Bulls Need to Back Up the Brinks Truck for LaVine

It’s been almost five years since the former Chicago Bulls’ regime of John Paxson and Gar Forman decided to move on from All-Star Jimmy Butler. The duo formerly known as “GarPax” made the trade with the thought that it would get the Bulls out of the NBA’s purgatory. However, it led to a long and winding road of a mess that current vice president of basketball operations, Artūras Karnišovas, and general manager, Marc Eversley, have had to clean up.

On the night of the 2017 NBA Draft, GarPax traded Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a package that consisted of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markannen and Kris Dunn. Out of the three players the Bulls received in the trade, only one name remains, but that could change this summer if the Bulls don’t learn from past mistakes.

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Looking back on the Butler and LaVine trade is quite a roller coaster. In Butler’s first year with the Timberwolves, he led them to their first playoff berth in 14 years. However, the next year his relationship with the Timberwolves reached a boiling point and Butler was later traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers ended up making the playoffs that year but lost to a Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater that is still bouncing on the rim to this day.

In the 2019 offseason, the Sixers elected to not re-sign Butler and it allowed him to sign with the Miami Heat, which was a match made in heaven for Pat Riley. In his three years with the Heat, Butler has led them to the playoffs each year, including an NBA Finals appearance in 2020 and an Eastern Conference finals appearance this year. Butler has a clear knack for making the playoffs, only missing the postseason once in his 11 years in the NBA.

Up to this year, LaVine had never appeared in a playoff game. A large reason for this is due to roster construction and poor coaching. During his time with the Timberwolves, LaVine was part of a young roster that was trying to find their way in a loaded Western Conference. A little more than halfway through his third season with the Timberwolves he tore his ACL which ended his season and his time in Minnesota.

When LaVine and the young core arrived in Chicago there was hope that the Bulls would turn things around, but questionable coaching stood in the way. After a 5-19 start to the 2018-2019 season, the Bulls decided to fire then head coach Fred Hoiberg and replace him with Greg Popovich’s disciple, Jim Boylen.

Boylen’s tenure as head coach was underwhelming to say the least, coaching the Bulls to a 39-84 record in his two seasons at the helm. Karnišovas and Eversley came in after Boylen’s second season and eventually cleaned house, bringing in former Florida Gator and Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan to replace Boylen.

So far, Donovan’s time with the Bulls has shown promise but there have been plenty of bumps along the way. In an effort to make the postseason in his first season as head coach, the Bulls traded away Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and two first round picks to acquire All-Star center Nikola Vučević and Al-Farouq Aminu from the Orlando Magic. However, the Bulls went 12-17 after the trade and missed the playoffs by three games after LaVine tested positive for COVID-19 towards the end of the year.

With LaVine set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, Karnišovas pushed all his chips in to see how far the All-Star guard could take the Bulls during the 2021-2022 season. In a flurry of signings that saw the team acquire DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, the Bulls were finally ready to make a push for the playoffs

They started off the season as one of the hottest teams in the league, but injuries to Caruso and Ball opened the seams in the Bulls’ defense. LaVine and DeRozan were able to get a handful of wins with their offense alone, but the team’s defense to start the season was long gone and it cost them towards the latter half of the season.

The Bulls finished the year 46-36 which gave them the sixth seed and a date with the defending NBA Champion Milwakuee Bucks in the first round. Like most teams, the Bulls were overmatched by the Bucks’ size and lost in five games.

The point of the quick overview of Butler’s and LaVine’s time after the trade is to show how different they are. In hindsight the Bulls should have paid Butler because he’s a guy a franchise can build around. The Bulls can’t afford another mishap like that because it will put them in a situation like they were five years ago, but potentially worse because of the assets they traded away to get the stars they currently have.

The one issue that the Bulls may have with paying LaVine is his knee. In May, he received arthroscopic surgery on the same knee he tore his ACL. Since he tore his ACL he has and will continue to have lingering knee issues, but so far his athleticism doesn’t seem to have been hampered as a result.

When healthy, LaVine is one of the most gifted scorers in the league and the Bulls can’t take that for granted. Karnišovas’ and Eversley’s goal has been to bring winning back to the Bulls franchise and by not paying LaVine, they would put themselves in a time machine that is set for five years in the past.


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