Nikola Mirotic and why the Bulls traded their second-round pick

Nikola Mirotic and why the Bulls traded their second-round pick

The Bulls entered rebuild mode on Thursday night after they dealt Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves. They acquired a pair of guards in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick which they used to select Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen.

But the Bulls opted not to continue adding youth to their roster when they sold their second-round pick, No. 38 overall, to the Golden State Warriors. That pick was Oregon power forward Jordan Bell, who many considered a late first-round prospect.

The move was perplexing for a team that hours earlier had traded away its franchise player to start a youth movement. But VP John Paxson said after the draft that the decision to move the pick was based on team depth, hinting at a significant move the Bulls will make in free agency.

"We had some wings on our board that we had targeted that were the only way we were going to keep that (No. 38) pick, and they went before us. And drafting Lauri (Markkanen), and the fact that we have, Niko’s a restricted free agent we intend to bring back, Bobby Portis, we didn’t want to add another big and that’s really all that was left on our board."

Both Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have said since the season ended that Mirotic, who will become a restricted free agent on July 1, is part of their future plans. The Bulls will be able to match any contract that another team offers Mirotic, and they intend to keep the 26-year-old in Chicago. After Butler's departure, Mirotic is now the longest tenured member of the Bulls. He's been with the team for three seasons.

The wings Paxson may have been referring to include Miami's Devon Reed (32nd overall to Phoenix), Kansas State's Wesley Iwundu (33rd overall to Orlando) or SMU's Semi Ojeleye (Boston, 37th overall). Point guards Juwan Evans (Oklahoma State) and Sterling Brown (SMU) were still on the board and potential options, but the Bulls were set on looking for wing help after receiving point guard Kris Dunn and shooting guard Zach LaVine in the Butler trade.

The Bulls frontcourt depth looks filled, as Cristiano Felicio is expected to return behind Robin Lopez. Mirotic, Portis, Markkanen and Joffrey Lauvergne should make up the power forward depth chart. Opting against using the 38th pick, which Golden State bought for a whopping $3.5 million, also leaves the Bulls with room to add a 13th player in the fall.

"It keeps us at 12 roster spots and gives us real flexibility for our roster," Paxson said. "So we didn’t just want to use up a roster spot on a player that we probably wouldn’t have kept."

Goodwill: Jimmy Butler's desire to stay with Bulls a mark of his stubbornness

Goodwill: Jimmy Butler's desire to stay with Bulls a mark of his stubbornness

Jimmy Butler's stubbornness is now becoming legendary, as he's facing the most perilous time in his career since becoming “Jimmy Butler, All-Star.”

Butler telling the Cleveland Cavaliers “thanks, but no thanks” to a potential trade offer isn't so much of a surprise given Butler's history, the rags-to-riches story that's been told a million times over.

Butler passed on the message to the Cavaliers on Tuesday that he'd rather stay in Chicago, sources tell CSNChicago.com.

It is a surprise given Butler's relationship with the Bulls, a franchise that's seemingly refused to anoint him as the player who will help raise them from mediocrity and to some level of contention.

Turning down a chance to play for a team 12 months removed from a championship and a chance to play with this generation's greatest player is not only a throwback to eras of the past, but it's a testament to Butler's dogged belief in himself.

And although Butler doesn't have veto power in the traditional sense, telling the Cavaliers “no” is sending a tacit message to the other suitors for his services in the Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns and possibly the Denver Nuggets, who have inquired about him in the past.

His message seems to be clear: If I can turn down the Cavaliers, I'll turn down anybody.

It may not be enough to prevent the Bulls from trading him, as a team could see Butler's stance as arbitrary considering he has two years left on his contract as opposed to the one year Paul George has left in Indiana.

But Butler and his representatives have made it clear to the Bulls his preference is to stay and build in Chicago, even if they don't believe in him the same way he believes in himself.

It's not too long ago where the Bulls didn't see fit to pay Butler the $48 million he was asking for after the 2013-14 season, offering $44 million over four years and threatening to play Tony Snell over him, so the charges that Butler isn't good enough to lead a franchise fall on deaf ears when it reaches him.

Whenever Butler crosses a particular threshold and is asked about it, his answer can usually be translated as “I've always known I was going to be this good. You guys are just late.”

So with the Bulls entertaining trade offers before Thursday's draft, Butler's final recourse was to tell the Cavaliers he'd rather load up with his own crew than join LeBron James and his crew to take on the Golden State Warriors.

In this day and age where Kevin Durant is criticized for leaving Oklahoma City to join a so-called “superteam,” Butler wants the Bulls to do something, anything, in the way of competence of team building so his squad can meet James in the playoffs rather than joining him and blending into James' background.

Butler is stubborn enough to believe he can will the Bulls into contention, strong enough in self-belief that he can will himself to stay for a franchise that's indifferent on him and his ability to be a frontline player for a contender.

His stubbornness has gotten him this far and he's not gonna abandon it now, even as the signs are all around suggesting otherwise.

From the Bulls' standpoint, keeping Butler likely means they won't descend to a place in the Eastern Conference where they can obtain one of the top low draft picks, young players with upside at an affordable price. Trading him allows them to start over in a loaded draft and if they make the right deal, receive a treasure trove of potential high first-round picks in exchange.

So in essence it's a team appearing to be more aggressive in wanting to move its star and the star player being more aggressive in wanting to stay, a battle of wills of sorts.

