Watching LeBron James tear through the Eastern Conference playoffs the way Michael Jordan used to do in his prime, it's become increasingly apparent other teams in the East will be chasing James and the Cavaliers for the next 3-5 years.
With that in mind, you have to wonder what kind of conversations are going on inside the walls of the Advocate Center as the Bulls' front office prepares for the June 22nd draft and the start of free agency on July 1st.
Jimmy Butler earned third-team All-NBA honors on Thursday, putting him in position to earn the Designated Veteran Player Extension with another All-NBA selection in either 2018 or 2019. Under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that could mean a contract starting at $42 million in 2019-20 with a total five-year value of over $246 million.
Are the Bulls prepared to pay that kind of money to a player who has logged big minutes over his career and will turn 30 just before the 2019-20 season?
If not, the best time to deal Butler would be right now. Butler is coming off the best season of his NBA career, including a starting spot for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game. Plus, he still has two more guaranteed years on his contract at far below market value for one of the top 15 players in the league.
Tuesday's draft lottery pretty much eliminated Boston from a potential Butler trade. Celtics' GM Danny Ainge loves Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and is locked in to drafting him with the number one pick. Boston's future couldn't look brighter after finishing with the best regular season record in the East, advancing to the Conference Finals, and winning the lottery.
The Celtics will add Fultz and still have enough cap room to offer a max deal to free agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately for Boston coach Brad Stevens at Butler. How does a starting line-up of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Hayward, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley sound, with a second unit of Fultz, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk? It might not be good enough to take down the Cavs or Warriors, but should position the Celtics for a long run as a serious contender.
So, if the Celtics are out, where would the Bulls look for a possible Butler deal? Phoenix probably holds the best combination of assets, starting with the No. 4 overall pick. If point guards Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox go 1-2-3, the Bulls could grab Kansas forward Josh Jackson, an Andrew Wiggins-clone who could wind up being the best player in this draft.
The Suns also have a pair of intriguing young power forwards in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, both top 10 picks a year ago. Plus, Phoenix could include 23-year-old small forward T.J. Warren and Chicago native Tyler Ulis in the package going back to the Bulls.
Suns GM Ryan McDonough is reportedly under pressure to show significant improvement next season after winning just 47 games combined over the last two years. Adding another young player to the roster isn't the best way to improve the team immediately, so don't be surprised if the Suns make a pitch to acquire Butler in the days leading up to the draft.
Similar story in Philadelphia, where the Sixers own the third overall pick next month. Under former GM Sam Hinkie, the "trust the process" approach led to a roster purge and the acquisition of lottery picks. Right now, the Sixers are overloaded with young players like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Justin Anderson and Nik Stauskas.
Would current GM Bryan Colangelo be willing to trade the pick, along with Okafor and Anderson in a package for Butler? The Bulls could choose between Jackson and Kentucky's lightning-quick point guard Fox with the draft pick they’d acquire, potentially adding three young starters to a new-look line-up.
Given all the trade rumors surrounding Butler in the past, you can expect a number of teams will be calling the Bulls leading up to the draft, including Tom Thibodeau's Timberwolves, coming off a disappointing season with assets to offer like Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick.
Ultimately, it comes down to which direction the Bulls' front office wants to go. Try to build a contender around Butler, or use him as the trade asset to start a full re-build. We should get our answer in the days leading up to the draft.
Around the Association
Thursday's All-NBA announcement could lead to a pair of All-Star forwards changing teams this summer. We already mentioned Hayward's situation in Utah. Without the designated veteran player extension, he might be seriously tempted to join his old college coach in Boston.
Hayward could sign a one year contract with a player option for a second season in Utah with hopes of earning the DVPE next summer, but if Hayward hits the open market, it's clear he'll be the number one target for the Celtics this off-season.
Paul George also could be in play after failing to make one of the three All-NBA teams. The Pacers were hoping to sign their All-Star forward to a max five-year extension at over $200 million, but George isn't eligible now. George still could sign an extension with Indiana, but not at the dollars he would have received had he made All-NBA.
Rumors of George's desire to join his home-state Lakers in free agency after the 2017-18 season continue to grow, especially with Magic Johnson likely to add dynamic point guard Lonzo Ball in next month's draft. The Pacers might be forced to trade George to get some assets now, rather than let him walk away for nothing in free agency next summer.
Back to the Bulls, who will bring in dozens of prospects to Chicago to work out at the Advocate Center before the draft. Unless they make a major trade to move up, the front office almost has to go "best player available" with their picks at Nos. 16 and 38. Look for them to focus on an athletic wing in the first round with Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, Indiana's OG Anunoby, Duke's Harry Giles and Australian pro Terrance Ferguson among the likely options.
But if the team decides to part company with restricted free agent Niko Mirotic, that could open the door for the Bulls to select a power forward like Cal's Ivan Rabb, Wake Forest's John Collins, Utah's Kyle Kuzma or UCLA's T.J. Leaf. They could even draft an athletic young center like Jarrett Allen of Texas, Creighton's Justin Patton or UCLA's Ike Anigbogu.
In Round 2, the Bulls might look to add another young point guard to the mix like Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans, Iowa State's Monte Morris, Villanova's Josh Hart, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams Goss or Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason from Kansas.
