The Minnesota Timberwolves managed to snag Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls last night, and the price they paid for him leaves me wondering how the hell no other teams snapped him up first.
It’s important to understand that Butler is an unbelievably valuable NBA asset. Not only is he a young, All-Star-caliber wing player who can dominate on both ends of the court, he’s on a bargain contract for the next three seasons. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton explains:
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.
It’s extremely rare for a player with Butler’s talent and a team-friendly contract to hit the trading block; if he does, he should command a huge, franchise-altering haul in return. And yet the Bulls were only able to get Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and the seventh pick (in exchange for the 16th) in last night’s draft.
The Bulls took Lauri Markkanen with the pick they got from Minnesota, and now they head into the future looking to build around him, Dunn, LaVine, and a few other young players who can most accurately be described as Fine. Markkanen is a big man who can shoot and could very well end up a star—he could also be the next Andrea Bargnani—and LaVine and Dunn are question marks. LaVine was having the best season of his young career before tearing his ACL in February, which is not an ideal injury for a player who relies on his explosiveness as much as LaVine does. Dunn started his rookie season as a highly-rated prospect, but spent most of the year looking completely overwhelmed by the NBA game. He’s 22, and will maybe be decent some day.
All of this adds up to one question: The Bulls couldn’t get a better deal? Really? According to Bulls exec John Paxson, that’s the case:
If Paxson is telling the truth, not only should Bulls fans be out with pitchforks and torches—the team did have the option of keeping their unbelievably valuable star, after all—but fans of a lot of other NBA teams should be, too. The fans with the most right to be angry are in Boston, where the Celtics were linked with Butler since the trade deadline, and last night were reportedly trying to swing a trade for Paul George. Given Boston’s war chest full of draft picks and decent players, it wouldn’t have been hard for them to upgrade whatever package they were offering for George—who is on an expiring deal and reportedly committed to signing with the Lakers next summer—and go after Butler instead. Pick almost any combination of draft picks and Celtics players out of a hat, and you’ll end up with a better package than what the Bulls got from Minnesota.
Butler is going to be great next year, and the T-Wolves might finally evolve into the contending team they’ve been threatening to become for the last few seasons. Meanwhile, barring a trade for George or the arrival of another star, the Celtics, who also traded away the No. 1 pick in last night’s draft, will be running out the same lineup they had last year plus Jayson Tatum. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that—the Celtics won 53 games last year, after all—but there’s a good chance that hindsight will not be kind to the decisions that the Celtics have and haven’t made so far this summer.