And if the Bulls decide to trade Butler despite his obvious desire to stay and subject himself to yearly rumors and innuendo, it makes the Bulls look bad in a sense considering they have long bemoaned their inability to lure star players in their prime while trading an unlikely star in the middle of his prime to hit the reset button.

Of the 15 All-NBA members, only Butler plays for a franchise that isn't contending or actively making moves with the thought of contending in mind. The New Orleans Pelicans haven't surrounded the best team around Anthony Davis, but they did acquire DeMarcus Cousins with that thought in mind. The Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks are not yet anything more than scary, but they have identified their franchise players and are working within some of the limitations presented by their respective markets.

Butler is supposed to meet with teammate Dwyane Wade in Paris this week, where Wade will likely impart some veteran wisdom on his teammate about taking control of his career in the same way Wade has.

In discussions with management, Butler and Wade expressed the belief that the Bulls aren't big moves away but the right moves from taking another step in development.

Whether the Bulls are confident enough to identify those pieces and acquire them in the meantime remains to be seen, but Butler has played the best hand he has as the clock continues to tick on the Bulls leading to draft night.

And in Butler's career, he can't foresee himself losing a battle of wills, even if he doesn't have the best hand.

Sources: Dwyane Wade still mulling decision to pick up player option with Bulls

Sources: Dwyane Wade still mulling decision to pick up player option with Bulls

Dwyane Wade sat courtside in Cleveland in a fashionable jumpsuit that made its rounds through social media as the Cavaliers registered their lone win in the NBA Finals last week, drawing conversations from Kyrie Irving as Irving kept the eventual champion Golden State Warriors at bay in the second half.

One wonders if that’s as close as Wade will get to championship competition next season as he ponders his future with the Chicago Bulls, having to decide whether he’ll exercise a nearly $24 million option to remain with the Bulls for the 2017-18 season. Wade has until June 27 to opt-in to the second and final year of his contract.

Sources tell CSNChicago.com Wade hasn’t yet made a decision on next season and hasn’t informed the Bulls of anything yet, as he’ll continue vacationing for the next couple weeks before deciding his future.

Wade met with Bulls management last week in the attempt to gauge where the franchise’s direction would be for next season. The Bulls hold the 16th pick in next week’s NBA Draft, and although they’ve met with Jimmy Butler, things still appear murky as to their long-term commitment to Butler and if they want to try to make inroads in the Eastern Conference with veteran reinforcements.

Currently, the team line has been about allowing some of their younger pieces to grow and hoping head coach Fred Hoiberg can coax some development and consistency from an inconsistent bunch.

In that meeting, the Bulls were up front about the likelihood that they will stay the course as opposed to looking at the landscape of the East and making significant changes to the personnel, sources close to Wade tell CSNChicago.com.

The Bulls gave the same speech to Butler in their last meeting when Butler came back to Chicago over a week ago, although one wonders if they’ll entertain trade discussions surrounding Butler next week with the draft approaching.

Wade’s relationship with Butler was a chief reason why he chose the Bulls, along with the sizeable contract offer, and on more than a few nights Wade was the Bulls’ best player.

How often he should be counted on to do that in the future is a question, unless one of the Bulls’ younger players makes an unlikely leap to consistency next season. One wonders if Wade wants a role similar to what he had this year, although his itch to play deep into May suggests he would be willing to cede space in the team’s hierarchy if the Bulls were to acquire a dependable veteran.

Before his elbow injury in March, Wade was on track to play over 70 games and averaged 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 29.9 minutes, as his per-36 minute production hovered around the same mark it had his last two years in Miami.

So for Wade the options appear to be simple, while the execution is more complex: Sign up for more of the same next season or opt-out of his contract for another round of free agency, to Parts Unknown.

He’ll turn 36 in the middle of next season and hasn’t been definitive on how much longer he wants to play, along with balancing the reality of another salary cap spike this offseason as going after another payday could be tempting from another franchise in need of star power.

However it’s unlikely a team will shell out that much cash annually for Wade, who feels like this payday has been earned after years of salary sacrifices in Miami.

Knowing Wade, the clarity in communication was likely appreciated given his feelings on how his time with the Miami Heat ended one year ago.

“When you get respect, that's what you get back,” Wade said to CSNChicago.com days before his return to Miami last November. “I've given nothing but respect (to the Heat). I feel like a lot of things in this world and this league are mishandled from the notion of communication. That's it.”

“I understand this business just as good as anybody. But it's a way, someone like me, a way you communicate what you're trying to do, and how you're gonna do it and what it looks like for me.”

His oldest son will turn 16 next season and Wade had made a note of wanting stability for his family compared to moving them around frequently at the end of his career.

Wade’s patience will likely factor into this decision, as his lone public relations hiccup with the Bulls came in January when he and Butler’s frustration with the youth of the roster boiled over into some strong postgame comments that resulted in discipline from the team.

From that point on, Wade became much more reticent about speaking up about the direction of the team, even though his feelings about the Bulls having an opportunity to advance through an underwhelming Eastern Conference remained and was almost proven right if not for Rajon Rondo’s injury in Game 2 of their first-round series against the Boston Celtics.

Because the Bulls were open with Wade, it leaves him with a few options and a few weeks to figure out how he wants to spend his 15th season—just days away after witnessing championship basketball from the sidelines.