The Chicago Bulls finally traded superstar Jimmy Butler on Thursday's draft night, sending him and the 16th overall pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the selection of Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen with the seventh overall pick, according to multiple reports. Here are three takeaways from the first blockbuster trade of the evening:
The Bulls are finally going with a full rebuild
Despite parting ways with coach Tom Thibodeau two summers ago and trading former franchise cornerstone Derrick Rose to the Knicks last offseason, the Bulls fancied themselves as a playoff contender last season. In five seasons under Thibodeau, the Bulls won 50-plus games three times, made an Eastern Conference Finals, challenged LeBron James and the Heat and worked through every single Rose injury that threatened to derail them.
Those Bulls team -- and their defensive makeup under Thibodeau -- were an image from the distance past last season. Chicago bet on the trio of Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, and the team sputtered during the regular season. The star players bickered with each other. The offense was subpar. The Bulls finished 41-41 and lost in the first round to the Celtics.
There were two paths for the Bulls this offseason: 1) try to fill out their roster and make another push to a top-four spot in the East in an eventual futile attempt to contend against the best in the conference, or 2) trade their best player -- Butler -- and turn the roster over with a youth movement.
In one trade, the Bulls might have found their future starting backcourt. In his third season, LaVine averaged a career-high 18.9 points and shot 38.7 percent from three, showing the promise of a two-way threat at the shooting guard position. Dunn was a highly touted prospect coming out of Providence. He will need time to develop and could project to be a starting point guard on a contending team. Markkanen will add a 3-point threat to a team that was 28th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage.
Now, the Bulls are ready to start over, even with Wade having opted into his 2017-18 player option for $23.8 million this week. Tuesday's trade put an official end to the Thibodeau-Rose-Butler era in Chicago.
The Timberwolves are ready to be playoff contenders in the West
The Wolves were everyone's sleeper pick to be the surprise team in the West last season. Thibodeau was going to bring discipline to a young team. Karl-Anthony Towns was already rounding into a superstar in his second season. Andrew Wiggins made plenty of strides in his first two years. But the internal development and addition of Thibodeau did not provide the results many expected, as the Wolves finished with 31 wins, just a two-game improvement from the year before.
Still, there were signs throughout the season that the Wolves were ready to take the next step, even as they struggled to close out games, blowing leads in the fourth quarter on a regular basis. Towns averaged 25.1 points and 12.3 rebounds, and Wiggins developed into a premier individual scorer, averaging 23.6 points in his sophomore season.
In Butler, the Wolves are adding one of the best two-way players in the league. Butler, who is 27 and has two years and approximately $38.4 million left on his contract with a $19.8 million player option in 2019-20, averaged 23.9 points, 5.5 assists and 6.2 rebounds and was one of the top perimeter defenders in the league. He'll help on the offensive end, but more importantly, his familiarity with Thibodeau from their time in Chicago will allow the Timberwolves to find their defensive identity.
With Towns, Wiggins and Butler, the Wolves have a core three and the coach to make it all work. Expect the 2017-18 season to be the first time in 13 seasons the Timberwolves make the playoffs.
Butler's superstar status will be evaluated by how he does in Minnesota
Butler has been in trade rumors for the past several seasons, and while he stated his preference to stay with the Bulls, the franchise never seemed satisfied with him as the No. 1 guy. After Rose's injury and his subsequent departure, it was fair to consider how far Butler could take a team in the East, part of that having to do with the way the Bulls failed to build a contending roster around him.
The Celtics -- long rumored to have been interested in Butler -- refused to part with the No. 3 pick in the draft, which they used to select Jayson Tatum, or the Nets' first-round pick in 2018, which they own, to Chicago, who ended up making a deal with Minnesota for its own package of young players.
In Minnesota, Butler will be expected to be the superstar centerpiece who vaults the Timberwolves from outside the playoff picture to potentially contending for a top-four spot. That's how this deal will be graded, on whether Butler is the difference-maker on a team looking for a star to alter its path in the West. If Butler succeeds, there will be no questions about his status as a superstar. If he can't affect that type of change in Minnesota, we'll have another re-valuation of his true value to a contending team.