Chicago Bulls Trade Value Rankings Heading into 2016-17 NBA Trade Deadline
I don’t want to sound hyperbolic here, but it has been a dramatic couple of weeks for the Chicago Bulls.
General manager Gar Forman fined all three. According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, there was a 75-minute team meeting where everyone was heard: “According to several participants, the young players were extremely vocal in the meeting.”
Head coach Fred Hoiberg made Butler and Wade come off the bench for the next contest, which was awful, as the Heat beat the Bulls 100-88 on Jan. 28. "It's the worst game we've played all year, in my opinion," Hoiberg said, according to ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell.
It looked like the Bulls were on the precipice of imploding, but in the two games since, they've beaten the Philadelphia 76ers 121-108 and the Oklahoma City Thunder 128-100. For just the second time this season, and the third in the Hoiberg era, the Bulls had consecutive games with 25 assists while shooting 50 percent from the field, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Per NBA.com, their net rating during those two contests was plus-25.1. A two-game sample size is meaningless in the macro, but does it mark a turning point for the Bulls in the micro? We’re about to find out.
Oklahoma City marked the beginning of a six-game road trip that will also pit the Bulls against the Houston Rockets (Feb. 3), Sacramento Kings (Feb. 6), Golden State Warriors (Feb. 8), Phoenix Suns (Feb. 10) and Minnesota Timberwolves (Feb. 12). Then, their first two games when they get back home are against the Toronto Raptors (Feb. 14) and the Boston Celtics (Feb. 16) before heading into the All-Star break.
That’s an eight-game stretch with six road games and six games against teams on pace to win 50 or more games. I suspect that whether—and how much—the Bulls newfound chemistry survives that ordeal will determine the Bulls' trade plans.
Under normal circumstances, Jimmy Butler would be untouchable. But there is nothing about the Bulls’ situation that is normal.
There is one caveat: They should only trade him with the intent of blowing the entire thing up and rebuilding from scratch.
If their goal is winning, then it is hard to imagine a situation where any trade involving Butler makes them immediately better. That’s because, to get better without him, they’d have to acquire a player who is better than him, and that player is just not available.
If the Bulls do go with the nuclear option, though, one would hope they might extend that through the organization. Gar Forman has been loath to rebuilding and has instead insisted on staying in the quagmire of mediocrity, seemingly more enamored with the endorsement allure of big names like Dwayne Wade than building a roster that works together.
Little to No Trade Value
Isaiah Canaan, PG
Isaiah Canaan appears to have season tickets on the end of the bench. He has logged a total of about 31 minutes in six games since the middle of December. His garbage-time appearance against the Thunder was his first since January 12. The phone is not ringing for him.
Paul Zipser, PF
Zipser has been getting a few minutes lately as the Bulls have dealt with injuries, and he’s had some good moments. Since finding a spot in the rotation nine games ago, he’s averaging 8.2 points and 3.0 rebounds in 21.8 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 36.7 percent from deep. That’s encouraging but not enough to trade for.
Rajon Rondo, PG
Rondo has his fans everywhere, and that appears to include the Chicago Bulls’ locker room. The problem is, he seemingly has a toxic influence everywhere too. His situation with the Dallas Mavericks became so bad they booted him from the team in the middle of a playoff series.
After not being invited back to the Sacramento Kings, Rondo threw shade on the organization, ignoring whatever part he played in the tumult.
Now, he’s on a third team and a third controversy. Just because he has people on his "side" doesn’t mean he’s not sowing seeds of derision—in fact, that he has a side suggests he is.
Dwyane Wade, SG
It appears from the bleachers that at least some of the friction also has to do with Wade and how he treats the younger players. During a podcast on Zach Lowe’s The Lowe Post, ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell spoke at length about the relationship, pointing out that some of the friction derived not from Wade’s postgame comments, but issues fermenting long before that.
Friedell also suggested that some of the finger-pointing habits have impacted Butler:
"As far as the leader; as far as the guy who’s going to get everybody on the same page. I think he’s still struggling with that. And I say that having watched Dwyane Wade really help him with that. But Dwayne’s just as bad, Zach. And I think that’s where Jimmy’s starting to learn some of this from.”
Considering that in addition to those issues, Wade, who is sitting on a $23.8 million player option next year, per Spotrac.com, is in serious decline (his 19.3 player efficiency rating is the second lowest of his career, according to Basketball-Reference.com), there’s no chance anyone is looking to take him on.
Filler and Throw-Ins
Denzel Valentine, SG/SF
Denzel Valentine—the Bulls' first-round pick this year (No. 14)—has been good in moments. His best game came against the Washington Wizards on Jan. 10, when he tallied 19 points, two assists and two rebounds. Inexplicably, he was dropped out of the rotation after that, appearing in just three games since.
