NBA AM: Should The Bulls Trade Jimmy Butler?


Trading Jimmy Butler?

The Chicago Bulls have five games remaining in the 2015-16 NBA season, and while no one expected the Bulls to be world beaters or challenging for the top seed in the East, they were expected to be better than their current 39-38 record. More importantly, even with a change at head coach, the Bulls believed they would be in the postseason hunt, not a game out of the dance with a handful left to play.

There is a lot of blame to go around. Injuries played a huge part of the Bulls’ struggles. The Bulls have lost more than 195 man-games to injury – that’s seventh-most in the NBA and the most among teams still in the playoff hunt. It’s hard to win games without key players. Bulls guards Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler have missed 16 and 15 games, respectively. Joakim Noah has missed 48 games. In fact, no Bulls player has been available for all 77 games the team has played this year.

The next part has been a little more glaring; head coach Fred Hoiberg has not been nearly the seamless fit the front office hoped for when they hired him 308 days ago. His more laid-back coaching style seems to have robbed the team of its defensive identity. The Bulls were 11th in the NBA in defensive efficiency last year and have slid to 15th this year with basically the same personnel. But more importantly, the Bulls’ offensive efficiency was 10th last season but is down to 26th this season.

The fit at head coach has been suspect to say the least.

There is a belief that Hoiberg’s remaining $20 plus million makes him fairly safe this offseason, even if the Bulls fail to make the postseason. It’s equally unlikely that there will be changes made in the front office. However, there is a growing sense among rival executives that the Bulls for the first time in a while may turn to the trade market to try to correct some of the imbalances and get Hoiberg better fitting pieces.

Rival executives saw the struggles that Butler had with Hoiberg’s coaching style and how his demands for more aggressive coaching and a bigger role in the leadership of the team went over. Those same executives came at the Bulls hard in the run up to the trade deadline, only to find the Bulls lukewarm to the idea of trading the two-time All-Star – whom they had just inked to a massive new contract in July.

In fact, the Bulls turned away virtually trade of real substance.

There is no doubting that Butler may be the best trade chip the Bulls have and that if they want to seriously change the future of the team, moving Butler could and likely would return the biggest value. That said, the prevailing thought from inside the Bulls is that Butler is the last guy they want to trade, if they consummate a trade at all.

The Bulls do have two looming free agency issues. Joakim Noah will be an unrestricted free agent eligible for a maximum contract starting at what could be $29.5 million. He’ll carry a cap hold worth $20.1 million until he signs a new deal, is renounced by the Bulls or signs with another team. Big man Pau Gasol is also headed to unrestricted free agency, having made it clear he will decline his $7.76 million player option for next season.

Both Gasol and the Bulls have talked openly about him signing a new deal in Chicago, although it’s unclear if the Bulls will follow through on what’s expected to be a starting salary north of $10 million for a player who will turn 36 in July.

If the Bulls pass on retaining both players, they could find themselves looking at $65.7 million in guaranteed contract money going into a summer where the salary cap is expected to be at or around $90 million, giving Chicago what could be $24.3 million to spend on new players.

Butler is clearly the most attractive trade chip for Chicago, but they also have a small army of rookie-scale players, as well as what could be the ending contract of Derrick Rose.

After missing more than 226 games in the five seasons since being named the youngest NBA MVP in 2011, Rose’s contract has just one more guaranteed year remaining. To say the luster on Rose’s star has worn thin is likely an understatement. Which also begs the question: would Chicago really trade away its only viable star player in Butler and leave the franchise to the oft-injured Rose?

The Bulls have a tough offseason ahead of them. Re-tooling the Bulls to better suit Hoiberg’s style of play will not be easy. Equally, there are some tough free agent decisions to be made.

If the Bulls want real change, making a bold trade might be the answer. However, it’s been a long time since they were even open to a major trade, let alone consummating one.

Rival teams would love to pry Butler away in trade, there is almost no doubting that. The problem for the Bulls is that Butler might be the only person the franchise can really count on, especially if Noah and Gasol are allowed to walk in free agency.

The Bulls currently stand two full games behind the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The Bulls have two home games and three road games remaining on their schedule. If the season ends as it stands today and the Bulls miss the postseason, there is no telling how aggressive the Bulls will be in resetting the situation.

Historically, the Bulls have looked at injuries as a missed opportunity. If the front office does that again, they could simply reset this roster and make another go at it.

If they want to be bold, making a major trade could be the ticket, but how frequently have the Bulls done that?

Yao’s Place In History

Yesterday the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced the 10 inductees for the 2016 Induction Ceremony set for September in Springfield, Massachusetts. Some of the 10 were easy to understand: NBA greats Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. Even Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf got the votes.

The oddity – and maybe that’s not the right word – was Yao Ming.

Yao was the top overall draft selection in 2002, and was a trail blazing figure for the NBA in its global expansion, but his career was decimated by injuries and he never achieved nearly the same accolades in the NBA as his Hall of Fame peers.

Yao was not the first Chinese player to play or be drafted into the NBA, that distinction belongs to Wang Zhizhi, who was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in 1999 with the 36th pick.

Yao had a relatively short career by Hall of Fame standards, logging just nine NBA seasons, having played in just eight of them and posted only five games in his final year with the Rockets.

Yao made the NBA postseason four times, and logged just 28 playoff games.

Yao was an eight-time NBA All-Star and made the All-NBA second team twice, and the All-NBA third time three times, but that’s the extent of his career in the NBA.

Yao’s 9,247 career points does not rank him among the top 200 all-time scorers, his 4,494 career rebounds is 18 percent of Wilt Chamberlain’s record 23,924 boards.

What Yao never achieved as a player on the court, he more than achieved in his stature off it. Yao opened the door to China for the NBA in ways it could have only dreamed of. It launched a massive industry that churns along at a break-neck pace today.

China is far and away the biggest single consumer of basketball in the world and Yao played a huge role in bringing the NBA into China in a prime-time kind of way.

Yao’s games drew record audiences, many larger than the NFL’s Super Bowl. More than 200 million tuned in to see Yao face Shaquille O’Neal for the first time in the NBA.

Yao not only helped open China to basketball, He also brought exposure to other NBA players. His Rockets teammate Tracy McGrady remains one of the most popular NBA players in China. The Rockets themselves continue to be one of the more watched and marketed teams in China and it’s all tied to the emergence of Yao.

Yao was a transcendent player for basketball. He was literally larger than life at 7’6 and 310 pounds.

It’s debatable if Yao deserves to be a Hall of Famer on his NBA credentials alone, but what’s almost without debate is Yao’s impact on the game of basketball – especially in China.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is often boiled down to a player’s NBA career, but in sticking to its goal of being the repository for all things basketball, it’s hard to imagine that Yao isn’t deserving of a place, despite his NBA career.

There are dozens of non-NBA enshrinements in the Hall Of Fame with contributions to basketball by owners, coaches, officials, women and international players.

While some may question his NBA accolades, it’s hard to imagine that Yao isn’t as deserving as any of them for what he’s meant to basketball globally.

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.