Quotes of the Week
The Celtics might have edged Cleveland out for the top seed in the East during the regular season, but after watching Game 1 Wednesday night, it's clear Brad Stevens’ team will be lucky to get a win in the series.
This from Stevens about the NBA's version of Benjamin Button, LeBron James. "It's hard to believe, but he's better than when I got into the league. A lot better."
Still, Celtics' star Isaiah Thomas isn't about to concede the series just yet, saying, "We're not afraid of Cleveland. They're not the Monstars."
Well, Thomas might be right about the rest of the Cavs. But if you remember the movie "Space Jam", I'm pretty sure James would be a good fit in that Monstars line-up. And the Celtics don't have Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny or Bill Murray!
Jimmy Butler was named to the All-NBA Third Team on Thursday. Here's a look at the seven other players who have been named to an All-NBA team in the Bulls' 51-year franchise.
Bob Love (Second team: 1971, 1972)
The first member of the Bulls to appear on an All-NBA team, Love's two nods came in the same years he was named to two of his three All-Star games. In 1971, Love averaged 25.2 points and 8.5 rebounds in 43.0 minutes per game. It also coincided with the first winning season in Bulls franchise history (51-31), though they lost in seven games to the Los Angeles Lakers. The following year Love averaged a career-best 25.8 points for the 57-win Bulls.
Norm Van Lier (Second team: 1974)
Stormin' Normal took his game to a new level in 1974, averaging 14.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 6.9 assists in nearly 36 minutes per game. He was named to his first of what would become three All-Star Games, and ended the year on the second team. The Bulls won 54 games, knocked off the Pistons in seven games before being swept by the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals.
Michael Jordan (Second team: 1985; First team: 1987-1993, 1996-1998)
It didn't take MJ long to find his name on an All-NBA team. In his rookie season Jordan was named to the second team, becoming the first rookie since Larry Bird (1980, first team) to accomplish the feat. Jordan took second team honors behind Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. Jordan missed all but 18 regular season games the following season with a broken foot.
Then the rest became history. Jordan was named All-NBA First Team the following 10 seasons in which he played the entire year. From 1987 to 1993 Jordan led the NBA in scoring all seven seasons, led the NBA in steals three times and minutes played twice. The Bulls, of course, won their first three titles and Jordan cemented himself as the game's best player. After skipping the 1993-1994 season to try his hand at baseball, Jordan returned late in the 1995 season for 17 games.
From 1996 to 1998 he was back at the top of the mountain, winning three titles and being named to the All-NBA First Team in each season. Had he not taken the two-year hiatus there's a real chance Jordan would have become the first (and still only) player to make the All-NBA First Team in 12 consecutive seasons (LeBron James, Karl Malone and Kobe Bryant are the only others to do so).
Scottie Pippen (Second team: 1992, 1997; Third team: 1993; First team: 1994-1996)
MJ's sidekick had already been named to one All-Star game before he found his name on an All-NBA squad. In 1992 he averaged 21.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.0 assists. At the time he was just the seventh player in NBA history to reach those thresholds. He bumped down to the third team in 1993 as his numbers dipped some, but he still managed to average 18.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists as the Bulls won their third of three straight titles.
When Jordan bolted for minor league baseball, Pippen took over and was named First Team All-NBA both seasons. He averaged 21.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists for the Bulls in those years. When Jordan returned in 1996 Pippen was still red-hot and was again named All-NBA First Team, joining Jordan. It'd be the last time teammates shared First Team honors until 2002, when Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal did so.
In 1997, Pippen was named to the All-NBA Third Team. He averaged 20.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He likely would have added to his total in 1998, but a toe injury forced him to appear in just 44 regular season games during the Bulls' final title run.
Derrick Rose (First team: 2011)
The Bulls went 13 years without a player on any All-NBA team, let alone the first team. But Derrick Rose's MVP campaign was certainly worthy of finding his name on the list. Rose appeared in 81 games, averaging 25.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists and leading the Bulls to 61 wins and the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Though it seemed unthinkable at the time, 2011 would be the lone time Rose was named to an All-NBA team.
Joakim Noah (First team: 2014)
The face of the Bulls franchise had a truly remarkable 2014 season. He made his second All-Star team that year, carrying a Bulls team to 48 wins by averaging 12.6 points on 48 percent shooting, 11.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. The assists were the most by a center in NBA history in a single season, and on top of that he also won Defensive Player of the Year. Knee and shoulder injuries ruined the following two seasons for Noah, and he appeared in just 46 games in his first season with the Knicks in 2016-17.
Paul Gasol (Second team: 2015)
The Bulls' free-agent splash had a resurgence in his first year in Chicago, averaging 18.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 35 minutes per game. He played in 78 games, the most for him since 2011, and was named an All-Star. A weak crop of centers certainly helped Gasol out in being named to the Second Team, but his numbers were impressive all the same after the Spaniard looked to be on the tail end of his illustrious career.
Jimmy Butler (Third team: 2017)
Were it not for Butler playing the deepest position in the NBA, he may have been named to the Second Team. That's how good his numbers were - especially playing for a Bulls team that had little else around him. Butler averaged 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists, and single-handedly carried a banged up and (at times) dysfunctional Bulls team to the postseason.