By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) All I ask for is a plan.
Tell me it will be painful for a few years. Sketch me a blueprint for the future, both immediate and long term. Convey to me that points X, Y and Z will be reached by doing A, B and C. You need not even be all that genuine with me and can alter it if unforeseen circumstances arise.
But for the love of the Jordan statue outside the United Center, show me you have some specific idea of what you’re doing.
Nothing about how the Chicago Bulls spent their Thursday did that. And it has left me squinting and asking this: What the hell are they doing?
To recap, the Bulls traded forward Taj Gibson, wing Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for point guard Cameron Payne, wing Anthony Morrow and big man Joffrey Lauvergne. The Bulls didn’t move Jimmy Butler.
“We are building with Jimmy right now,” Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said Thursday.
Paxson didn’t say “around Jimmy” — he said “with Jimmy,” in case one preposition suggests something the other doesn’t. Regardless, what’s being built here? The current pieces around Butler — who in his sixth year is the longest-tenured Bull with only Nikola Mirotic also having played at least two full years with the organization — are crap. Paxson mentioned the present being all about watching the young guys play now, but it’s fairly established most of them aren’t factors in something successful. Maybe rookie Denzel Valentine becomes something respectable with what should be extra tick now, but with the exception of Cristiano Felicio, the kids — drafted or traded for — seem like a collective group of misfit toys at too young an age.
With the addition of Payne, the Bulls now have a robust five point guards on the roster, and none of them can shoot. General manager Gar Forman, who strangely let Paxson do the initial press conference and then spoke with reporters afterward, said Thursday that the team had no plans to buy out Rajon Rondo, and he expects Rondo to remain with the Bulls the rest of the season, which is hilarious. Not as funny, though, as the big “get” in return to Chicago in Thursday’s deal appearing to be borderline bad.
Payne’s 6.1 player efficiency rating is tied for the worst in the NBA among players averaging at least 15 minutes per game. The Bulls now have the league’s two worst in PER, as Payne’s co-bottom feeder is Chicago rookie forward Paul Zipser. Additionally, Payne’s 33.1 field goal percentage would be third-worst of any player topping that 15 mpg plateau. The point guard averages just 4.5 assists per 36 minutes and will be hard-pressed to help Chicago much in a playoff run, if ever.
(Me clapping vigorously.)
Novick goes on to note that “Morrow is the only qualifying player in the NBA who averages fewer than one rebound and one assist per game this season” and “Lauvergne is on pace to be the only qualifying center since Mehmet Okur in 2007-’08 to post a rebound rate worse than 15 percent and a block rate worse than 1 percent.”
(My hands bleed from clapping.)
It’s fine to get worse in the immediate, though did the Bulls even get bad enough to make it into the draft lottery? Because they aren’t clearly set up well for the future, so this trade is confusing at best. But at least the team got rid of locker room cancer Gibson, right?
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Today was such an emotional day for me. From the time I heard my name called by David Stern, I have been so proud and honored to be a Chicago Bull. To Jerry Reinsdorf, John Paxson, Gar Forman, Coach Thibs, and Coach Hoiberg, you have all helped me grow into who I am today. There is no way I can ever thank you enough for the opportunities you have presented to me. I will be indebted to all of you forever! To the Fans of Chicago, you have made playing for the Bulls everything I could've dreamed of and more. From the incredible support that we get every night at the United Center to the reaction I always receive walking down the streets, it would be impossible for all of you to make me feel more special. Every single one of you will always have a piece of my heart. I have also had such an incredible group of teammates and assistant coaches, who all created moments that I could have never imagined coming true. So, here is just a real heartfelt thank you to all of you for letting a New York City kid live out his dreams as a Chicago Bull. Now, it's off to OKC and a new chapter in my life and I'm so excited to see what lies ahead. All I can tell the Thunder fans is that you'll get everything I've got every single day and I'm looking forward to our journey together! #thankyouchicago #heaveyheart #seerednation #thunderup
Trading McDermott less than three years after the Bulls packaged two first-round picks to trade up to select him is an admission of failure. And Paxson was sure to get a jab in on former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau in his defense of the McDermott pick.
Luckily, the Bulls will be getting a likely second-round pick from the Sacramento Kings, so they can afford to trade away a pick in a puzzling swap like this one in a rebuild or something.
Again, the hell is going on here? Where’s there any semblance of direction?
Butler is a star, no doubt, but is he the centerpiece of something viable? Not with what’s around him now, and at the moment 2017-’18 doesn’t look much more promising.
The Celtics and Bulls exchanged trade proposals, according to reports that varied on what was actually offered.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson reported that the Celtics were adding unknown protections to the Nets’ first-round pick that they own when it came up in talks. That pick has the highest probability of being No. 1 overall in this draft.
If true, then not pulling the trigger on Butler is a bit more understandable.
“If we are ever in a position where we’re going to rebuild completely, you have to have a certainty in terms of what you’re getting back,” Paxson said. “Especially if you’re going to go that route, you want draft picks. You want high draft picks, and there has to be a certainty to those draft picks. I can tell you, there was nothing remotely close to anybody calling us about Jimmy Butler.”
Paxson knows that a full blow-up — which is what trading Butler would be — is both further admission that he and Forman had this whole approach wrong since an inability to adjust from Derrick Rose’s initial knee injury and a dent to the covert Bulls message for a while now: They don’t need to be great to be successful business. While the roster all year and today has been a joke, it’s at least enough to continue the turnstiles a-movin’. Butler is the major factor there, and without him, whatever the hell gets Bulls fans up and out to the United Center these days is gone.
Perhaps Forman and Paxson have plans on moving Butler in June with a very good draft ahead that demands a rebuilding team strike a deal no later. Paxson did say “Right now, today, Jimmy is on our roster,” which isn’t a ringing endorsement of someone who’ll be built with or around. If he’s dealt on draft night, then I’ll retroactively understand passing up a Celtics deal Thursday.
But until then, I don’t get what the Bulls are other than a leaky boat that the front office insists on plugging with odd rags instead of letting it sink and buying a new one.
“We’re not going to snap our fingers and all of a sudden get younger and be competing at the highest level,” Forman said, despite infamously claiming otherwise last summer. “I think you look in pro sports or the NBA, it takes time, it takes time. That’s why I said part of that is player development, part of it is setting ourselves up as far as the CBA is concerned, being flexible and be able to take advantage of opportunities that are going to come because of how we’ve positioned ourselves. Those things all factor in.
“We didn’t add any long-term salary, so we keep ourselves in a position where there is some flexibility and we can continue to add pieces.”
Well, that’s comforting. I look forward to next year’s version of Dwyane Wade that the front office can prop up as a facade of trying to compete.
After listening to GarPax defend their trade deadline that’s otherwise leaving most basketball folks scratching their heads, the only plan that seems crystal clear is one of two suits spinning more cracked plates to inexplicably keep their jobs. Even when asked of coach Fred Hoiberg’s future, Paxson responded, “We’re all in this together.”
The rest of us are on the outside, mouths agape and asking “The hell are the Bulls doing?”
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.