Valentine told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
"It gets tough sometimes, especially the third or fourth game of a (did not play by coach's decision) stretch," Valentine said. "But after the game, I just think to myself that there are worse things going on in the world. I still have a dream job."
He’s good enough that he would be an enticer as a trade but not so much that he’s likely to draw any major intrigue on his own.
Bobby Portis, PF
Bobby Portis is, in many ways, what I think is emblematic of what the Bulls have encountered under Hoiberg: He is among the young players who not only have failed to improve this year but have actually regressed.
Portis has enough raw talent that, if he were on a team that was competent at player development, he might evolve into a rotation player. He struggles on defense, and he’s a little too eager to shoot at times. However, these are the sorts of things that can—and should—improve through proper coaching.
Michael Carter-Williams, PG
Michael Carter-Williams was going to be the answer at backup point guard. Then he was promoted to starter after Rajon Rondo got demoted to the bench. Now, he’s out of the rotation entirely.
Johnson reported: "Sources said Nikola Mirotic and Carter-Williams have frustrated Wade and Butler more than most players and that both Wade and Butler addressed players privately before airing their frustrations to reporters."
Carter-Williams' benching could work two ways. It could generate calls if interested general managers think they could get him on the cheap (say, Cleveland looking to use one of its trade exceptions), or it could cause them to shy away. It all depends on if they believe the report.
Jerian Grant, PG
Grant, for now, seems to be the resident starter, and that seems to be working out well. He has been the best fit, based on stats from NBA.com. Here is what every lineup with the other four starters looks like:
J.Butler, T.Gibson, J.Grant, R.Lopez, D.Wade
J.Butler, T.Gibson, R.Lopez, D.McDermott, D.Wade
J.Butler, T.Gibson, R.Lopez, R.Rondo, D.Wade
J.Butler, M.Carter-Williams, T.Gibson, R.Lopez, D.Wade
J.Butler, I.Canaan, T.Gibson, R.Lopez, D.Wade
J.Butler, T.Gibson, R.Lopez, D.Wade, P.Zipser
The plus-20.6 net rating speaks volumes. Sometimes fit matters more than production. Grant offers enough defense and shooting to make everything else work. His overall 33.3 three-point percentage is not eye-popping, but he is 40.7 percent as a starter.
Grant’s combination of pedigree—his father (Harvey), uncle (Horace) and brother (Jerami) all had/have NBA careers—and potential makes him an asset who could be used in a trade. But the Bulls should be cautious before flirting with breaking up the current fit—especially if they endure the upcoming schedule.
Doug McDermott, SF
Doug McDermott is the type of player who, when used correctly, can facilitate an incredible lineup. His jump shot is one of the best in the business. According to SynergySportsTech.com, his 1.11 points per possession ranks in the 91st percentile.
Hoiberg could do more to work him into open shots. Only 19.7 percent of his looks are coming off screens, and those are typically straight off them (47 out of 71). Coming off fades, curls or flares, he’s averaging 1.25 points per possession, but they compose just a quarter of his screens and about 5 percent of his sets.
A more inventive coach might be looking at better ways to use McDermott and his offensive abilities. He could have some value, though getting back what they gave up for him (two first-round picks and then two second-round picks to offload Anthony Randolph’s contract) isn’t even remotely feasible.
Cristiano Felicio, PF
Felicio is the lone exception among players who developed under Hoiberg. But when one player disproves the rule, you tend to think the player is the reason for the exception.
Felicio has surprising athleticism. When you look at him, he seems too “bulky” to get up as quickly as he does. He has soft hands and has become a steady finisher on Rondo or Wade lobs. He’s beastly at the rim, going 13-of-15 on alley oops and 22-of-24 on dunks.
His range is extremely limited, though, making just 10 shots beyond five feet this season. His rim protection also needs to improve opponents’ field-goal percentage is plus-2.6 percentage points within six feet.)
However, he has enough promise as a player that plenty of teams would love to take him in conjunction with another trade.
Robin Lopez, C
Robin Lopez was part of the Derrick Rose trade. While he would be an immediately useful player on several teams, his contract is somewhat prohibitive.
But while teams have steered toward small ball, rim protectors are still necessary. Lopez holds opponents 10.3 percentage points below their season averages within six feet of the basket. And his 7.3 field goals defended from that range accounts for almost half of his 15.0 field goals defended per game.
He doesn’t have three-point range, but it extends further than you might expect. His mid-range game is excellent, as he shoots 48.8 percent in the paint outside the restricted area and 46.2 percent between the paint and the three-point line.
The one mild concern is that he still has three years on his contract, with roughly $28 million still due to him. But that might be a positive considering the rising cap and Lopez’s stability.
He has missed just 15 games since 2011-12 and didn’t miss one in four out of the last five years.
