By: Adam Reckamp
With the Chicago Bulls having another disappointing season, trade talks have predictably heated up around star forward Jimmy Butler. The “three alpha” experiment has unsurprisingly been a trainwreck, with Rajon Rondo being effectively benched by coach Fred Hoiberg as the Bulls presumably look for a trade partner for the maligned former all-star. After a hot star to the season, the Bulls are now 21-22, good enough for eighth in a tight Eastern Conference.
With the Bulls stuck in the dreaded middle tier of the NBA, not good enough to contend but not bad enough to acquire top draft picks, many around the league are advocating for a full blown rebuild in Chicago, initiated by the Bulls trading Jimmy Butler for draft picks and assets. While acquiring assets and tanking has become a popular strategy for a lot of teams, it would be a huge mistake for Chicago to part ways with their star two-way forward.
Jimmy Butler came into the 2016-2017 NBA season as a two-time all-star, and a top player in the NBA, but his incredible season has still been a surprise. Butler has been carrying the Chicago Bulls this season, averaging 24.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game with 45-34-86 shooting splits.
While this stat line is impressive, digging into the advanced stats shows the greater impact Butler is having on the team. According to a “Big Number” done by ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh, Jimmy Butler has added 8.9 wins to the Chicago Bulls this season, adding more wins than any other player in the NBA. Yes you read that right, Jimmy Butler has been more valuable to his team than any other NBA superstar. This is further backed up by Butler’s 25.9 PER and his plus minus splits. When Butler is on the floor, the Bulls outscore teams by 3.1 points per 100 possessions, but when Butler is on the bench the Bulls are outscored by 10.9 points per 100 possessions.
If you aren’t a huge stat guy, the eye test confirms how great Jimmy Butler has been this season. In an era where the NBA is all about efficiency and three point shots, Jimmy Butler is dominant shooting mid range jump shots off the dribble and putting his head down and driving at the hoop. Butler is one of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders as well, making him a dominant two way player not often seen among the NBA’s superstars. But in terms of his status as a number one guy, the biggest leap Butler has made this season is in the fourth quarter. Butler has become the guy in the last minutes of the game, and has carried Chicago to multiple wins with late game heroics and shots.
The Bulls current roster is not optimized for Butler at all. Butler needs space to operate and isolate, but the Bulls are last place in three pointers and three point percentage. If Butler is this good now, imagine if he had a roster built to suit his needs.
So if we have established how great Butler has been this season, a certified top ten player in the NBA, why would the Bulls trade him? The whole purpose of tanking is to land a superstar player that you can build your team around. If Butler is already a top player in the NBA, what’s the point of getting rid of him for the chance you can find another player with the same production? Just to get younger? In the NBA it’s hard enough to find superstar players, and when you get one you hold onto them.
Unless the Boston Celtics come to Chicago with a Godfather offer featuring multiple lottery picks and Jaylen Brown, Chicago should keep Butler and focus on him for the future. This is year one of a reload around Butler, and Chicago needs to stay committed to him instead of pushing the reset button.
What the Bulls should be doing is building a team to contend around Jimmy Butler, hopefully being ready to contend by the time LeBron starts falling off (I mean he has to decline at some point right?). They should do this through smart trades, draft picks and free agency signings. Not through trading their best player for assets that may or may not become good players.
The Bulls should look to trade players like Taj Gibson for draft picks, and move on from Rondo and Wade as soon as possible. Building a young, athletic core around Butler won’t be easy but it’s the Bulls best strategy for the future. The Bulls’ front office should focus on bringing in young players on good contracts instead of trying to make a splash in free agency.
If we have learned anything from the NBA, superstars are rare, and you need one to win a championship. The Bulls found their guy in Jimmy Butler and they would be foolish to let him go.