MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The long-anticipated reunion between Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau is on.
Two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that the Chicago Bulls had traded three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler and the 16th overall pick Thursday night to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal, first reported by the Chicago Tribune, had not been officially announced.
The trade brings together Butler and Wolves coach and president Thibodeau, who coached the Bulls for five seasons before being fired in 2015. Butler gives Thibodeau the tough-minded scorer and hard-nosed defender that he has been searching for to complement a promising young core.
The Wolves paid a big price: Besides surrendering the lottery pick, they gave up a rising star in LaVine, who is coming off of a torn ACL and Dunn, last year’s No. 5 overall pick.
Butler played for Thibodeau for four seasons in Chicago, developing from an unheralded, late-first round draft pick into a perennial All-Star. The two strong-willed workaholics clashed on occasion during their time together and Butler said during the Olympics in Rio last summer that it was “love-hate” relationship.
But he also acknowledged that his appreciation for Thibodeau’s hard-driving style increased as time went on, especially when the Bulls struggled in their first season under the more player-friendly Fred Hoiberg. And according to a person with knowledge of the situation, Butler welcomes the move to Minnesota to join his old coach and a team loaded with young talent in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
When Thibodeau was hired as team president and coach last summer, he quickly set his sights on bringing Butler to Minnesota. The two sides engages on serious discussions on draft night last year, nearly reaching a deal that would have included LaVine and Dunn, a player the Bulls were very high on coming out of Providence, for Butler. The deal could not quite be completed and Butler went through a frustrating season with the Bulls, who brought in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo in hopes of squeezing some more immediate success out of the group.
LaVine was having a breakout third season in the league when he tore the ACL in his left knee February. His rehabilitation has gone well, but the injury certainly complicated the Wolves’ re-engaging Chicago on Butler. Adding to the difficulty was Dunn’s underwelming first year in Minnesota, which diminished his trade value as well, even in the eyes of the point guard-needy Bulls.
With all that in play, the Wolves were forced to also offer up the No. 7 pick this season to push the deal over the top. But they did receive Chicago’s first-round pick in return, offering them an opportunity to continue adding to their depth. The move, and the package they assembled to make it, signal an organization that is desperate to start winning now after 13 straight seasons of missing the playoffs.
While not a great 3-point shooter like the Wolves need, Butler still averaged career highs in points (23.9), rebounds (6.2) and assists (5.5) in his sixth season. He is also one of the league’s top defenders, an absolute necessity for a young team that finished 26th in the league in defensive efficiency last season. He will turn 28 in September, right in the middle of his prime for a team in need of veteran leadership.
The move also represents the first significant steps toward an overhaul for the Bulls. Despite a spirited effort, the Bulls were eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Wade opted in for the final year of his contract, but that isn’t stopping Chicago from pivoting to a new, younger nucleus that includes LaVine, Dunn and Denzel Valentine.
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