The way the Chicago Bulls ended their season, it’s no wonder that teams are working under the assumption that the front office is interested in completely overhauling their roster. As Steve Kyler reported in Tuesday’s AM report, it’s much more likely Chicago would be willing to move Derrick Rose than Jimmy Butler in executing that overhaul, but there’s not a hoops fan alive who doesn’t understand Butler is the more valuable asset.
Chicago has Butler on a great contract for the foreseeable future and has a track record of executing “win-now” philosophies rather than complete rebuilds, so it seems much more likely that John Paxson and Gar Forman would put more work into rebuilding a pseudo-contender around Butler this summer than shipping off their lone All-Star in exchange for younger pieces that could initiate a full rebuild. Still, that hasn’t stopped the rumors that teams are interested in acquiring Butler through whatever means necessary.
Already, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics have expressed interest, which makes sense considering Tom Thibodeau, Butler’s former head coach in Chicago, is now running the Wolves’ front office and Boston has been indirectly tasked with building a nest of All-Stars to try and lure Kevin Durant to Beantown.
The question, though, is what sort of deal would actually get Chicago to pull the trigger on a Butler offer? They may not be actively looking to trade him, but if the offer is too good to refuse, that could seriously change things. The following are a few purely hypothetical trade possibilities that could get the Bulls to budge, even though the likelihood of his actually getting dealt remain rather minute.
(Note: None of these are made with any regard to the salary cap. Assume that the pieces mentioned in each deal are for a framework, and that other pieces would ultimately be involved to make the money work).
Chicago trades Jimmy Butler and the #14 pick to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins and the #5 pick.
To be fair, there’s very little chance that this is the trade that actually happens because Minnesota would essentially be swapping a better draft pick and a younger, less expensive version of Butler in Wiggins to bring back a player who, though more decorated, does have a lot more miles on his odometer and does draw a much larger paycheck.
Despite that, it’s reasonable to assume that any conversation between these two teams is going to start with Chicago wanting Wiggins for their All-Star guard, and it’s not a completely unreasonable ask. In this scenario, Chicago could potentially draft Kris Dunn with the No. 5 pick and bring in Wiggins to reset with players closer to those guys’ ages. The argument against Butler in Chicago is that he’s the only guy of note on that roster in his prime and nobody else is really even close to getting there. Getting Wiggins instead keeps a lot of the same tools in the lineup, albeit with quite a bit less experience.
And that experience would be what Minnesota is paying for. Butler has been named to the All-Star team for two consecutive years and is one of the league’s elite perimeter defenders. He has playoff experience under Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau and would bring more leadership to a team that certainly wouldn’t shun it. It would cost a little to make that swap, but not all that much, and with Thibs in charge it’s not unreasonable to think he could break up the youth movement and start putting more established guys around Karl-Anthony Towns.
Chicago trades Jimmy Butler and the #14 pick to Minnesota for Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng and the #5 pick.
But let’s assume Wiggins is off the table, mostly because he probably is. Another option would be to try and pry Rubio away from Minnesota as the primary piece of the trade, along with defensive big man Gorgui Dieng, who would go a long way toward replacing whatever big men in Chicago depart for greener pastures this summer.
Rubio still isn’t a good outside shooter, but he’d absolutely facilitate the up-tempo offense that Fred Hoiberg wants to run in Chicago. Paxson and Forman still could try to take Dunn with the #5 pick and initiate a second trade to rid themselves of Derrick Rose so the point guard rotation didn’t get too muddy, but if the Bulls kept Rubio and Rose for now, there are other options at pick #5. Buddy Hield could be an interesting addition, as could leapfrog big man Marquese Chriss. Dragan Bender has the vibe of a guy who could work in Hoiberg’s system as well, so a trade with Minnesota doesn’t necessarily have to result in drafting Dunn, particularly if Rubio ends up being part of the package.
Chicago trades Jimmy Butler to Minnesota for Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng and the #5 pick.
In this scenario the Bulls still would get the defensive presence of Dieng, but instead of Rubio they’d end up with two-time slam dunk champion Zach LaVine, who’s a more well-rounded scorer than casual fans give him credit for. He’d be right in line to develop alongside Doug McDermott, Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis (and, we presume, Kris Dunn, not to mention whomever Chicago would draft at #14), giving Chicago a reasonable reboot that might not be competitive right away but would have the potential to be something pretty interesting a couple of years down the road.
In terms of the most reasonable deals coming from Minnesota, this one looks best for both teams involved. The Bulls are in the driver’s seat on this and certainly have no reason to take even the best offer this summer if they don’t want to. They may hold out for Wiggins or make a deal with a different team, but the Wolves at least have a few interesting packages they can offer up that would at least make Chicago’s front office raise an eyebrow.
Chicago trades Jimmy Butler to Boston for Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, and the #3 pick.
Boston, though, has arguably more to offer by way of assets, especially if the Bulls really are serious about selling high on Butler and cashing him out for as many talented young pieces as possible. This particular deal already looks beefier than anything Minnesota can offer up, not only because that #3 pick all but assures them Dunn if they really do want him so badly, but also gives them a defensive presence in Bradley to replace at least some of what they’re losing in terms of defensive intensity with Butler. Olynyk is a perfect Hoiberg player, a stretch big that can knock down threes, while Crowder has proven that he’d fit in just about anywhere with a motor like the one he’s got. All four of these young players would give Chicago a much more well-rounded core and collectively could replace Butler rather neatly.
Typically it’s not a good idea to trade four quarters for a dollar in the NBA, as Bill Simmons always says, but other such trades have worked out okay for teams in the past. Taking on that many talented young players increases Chicago’s odds of at least one of them blooming into a star.
