Jimmy Butler and the Future of the Bulls

Zach Lowe on Chicago Bull’s wing Jimmy Butler:

We already know Butler can defend. He’s big enough to guard either wing position, and he can take power forwards in a pinch if Chicago chooses to go small — a weapon that will come in handy if they ever draw Miami again in the playoffs. Butler has good balance and footwork, and has done well this season against the pick-and-roll and in chasing guys around screens.

If, like me, you have spent a limited amount of time watching the Chicago Bulls this season, you have missed how great Jimmy Butler has been. If you haven’t watch the Bulls at all, you are almost certainly saying to yourself “who is Jimmy Butler?”

Jimmy Butler would be the Bulls 2011 first round draft pick now in his second season. He’s 23. He plays the wing. He is listed at 6 foot 7 inches and has long arms. He emerged from very limited playing time last season, to being a key replacement for Richard Hamilton and Luol Deng during their injuries this season. As Lowe discusses, he is very athletic, a great defender, plays hard, but isn’t a great shooter.

When the Bulls lost Ronnie Brewer, CJ Watson, Kyle Korver and Omer Asik from their “bench mob”, there were a lot of questions about how they would fill that gap. Kirk Hinrich, Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson were brought in to fill the guard roles. Jimmy Butler emerged as the key wing player. Even after losing all of that, and Derrick Rose for the entire season to this point, the Bulls have the 4-seed in the East and are 10 games over .500. Even 60% of Rose should give them a chance to pass Indiana and ensure at least one round of home court advantage. Butler has been a big part of the story this season.

He has a taken some big steps, and the hope is that this heavily impacts the Bulls future. Butler is 23, so it’s certainly possible that he doesn’t have a ton more room to grow. And he might never become a significantly better shooter, but he gives the Bulls another lockdown defender to take pressure off Rose on the defensive end. Combining him with Deng means that the Bulls can ask Rose to guard the third best offensive player potentially.

It will be really interesting to see what the Bulls do this offseason. Richard Hamilton has a team option for next season, and between his injuries and Butler’s play, it’s almost a guarantee the team won’t exercise that. The recent talks of a Carlos Boozer for Andrea Bargani trade make next season interesting as well. It would save the Bulls some money and get then some outside shooting help. Rose, Noah an Gibson aren’t going anywhere for various reasons. The Bulls payroll is going to go up next season when Gibson’s new contract kicks in. Boozer’s savings would help offset that, but maybe it doesn’t stop there. Next season’s roster, right now, would include Noah/Boozer/Deng/Rose/Gibson/Hinrich/Butler/Marquis Teague. Assuming a rookie, there are still 4-5 spots to fill, and the team payroll will be at the same level as this season before that happens. And here’s where things get interesting.

Luol Deng is going to be a free agent after next season. It’s unclear whether they can sign him long term or not, or if they should. The question of whether Deng can be a reliable 2nd option is still on the table. His career scoring average is just 16 points per game, and even with Rose out he has only averaged 17 points per game this season. Locking him in would mean committing to the Rose/Deng/Noah core for the foreseeable future. Amnestying Carlos Boozer would likely be a part of the deal of signing Deng, which means Gibson would become a starer. So sign Deng, or go a different direction?

The different direction would certainly be to go with Butler and trying to make up some offense another way. Free agents are tough, but someone like O.J. Mayo or J.J. Redick could make sense. It’s difficult to seeing either of them being that much cheaper than Deng though. They could attempt to turn Deng’s expiring contract into something on the trade market, like Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler from the Denver Nuggets, but that seems like a stretch.

At the end of the day, it’s likely that they amnesty Boozer this summer, unless they trade him for Bargnani, then lock Deng up and try to acquire or sign a shooter (like the aforementioned Mayo or Reddick), and roll with a rotation of Noah/Gibson/Deng/Rose/Butler/Hinrich/Teague along with whoever they sign to start at the two and a backup big man or two1.

Is that team good enough to win the East? It’s hard to say. Boston doesn’t have much left in the tank, and Dwyane Wade is losing steam a bit. The Heat will still be good as long as they have LeBron, and the Knicks and Pacers are talented as well. Having someone like Bargnani who could spread the floor could really help Rose’s game, but at the end of the day there has to be a scoring threat at the end of games (think Steve Kerr or John Paxson on Jordan’s teams) who prevent teams from totally committing to Rose.

  1. Think like Johan Petro, Andray Blatche, Brandan Wright, Joel Pryzbilla, etc. []