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CHICAGO — The Chicago Bulls sent shockwaves throughout the league Thursday night when they traded star guard Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a deal experts are calling one of the biggest steals in NBA history.
The Bulls sent Butler and the No. 16 pick to the Wolves in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No.7 pick.
Executives around the league are baffled that Chicago couldn’t get a better return for Butler, who has emerged as one of the best two-way players in the game. The 6-foot-7 swingman averaged 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists this past season.
While LaVine and Dunn are two promising young guards, LaVine is recovering from an ACL injury. Dunn is joining a crowded backcourt in Chicago, as the Bulls already have Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jerian Grant on the roster.
Wolves president and coach Tom Thibodeau is earning high marks from everyone as he finally got his guy Butler. Thibs now has a lethal Big Three in Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns around which to build.
Thibodeau met with the Minnesota media to address the acquisition of Butler and said he knew Butler was a special talent right from the get-go back in 2011.
“I think back to when I first had the opportunity to coach him was the lockout year,” Thibodeau said. “So we had like three or four days to coach him before we went into the lockout. For a rookie that’s tough. You miss summer league. He missed being in the gym all summer and fall practice.
“When the season began, it was a condensed schedule and we didn’t have a lot of practice time. Once we got back I’ll always remember him and Luol Deng would come in every night and I’d look down from my office and they’d be working out together. At that time he was a little shy and Lu would come up and tell me how good he was and he should be playing. He was his advocate.
“I just watched the way he worked and really the first opportunity he had to play was in Madison Square Garden against Carmelo (Anthony). A rookie, who didn’t know what would happen. We had injuries and he went in there and played great. That told me a lot about him. Every year he just made major strides.”
Butler, who found out about the trade around 2:30 am while vacationing in Paris, said he knew the Bulls were going to move him at some point. The 27-year-old spoke highly about the fans and city that cheered him on for the past six years, but he didn’t have much to say about the Bulls management duo of Gar Forman and John Paxson.
“Me disappointed? Never,” Butler said in a phone interview with the Chicago Tribune. “Nothing ever shocks me. I knew it was going to happen. I’m not going to sit here and say that it didn’t.
“They chose the route that they chose. I’m not mad at that. I can’t say that it caught me off guard. I just feel like I didn’t know when it was going to happen. They weren’t convinced I wasn’t good enough — whatever you want to call it, I don’t know. But it’s OK. I’ve already moved past it. I’m going about it the same way I always go about it — working to be better. And I will do that in a Timberwolves uniform.
“But Chicago just embraced me. The fan base, I feel like I grew so much as a person and player in my six years there. They did so much for me and gave me an opportunity to be as great as I could make myself. They made me want to win. They allowed me to come into the United Center and that practice floor every day and bring it to the best of my abilities. Chicago has been amazing to me. I can only say thank you. I’m fortunate.
“As far as the front office goes, I’m not getting into that. That’s a business relationship. It’s all a business. They still gave me an opportunity. Business is business. We’re going to be businessmen and shake hands. I’m going to do what I did in a Bulls uniform in a Timberwolves uniform. And when we play the Bulls, I’m going to go at them just like I would go at anybody else.”
Butler closed his phone interview with K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune by saying he’s excited about reuniting with Thibodeau. The last time Butler was coached by Thibs, he averaged 20.0 points per game and won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.
“We all know how I feel about him and what he’s done for me and my career,” Butler said. “It’s going to be great man, a guy that wins. I know his style of play. I know what he’s asking of myself, the same thing he’s asking everybody else on that team, to work. I’m excited man. I’m fortunate to wake up and be blessed to be an NBA player and be a halfway decent player in this league. I don’t have any complaints.”
Butler posted a heartfelt goodbye on his Instagram account to Bulls fans and the city of Chicago.
Chicago, What can I say?! I truly struggle with the words because you've been so much more than just my home for the last 6 years, you've been my life! You've embraced me like a son and pushed me to get better every day, every season. I can honestly say that I have always been incredibly motivated to succeed; it's just the way I'm built. But I know I owe so much to the person I am now, and to the player that I've become, to you. You always pushed me to never give anything less than my absolute best night in, night out. That's what you expected. That's what you deserved. And, I hope you know that's what I dedicated my life to every time I walked into the facility or stepped on the floor of the United Center. Thank you to the entire Bulls organization and Reinsdorf Family for taking a chance on me in 2011 and for giving me the opportunity to play the sport I love for such a great franchise. I'll never forget the feeling I had when I was drafted and when I played my first minutes. It's an experience that I wouldn't have wanted with any other team and I'm so thankful to you for giving me that opportunity. Chicago, I love you. Thanks for embracing a kid from Tomball like one of your own. On to a new home and a new organization. Thankfully, with some familiar faces! PS… AND PROBABLY MOST IMPORTANT! THANK YOU TO EVERYBODY BEHIND THE ORGANIZATION THAT DO NOT GET THE SHINE THAT THEY DESERVE!! YALL ARE THE REAL ALL-STARS!! – Jimmy G. Buckets (@staceyking21 )
The Bulls’ rebuild has finally begun while Minnesota has their closer alongside two young studs.