Nikola Mirotic, PF
Nikola Mirotic’s failure to improve is allegedly one of the primary points of the Butler-Wade tirade, according to Friedell on the previously mentioned The Lowe Post. And there seems to be some validity to that.
Mirotic hit the league on fire. But he has gradually declined ever since, his PER dropping from 17.9 his rookie year to 15.6 his second year to 12.4 this year.
He is in the last year of his deal, but he would also come with restricted free-agent status.
He does have three-point potential (34.1 percent for his career) and the ability to hit from well behind the arc, not just the corner. That’s a tremendously valuable thing to have, because it forces bigs to extend well outside to the three-point line, which in turn opens lanes for drivers and cuts for slashers.
But only if it’s consistent.
Which Mirotic is not. His trade value depends entirely on a coach feeling he can harness "good" Mirotic by improving his shooting form and getting him to apply consistent effort on both ends of the court, even when his shot isn’t falling.
If they feel they can get that, Mirotic would have lottery-protected first-round value.
Taj Gibson, PF
Taj Gibson could provide extremely high value to the right team—particularly one in need of defensive help and a closing power forward.
He is not a first-option scorer but has developed a reliable post-up game. His .97 points per possession rank in the 67th percentile.
He’s fairly complete, too. Synergy’s ratings have him average or better in every scoring type but the spot-up, where he only ranks in the 17th percentile. So he’s not going to be your stretch 4 (though he did hit his third career three against the Thunder, and he’s taken a few corner threes in the last few games).
The other benefit is his 1.93 defensive real plus-minus at ESPN.com, which ranks fifth among power forwards who log at least 25 minutes per game. The Bulls’ net rating with him on the court in the clutch (when the score is within five points and five or fewer minutes are on the clock) is plus-13.9.
Teams like the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, who need defensive help in the middle and during closing situations, could eyeball Gibson as a guy who might get them past one another in the second round of the playoffs—or even past the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals considering the Cavs’ recent struggles.
Gibson, bundled together with a protected pick, could bring back a three-and-D wing like Terrence Ross or Avery Bradley, the latter of whom would be a magnificent "Patrick Beverley" type point guard to Butler’s "James Harden" heading into the future.
Jimmy Butler, SF
- If the Kings finish outside of the top 10, the Bulls get the Kings', 76ers' and Lakers' picks (provided it’s not top three). They would also still have their own selection. Thus, they could potentially have four lottery choices in this draft.
- If the Kings finish inside the top 10, the Bulls can exercise swap rights from the 76ers' pick, the Lakers' and their own. The Sacramento selection would also become two second-rounders, (the Kings' and the New York Knicks'). In that case, the Bulls would have three lottery picks and three second-round choices—all likely to be in the top half of the second round.
If Butler is on the trading block, he is easily the best trade chip on the market. He’s arguably a top-10 player in the league, and his relatively inexpensive contract (three more years after this one, all under $20 million) makes him a bargain.
On Feb. 1, the Chicago Tribune reiterated a previously reported story that "rival executives believe the Bulls and Celtics will rekindle trade talks centered on Butler between now and the Feb. 23 deadline."
Bear in mind that what "rival executives" believe might not be true. But there are sensible reasons for both sides to execute the trade: The Celtics have the assets the Bulls need to rebuild, and Butler would be a perfect fit for the Celtics as a two-way wing who can change games in the fourth quarter on both ends of the court.
The C’s would no longer have an almost absurd reliance on Isaiah Thomas (47.1 percent usage) in the clutch. Butler also has a history of defending LeBron James well, even if his team hasn’t ever beaten James’ team in a playoff series.
The Celtics have plenty to offer in return. Something on the order of Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, this year’s pick (and accompanying swap rights with the Brooklyn Nets) and next year’s Nets pick would give the Bulls a kick-start on a rebuild. It passes the ESPN Trade Machine muster as well.
Another scenario (which is pure speculation on my part) would be trading Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers for Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor (preferably Noel), the Sixers' pick this year (and accompanying swap rights with the Kings) and the Los Angeles Lakers' pick (top-three protected this year, unprotected next year).
This has a hidden advantage in that Chicago will benefit from the Kings, no matter where they finish. The Bulls own the rights to the top-10 protected Sacramento pick already.
So, this could play out two ways:
Either way, that’s a good start on a rebuild. But there’s more to it.
Based on statements Wade has made, he doesn’t seem like he’s going to stick around if the Bulls trade Butler—he’s not here for a rebuild. The Bulls already have up to almost $55 million in cap space next year, according to RealGM.com and could add roughly $5-10 million to that, depending on how the picks pan out.
Something in the neighborhood of $60 million in cap space and a half-dozen draft picks would go a long way toward speeding up a rebuild.