Bulls

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

Bulls have emerged from a ball of confusion to parts unknown

The big red button was pressed and Jimmy Butler was ejected from the Chicago Bulls’ present and future as they finally made the decision to rebuild after two years of resisting.

Trading Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the ability to draft Lauri Markkanen represents the Bulls committing to the draft lottery and fully going in on the Fred Hoiberg experience for the foreseeable future, as the prospect of trying to improve through shrewd moves in the East while also facing the likelihood of Butler commanding a $200 million contract wasn’t palatable to their pocketbook or their sensibilities.

On one hand, making a decision — any decision — can be applauded on some levels after years of their relationship with Butler being complicated at best. But the idea of rebuilding and the application of it are often two separate ideals, because the evaluation of a rebuild can often be as murky as the land the Bulls just left.

“What we’ve done tonight is set a direction,” Bulls Executive Vice President John Paxson said. “We’ve gone to the past where we make the playoffs, but not at the level we wanted to. You know in this league, success is not determined that way. We’ve decided to make the change and rebuild this roster.”

“We’re gonna remain patient and disciplined. The development of our young players is important. The coaching staff has done a phenomenal job. We’re gonna continue down that path. We’re not gonna throw huge money at people.”

The Bulls aren’t exclusive to this territory, the land in which they’ve inhibited for the last couple seasons, which makes the Butler trade about more than one thing.

Not equal parts but part basketball, part fiscal, part narrative and finally, masking some mistakes that have been made over the years but are not as easily rectified. Trading Butler seemed to be the easiest vessel used as an elixir to wash away missteps. Trading a star in Butler is also the easiest way to get heat off a coach or front office in today’s NBA, because few franchises like to make wholesale changes midstream or early in it.

Trading Butler — along with shipping their second-round pick in a box marked for the Bay Area — was also financial, considering many felt if he made it through the tumultuous evening that he would finish his career as a Bull, raking in a hefty sum of cash on the back end.

It’s because of these factors that the evaluation of this trade and subsequently, a painful rebuild, cannot be in a vacuum. (Note: No rebuild is painless, it’s the size of the migraine a team can endure that determines the type of aspirin necessary).

Just taking a look at the players the Bulls got back in the Butler trade illustrates the gray area they’ve now immersed themselves into. The Bulls fell in love with Dunn before he came to the NBA, and aren’t as bothered by him being a 23-year old second-year player who struggled mightily in his rookie year.

Zach LaVine is an explosive athlete who can put up 20 every night — when he’s on the floor. Recovering from an ACL injury is no given, as evidenced by a young phenom who once graced the United Center hardwood before his body betrayed him.

And Lauri Markkanen is a rookie with promise, but nobody can make any promises on what type of career he’ll have, or if he’ll fulfill that promise with this franchise in the requisite time.

“There’s always risk in anything,” Paxson said. “But here’s a guy that’s 22 years old and averages 20 a game (LaVine). He can score the basketball, he can run. He can shoot the basketball. He shot over 40 percent from three. That’s an area we’re deficient in. Markkanen shot over 40 from three in college. Again, it’s an area where we’re deficient. It’s trying to find the type of player that fits the way that we want to play going forward.”

[RELATED: Jimmy Butler bids emotional farewell to Chicago]

General Manager Gar Forman stated after the announcement of the trade that the Bulls would have to hit on their next few draft picks to stop this rebuild from being elongated, but even then there’s no guarantee.

The Sacramento Kings drafted a rookie of the year, then two future max contract players in the same year, followed by another player who’ll command close to max money very soon. But nobody remembers Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside and Isaiah Thomas leading the Kings from the wilderness and into glory, unless recent memory has been scrubbed away from everyone.

Inconsistencies in organizational structure combined with multiple coaching changes and an inability to develop the right young players kept the Kings on the dais of the draft lottery every April.

The Timberwolves, heck, nobody could say they missed when selecting LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and getting Andrew Wiggins in a trade for Kevin Love. It’s because it takes more than the right draft picks, or in the Sacramento Kings’ case, the right infrastructure and environment, to foster an atmosphere of winning.

The Bulls were ready, despite their claims that this was a decision that came across their table right before the draft, because common sense has to be applied. No team makes knee-jerk, franchise-altering decisions that will have reverberations for years to come on the whim of a trade offer from Tom Thibodeau. This was likely decided when the Bulls went out with a whimper in the first-round after shocking the NBA world in the first two games against the Boston Celtics, when their fortunes changed on the trifle of Rajon Rondo’s broken wrist.

