Freb Hoiberg

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, five-year, $190 million contract 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 clear-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.

Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

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USA TODAY

Could Derrick Walton Jr. become the solution at backup PG?

Former Miami Heat two-way player Derrick Walton Jr. is reported to be nearing a deal with the Bulls. In an interview with The Athletic, it was stated: "Walton, 23, says he knows where he’ll play next season. An agreement is in place, but his agent, Mark Bartelstein, is requiring him to sit on the news until next week. All Walton can put out publicly is this: 'Long story short, I’m good. I’m going to a great situation. All I can say.' "

And while it is not yet known if the potential contract will be a two-way deal or not, Walton would provide an intriguing lottery ticket for the Bulls. 

The team mostly ignored looking for a backup point guard on the market. There is obviously a belief in the organization that Cameron Payne will have some internal growth, making him the best option. And the trade of Jerian Grant for essentially nothing, shows even more that Payne is there guy. Retaining Ryan Arcidiacono is a nice move considering the hustle that he showed last season at both the G League and NBA level, but it still leaves the Bulls thin in terms of established backup PGs behind Kris Dunn. And that is where Walton comes into play. 

Walton was a four-year player at the University of Michigan, where he played in some big-time games and showed immense leadership potential. But in terms of strictly on the court skills, there is one thing that he does extremely well: space the floor. 

In his four years at Michigan, Walton took a total of 581 3-point attempts, and knocked them down at a 40.1 percent rate. His elite shooting is enough to make him a legitimate rotation player for Fred Hoiberg. And while Payne still may develop into a better player, his outside shooting is his calling card despite never being elite at that skill at the NBA level. And in fact, when you compare he and Walton’s stats from college, the G League and the NBA, it becomes apparent who is the better shooter right now.

3-point percentage at NCAA level: Payne- 35.9 percent, Walton- 40.1 percent
3-point percentage at G League level: Payne- 33.8 percent, Walton- 37.7 percent
3-point percentage at NBA level: Payne- 34 percent, Walton- 41.2 percent

Now obviously, there is a “small sample size alert” for the NBA level, as Walton has only taken 17 3-pointers at the NBA level in his limited time with the Miami Heat. But these numbers show that even dating back to their freshman years of college, Walton has been the more efficient shooter from 3-point range.

Cameron Payne has the edge when it comes to playmaking, and this is based off of the fact that Payne has maintained an assist rate above 30 percent through all of his G League stints, while also having a low turnover rate (9.9 percent). Walton didn’t come close to Payne in terms of G League assist rate, and his 17.9 percent turnover rate at the G League level shows that his decision-making has yet to catch up to his shooting. 

Ultimately, Walton is going to be most effective as an off-ball guard who can make quick decisions, and knockdown the 3-point shot at a high level. Though if Summer League was any indication, his passing out of the pick-and-roll is getting better. And while Payne certainly is a good shooter, his game is much more predicated on having the ball in his hands, and playing in the pick-and-roll. With so many players on the Bulls who can create their own shot, Walton could end up being the cleanest fit with this constantly evolving Bulls roster. 


 

Nikola Mirotic pulled from practice, left Bulls facility before hesitating to agree to Pelicans trade

Nikola Mirotic pulled from practice, left Bulls facility before hesitating to agree to Pelicans trade

The Bulls and Pelicans had a deal involving Nikola Mirotic early Tuesday afternoon, both sides being so sure of things Mirotic was pulled off the practice floor.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg talked to Mirotic, and Mirotic left the Advocate Center believing his time with the Bulls was over. 

But before the deal sending Mirotic to New Orleans and bringing Omer Asik and a first-round pick to the Bulls could be finalized, Mirotic hesitated, according to multiple sources. 

And that's where he stands now, in a moment of pause as he contemplates waiving his no-trade clause for a fresh start. 

It's certainly complicated and to large measure, out of the Bulls' hands. Mirotic wants to ensure he pockets his $12.5 million for next season, but the small-market Pelicans have big money committed to franchise cornerstone Anthony Davis, guard Jrue Holiday and want to retain DeMarcus Cousins for the foreseeable future. 

Mirotic is with the Bulls in Portland as they begin their three-game west swing and understandably, doesn't want to forfeit his Bird Rights in a deal that won't have his team option picked up--at least by the appearance of things. 

The Bulls have been searching for a suitor for Mirotic after having talks with the Utah Jazz, Mirotic's preferred destination. The Bulls are enamored with Jazz swingman Rodney Hood but the Jazz aren't willing to part with Hood, and the Bulls are sticking firm to at least receiving a cost-controlled first round pick in this sunmer's star-studded draft. 

Then with Cousins' Achilles injury last week, a need opened for the Pelicans and oppprtunity appeared for the Bulls. 

The Bulls thought they had a deal that crossed off several requirements--notably Asik's $3 million buyout after the 2018-19 season, and now one wonders what kind of awkward existence there will be in the meantime between the two parties.

After all, Mirotic made it known he wanted to be a starter and no longer wishes to be in Chicago, especially after his incident with Bobby Portis before the start of the regular season. 

The Bulls and Mirotic have navigated that turbulence, with Mirotic playing the best basketball of his career and the Bulls wanting to grant his wishes. 

Bulls executive Vice President John Paxson has been clear since taking more of the reins, that any Bull that doesn't want to be a Bull will be accommodated. 

But Mirotic put another snag in that plan with his hesitation over his future, considering there's so many unknowns with the Pelicans and their cap situation. 

And now, the Bulls and Pelicans are waiting on Mirotic's answer--as the clock is rapidly ticking on this uneasy relationship.