By Cody Westerlund–
(CBS) The Bulls have executed the lone move they could make to significantly alter their franchise direction.
In a blockbuster deal, Chicago has traded star wing Jimmy Butler and the rights to the No. 16 pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday evening to Minnesota for guard Zach LaVine, point guard Kris Dunn and the rights to the No. 7 pick. Chicago then used the No. 7 pick on 7-foot Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen, while Minnesota received Creighton big man Justin Patton at No. 16.
The deal marks the start of a rebuilding process in Chicago, and it comes a year to the day that the Bulls traded former MVP Derrick Rose to the Knicks. This time, it’s a three-time All-Star in his prime in Butler leaving to play for his old coach in Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota while Chicago changes its direction.
The 22-year-old LaVine averaged 18.9 points per game in 47 games while shooting 38.7 percent on 3-pointers last season, which was cut short for him with a torn ACL in his left knee on Feb. 4. LaVine said in March that his rehab was going well, though he wasn’t sure if he’d be ready for the start of the 2017-’18 season.
The 6-foot-5 LaVine is considered one of the most athletic players in the league, which would fit Bulls management’s mantra of getting “younger and more athletic.” He was taken 13th overall in the 2014 draft — two picks after Doug McDermott, whom the Bulls moved up to get.
The 6-foot-4 Dunn, 23, averaged 3.8 points in his rookie season after he was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2016 draft. The Bulls were enamored with Dunn leading up to draft night and engaged in Butler discussions with the Celtics to potentially nab Dunn at No. 3 before it fell through.
A native of Finland, the 20-year-old Markkanen averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds in his freshman season at Arizona. Notably, he shot 42.3 percent from 3-point range.
The Bulls held the No. 38 overall in the second round as well, drafting Oregon power forward Jordan Bell, but they quickly traded him to the Warriors for $3.5 million in cash, The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported.
Butler, who turns 28 in September, is coming off a season in which he averaged career-highs of 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.9 steals per game. He earned third-team all-NBA status, which had he stayed in Chicago would’ve meant he was in line for a super-max extension of upward of $246 million if he earned an all-NBA nod in 2017-’18 or 2018-’19. The specter of giving such a lucrative contract to a player with the wear and tear of Butler — one of the game’s best two-way players and someone who has ranked in the top five of minutes per game in four straight seasons — was a looming factor as the Bulls contemplated their future and his.
Butler’s exit closes the chapter on an unexpected, hard-earned rise to stardom in Chicago. Homeless for a time as a teenager in Texas, taking the junior college route before spending three years at Marquette, Butler was selected with the final pick of the first round in the 2011 draft. He played sparingly as a rookie, became a rotation regular in 2012-’13 and broke into the starting lineup for good in 2013-’14. Butler then won the league’s Most Improve Player award in 2014-’15, his first season as an All-Star. He then inked a five-year, $92-million deal in July 2015 and followed with two career seasons, improving every step of the way.
Butler’s stark rise wasn’t without some bumps in the road. He and Rose failed to coalesce to the desired level on the floor. In December 2015, Butler — after essentially appointing himself a team leader — called out then-rookie coach Fred Hoiberg, saying he needed to “coach harder.” While the comment itself wasn’t harmful, it shone a light on Hoiberg’s inability to take hold of the locker room. And just this past January, Butler — in conjunction with veteran Dwyane Wade — called out his younger teammates in a postgame media scrum. It led to a reprimand and fine from management and a relegation to the bench from the coaching staff for one night.
Butler often found himself amid trade rumors the past year-plus. On draft night in 2016, the Bulls had those serious discussions with the Celtics centered on Butler before failing to come to an organizational consensus. The two sides talked less substantively ahead of last February’s trade deadline as well. This time marked a tipping point for the Bulls, who faced an urgency to trade Butler if they wanted to get anywhere near full return value as he has two more years of team control on his contract. Of course, only time will tell whether they pulled the right strings
Throughout all the hoopla, Butler often expressed a desire to remain in Chicago. On Jimmy Kimmel Live recently, Butler referenced that and his appreciation of playing in a Bulls uniform.
“I love Chicago so very much,” Butler said. “Thank you, thank you, Chicago. And they took a chance on me in 2011 with the 30th pick, so I’m forever grateful for that.”
That chapter is now over.
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.