Bulls quiet at deadline, but June trade already paying dividends as Jimmy Butler arrives in Chicago

Bulls quiet at deadline, but June trade already paying dividends as Jimmy Butler arrives in Chicago

The Bulls operated around the fringes at the trade deadline before the 2 p.m. buzzer, picking up Noah Vonleh from the Portland Trailblazers and picking up a future second-round pick in a separate deal with the Detroit Pistons.

Neither deal involved Robin Lopez or Justin Holiday, two players the Bulls were hoping to snag an extra first-round pick for in this June’s draft. After getting one in the trade involving Nikola Mirotic last week, the Bulls were operating with house money.

Of all the trades that took place Thursday, the Bulls did their work last week. And last June. And honestly, last February, when the trade of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott signaled moving away from Jimmy Butler before they actually moved Butler on draft night.

It was one year ago where the writing was on the wall for Butler and his tenure as a Bull, when one could argue the Bulls didn’t want to take on the challenge of building with their homegrown star—especially as all these stars in the NBA have changed addresses in the last six months.

Either they lacked the know-how or the desire to commit to Butler for the long-term, knowing he would be in line for a bigger max contract in two years, choosing the path of rebuilding as opposed to contending.

The decision, while questioned in this space considering a talent like Butler doesn’t come around often, has taken the Bulls down a path they clearly don’t regret as Butler makes his return to Chicago Friday night.

Even if Butler will be determined to give his former team every bit of 50 points and a night of torture at the United Center. Butler has elevated the Minnesota Timberwolves since his arrival, playing MVP-type ball over the past couple months since he stopped deferring and started taking charge.

Since December he’s been on a tear, averaging 25.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.1 steals on 50 percent shooting, performing like one of the most complete players in the NBA.

A player the Bulls didn’t see fit to build around, for various reasons.

“The one thing we learned from Jimmy while he's here, he's motivated by a lot of things but he's motivated by that chip on his shoulder,” Bulls Executive Vice-President John Paxson said. “He's survived, thrived his whole life by doing that. We have great respect for Jimmy.”

With Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the all-important cap flexibility, the Bulls feel they’re in a better position for the future than their present would’ve been with Butler.

“I won't speak for Minnesota but they have an All-Star player in Jimmy Butler to go along with their young core,” Paxson said Thursday. “It seems to have addressed the desires of both teams. In this business if you can do that, that's a good thing.”

It’s been a rare sight to see those three on the floor together but the Bulls feel as if they’ve seen enough to determine they’ve picked up three starters and at best, two future stars in LaVine and Markkanen.

“That, to me, is the exciting component of the season after the break,” Paxson said. “And that will continue to be what’s most important to us, those three and the other young players we have to see how they fit if they fit. But we’re going to find out because they’re going to get their chance.”

Getting a first-round draft pick for Mirotic from New Orleans when hardly any firsts were exchanged on an activity-filled deadline day is a coup of sorts for the Bulls—which is why there was no real urgency in moving Holiday or Lopez.

They like what they’re building, what they have and quietly, they probably love the fact there’s no expectations of winning now when employing a player of Butler’s stature.

“You know you're gonna have tough times when you're young and rebuilding, and wins may be hard to come by,” Paxson said. “If you don't have vets that are committed and care, it can really hurt the process. For us, having Justin and Robin, these guys come every day, they don't sit out practices, they work hard, they show the commitment, that's the model you want your young guys to see.”

The model the Bulls have embraced is one of flipping the roster. Of the team that took the floor against the Boston Celtics in the playoffs last April, only six players remain.

While the Bulls haven’t gone “Extreme Makeover: Cleveland Cavaliers edition,” they’ve laid out their plans for the foreseeable future. Paxson explained taking the long view for the rebuild while also acknowledging the micro view of acquiring players who don’t carry “long money,” as in having multiple years remaining on contracts to ensure flexibility.

“Gar and I talk about this all the time, we still believe all the one-year deals going forward, they used to be valuable until the spike,” Paxson said. “They'll become valuable again. So it goes back to patience.”

The patience Paxson is referring to is a light way of saying the Bulls will try to get the highest pick possible in next June’s draft, where there could be superstars and superstar busts, too.

Getting there will require a lot of “evaluation” of players we seem to know plenty about, as in Cristiano Felicio and the man McDermott and Gibson were traded for (essentially) in Cameron Payne.

Payne played with the G-League Wednesday and at some point this season will get an extended look.

“It’s one of the reasons that sometime after the All-Star break, we’re going to throw more of our young guys out there for significant minutes because we have to know,” Paxson said. “We have to see who fits us going forward and who can play.”

And although the word was on the tip of Paxson’s tongue, he didn’t have to say it. Because we’ll see it for the next two months.

The Watch is back.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment


Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”