The steal of the 2017 NBA Draft did not come in the form of a highly rated prospect sliding down the draft board. Nor did it come from a sleeper player that had been overlooked by most teams. The Minnesota Timberwolves pulled off a bit of a heist on Thursday evening, swiping Jimmy Butler from Chicago for well below market value, and before anyone else had even the slightest idea it was happening.
While most other teams in the league were trying to figure out the final destination of Paul George and monitoring Phil Jackson's kamikaze mentality of shopping Kristaps Porzingis, Butler somehow slipped through the cracks, and Minnesota struck accordingly. Butler was acquired by the Wolves, along with the 16th over pick, Creighton's Justin Patton, in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the seventh over pick Lauri Markkanen from Arizona. Several sources on draft night indicated that this was the best offer Chicago received.
Lauri Markkanen, is a quality young player who has drawn comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki. However, there is already a player much like that on the Bulls roster in Nikola Mirotic. The wildly athletic Zach LaVine is a former dunk champ and exciting player, but is coming off ACL surgery and at this point nobody a) can fully know how he will recover and b) know if he will return to the athleticism he possessed prior to the injury. On top on that, LaVine and Markkanen figure to be little more than role players for Chicago depending on how their roster takes shape now headed for a rebuild.
Dunn appears to be the centerpiece of the deal for Chicago. A year ago on draft night there were reports from ESPN's Mark Stein that the Timberwolves attempted to offer a similar deal for Butler. Minnesota selected Dunn out of Providence with the fifth overall pick last June, among reports that the Bulls were very interested in him after trading All-Star Derrick Rose to New York. The Timberwolves wanted Butler and the number 14 pick, Denzel Valentine in exchange for Dunn and LaVine. The Bulls stood pat, and the Wolves played the season with Dunn labeled as their point guard of the future generating rumors that Ricky Rubio would be the guard traded at some point.
A year later former Bulls coach and current T-wolves coach Tom Thibodeau gets his man, reuniting with Butler on draft night yet again, for amost the exact same deal. The inclusion of the Wolves seventh pick appears to be what tipped the scale for Chicago to pull the trigger. The main difference this year that LaVine is coming off knee surgery and Butler has turned into a hands down top-20 player in the league entering his prime. Butler used to say that he an coach Thibodeau had a "love-hate relationship", but the head coach has always been able to get the best out of the Gold Medalist and All-Star. Butler will now be inserted into a lineup that already includes young stars Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns, and one that is sure to at least concern the rest of the Western Conference.
With the price tags for Paul George and Porzingis being dragged around draft week and distracting everyone, it's surprising to see a player of Butler's caliber going for pennies on the dollar. It was thought that multiple first round picks along with at least one starting type player would be needed to acquire the services of any of the three. LaVine and Dunn may have had a significant role for the below average Timberwolves last season, however, wouldn't have cracked much of a rotation anywhere else in the league. Including only one lottery selection to a team that is now clearly rebuilding should make Thibodeau feel like he stole something.
The Timberwolves were made able to make this type of deal by a move they made earlier in the week, by releasing oft-injured center Nikola Pekovic and gaining cap relief needed to take on Butler's contract. Butler's deal includes $95 million remaining for three more seasons, he will make $18.7 million this year. His contract also included a trade kicker clause, which bumps his compensation 5% in the event he is traded, gaining Butler an extra $1.8 million over the next three seasons.
Quite a worthwhile investment for a player that can push the Timberwolves to the next level. Bulls insider for Comcast SportsNet Chicago Vincent Goodwill spoke with his agent Bernie Lee about Butler's reaction to the trade. "He's great. He's with Thibs now."
The league would do well to take notice.