As the NBA season reaches its midway point the Eastern Conference has three very distinctive classes. The first is the upper echelon of the conference that is comprised of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Toronto Raptors, and the Boston Celtics. A second class is made up the Miami Heat, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Brooklyn Nets, who are all hopelessly awful. The rest of the Eastern Conference is a mess, a wash of teams that float right around .500 winning percentage. The Chicago Bulls find themselves mired in that class, boasting a 19-20 record and are currently outside of the playoff picture. The fan base is beginning to get restless, calling for Gar Foreman or John Paxson to shake up a roster that was poorly constructed. This has led some to call for a trade of star shooting guard Jimmy Butler. There are plenty of reasons the roster should get shaken up, but trading Butler should not even be considered for a multitude of reasons.
1. Trading superstars rarely works out:
In the post-Sam Hinkie world, tanking has been seen as a viable strategy to get to the top. The idea is that being in the middle is NBA purgatory, and it is better to blow up the roster than struggle in the slog of the middle. The reality is that teams that trade their best player rarely win those blockbuster trades. The Minnesota Timberwolves traded away Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics for a slew of young players and draft picks. They then proceeded to butcher those picks and almost ten years later they are still a lottery bound team. The then New Orleans Hornets traded Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers in a very similar deal, and the now Pelicans are basically Anthony Davis and a collection of D-League players. The moral of the story is that trading a superstar player for a collection of potentially good players and draft picks is rarely a good idea. The only logical trade destination for Butler is probably Boston, who has a hoard of draft picks and young backcourt players thanks to a fleecing of the Nets. Even if the Bulls nailed all of the draft picks, they would be lucky to get a player of Butler’s caliber and would have strengthened another top contender within their own conference.
2. Jimmy Butler’s Contract
One of the reasons teams rush to trade their superstar player is because they fear they will lose that player in free agency. Butler signed a five-year deal in the summer of 2015, and with the expansion of the salary cap his contract is very team friendly. With three more full seasons of Butler on this contract, the Bulls have no reason to try and run him out of town. If in two years they are still mired in mediocrity, then they can explore trading Butler. They would be trading him with two years left on his deal, and that way the team getting him will not have worry about him being a half-season rental. Getting a top 15 player in all of basketball is a tall order, and getting one on a contract as good as Butler’s is almost impossible.
3.Trading Butler Doesn’t Solve the Roster Issues
If the Bulls were a young team constructed around Butler, then trading him for a boatload of young assets could be justified. However, the Bulls are far from a young team. This summer they signed Dwyane Wade and gave him his Kobe Bryant contract. It was a contract that basically rewarded him for years of service in the NBA, except he did it for a team that eliminated the Bulls three times in the playoffs. At 35 years old, Wade has maybe two years left of being a starting-caliber player and trading Butler would guarantee that those two years would be spent outside of the playoffs. Veterans like Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez would likely react negatively to a roster reset, and that is a recipe for locker room dysfunction. The point guard position remains a mess, but with veterans like Wade, Lopez, and Gibson engaging a full on tank would go over very poorly. Teams that are successful have all of their best players on the same timeline. They are either rebuilding and trying to grow together, or they are in their primes and trying to contend for a title. Trading Jimmy Butler for young players and draft picks puts the Bulls on two very distinct timelines, and that could spell disaster for the franchise.
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