For the love of Corey Benjamin, what the hell is going on!? The Chicago Bulls front office is making all the right moves, and someone has to do a well-being check.
GM Gar Forman must’ve finally seen the light, or VP John Paxson pushed him to a corner office to play solitaire all day. Maybe Doug Collins’ role as a senior adviser gives him a louder voice in the room than we all expected.
Frankly, who cares?
Whoever is pulling the strings at the Advocate Center, has done a masterful job since last summer. Ladies and gents, the Bulls finally deserve a round of applause.
The front office seemed snake bitten since Derrick Rose’s ACL injury in 2012. From failed free agent exploits to botched draft picks, the last five years have been a rough go-around for GarPax.
For those keeping track at home, GarPax were responsible for:
- Drafting Marcus Teague over Draymond Green in 2012.
- Trading up to select Doug McDermott, passing on the likes of Zach LaVine and Gary Harris in 2014.
- Painting head coach Tom Thibodeau as a radioactive human toward the end of his Bulls’ coaching tenure.
- Refusing to trade an aging Pau Gasol in the final year of a contract and letting him walk for nothing.
- Signing toxic over-the-hill stars like Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo after vowing to get “younger and more athletic.”
- Trading McDermott, Taj Gibson and a 2nd-round pick for Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lavergne and Anthony Morrow… just because?
We can keep going, but SeeRed Nation didn’t come here to bury GarPax about the past. They’re here to praise them for everything in the last nine months.
The Jimmy Butler Trade
The Bulls’ fortunes turned on draft night last June when they traded all-star Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves. This marked the first time, maybe ever, that the front office cashed in on a player at his highest value.
That evening, the team acquired LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick for Butler and the 16th pick. The seventh pick turned into Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen.
Despite returning in January from an ACL injury, LaVine has shown plenty of athleticism and scoring pop to make fans excited. He has potential to be a star and the perfect sidekick on a title contender.
Dunn, who the Bulls coveted prior to the 2016 draft, looks like a solid NBA point guard who can start in this league. While his mid-range and three-point shooting are adequate at best, Dunn plays with great pace and is a tenacious defender. At the worst, he can be trade bait for another big asset down the road.
And Markkanen? He’s proving to be much more than a finesse stretch four. The 7-foot rookie not only has a sweet stroke from three-point range, but he also finishes strong at the rim and can tussle down low for rebounds.
Anyone know the Finnish translation for “Dayyyuuummm”? Despite mixed opinions from the onset, the Bulls seem to be on the verge of winning the trade or at least breaking even. A few factors could sway the trade definitively in their favor:
- Re-signing LaVine this summer – Make no mistake, LaVine was the key acquisition for the Bulls in this deal. The athletic two-guard is set to be a restricted free agent this summer. Can GarPax re-up him at the right price?
- Either Markkanen or Dunn has to be very good – Very good might seem like a low bar, but defining anyone as “great” in the NBA is pushing it. Let’s put it this way: one of these guys has to make some all-star appearances, and both probably should be key contributors at the very least. If Markkanen’s ceiling equates to the next Ersan Ilyasova or Dunn reverts back to his rookie self, that hurts the Bulls’ grade in this deal.
- Jimmy Butler’s status – The outcome of this trade also hinges on the young star. If Butler’s knee injury becomes an issue or he opts out and leaves Minnesota after 2019, it would be a major strike against the Timberwolves.
Buying Out Dwyane Wade
This move was a no-brainer, but it couldn’t have been an easy sell to owner Jerry Reinsdorf. As if signing a then 34-year-old aging star to a two-year, $47.5 million contract wasn’t bad enough, now you have to convince ownership to pay $20 million, which counts against the salary cap, for him to go away?
Wade not only struggled on the court during his lone season in Chicago, but he also rubbed many teammates the wrong way off the court (something that continued in Cleveland earlier this season).
Also, if you wanted to get young guys minutes, why keep ol’ man Wade around if he’s just going to sit and stew at the end of the bench?
