The Blind Side, Chicago Bulls Version

The Butterfly Effect is when small ripples have huge effects. Proven through science, when one thing happens in one part of the world it is felt in another part, and is more disastrous. It rains in Mexico. There is a tornado in Florida. The earth trembles in Japan. Buildings fall in Seattle. An All-Star player is traded in Chicago. A team propsers in Minnesota.

The trading of Jimmy Butler was a big boulder in a small pond that impacted two conferences, four teams, three players and a GM. The lottery future of the Chicago Bulls, the playoff hopes of the Minnesota Timberwolve, the gut check of Danny Ainge who proved patience is the better part of valor, were all altered by one simple transaction.  In a matter of minutes. the cities of Chicago and Minneapolis changed.  It would take two more months for the transfiguration to take root in Boston and Cleveland; in June both cities were blind to what was coming next.

Predictably, the best and worst of the NBA is when a beloved star’s departure impacts the suddenly mourning city that is a mess. A GM is second guessed; fans want him on the hot seat. Someone picks up the pieces, broken shard of glass after broken shard of glass. Careers change. No one saw it coming before everything crashed.

Chicago No Hope

6 years after Gar Forman, Bulls GM, won Executive of the Year, let’s examine his resume. He drafted Jimmy Butler with the last pick of the first round. In subsequent years, he drafted Tony Snell, Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis.   He signed Mike Dunleavy as a free agent, traded Luol Deng for Andrew Bynum only to waive Bynum the next day. Forman signed Jimmer Fredette, got rid of Jimmer Fredette. He signed Pau Gasol. He fired Tom Thibodeau. He signed Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade. He traded Taj Gibson for a point guard he thought was going to be a star. Now insiders admit that the star point guard, Cameron Payne, can’t really play. Injured again. Already he was mediocre.

And so the world turns for a hopeless Bulls team.  And Gar Forman looks overmatched.  He traded Jimmy Butler for an injured Zach Levine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen. Dunn gives the Bulls a point guard but last year in Minnesota he was  a huge disappointment. (3.8 points. 37.7% shooting).

And then there is Dwyane Wade.  He opted-in to his $24 million and as he signed his name, he was aware that Jimmy Butler’s status was perilous. A Butler trade may have already been in the works which left Wade the sole star in Chicago and their best player. At 34, that isn’t going to get Wade much. He needs help and he knows it. With a bunch of kids, what’s the point? A negotiated buyout would send Wade to Cleveland to re-partner with advocate/friend LeBron James. Miami and L.A. are also in the mix as plan B.

But this is about the Bulls. Their front office is pathetic and clueless and have one last card to play for the fans. Go full in on the rebuild. Battle Brooklyn for the worst record and get a top-3 pick in 2018. Try to save face for the firing of Tom Thibodeau two years ago. Since then, nothing has been good in Chicago. (Mallory StithWheat)

Wiggins: Are You Ready For Your New Life?

Andrew Wiggins is a dynamite scorer. But that is all he is. He doesn’t pass the ball. He doesn’t rebound. His defense is either sloppy, clueless or non-existent. His 115 defensive rating was one reason the Wolves could not make the playoffs despite their offensive superlatives. You must guard your position. Wiggins PER was junk for a player who drops 23 points a game. To put it into perspective, Wiggins and guard Gary Harris of Denver had the same PER, 16.5, in 2016-17. But Harris averaged 9 points less than Wiggins.

The entry of Jimmy Butler puts the Wiggins bio into perspective. Butler is a lock down defender. He has a career average Defensive Rating of 104. (Wiggins best is 110.) Butler was ranked 3rd in Defensive Real-Plus Minus. (Wiggins was ranked 98th out of 100 shooting guards). Butler’s motor is always on go, pointed to toughness and grit. His hyper competitiveness translates into making sure his opponents feel him out there on the floor at all times, both on offense and defense.

Wiggins can be lackluster, disinterested, too cool for school, and average during parts of a game. There are moments when he doesn’t expend a lot of energy and when the game is close he can’t summon up that edge. He’s not guy with chip on his shoulder and Kobe death stare.  But now that Jimmy Butler is in town and he demands you sell out, will Wiggins buy in?

Before Butler arrived in Minneapolis, Wiggins was the dominant wing player. No more. Wiggins has never been in the playoffs and he isn’t a two-way player. He can put up some ungodly offensive numbers that make your head spin. But so can Kyrie Irving. For Wiggins to be considered the best at his position and a top-5 NBA player, he has to sell out defensively. It’s one thing for Thibs to be screaming it 24-7 but when Butler demands it, and Butler isn’t shy about calling his young teammates out in the press- he’s not big on feelings- how is Wiggins going to respond? In the NBA, he hasn’t had a teammate quite like Butler.

Everything he has in the NBA, Butler worked for. He wasn’t a blue blood, a Duke or Kentucky player. He went to Marquette. He was the last player selected in the first round of the 2011 draft but is the fourth best player of that draft, after Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, and Klay Thompson. Butler had a difficult childhood with a lot of adversity that has molded him into who he is today. And who that is can be driven, tough and unrelenting. He pushes people because he expects everything to be hard.

Wiggins is going to have a big adjustment. Jimmy Butler is the leader of the team now. He has the resume to prove it and frankly, to be real, Butler pushed Derrick Rose out of Chicago. He doesn’t blink. He’s not scared.

Will Wiggins game thrive with Butler? Will there be chemistry? When Butler takes over, which he will, how will Wiggins respond? It’s nice in June getting a player of Butler’s caliber but there will be sacrifices. Is Wiggins ready? (Brendan Gillespie)

Ainge Talked the Talk and Walked the Surprise Walk

Amassing draft picks when you traded Hall of Famers was a short term cure for what ailed the Celtics. But when the time came to use those draft picks, giving up Brooklyn’s first round 2018 pick which will probably be top-5, Ainge blinked. He wouldn’t pull the trigger even though the Celtics had been romancing Jimmy Butler for the past two seasons and were unwilling to buy high.

Ainge was vilified.

What do you think of Ainge now?

His Kyrie for Isaiah Thomas flip means Ainge is back on top, his rebuild called one of the greatest in NBA history. He gave up his precious Nets pick to acquire the All-Star and Finals hero Irving. As Isaiah Thomas said in his Players Tribune article, the Celtics aren’t better.  No. They are not. But they are different. And Ainge hopes that difference will finally lead the Celtics to the Finals after a 7 year drought.

Jimmy Butler is a better player than Kyrie Irving. His defense is better. His offense is equal. He is a better leader. He has toughness that Irving doesn’t have but Irving can get his own shot whenever, wherever and is the best offensive point guard in the league.

Butler is self made. He plays like the world is against him, as if he has to prove something. He always gives effort and he drives with his competitive will. In fact, he’s a lot like Ainge was as a player, albeit more talented. He has Ainge’s fiesty nature and rugged style. But Kyrie sells tickets; his artistry with the ball is something to behold. With Gordon Hayward and Al Horford on the wing, all that Kyrie will be asked to do is get his own shot and give up the ball some. Ainge is hoping Brad Stevens can be a defensive miracle worker and change Kyrie’s defense.

The trade of  Jimmy Butler only made Danny Ainge more resolute to get what and who he wanted.  It’s true that the best moves to make are the ones you pass on. Ainge had the last laugh. He has his coveted star in Kyrie. He put together the best team in the East not named Cleveland. He did what a GM is supposed to do and he didn’t force any of it. (Julian Billick)