Jimmy Butler, the No. 30 overall pick of the 2011 draft, has achieved superstar status. A kid from Marquette University, who the Bulls never planned to make “the guy,” is about to start for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game.
Butler has quickly become the face of the Bulls. The small forward embodies the traditional Chicagoan: with his hard-working attitude. Every year, he has added another element to his game, transforming from a situational bench player to one of the best all-around players in the game. He is one of basketball’s best defenders and has grown his offensive skills every year he’s been in the game — he scored 2.6 points per game in his rookie year and scored 24.7 points per game this season.
Although seeing Butler grow has been fun, I’ve come to the conclusion that he actually does more harm than good for the Bulls’ chances of becoming championship contenders again. Butler is one of the best assets in the league, and the Bulls need to strike while the iron’s hot and trade him.
My reasoning behind this lies in the acquisition of 35-year-old Dwyane Wade. There are three theories why the Bulls signed him, some more likely than others. First, the Bulls think they can compete for a title with Wade (which is unlikely). Second, the Bulls need to fill up seats after getting rid of their two most popular players — Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah — and Wade is someone fans would pay to see (a more likely idea). Third, Wade is a respected veteran who could convince other free agents to come play in Chicago (the most likely theory).
Let’s assume the Bulls got Wade for the third reason: to attract free agents. The NBA is a league of “superteams.” There are teams comprised of superstars and teams in a perennial hell of being OK but never able to beat said superteams. That being said, a team that wants to win a title needs at least three bonafide stars.
The most notable potential free agents this upcoming offseason are Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Kyle Lowry and Gordon Hayward. Curry and Durant are both on arguably the most talented team in NBA history, and it is unlikely they’d want to break that up. Kyle Lowry is part of a Toronto Raptors team that is becoming one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference; it doesn’t make sense that he’d abandon a very promising future with his team.
So, where does Butler fit into this? Let’s call him superstar one. Who can Wade attract The most likely player in that short list of potential free agents is Hayward. Then, the Bulls would have two stars, but not the two that would lead the team to the promised land. The other aforementioned players are either too unlikely to sign with any team other than their current ones or are too old to be worth the investment (unless the Bulls are shooting for a one-season wonder). Wade has essentially no purpose on the team now, other than to fill seats. Add in that Wade himself could become a free agent this offseason, and there are too many unknowns to bank on him being a guy that attracts stars to come to Chicago.
The only other way for the Bulls to improve in the long run is through the draft. Entering this season, the Boston Celtics offered the Bulls the third overall pick in the draft. This season, Butler is worth at least that — possibly more. Because the New York Knicks traded Robin Lopez to the Bulls, Chicago owes the Knicks a second-round pick. However, the Sacramento Kings also owe the Bulls a second-round pick. This is all to say the Bulls have ample draft choices this year. This year’s draft is scouted to be one of the deepest in years. Strike the iron while it’s hot, and make moves. The draft is no guarantee of success, but expensive free agents that might not even come to your team aren’t, either.
The Bulls’ front office said it wants the team to get younger and more athletic. Adding Wade didn’t do that, but trading Butler can. The trade would stink for Bulls fans, because they’d lose another fan favorite. But I think a title drought that has lasted nearly 20 years might make fans realize there are more ways to win than with “Jimmy G Buckets.”