Jimmy Butler is in the midst of a phenomenal season--averaging 25.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He has continued to provide stellar defense, he's a lock for the All Star game, and has singlehandedly dragged the Bulls to a number of wins. With a true star like Butler, you would expect a team to be fighting for home court in the playoffs, not struggling to stay around .500.
The Bulls are currently fighting just to take one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots, and are just about devoid of both young talent, and attractive trade pieces. Taj Gibson would be a nice piece for a contender, but his contract expiring limits what teams would give up for him as a rental. Robin Lopez is a useful player on a good contract but it's a buyers market for big men right now. That's pretty much it, except for Jimmy. He has the talent to be a franchise cornerstone and is still just twenty-seven years old. There were rumors over the summer that the Bulls were shopping him--including on draft day, but obviously nothing came to fruition. Then yesterday Ric Bucher reported that once again, the Bulls are open to trading him and moving on. While I'd certainly have no problem with holding onto him, and committing to building a team around him starting in the offseason--I'm going to make the case for why the Bulls should be shopping him.
I touched on one aspect of it in that last paragraph; the Bulls do not *need* to trade Butler. At his age, if the Bulls draft well over the next couple of years, make smart moves in free agency, and explore the trade market to build a team to compliment his play, they can become contenders in the East again. Outside of Butler, Robin Lopez is the only player with a contract guaranteed for the 2018-2019 season. That means the Bulls would have room to add multiple max deals over that time frame. That gets tricky because the next two years of free agent classes are pretty weak outside of guys expected to resign with their current teams, and again the Bulls currently lack many appealing assets to give up should a star player hit the market. But the possibility is there, which means keeping Jimmy is still a very good option.
Since trading Butler is not necessary, Gar Forman and John Paxson can afford to listen to all offers and only accept ones that truly make it worth it for the Bulls to part with their star. They don't have to sell him for 75 cents on the dollar. With that in mind I'm going to look at a couple of teams that have been rumored to be asking about Butler, and a couple of others who I think are intriguing.
Team 1: Boston Celtics
The Celtics are one team that gets mentioned every time a star becomes available. They're the opposite of the Bulls, in the sense that they're a good team while also having real assets to move to acquire another star. Any trade the Bulls make should involve at least one first round pick, and a lottery pick at that, alongside young talent. From the Celtics that could be something like this:
Bulls get: Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, 2017 1st round pick (BKN)
Celtics get: Jimmy Butler
The Bulls shouldn't even listen to any offer from Boston that doesn't include the Brooklyn pick. When teams have to move on from a star, the worst thing they can do is take back an assortment of solid players, as opposed to either a high pick or a young potential star already under contract. The Brooklyn pick-- which will surely be in the high lottery, and is unprotected, would represent that. Brown is an intriguing young talent, he taken 3rd overall in last year's draft. He's a phenomenal athlete with a lot of upside, but had trouble scoring efficiently at the college level. Crowder is a very useful player who provides versatility on both ends of the floor, and at 26, is still young enough to be around for the next contending Bulls team. Rozier is a decent young prospect who can play off the ball. This trade makes sense for Boston as well, as Butler would take over Crowder's spot in the lineup while giving them a third all star level player. They've been dangling the Nets pick at teams with available stars for a year and a half, so they seem more than willing to give that up, and the minutes that Brown and Rozier give are replaceable in house.
Team 2: Minnesota Timberwolves
The Bulls reportedly almost sent Butler to Minnesota on draft day for the fifth overall pick. That wouldn't have been nearly enough for the Bulls, especially now considering how well he's played. But with the Timberwolves struggling, and rumors that Thibodeau is looking for veteran help, they might be able to get much more.
Bulls get: Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, 2017 2nd round pick (NO), 2018 2nd round pick (MIN)
Timberwolves get: Jimmy Butler
This trade gets complicated, because the Timberwolves can't trade a first round pick this year. They owe their 2018 first rounder to Atlanta. Because of that, the Bulls should be asking for two of Minnesota's young core players, and Karl-Anthony Towns is surely untouchable. Wiggins and LaVine are two good players to build around, but a high pick in the loaded 2017 draft is what the Bulls should be working for and Minnesota can't offer them that.
Those are the two teams that have been rumored to be looking at Butler the most, but let's look at two more options that could put together intriguing packages.
Team 3: Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers signaled that The Process was no more by ousting Sam Hinkie and bringing in Bryan Colangelo. However, they're still just as bad as they were under Hinkie. If Colangelo was really brought in to turn the 76ers assets into wins quickly, why wouldn't he be interested in Butler? Not only that, but the 76ers have 5 lottery picks from the last four drafts on their roster who all belong at one of the two forward spots. The 76ers have a lot to offer the Bulls, and Colangelo may be feeling heat to both turn things around quickly and settle the frontcourt logjam, so the Bulls can afford to really swing for the fences here.
Bulls get: Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, 2017 first round pick (PHI) 2019 first (SAC)
76ers get: Jimmy Butler, Jerian Grant, 2017 first round 1-10 protected (SAC)
Joel Embiid has looked like a future all-star through his rookie season, but himself, Jahlil Okafor, and Nerlens Noel are all centers. At least one of them has to go. Rumors have been that it would be either Okafor or Noel, but would Colangelo be willing to give up Embiid? Maybe, between his injury history and the overcrowding they have at that spot he should consider it. Saric has also played well as a rookie, despite playing out of position at the 3. That would become even more of a problem when Ben Simmons returns. Philly can afford to give up their own pick this year with a top three protected pick from the Lakers coming to them.
Team 4: Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets are probably a more strange inclusion to this list, but like Philly, they have a very promising young big man stuck in a crowded frontcourt.
Bulls get: Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, 2017 first round pick (DEN)
Nuggets get: Jimmy Butler
Nikola Jokic is making a name for himself, Gary Harris is young and a good all around scorer at the shooting guard spot. The first round pick wouldn't be as valuable as ones the Bulls could get from Boston or Philadelphia, but a mid-round pick this year is more valuable than in most years. Jokic is better than any young player the Bulls could get back, including Embiid given his injury history. Denver likely considers Jokic untouchable, but it's a call the Bulls should be willing to make.
I understand that a lot of these trades are asking for a major haul, but that's exactly what Forman and Paxson should be doing given where the Bulls are currently at. A good trade makes sense for Chicago, but it isn't necessary. If you can get a godfather offer like one of these--take it. If you can't-- then keep Butler and commit to building a team that plays to his strengths, instead of hindering them.