum, Tony Parker, Serge Ibaka, Nikola Mirotic, and Sergio Llull. That is just the tip of the iceberg.

We’ll still be watching, but some of the drama has been sucked out of the event.

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.

Top 15 Free Agents still on the market

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The pickings are slim — the biggest names and best players have been snatched up.

Also, the market is now tight — teams have spent most of their money and now are just rounding out their rosters. There are no more massive contracts to be handed out.

Still, there are some players who can help teams still out there. Here is our list of the Top 15 free agents still available. We’ve broken the list down to unrestricted (the top 10) and restricted (top 5) where the team has the right to match any offer.

TOP 10 UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

1) Pau Gasol. He remains the best player still on the board as an unrestricted free agent — he is still a fundamentally solid big who can score inside, make smart passes, and defend the rim all with a high IQ. There is also no drama here. He will re-sign with the Spurs, he opted out only to help them make moves in free agency. In the coming days, he should re-sign with San Antonio, likely for something around the $16 million he opted out of.

2) Derrick Rose. The music has stopped in the point guard market, and Rose is the one standing without a chair. He’s the best point guard left available, but the market is tight now and he’s going to get a short deal with a team for the minimum or little more. Rose put up solid numbers last season in New York and on paper he looked like an average NBA point guard, but he’s still a defensive liability and is not versatile offensively (nor is he much of a jump shooter). Rumors on where he will land have slowed way down.

3) Shabazz Muhammad. He’s had a couple respectable seasons for the Timberwolves, last season averaging 9.9 points per game and shooting 33.8 percent from three (he was Minnesota’s leading scorer off the bench). He’s not a great defender, but he has improved. He reportedly has drawn some interest from the Knicks, Hawks, Bucks, and Nets but no deal has been forthcoming.

4) Andrew Bogut. There’s an obvious injury risk here — the 32-year-old’s last season ended with a fractured tibia, and he has a history of missing chunks of the season. That said, in a tight free agent market for big men he is the best one on the market when healthy. He is a smart defender, a very good passing big, and he’s an efficient scorer. Cleveland tried to pick him up last season for a reason (then had to waive him after the injury), another contender should consider the move.

5) JaVale McGee. He may be unhappy that the Warriors didn’t offer him more money after last season, but with the market drying up he may need to decide whether he wants to chase another ring or move on. McGee brings some athleticism at the five, some rim protection, and a guy who can finish at the rim.

6) Gerald Henderson. He was solid for the Sixers last season, averaging 9.2 points and 2.6 rebounds a game, shooting 35.3 percent from three. With their backcourt getting crowded, the Sixers waived Henderson, and at this point he’s not going to get close to the $9 million he was going to make last season. There has not been much buzz about where he may land.

7) Matt Barnes. He picked up a ring last season after getting picked up by the Warriors, and at age 37 the feisty forward is still an above replacement level player. Barnes helped the Warriors through the Kevin Durant injury last regular season and still has something in the tank. He’s not going to get more than one year at the veteran minimum level, but at that price there are teams who could use him.

8) Ty Lawson. There’s not a lot of teams looking to add a point guard, but Lawson will get a call from someone. He was above replacement level for the Kings last season and averaged 9.9 points per game, however, he does not space the floor with his shooting. He’d make a respectable backup point.

9) Boris Diaw. The market for the veteran forward is pretty small, and Diaw is now 35, but he could certainly help a team looking for a guy who can provide versatile minutes off the bench, smart passes, and some high IQ play. Plus he comes with his own espresso machine. Diaw averaged just 4.6 points per game and had a PER of 9 last season in Utah, yet they considered him part of the stabilizing veteran influence that helped that team take a step forward.

10) Tony Allen. Grit n’ grind is dead in Memphis, but if another team is looking for a defensive guard who can come in and help them get some stops, Allen is still on the market. His lack of shooting is well known, but there are still teams that could use him. He said he didn’t want a lot of money but wanted to be taken care of by the Grizzlies, now with the market tight he may not get more than the minimum

TOP 5 RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

(Note: The market is very tight for all of these guys, there are no max offers out there, and frankly no more $20 million ones either. These guys mostly have to negotiate with their teams.)

1) Nerlens Noel. He and his agent seemed to think that a big offer sheet — the kind we saw last summer for guys like Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson — would be on the way for Noel, setting up his big payday. Instead, there has been nothing. Part of is that other teams knew Dallas would just match, but part of it was also a tighter market this summer. Noel is a rangy, defensive-minded center who Dallas traded to get at the deadline last season, they see him as part of the future of the franchise. All the money for a massive offer has dried up, and Dallas can play hardball and offer a deal that is in the mid-teens in millions per year. Noel will want north of $20 million per year, but considering his injury history he’s not likely to take the qualifying offer and bet on himself.

2) JaMychal Green. Even more than Noel, this is the guy I thought some team would max out and try to poach, but nothing has come down the line for him. There was this odd note on the Fourth of July…

But since then nothing. Crickets. With Zach Randolph gone there is a bigger role for Green in Memphis, expect him to reach a deal eventually.

3) Mason Plumlee. Last summer his brother Miles Plumlee got a four-year, $52 million deal, and Mason is going to get nowhere near that. The summer of 2016 has proven to be an outlier — everyone got paid, and this year teams sobered up. Denver has the rights for Plumlee, who would be the backup to Nikola Jokic, and with a tight market the Nuggets will get to keep this Plumlee at a very affordable price. The only question now is the number.

4) Nikola Mirotic. Stretch fours are in demand across the league, the fact that Mirotic has had no offer sheets speaks to his inconsistency. He’s a stretch four who shot just 34.2 percent from three last season and doesn’t defend well. He did average 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds a game, he has some strong showings in the final six weeks of the season, but those seem the aberrations. The Bulls will play hardball, but with No. 7 pick Lauri Markkanen being unimpressive at Summer League, the Bulls will want Mirotic back and ready to play.

5) Alex Len. You can’t blame him if he saw Meyers Leonard get four-years, $41 million last season, and Bismack Biyambo get $72 million, and Len thought his payday was coming. As with a lot of guys on the restricted free agent market this year (and still on this list) that big offer sheet from another team never came, now their home team can play hardball. He was solid last season averaging 8 points and 6.6 boards per game, but if Noel and Plumlee aren’t getting offer sheets, neither is Len. He’s going to have to reach a deal with the Suns or play for the qualifying offer and test what will be a tight market next summer.

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.