Derrick Rose is on his way out of town. The first overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. The 2009 Rookie of the Year. The 2011 NBA MVP. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Rose is from the South Side of Chicago. He was the proverbial local boy made good. He was supposed to stay in Chicago his entire career, leading the Bulls from the NBA hinterlands back to glory. But then he got injured. And then he got injured. And then he got injured. And then he would sit out games to nurse seemingly minor injuries. He was always weird. He always seemed to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. And now he was bad. Not relative to what he used to be, just bad. Using advanced metrics, in this case Player Efficiency Rating (PER), Rose was the 44th best point guard in the NBA last season. Given this steep decline and outsized idea of his own contractual worth after this season (he’ll be a free agent) the Bulls were lucky anyone wanted him. Phil Jackson just keeps giving to the Chicago Bulls.
Rose is only 27, so it’s possible he finally puts his injury woes behind him and becomes at least some semblance of the player he used to be. I’m sure that’s what the Knicks are hoping. But for the Bulls this was necessary. The time for Derrick Rose in Chicago was past. However, the work of the Bulls front office should just be beginning. John Paxson and Gar Forman need to do a lot more. The Bulls need to trade Jimmy Butler.
Naysayers will say, how can you trade Jimmy Butler? They will argue that you don’t get rid of your best player, your difference-maker, on a team utterly devoid of players who can make a difference. Jimmy Butler is a top-20 player in the NBA. He’s one of the best two-way players in the league. He’s made the All-Star team and the All-Defensive team two years in a row. By that same PER metric he was the 3rd best shooting guard in the NBA last season. And he made himself into the player he is; he has worked to make himself the player he is today. Maybe he can become even better. Also, if you get rid of Jimmy Butler what do you have? What do you have now?
It’s not like the Bulls made the playoffs this season. If they had they would have squeaked in and likely have been bounced in the first round. Prior to the Rose trade it looked as though both Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol would leave via free agency. With this move it seems a near certainty. And Jimmy doesn’t fit. He also doesn’t seem like he really wants to fit. He likes the way he plays the game and doesn’t want to deviate from that style, imploring Fred Hoiberg to “coach harder” and subsequently refusing to play as coached. He proclaimed himself the leader of the team and proceeded to lead them out of the playoffs.
Maybe it gets better next year with Jimmy Butler on the team. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe he is more willing to play within Hoiberg’s preferred system and maybe Hoiberg does a better job of integrating Butler’s style of play. Maybe Butler becomes a true leader. But who is he leading? Rose, Gasol and Noah are gone. Who currently on the Bulls roster do you trust and will be a difference-maker alongside Jimmy? Is there anyone on this roster you would absolutely not trade? To me, on a team sitting somewhere between basketball hell and mediocrity it’s kind of like voting for the Hall of Fame: if you have to think about it the answer is no.
But the naysayers will argue you still have the issue of how can you trade Jimmy Butler? What trade can you make that is of commensurate value? What do you need to get in exchange for a top two-way player who is one of the best players in the NBA, on what will become a very team-friendly contract and is entering his prime? Whatever you can. It’s not like Jimmy Butler is lacking suitors. The Boston Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves think they have a shot at being markedly improved next season and are willing to trade their lottery pick for an established All-Star caliber player, and each have made known their interest in potentially trading for Butler. The Utah Jazz may be similarly interested. Jimmy Butler is the type of player you want on your team. But is he the type of player who makes your team great? Is he the best player on a championship team? Look at past NBA champions. How does Jimmy Butler stack up with the best player on those teams?
Jimmy Butler doesn’t have to be that guy, you may say. The Bulls can keep him and build around him, acquiring that championship leader. How? The Bulls have been good enough the past several years to have draft picks low enough to miss those potentially great players. And again, do you trust the Bulls will be able to sign that player in free agency? Will they trade for such a player? History says no. They had the opportunity to trade both Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol at the trade deadline and failed to do so because they overvalued their assets. They wanted a first round pick to let Pau Gasol join a playoff contender, which he can now do without any compensation to the Bulls. How much can you really value Jimmy Butler on a team going nowhere? Pull the trigger and start the rebuild.