NBA Trade Rumors: The complicated notion of the Bulls looking to move Jimmy Butler
Would they really pull the trigger on dealing an MVP-caliber player? Let's talk about it
Last June, things got a little nutty in the trade rumor mill, as word started to circulate that the Bulls were shopping Jimmy Butler. The rumors suggested that the Wolves, with Butler's old coach Tom Thibodeau, were maneuvering to offer the No. 5 pick, which became Kris Dunn, for Butler in a multi-player deal. The Bulls eventually backed out of such talks, and the team then pivoted in free agency to trying to put together a playoff squad.
With the Bulls wobbling over the .500 mark like a young college student who has imbibed one too many Goldschlager shots and Rajon Rondo removed from the rotation entirely, there's been a lot of speculation about the future of the Bulls.
Last week, a report from Bleacher Report surfaced about the Bulls once again looking to deal Butler, with league sources telling Ric Bucher that the Bulls were uncertain about building around Butler long-term. This was the same line of thought that had led to the draft day conversations, as Butler rubbed veterans the wrong way last season, leading to the departure of many of them, including Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol.
Now, for context here, Bucher is close with agent B.J. Armstrong -- the two host a podcast together. Armstrong is Derrick Rose's agent, and played for Chicago alongside GM John Paxson. There's a long-standing relationship there. There's no indication from Bucher that Armstrong is the source, and I'm not suggesting as such. However, it does give you a reason to believe that Bucher has a firm understanding of the Bulls' situation.
However, as things are often wont to be with trade rumors, it's not that simple. The Athletic reported last week that Bulls sources are refuting that notion.
The Bulls explored several deals involving Butler on draft night, one day after trading Derrick Rose to the New York Knicks. A Butler trade over the summer would have meant a full-on rebuild; the decision to keep him, along with July's free-agent signings of Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade marked the end of any thought of going in that direction, at least for the time being.
A Bulls source told The Athletic that, despite a Thursday report from Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report, the team is not currently shopping Butler.
ESPN followed that up this week with similar thoughts:
Sources with knowledge of the Bulls' thinking emphatically deny the notion that All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler is available. Given all the chaos enveloping the Bulls lately, with considerable doubt bubbling about how much longer Rajon Rondo will stick around Chicago, hanging onto one of the game's best two-way players seems prudent.
So what have we got here?
Bucher cites "league sources," which indicates either an agent or some other involved business person on the player side, a league office personor another team that has had contact with the Bulls. The Athletic cites a Bulls source, and ESPN (smartly) describes it in terms that are undecipherable. A person with knowledge of the Bulls' thinking could be a member of the Bulls, a team that has dealt with the Bulls, someone close to owner Jerry Reinsdorf or the NSA monitoring calls to and from the Bulls. (Sorry, I watched Snowden last night.)
The first takeaway you should have is that the Bulls probably aren't trading Butler. You've got multiple denials coming from team sources. The Bulls obviously have a reason to deny such efforts. They don't want their star player thinking they're trying to move him, nor do they want the distraction of trade talks, nor do they want to lower his value with the broadcast that he's out there. There's real incentive to deny such efforts even if they are real.
It is important to consider team history, however. Under Jerry Reinsdorf, you've seen a clear pattern of a. liking making money and b. wanting to compete. Reinsdorf's not cheap, but he's always been economically motivated as many owners are. Trading Butler makes the Bulls a less attractive ticket, they'll sell less merchandise, they're not a marquee team. Next, you have to remember that the Bulls just basically do not make big in-season deals. They'll make some maneuvers, but when was the last blockbuster trade, in-season, the Bulls made?
Whether Butler remains in Chicago long-term or not is a different question. Chicago is facing a difficult decision about whether to just accept this team isn't going anywhere and embrace a true rebuilding effort, or to keep trying to stay above water and hope it puts together a special year. And the answer to that question is difficult to answer.
The best way to approach this is probably like this: If a team calls and offers a dynamite, multiple-pick, multi-prospect offer for Butler, the Bulls will listen and talk about it. But picking up the phone when it rings, and being the one to make the call are different.
As always, it's difficult to tell whether the Bulls are coming or going, and so the most reasonable thing to assume is that they're standing pat.
Butler is averaging 25.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.7 steals and shooting 45 percent, including 34 percent from deep. If he is available, expect the Celtics and Nuggets to be first at the door. Dallas and Miami likely don't have the assets but would probably make the call, and the Sixers would probably make a call as well.
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