The move not only erased a mistake, but it also increased playing time for guards Justin Holiday, Denzel Valentine and David Nwaba. As a result, all three have proven to be solid contributors and raised their stock this season.
Managing the Veterans
For the first time in years, the Bulls understand the big picture. When the team followed up a 3-20 start with a 10-game winning streak, GarPax could’ve easily talked themselves into going for a seventh- or eighth-seed.
But why? That would’ve achieved nothing in the grand scheme of things. This season is all about developing young players and getting into a solid draft position, which means fewer wins.
Veteran players like Holiday and Robin Lopez likely aren’t part of the long-term picture. They’re not stars by any stretch, just solid role players who can keep you hanging around in a close game.
Is having them around counterproductive in a rebuild? Not at all.
While dodging wins is key, there are benefits to having these two on the roster. Unlike Wade and Rondo, Holiday and Lopez are consummate pros and good examples to keep around a young core.
Following the all-star break, both guys’ minutes have been slashed and each has received a fair share of DNPs. Despite the league office stepping in to increase their minutes, neither guy’s contributions on the court should directly affect the outcome of games down the stretch.
With younger players like Cam Payne and Cristiano Felicio getting more time on the floor, the losses should rack up before the season ends.
So why didn’t the front office just trade Lopez or Holiday?
Much like the Nikola Mirotic situation (we’ll get to that shortly), both players had potential to attract solid trade offers thanks to their insanely team-friendly contracts. Their roles as pro’s pros are valuable but make no mistake. No love would’ve been lost if there was a sweet deal on the table.
If either player netted some sort of deal involving a low first-round pick, expiring contracts or a young role player with upside, Jerry Reinsdorf would’ve driven either guy to O’Hare Airport himself.
Unfortunately, no team offered good enough pieces at the trade deadline. Instead of jumping at an offer for useless second-round picks, the Bulls rightfully stood pat.
Both Lopez and Holiday are going to be nice trade bait this offseason or at next year’s deadline. And at worst, they could end up being role players if your young core leads the charge to the playoffs.
The Nikola Mirotic Situation
Re-signing Mirotic might have seemed like a weird option before the start of the season. He’s a solid player but certainly not a difference maker. So why bring him back to steal minutes and rack up unnecessary wins?
The roll of the dice was obvious from the start: flip him for assets. NBA GMs looking to make a playoff run can get desperate, and Mirotic is good enough to make at least one team bite.
However, when teammate Bobby Portis clocked Mirotic in the face on the eve of the regular season, it looked like both guys could be toast. Mirotic was viewed as selfish and toxic, while Portis was seen as crazy (well crazier than usual).
The Bulls also never seemed to rebound well from drama, whether it was Derrick Rose’s injuries, the Tom Thibodeau situation or Wade and Butler’s antics. So how would this situation be any different?
Yet somehow the team was able to avoid an implosion.
Portis was suspended eight games at the start of the season, but it didn’t derail his year. He came out of the gate strong and has developed into an energetic stretch four this season, averaging 13 points and over six rebounds off the bench.
Mirotic, meanwhile, helped spark the Bulls to a 10-game winning streak upon his return, averaging almost 20 points a game. Yes, the wins didn’t help a massive tank effort, but it helped raise Mirotic’s trade value significantly.
If the Bulls had gotten a low first-round pick and an expiring bad contract, most fans and media would’ve been fine with the deal. Fortunately, GarPax got their wish. One team was desperate enough to offer more.
With Demarcus Cousins went out for the season with a torn Achilles, the New Orleans Pelicans bit and gave up a top-five protected first-round pick along with three expiring contracts and one massive one which they kept for future flexibility.
Sure, the Mirotic trade required everything to play out perfectly. But that’s been the theme of the season.
Of course for the Bulls to reach their full potential as contenders, GarPax need to hit on draft picks and pluck a solid free agent over the next couple of years. So their grade is quite clearly incomplete.
Still, you have to give credit where it’s due. For now, the front office has earned props for making the right moves as of late. And fortunately for Bulls fans, it’s happening at the right time.