Baffoe: Hooray, The Bulls Are Maybe Trying … Something

By Tim Baffoe–

(CBS) Before handing out pats on the back, realize that the Chicago Bulls front office still failed Monday to complete whatever it was they were trying to do, regardless of extenuating circumstance. As of this writing, they’re still amid some transient life of hopping on various boxcars in order to annually chase the organization’s most valued prize: just showing up to the playoffs.

But in happier news, the Bulls were doing stuff! Trying something different. Attempting to be anything besides a happy seventh or eighth seed hobo. It appears that executives John Paxson and Gar Forman realize that slapping a new round of duct tape on whatever this team is makes no sense beyond being just good enough to keep fans in the stands and sigh, “Oh, that darn LeBron and those stinkin’ Celtics.”

On Monday, the Bulls were reportedly in talks with the Cavaliers regarding a potential blockbuster trade involving Jimmy Butler, a storyline that gained more steam Tuesday morning when the Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley reported that LeBron James and Kyrie Irving had reached out to Butler. The deal would require a third team — perhaps the Suns and their fourth overall draft pick and the talented young Eric Bledsoe — and supposedly would move Kevin Love out of Cleveland. Such news would mean the Bulls are finally committed to straightening out the lying mantra of getting “younger and more athletic” and actually trying to get better in the future by rebuilding now.

Then Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert did his usual thing where he forgets that he’s an idiot whom everyone hates and parted ways with his general manager, David Griffin, three days before the NBA Draft. Griffin was “elbow deep” in attempting to acquire Butler at the time he and Gilbert decided they couldn’t stand one another anymore, according to TNT’s David Aldridge.

If Gilbert fouled about the Bulls’ future with his ego, I will gladly tattoo a footprint autographed in Comic Sans on his ass, regardless if he has once again pushed James closer to the door.

But the Bulls were working on trading Butler by all accounts, folks — for a return that would contribute to something that can be competitive in the league in a few years. Sure, they have nothing to show for it at the moment, but… yay! It’s not stasis. It’s not the same old “We like our team” with basically the same roster as 2016-’17 plus some try-hard college senior taken at No. 16 overall.

It’s still very Bulls to have this quickly morph into a fustercluck that isn’t of their doing, at least not in the immediate this time. Paxson and Forman should still be blamed for these tense few days leading up to Thursday’s draft being what they are and non-lobotomized Bulls fans twitching over the inane current direction of the team.

But they’re still supposedly in trade talks for Butler. The Suns are still listening. Tom Thibodeau still desperately wants Butler to move to Minnesota with him and settle down and start a family. Danny Ainge and the Celtics and their bevy of draft picks can’t be expected to sit stagnant with Butler and Paul George ripe for the taking. The phones are ringing at the Advocate Center, and the Bulls are talking with people. This may be like your kid peeing all over the bathroom instead of in his Underoos, but at least he’s made it to the bathroom. Angsty clapping for that, right?

And of course, the relationship between the Bulls and Butler gets way more awkward in the meantime because the Bulls’ warmth with their personnel is somewhere on the autism spectrum. Remember that two weeks ago Butler had a meeting with his bosses and “came away feeling appreciated and, more importantly, knows he’s not being shopped (on the trade market).’’ That was just a month after Paxson saying “everything’s on the table,” but he isn’t looking to trade Butler. So, in typical Bulls fashion, nothing coming from their mouths means squat. But reporters are reporting about talks.

Oh, this is so mildly exciting!

There should be little confidence that a Butler trade actually happens, of course. This is GarPax after all. They seem to enjoy trade talk build-up before doing zip and keeping on the same track to the glory of Summer League titles and nothing else.

And Butler reportedly is now pushing for a deal to Cleveland, per Cowley:

According to multiple sources out of Cleveland, not only have Cavaliers players – including LeBron James and Kyrie Irving – been reaching out to Butler directly and through back channels over the last five days to gauge his interest, but liked what they heard back from the Bulls three-time All-Star.

One of the sources indicated that Butler would even push his front office to get the deal done, which is a huge change of direction for Butler, who has told both general manager Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson numerous times over the last year that he didn’t want to be traded.

Yeah, this seems like the sort of thing the front office would dismiss out of spite because they abhor players ever seeming in control of anything. And a deal to Cleveland hinges on a third team anyway, because the Cavaliers have no first-round picks in the near future to trade, so Butler can push whatever he wants without it necessarily meaning anything.

Everything I’ve written here so far also has ignored the reality that Butler is the only gold star on the draft record of Paxson and Forman, so it’s not like acquiring high picks is automatic improvement. Also, the Bulls don’t exactly have a great track record of getting good returns on trades, e.g. three more years of Cameron Payne fluctuating between Chicago and the D-League.

The Bulls front office is maybe thinking that the current route of first-round playoff exits accomplishes nothing more than concession sales. And maybe swinging Butler dominoes into Dwyane Wade not opting in for $23.8 million (or even if he does, he’s a name for 50 healthy games that keeps enough viewer attention on a bad product). Maybe they’re also thinking Griffin’s sudden availability makes their middling less appealing to the Reinsdorfs going forward.

Whatever. There are serious talks happening beyond just simple speculation of years past. It’s something different from riding a new boxcar to a same small-time accomplishment.

Pathetic, maybe impractical. But it’s something.

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.

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