Six years have passed since the fateful day when the Chicago Bulls decided to part ways with Jimmy Butler, and he hasn’t let a single year pass without making fans feel remorseful over the poor decision. The former face of the Bulls franchise has thrived since leaving the Windy City, and we saw that put on full display last night in the NBA Playoffs.
Although it would have been nice to see Chicago in the postseason, taking that loss to the Heat in the play-in tournament may have been the best thing that could have happened. Nobody expected much from an eighth-seeded team limping out of the play-in tournament, but Jimmy has put the world on notice with his performance through the first four games against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.
Against all odds, the Heat have come out firing to claim a 3-1 series lead on the back of Butler. Through these four games, Butler is averaging 36.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game while shooting 62.8% from the field and 52.9% from beyond the arc.
Last night’s game was not only his best performance yet, but the best postseason outing we’ve ever seen from a player in a Heat jersey. Butler put up a ridiculous 56 points on 19-for-28 shooting and nailed a pair of clutch threes to put the Heat up four points with less than a minute to go.
Up against the best team in the NBA and arguably the best player on the planet right now, it’s Jimmy Butler who is shining brightest. As happy as I am for his success, I can’t help but feel remorseful over Chicago’s inability to keep their blossoming superstar where he belonged.
The Chicago Bulls have never been able to climb back to relevance since the disastrous decision to trade Jimmy Butler away to the Miami Heat.
Enjoying the best season of his career to date in 2016-17, Butler averaged 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game while becoming the clear alpha dog for a Bulls team that was stumbling directionless in the wake of losing Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah.
Butler led the Bulls to their last playoff appearance they’d see for the next six years and seemed prime to pull off another eighth-seed upset until Rajon Rondo fell to injury. Considering Chicago’s roster was filled to the brim with sub-standard NBA talent and veterans well past their prime, this was quite the achievement.
What was his reward for all this, you ask? Promptly being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, of course.
In perhaps the most egregious showing of a great many front office blunders under Gar Forman and John Paxson, the Bulls dealt their best player (and the 16th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft) away for a paltry package of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn. Compared to the blockbuster deals we see these days — looking at you Paul George, Rudy Gobert, and Kevin Durant — this was an embarrassingly bad return.
The primary counterpoint toward bringing Butler back was that the Bulls intended to rebuild and paying to keep him around would have inhibited the retooling process. Ironically, the Bulls failed to ever truly commit to tanking anyways and never received a top-three selection. Keeping Butler around and trading him as he steadily improved his value would have actually been a far better route to take as far as rebuilding goes.
Or, you know, the Bulls could have built around Butler (the same player who is seventh in all-time Bulls win shares, despite spending just four full seasons as a starter in Chicago) and enjoyed the same success Miami has over the last few years. With Tyler Herro out due to injury, Bam Adebayo being a massive net negative on the court, and the rest of the Heat roster looking almost hilariously incompetent, Butler is still good enough to will his team to victory over the Bucks. Just imagine what the Bulls could have done if they constructed this team to highlight his strengths instead of wasting five years on a half-baked rebuild.
Fast forward to today, and now we are forced to witness possibly the greatest playoff performer of our generation play for another team who believed in him just a little more.
While Butler left for greener pastures, the Bulls were left with nothing but a lesson learned. As it turns out, when you have a rapidly improving 27-year-old superstar, perhaps trading him away to appease a subpar head coach and front office isn’t the best idea. Who would have guessed?