Bulls?get: Guards? Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, No. 7 pick of 2017 draft
Timberwolves?get:?Guard? Jimmy Butler, No. 16 pick of 2017 draft
After Chicago reportedly demanded multiple high draft picks (including the one that ultimately landed No. 1 overall) from the? Boston Celtics?at the trade deadline, it’s stunning to see the Bulls deal Butler for such a paltry package.
In Butler, the Bulls had one of the most valuable player contracts in the entire league. Butler, who rated third in the league in wins produced based on ESPN’s real plus-minus (RPM) behind? LeBron James and Stephen Curry?in 2016-17, has two more guaranteed years remaining at $18.7 and $19.8 million before a player option for 2019-20 (also for $19.8 million) that he’s sure to decline barring injury. Over those two years, I project his production as worth about $90 million, giving Butler more than $50 million in surplus value to his team. That ranks 10th in the league.
Clearly, Chicago is valuing Dunn like the elite point guard prospect a handful of teams thought he was during the draft process this time a year ago and LaVine as a guard with star potential. Those assessments don’t hold up to stronger scrutiny.
Given his age, Dunn was never a favorite of my statistical draft projections. He ranked 18th among last year’s prospects in my stats-only projections and seventh when his draft slot (fifth overall, which also is predictive) was taken into account.
Dunn’s performance as a rookie reconfirmed those concerns. He shot just 28.8 percent from 3-point range on 2.0 attempts per 36 minutes, and he wasn’t much better inside the arc, at 40.4 percent. Among the 282 players who played at least 1,000 minutes last season, Dunn’s .432 true shooting percentage ranked dead last.
On the plus side, Dunn showed strong defensive potential, and he played a little better off the ball after Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau began playing him alongside pass-first point guard? Tyus Jones. It’s true that point guards develop later than players at other positions, so we shouldn’t think of Dunn as a finished product at age 23.
That said, no objective analysis of Dunn’s rookie season suggests he’s likely to develop into an NBA starting point guard, which is how the Bulls are almost certainly valuing him in this trade.
Then there’s LaVine, who showed exciting scoring ability before a torn ACL ended his 2016-17 campaign in early February. His 18.9 points per game last season were the sixth most by a player age 22 or younger, trailing Timberwolves teammates? Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker and Jabari Parker. LaVine accomplished that on good efficiency, posting a .576 true shooting percentage.
The problem is on the defensive end of the court. LaVine is a poor individual defender whose team defense instincts are lacking. He also generates few steals and is a nonfactor on the defensive glass. LaVine’s minus-2.4 defensive RPM ranked in the league’s bottom 30. To become something more than a potent sixth man, LaVine will have to improve defensively.
Worse yet, LaVine is entering the final season of his rookie contract. A realistic timetable for his recovery from ACL surgery makes it unlikely LaVine will be back for training camp, meaning Chicago will probably have to decide on a possible extension for him before seeing him take the court. The Bulls can wait for LaVine to become a restricted free agent and decide whether to match any offer, certainly, but at that point, he would be more likely to be fairly paid than the kind of bargain Chicago should have been seeking as part of a package for Butler.
Without being in the room for trade talks, it’s tough to know what kind of offers the Bulls passed on to make this deal. But given that Dunn and LaVine should have relatively little trade value and Chicago had to give up its own first-round pick to move up just seven spots (a move equivalent to the value of the 23rd pick, per my trade value chart), it’s hard to imagine there wasn’t a better deal available.
If this truly was the best the Bulls could do for Butler right now, then I’m not sure I understand the urgency to move him. In the worst-case scenario, where Butler’s trade value eroded further, Chicago could have just held on to Butler and tried to compete in the Eastern Conference during his prime.
I get the argument for moving Butler because the Bulls aren’t particularly competitive with him, but not if this is all they could get in return. This package doesn’t set Chicago up for a future any brighter than the eighth-seed purgatory the team was already in.
For a year, we’ve been waiting for Thibodeau’s regime to make a win-now move. The Timberwolves resisted last summer, spending modestly in free agency to conserve cap space for this year, and at the trade deadline. Now that this deal has finally come, it’s far better than anyone could have imagined or perhaps even dreamed.
My fear was that Minnesota would continue to overvalue Dunn, moving starting point guard? Ricky Rubio?for pennies on the dollar to clear room for Dunn in the starting lineup. While we don’t know if the Timberwolves will keep Rubio, the organization didn’t hesitate to move on from Dunn when he fell short of expectations. And if you’re as down on Dunn and LaVine as I am, the Timberwolves didn’t do much to hurt their long-term future.
It’s still a little early for Minnesota to really contend in the Western Conference. Wiggins is 22 and Towns won’t turn 22 until November. But given their age, another year of learning Thibodeau’s defense and their hope of improving their bad luck in close games, the Timberwolves were likely to improve by simply bringing back the same roster. Now, Minnesota should be considered heavy favorites to make the playoffs for the first time since reaching the 2004 Western Conference finals.
Amazingly, assuming Nikola Pekovic’s salary is medically excluded (the Timberwolves recently waived the center, who didn’t play at all last season due to injury) and Minnesota renounces the rights to restricted free agent? Shabazz Muhammad, the team could still clear nearly $20 million in cap space to add to this group.
Barring a Rubio trade, the idea of pairing? Paul Millsap?with Towns in the frontcourt is probably off the table, but the Timberwolves can shop for a lower-cost upgrade at power forward to complement Towns and? Gorgui Dieng. (One possibility?? Nikola Mirotic, a restricted free agent who doesn’t appear to be in the Bulls’ plans now that they drafted Arizona forward? Lauri Markkanen?with the pick they acquired in this trade.)
While this mix isn’t perfect — Rubio, Butler and Wiggins don’t offer enough shooting as a perimeter trio — 45 wins is well within Minnesota’s capability next season, and 50 wins is a distinct possibility. The Timberwolves have the next couple of years to try to win enough games to convince Butler to stick around long term. But that worry is for another day. As of tonight, Minnesota is a huge winner.