Chicago trades Jimmy Butler to Boston for Avery Bradley, Terry Rozier, Jonas Jerebko, the #3 and the #16 picks.
The other Boston scenario asks for a little less in actual talent (it would be understandable, for example, if the Celtics were not all that keen on shipping off Olynyk), but a little more in draft assets. Any deal Chicago makes likely will have to include either Bradley or Marcus Smart, though Rozier is a guy the Bulls liked in the draft a year ago and would likely love to see flourish in their own system. He languished in Boston in what turned out to be just a loaded backcourt rotation.
Three of the top 16 picks in the forthcoming draft would be the real prize of this deal. Chicago could take Dunn at #3 and then run the rookie with Bradley in the backcourt. Taking players like Domantas Sabonis, Deyonta Davis and/or Denzel Valentine a little later in the draft could really help fill that roster up with good, young talent. Again, the trade wouldn’t help Chicago in the short-term, but it would give them a better shot three or four years down the road, when the team’s current crop of youngsters enters its prime.
In both potential Boston deals, the Celtics get to keep Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger, plus plenty of cap space to chase after guys like Kevin Durant and Al Horford. Danny Ainge’s bevvy of assets are just burning a hole in his pocket, and he can’t wait to overpay for superstar talent.
Chicago may not want to trade Jimmy Butler, but with deals like these they’ll at least have to listen.
NBA Daily: Pelicans Might Be Better Off Without DeMarcus Cousins
Without DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis has excelled. It might not be a coincidence.
Forget Kawhi Leonard, the most interesting storyline of this NBA summer is going to be DeMarcus Cousins.
By now, if you’ve wondered whether the New Orleans Pelicans would be better off without the talented big man, you’re certainly not alone.
Just ask the Portland Trail Blazers.
On Saturday, the Pelicans pulled off an improbable sweep of the third-seeded Blazers in the first round of their best-of-seven playoff series. And while the immediate question that comes to mind is what to make of the Blazers, a similar question can be (and should be) asked of the Pelicans.
Without question, Cousins is one of the most gifted big men the NBA has sen in quite some time, but it shouldn’t be lost on any of us that Anthony Davis began to put forth superhuman efforts when Cousins was absent.
Ever heard the saying that too many cooks spoil the brew?
That may be pricisely the case here.
Sure, having good players at your disposal is a problem that most head coach in the league would sign up for, but it takes a special type of player to willingly cede touches and shots in the name of the best interests of the team.
We once had a similar conversation about Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, mind you. Those that recognized that Westbrook’s ball dominance and inefficiency took opportunities away from Durant to be the best version of himself once believed that the Oklahoma City Thunder would have been wise to pitch Westbrook to New Orleans back when Chris Paul was still manning their perimeter.
For what it’s worth, with Cousins in the lineup, he averaged 18 shots per game. In the 48 games he played this season, the Pelicans were 27-21. With him in the lineup, Davis shot the ball 17.6 times per game and scored 26.5 points per contest.
In the 34 games the Pelicans played without Cousins, Davis’ shot attempts increased fairly significantly. He got 21.9 attempts per contest and similarly increased his scoring output to 30.2 points per game.
Aside from that, Cousins’ presence in the middle made it a tad more difficult for Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday to have the pace and space they need to be most effective. With both Davis and Cousins, the Pelicans struggled to consistently string together wins. Without Cousins, they improbably became the first team in the Western Conference to advance to the second round.
That Cousins tore his achilles tendon and is just a few months from becoming an unrestricted free agent combine to make him the most interesting man in the NBA.
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With Chris Paul having decided that the grass was probably greener with James Harden and Mike D’Antoni than it was with Doc Rivers and Blake Griffin, the Clippers fulfilled his request to be trade to the Houston Rockets and re-signed Griffin to a five-year max. deal. In doing so, they both gave Griffin a stark reminder of what life in the NBA is like and provided a blueprint for teams to follow when they have a superstar player with whom they believe to have run their course.
The glass half full perspective might be that Davis has simply become a better, healthier, more effective player and that with Cousins, he would have another weapon that could help catapult the Pelicans ever further toward the top of the Western Conference. But the half-empty glass might yield another conclusion.
At the end of the day, although he still hasn’t appeared in a single playoff game, Cousins is regarded as a game-changing talent and is one of the few players available on the free agency market this summer that could justify an annual average salary of $30 million. In all likelihood, the Pelicans will re-sign him for a sum that approaches that, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best move.
In the end, the Clippers traded Griffin for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a first round pick and a second round pick. All things considered, it was a great haul for the Clippers when you consider that, just a few months prior, they could have lost Griffin as a free agent and gotten nothing in return.
Remarkably, after seeing Griffin dealt to Detroit, in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on a collision course with the Golden State Warriors. Their health a constant concern, the team will have to deal with the pesky perimeter defense of Holiday and Rondo and versatility and two-way effectiveness of Davis.
Nobody gave New Orleans a chance against Portland, and for sure, not many people are going to believe in their ability to score an upset over the defending champions. But believe it or not, New Orleans has become a different team. And they’ve done so without Cousins.
Indeed, believe it or not, the Clippers gave us a blueprint for what a team should do when it has a superstar who might not be the best long-term fit for their program.
And if the Pelicans were wise, they’d be smart to follow it.
NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams
This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.
This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.
As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.
With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.
Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.
Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.
With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.
However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?
Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.
Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.
In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.
So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.
However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.
Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.
At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.
Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.
For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.
On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.
With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.
Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.
Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.
Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success
The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.
The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.
The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.
Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.
He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.
“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”
It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.
Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.
“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”
The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.
This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.
“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”
Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.
While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.
“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”
Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.
For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.
“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”
These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.
This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.
“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”