Chicago Bulls: Looking back on the Jimmy Butler trade after Heat loss

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

It’s been nearly five years since the Chicago Bulls traded Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and the seventh pick, which they used to select Lauri Markkanen. The move made it clear that the Bulls were looking to rebuild their roster with young talent.

After runs in the early 2010s with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng, it appeared the team’s championship window had closed. Trading Butler marked the end of an era. The Tom Thibodeau-led Bulls team officially became a thing of the past, and the front office was attempting to give Fred Hoiberg his own group of guys.

No matter what happens for the remainder of Butler’s career, he will always be linked to the Bulls. Not only are they the team that gave him a chance in the league, but they were also the team that opted to let him go in favor of starting from scratch. The trade led to Butler eventually playing for four different teams in four seasons before settling in Miami. With the veteran putting together another incredible postseason run and LaVine set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer, it’s a good a time as any to look back on this blockbuster move.

To say the Bulls won the trade with the Timberwolves would be a massive understatement. Following the 2018 season, Butler became frustrated with the Timberwolves and demanded a trade. Essentially, Minnesota gave up a slew of young players for one season of Jimmy Butler as well as Robert Covington and Dario Saric, both of whom they acquired when they traded Butler to the 76ers.

But just because Chicago won the trade doesn’t mean they won the breakup. While LaVine has blossomed into one of the best shooting guards in the league, neither Dunn nor Markannen received a second contract with the Bulls. As a result, the team has spent most of the years following the trade stuck in the lottery. Butler, on the other hand, has made the playoffs every season since — most notably, leading the Heat to the NBA Finals in 2020.

It’s hard to say whether or not Butler would’ve had the same level of success if he stayed with the Bulls. Statistically, some of his best seasons came in Chicago, but Butler never found his running mate. By the time he had reached All-Star status, Rose and Noah were out of their primes. But it’s easy to wonder what could’ve been. Butler has put together a potential Hall of Fame resume and is regarded as one of the best two-way players in basketball.

With LaVine’s future with the team in doubt, the Bulls’ decision to move on from Butler looks as questionable as ever considering the position they’re in now. If LaVine walks, Chicago will have no remaining players from the trade. All the pieces gained from trading Butler would have resulted in a single playoff win.

As free agency looms closer by the day, the Bulls should remember what happened with Butler when negotiating with LaVine. It’s hard for teams to replace their stars, but it’s easy for stars to replace their teams. It took five years for Chicago to get back to where they were before trading Butler, and losing LaVine could result in a similar setback.