By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Embrace the suck.
It’s of late a Joe Maddonism, but its origin is in military-speak and means “The situation is bad, but deal with it.” And that’s what Bulls fans have to accept in Day 1 and beyond of the post-Jimmy Butler era in Chicago.
Butler and the 16th overall pick were traded during the NBA Draft on Thursday to the Minnesota Timberwolves. In return, the Bulls received Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the seventh overall pick, which was used to select Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen, a seven-footer with high shooting ability.
General reaction to the trade was less than positive in my Twitter feed. LaVine is rehabbing from a torn ACL that he suffered in early February. Dunn, the fifth overall pick in 2016, greatly underperformed in his rookie season. And the Bulls received a pick outside the top-five in return while not keeping their 16th pick.
To trade away a star in Butler for all that felt in the immediate like … well… suck.
But Bulls fans and lowly writers have been demanding something from executives John Paxson and Gar Forman besides the same gruel they’d been ladling into our bowls and calling it progress for a while now. We excoriated them for lying about getting “younger and more athletic” and instead seeming to be content being able to call themselves a playoff team when it means nothing. Now the Bulls have pivoted into an actual lane. And if they’re wrong and the kids don’t pan out and the draft picks continue GarPax’s streak of trash and marquee free agents down the line won’t come here because they don’t trust this front office…
… then there’s no justification for them keeping their jobs. At the very least we get that.
It’s a full on rebuild now. The youth movement is here. Butler gets reunited with his old flame in Tom Thibodeau and can pretend the Wolves can beat the Golden State Warriors. Dwyane Wade reportedly won’t recant his desire to pick up his hefty player option (he has until Tuesday to officially decide), and trading second-round pick Jordan Bell to the Warriors for $3.5 million in cash (to put toward Wade’s buyout?) … sucks.
But cash and tanking go together — embrace that, too. Wade is 50 games of shaking his head as a babysitter. Rajon Rondo might be back and works well with youngsters, but he doesn’t matter either way. The Bulls are fully committed to Hoiball.
It might not taste great at the moment, and it will now involve probably more losing basketball than usual for a while, but it’s hard to criticize the Bulls changing philosophy when we’ve been yelling for them to do so. This is how the ship gets righted instead of floating along for another year as basketball’s Lyubov Orlova. Think of embracing the suck as #SeeRed but in terms of getting a sunburn to establish a base for future sexiness. Or melanoma.
“Direction” is at least a capital-p Plan. Cubs, White Sox, Bears, whatever Rahm is lying about today and now Bulls — Chicago is the City of Plans (some better than others). Paxson and Forman have removed themselves from the safety business and have turned the franchise toward actually — I know, it feels weird to me, too — getting younger and more athletic like they professed. And it will be outside of the pointless postseason while the Boston Celtics stay near the top of the East and LeBron James rules the conference for presumably a few more years, assuming Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert hasn’t pushed him out again.
Is the trade great? Not on paper. Was it painfully necessary? Yep. Butler isn’t the best player on a championship team, and keeping him here was continuing the plateau of false feathers in caps like playoff appearances and non-losing records.
Criticize the Bulls for waiting too long on a Butler deal, but a worse choice would have been making no move at all. The situation is bad — and GarPax made it bad over years of bad management — but we can deal with it.
The is very GarPaxy, don’t get me wrong. They seem to have traded Butler months-to-a-year too late when they didn’t need him for anything basketball-important this past winter and spring. It feels like they always assumed the Celtics would play ball, and then the Bulls got left holding the bag when Boston wasn’t interested in giving up a high pick for Butler. The offers for Butler prior to the draft starting were “underwhelming,” the Tribune’s K.C. Johnson reported. Then the Wolves deal was all that was left besides the standing pat and trotting out the same team as last season.
LaVine can still be very good, but you only get to find out if he’ll be good in a Bulls uniform by extending him beyond the now-final year of his contract, meaning betting on an ACL rebound. Dunn has to shoot better than his .438 true shooting percentage that ranked last in the NBA among players with 1,000-plus minutes last season, and maybe he was just suffering from a typical rookie experience under Thibodeau, who recently gave Dunn a stamp of approval. And this trade definitely magnifies prior incompetence of the front office.
The trade of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder in February?
And regarding the Bell trade to the Warriors for cash?
Tons of questions surround their draft pick. Expert assessments of Markkanen vary. Sactown Royalty calls him the best shooter in the draft:
(He) offers a tantalizing offensive weapon for any squad the modern NBA. He’s got a major need—but also plenty of time—to work on a down-low game, improve his ball-handling and playmaking instincts, and figure out how to do big man stuff. He shouldn’t be expected to carry a team himself, but a smart offensive squad can make him a dynamic scoring option.
Although his considerable shooting ability at 7’0” gives him plenty of room to develop as a scorer, Markkanen’s all-around skill set needs a lot of work. There are concerns that his defensive struggles could seriously limit his upside. The Bulls weren’t looking to address a big need here, and eliminating that variable there were better prospects available at this spot. Chicago rolled the dice and surrendered its best player in the process. It’s a tough sell.
People want to call Markkanen the next Dirk Nowitzki, but he also comps-out to Nikola Mirotic. He also may or may be a hockey player.
I can’t hate the Markkanen pick other than the spelling challenges I’m going to lose several times going forward, but I can’t like it either with GarPax’s draft history.
Wait… what the hell is this?
Jeez, what have we gotten into? Oh, right, the suck.
The Bulls need to go downward for now. Thursday night brought what we have long asked for, and if the immediate parts of the rebuild are ugly, well, do you expect a rebuild to be pretty? The short term of this sort of path is awful. The 2017-’18 Bulls will be bad, and that’s embraceable. Lose a ton of games and pick high a year from now. Build instead of patch, damn it.
And if a few years from now this thing is in shambles (very possible!), we won’t be able to say GarPax didn’t eventually try a route that was intent on getting to a championship instead of being vaguely near one.
Who knows? Maybe it gets them canned in the meantime. Hovering around .500 certainly wasn’t.
The sweet, sweet suck of the Bulls. Embrace it. Finally.
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.