By: Thomas Gibbons
As Jimmy Butler returned to Chicago on a snowy Friday night on Madison St., he was greeted with loud applause and multiple ovations.
The Bulls went a different route last summer, opting for a rebuild and traded their proven star to Minnesota. His return finally came, and Bulls fans gave him as much love as they did for the first six years of his career.
As much as Gar Forman and John Paxson liked Butler, they knew with the current roster there were not going to be contenders. After years or trying to stay in the playoff picture, the front office decided it was time to start anew.
We know the story. Butler reunites with Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota and the Bulls get possibly their “big 3” of the future. And so far we can say the trade worked out great for both teams. Butler is playing some of his best basketball of his career and the Bulls look to have three guys in Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen to build a championship team around.
But as we look to the future, the possibility of the Bulls bringing back Butler does exist.
Butler can opt out of his contract after the 2018-2019 season, something many expect he will do. He has earned another All-star appearance, should be selected again next season, has a great shot of making an All-NBA team, and his ability to take over games is what makes him a special player. Make no mistake, Butler will want a max deal and the Bulls should be in a great spot financially. This is what Forman has been talking about that the Bulls are not going to be overloaded with bad contracts like many teams after the spike in the salary cap the past few years. There should be plenty of cap flexibility in Chicago come the summer of 2019.
Next, if the arrow continues to point up, LaVine, Dunn , and Markkanen will draw interest from free agents. LaVine looks healthy and is the face of the franchise for the near future. Both Markkanen and Dunn are developing very quickly and players will want to team up with these guys. Money plays a factor but if you want to win, these guys are something you may want in on.
Think about it. The Bulls pitch could be as simple as, “Jimmy, you are the last piece to the puzzle. You come and we go.”
Could you imagine a lineup of Dunn, LaVine, Butler, Marvin Bagley, and Markkanen. That lineup could be scary good.
The Timberwolves could also be in a tight spot and not be able to offer a max deal to Butler. Andrew Wiggins signed a 5 year max deal last year, Karl Anthony-Towns will hit free agency in the summer of 2019. Will Towns be the priority? Of course he will. Also, Gorgui Dieng signed a four year, $61 million extension in 2016. And with whatever moves Thibs makes this offseason, they could find themselves in a very tight spot financially come free agency of 2019.
Personally, I like the thought of bringing Butler back. If the young core continues to improve and become three stars in the league, Butler could actually be the final piece to go win the Larry O’Brien trophy. The Bulls are on pace for a high pick in the 2018 draft and if the Pelicans fall out of the playoff race and get lucky come ping pong ball time, the potential of two lottery picks is just what they need.
Outside LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George, and Demarcus Cousins, the 2018 free agent class is nothing special. Other names like Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Rodney Hood, Aaron Gordon are all restricted free agents that the Bulls should not be getting in bidding wars with. The Bulls will probably not make any huge moves this offseason. The focus will be on adding depth and maybe 1 year max deals to fill spots and basically a one year tryout. 2019 is shaping to be a big summer with Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard leading the pack.
It’s still a long ways away, but it is definitely something to think about. The Bulls should be in a position to offer him a max deal. Butler really could be the final piece and lead the Bulls in winning another title.