It was decided that Hoiberg, the man who endured chants calling for his firing in the second half of the decisive Game 6 loss, needed to have the right type of roster to be accurately judged as a successful hire or failure, and Butler couldn’t be part of those plans.

And just as Hoiberg has been dealt an uneven hand, Butler wasn’t given the type of roster that would accurately judge how he could flourish as a leader, max player and face of the franchise — and probably had less time to show one way or the other relative to his coach.

The longer Butler stayed, the more empowered he would become as his individual accomplishments would rack up because of the dedication he applied to game, the drive he had to place himself in the upper echelon of NBA players.

The better Butler got, the more pressure Hoiberg would be under to mix and match his roster and to foster a relationship with Butler he might’ve been ill-suited to fix. The better Butler got, the more pressure the front office would be under to maximize a prime it didn’t see coming, a prime they can’t truly figure when there’s an expiration date on given Butler’s unlikely rise to stardom.

So getting rid of Butler was the solution and the Bulls have now chosen their path, definitively and with confidence. Emerging from a ball of confusion to parts unknown, from one land of uncertainty to another.

Bulls' Denzel Valentine continues passion project, releases second rap video

Bulls' Denzel Valentine continues passion project, releases second rap video

Denzel Valentine talked occasionally about his developing passion for rapping before COVID-19 paused — and eventually ended — the Bulls' 2019-20 season.

Now, the free agent swingman is using the hiatus to not only continue his charitable work in both his native East Lansing, Mich., and Chicago, but also further his passion project.

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A music video for Valentine's latest track, "Get Ya Grind Up," appeared on social media Friday. It not only stars Valentine, but his older brother, Drew, who is an assistant coach at Loyola. Their mother makes a cameo, as well.

Warning: Song contains NSFW language

Valentine released his first song and video in January, titled "Introduction," and in March, featured alongside Diamond Jones on a track titled "Hate Me." He also talked about his passion for rapping in an episode of the Bulls TV-produced "Run With Us" miniseries.

Valentine will either be a restricted or unrestricted free agent in October depending on if the Bulls submit a qualifying offer. After sitting out the entire 2018-19 season following reconstructive ankle surgery, Valentine endured a difficult 2019-20 season. He moved in and out of Jim Boylen's rotation despite representing one of the team's better 3-point shooters and passers. Over 36 games, he averaged 6.8 points in 13.6 minutes.

The Greater Lansing Food Bank thanked Valentine via social media for a March donation, and he also recently made a donation to Lurie Children's Hospital.

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Report: NBA, NBPA agree to social justice messages for jerseys during restart

Report: NBA, NBPA agree to social justice messages for jerseys during restart

The NBA and NBPA have come to an agreement on social justice-related messages players can display on the backs of their jerseys when the league resumes play in Orlando on July 30, ESPN’s Marc J. Spears reports.

Here is the list of ("suggested") approved terms, according to Spears:

Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; I Can't Breathe; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor

Per Spears, players will have the choice to brandish said messages above the number on the backs of their jerseys in place of their names for the first four days of the restart. From there, messages will still be permitted, but with players’ last names included underneath. TBD if more messages are to come.

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The Premier League provides some precedent for this initiative; all players participating in its season restart, which began on June 17, are donning jerseys with “Black Lives Matter” on the back in place of their names.

Meanwhile, prominent NBA players including Kyrie Irving, Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley have voiced concerns that play resuming could distract from the fight against racial injustice. Others contend that the attention the league’s restart will command can be leveraged into advocating for change. 

Ultimately, the league has left that assessment up to players on an individual basis. Commissioner Adam Silver has publicly said the NBA is deliberating on social justice programming for the bubble, and future investment in social justice causes, though no concrete plans have been made public. On June 24, the NBA and NBPA announced in a joint statement that leadership of both sides had met to “further advance the league’s collective response to the social justice issues in our country.”

“I think ultimately we can accomplish a lot (for social justice causes) by playing,” Silver said on a panel with Caron Butler, Magic Johnson and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in June. “But as I said, I know there’s some roiling going on within the Players Association, and I respect the point of view of those who are saying let’s make sure that in returning to basketball, a larger, broader message about social equality, racial issues are not somehow lost.”

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