By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) Pick whatever rumored destination you want for Bulls wing Jimmy Butler from any the trade scenarios that arrived in a flurry of Monday afternoon tweets from national reporters.
Be it a reunion with Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota, the long-discussed deal with Boston, an unlikely gambit by Phoenix or the off-the-wall chance of joining LeBron James in Cleveland, any possibility still faces the headwinds imposed by Butler’s unsettled relationship with his current team and uncertain level of commitment to winning anything important.
Butler loves the trappings of stardom, embracing every cliche role down to shoe salesman, movie star suckup and coach-killer. He plays the part, as he stalks a possible super-max extension while saying what he thinks he’s supposed to say about bigger goals than the Bulls’ pet business of first-round playoff flameouts. So at some point he has to decide what he wants and why he wants it — a nice and lucrative life of big-market mediocrity or a chance to prove his mettle elsewhere alongside others in actual competition.
As he figures that out, his current team has similar problems determining what it wants and how to get it, and its relationship with him serves as the clearest example of both how in between philosophies they are and how far away they are from achieving something significant.
John Paxson and Gar Forman negotiate a potential Butler trade under the guise of reluctant due diligence, when they could easily be proceeding unapologetically. They defer publicly to the player who emasculated their handpicked coach and was a key part of two embarrassing playoff punk-outs, perhaps in an effort to maintain what’s left of his peak market value after yet another season of hard two-way minutes. The window is closing to move their only asset of any real value, and we’ve no idea from one day to the next if anyone running the Bulls really wants to do this.
The business is more than healthy, as they led the NBA last year in total attendance, average attendance and percent of capacity, stuffing the United Center with fans happy to be there for compartmentalized entertainment on any given night. Proximity to a championship is of no concern to each game’s particular audience, which arrives excited and leaves happy almost exactly half the time.
One would think that such a built-in market could handle a teardown and learn to love a crop of newly minted draftees, but this business model now includes a museum piece like Dwyane Wade and the probable rerun of Rajon Rondo as de facto on-floor coach. Moving Butler might mean those two move on as well.
And it might be for the best, because the Bulls have little salary cap maneuverability if they run it back, no high draft picks and nobody else to trade for anything that gets them materially closer to a championship. Butler is it for a while, his remaining value — created from their belief in him and his hard work — representing all they really have left.
But both he and the Bulls still have yet to decide both what they are and what they are trying to be.