Bulls

Bulls-Heat not just another game

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Bulls-Heat not just another game

MIAMI -- It's the biggest NBA game of the season! Its outcome will have implications that will be remembered in June!

For once, it's no exaggeration. Well, not completely.

Sunday's showdown between the Bulls and Heat is truly the NBA's most anticipated event of the season, at least thus far. But it's just another regular-season game.

Still, let's be honest: Chicago and Miami are the class of the East, and no disrespect to current league-best Oklahoma City -- or other West contenders, such as defending-champion Dallas, the two L.A. teams or even underrated Memphis -- but a game pitting the reigning MVP, Coach of the Year and what's regarded as the best defense in the business against the "Big Three" is as good as it gets for late January, especially in this lockout-shortened campaign. And Derrick Rose can downplay it, but all eyes will be on Biscayne Blvd. Sunday afternoon.

Since the last time the two squads faced off, in the Eastern Conference Finals, much of the personnel has stayed the same. However, the offseason moves made by the respective front offices have been impactful.

Role players were the Heat's focus, as veteran "three-and-D" specialist Shane Battier, rookie point guard Norris Cole and even former Bulls center Eddy Curry, a Chicago native, took their talents. Meanwhile, the Bulls opted for quality over quantity, acquiring Rip Hamilton to fill their void at shooting guard, the team's only addition since last season, now that the short stint of journeyman point guard Mike James, waived Saturday, is over.

While those moves will have some say in Sunday's result, a cursory analysis of the matchups and brief evaluation of the season to date reveals that many of the same questions from a year ago still exist. But whether LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can be simultaneously productive, Rose gets enough help from the highly-scrutinized big-man duo of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer or even if Luol Deng returns from torn ligaments in his left wrist is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

For the record, Bosh was playing some of the best basketball of his brief tenure in Miami prior to Wade, who looked remarkably spry in Friday night's Heat win over the reeling Knicks, returning from a sprained ankle. Unfortunately for Bulls fans, James' issues in the clutch haven't yet against Chicago. And while there will likely be plenty of focus on Rose's approach and how the Bulls' big men play following their various struggles last spring, perhaps a more important aspect of the game will be how effective the Bulls' perimeter players -- such as Hamilton, who, like Deng, is a game-time decision -- are when Miami's defense inevitably collapses on Rose.

Regardless of whether the two teams are prohibitive favorites to face off again at the same juncture where they met last postseason, keep in mind that the Bulls swept last year's regular-season series over the Heat before bowing out in five games in the conference finals, an indicator that, game of the season or not, maybe less significance should be placed on an early-January affair. But boy, won't it be fun to watch?

Revisiting the Bulls-Timberwolves draft day Jimmy Butler-deal after his latest trade demand

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USA TODAY

Revisiting the Bulls-Timberwolves draft day Jimmy Butler-deal after his latest trade demand

The Bulls made waves when they traded Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves on draft day in 2017. The general consensus was that the Bulls were absolutely robbed in the trade, and it was hard to disagree with that idea with the Bulls sending away a three-time All-Star for a package of players who "could" be great. But after Butler’s latest trade demand, the idea of the Bulls losing that trade seems laughable. A host of factors that couldn’t be foreseen contributed to this, but it does not make it any less true.

Zach LaVine was coming off an ACL injury when the Bulls acquired him, with no telling of when (or if) he would revert back to the high-flying, high-scoring guard he once was. And in 24 games of action, he showed impressive flashes, nowhere near enough to say that he was a franchise player, but the belief that he can become a primary scorer netted him a four-year, $78 million commitment from the Bulls. This was another move that many deemed unnecessary. But it would have been hard—especially from a PR standpoint—to let the centerpiece of the Butler trade walk. Now, with the salary cap projected to rise yet again, LaVine’s contract will pale in comparison to the approximately, four-year, $140 million extension Butler would get with a new team.

Thibodeau was all-too-happy to get rid of Kris Dunn, and though the point guard did have historically bad shooting in his rookie season, his playmaking and defensive intensity were something to build off of.

For the Bulls, Dunn was essentially a lottery ticket, and has definitely shown growth in his lone year under Fred Hoiberg. The Minnesota point guard situation is fine for now. But if Butler is indeed to leave town, Thibodeau will be hard pressed to find a player on his roster who can matchup with bigger 2-guards, something Dunn can do in spots.

Andrew Wiggins was supposed to pick up some defensive intensity from Butler, but one season playing with Butler will not be enough to transform Wiggins as a player. And the extra insurance that the No. 16 pick in the draft was supposed to provide the Timberwolves is also up in the air. Justin Patton was chosen at No. 16, but never made it on the floor for the T’Wolves, suffering a foot injury and spending most of his time in the G League with the Iowa Wolves. He is theoretically, a big who can stretch the floor and score with efficiency inside. Markkanen shot 36 percent from the 3-point line and 67 percent at the rim, making him the almost fully-realized version of the inside-outside power forward who would complement Towns. It doesn’t take very long to see how keeping Markkanen at No. 7 would have given the Timberwolves perhaps the brightest core of young talent in the league with Markkanen, Wiggins, Dunn, LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns.

What hurts most for Timberwolves fans is that not only would that core have been talented, but it would’ve been a clean-cut fit, something the Bulls don’t have at this stage, even with such an impressive array of youngsters.

It is now tough to say that the Bulls didn’t outright “win” this trade. Part of the reason Butler was traded from Chicago in the first place was the idea that he couldn’t be the go-to guy on a championship team, and that his (personal) title window wouldn’t line up with what the Bulls front office had in mind.

The draft day reaction to the Butler trade was looking at the transaction in the present, one team signifying that they were starting over, while another team was entering its “golden years”, looking to end a historic playoff drought. But with Butler unhappy on a (albeit underachieving, but still) playoff team in the loaded Western Conference, it is hard to see a situation in which he wouldn’t have done the same thing with the Bulls.

The Bulls front-office saw a ticking time-bomb, and so they moved on to avoid being stuck with a roster constructed around Butler, caught between competing and rebuilding. And now the Timberwolves have inherited what the Chicago brass feared most.

One year later, Jimmy Butler requests trade from Timberwolves

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USA TODAY

One year later, Jimmy Butler requests trade from Timberwolves

It only took about 15 months for the Jimmy Butler Drama to shift from Chicago to Minnesota.

After a turbulent end to his career with the Bulls, leading to a 2017 Draft Night trade, Jimmy Butler has reportedly asked to be traded from the Timberwolves.

Butler reportedly wanted to be traded to the Nets, Knicks or Clippers. Those are the only three teams, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Butler is willing to sign an extension with.

Butler's first season in Minnesota was a turbulent one, though the 28-year-old still averaged 22.2 points per game and was named an All-Star for the fourth consecutive season.

But he also battled through a handful of injuries that limited him to just 59 games, and he was severely hobbled in Minnesota's first round playoff series loss to the top-seeded Houston Rockets.

Butler reportedly turned down a four-year, $100 million extension from Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves in July, though that was to be expected due to the expected rise in salary cap next summer.

So with just one year remaining on his contract, Butler is looking elsewhere. The Timberwolves had a decision to make considering they invested heavily in Butler when they dealt Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick (which turned out to be Lauri Markkanen) last June.

Meanwhile, budding superstar Karl-Anthony Towns is reportedly waiting on a decision to sign an extension with the Timberwolves until the Butler drama plays out.