Zach LaVine, Bulls Called Out Over Former Franchise Cornerstone

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

Getty Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls became a hot topic during the NBA Playoffs despite not having any games to play.

Former Bull Jimmy Bulter guided the eight-seeded Miami Heat to a 3-1 lead over the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks with a 56-point performance, the fourth-largest scoring output in NBA playoff history.

Chicago failed to take out Miami in a winnable Play-In Tournament matchup.

More than that, though, the Bulls were reminded that they traded Butler away to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2017, believing that he did not possess the ceiling of a No. 1 option on a championship-caliber team. They also were not too eager to open up the checkbook as Butler’s agent would let on.

Six years later and it still stings for fans.

Butler has gone on record in a 2017 interview with Sam Amick for USA Today saying that he believes the team chose to go in a different direction for another reason.

Everybody knows me and [former Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg] had some riff-raff,” Butler said. “We didn’t agree on many things. And I think eventually, everybody was like, ‘Yo, they’re either going to build the team around Jimmy, or they’re going to go the route with Fred, the up-and-down, shoot a lot of threes or, you know…

Look, I iso-ed a little bit (smiles). Yeah, I iso a little bit. And that’s not the way that Fred plays the game. And that’s what I was saying, that it was either, ‘We’re going to build the team around me for a little bit and allow me to distribute the basketball, iso in pick and roll. Or you go with Fred – go up and down, shoot a lot of threes, that type of stuff. That spread type – kind of Golden State-esque, you know what I mean? They went that route, and that’s all I’m saying, and that’s fine. That’s what I was saying. Nothing’s wrong with that.

The Bulls’ offense ranked 24th this past season as they finished 30th in three-pointers attempted and made. Butler’s Heat ranked 25th in offense despite getting up the 10th-most triples in the regular season.

But one team is one win away from moving on to the second round while the other is the Bulls.

Butler has been on and found his way off of two other franchises. But he helped the Minnesota Timberwolves snap their 13-year playoff drought and then saw Philadelphia 76ers star and likely MVP winner Joel Embiid openly lament his departure on numerous occasions.

Zach LaVine Catches Strays Over Jimmy Butler’s Big Game

To make matters even worse for the Bulls and their fans, current franchise cornerstone Zach LaVine was also called to the front of the class after he could only muster 15 points in the Bulls’ loss to Miami.

LaVine, 28, is going into the second year of a five-year, $215 million contract and has brushed aside notions of increased scrutiny. But he heard about his low-scoring night in the Play-In Tournament and again on a night when the player he was traded for and a former teammate both got their flowers.

Lauri Markkanen Wins Most Improved Player

The hits kept coming for the Bulls as Utah Jazz star Lauri Markkanen was announced as the 2022-23 Kia Most Improved Player after averaging 25.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on .499/.391/.875 shooting splits.

Only two other players have ever put up similar stat lines – Hall of Famer Larry Bird (four times) and Phoenix Suns star Kevin Durant (twice).

Markkanen was drafted with the seventh-overall pick in 2017 by the Timberwolves for the Bulls in the Butler trade. He was never able to sustain any of the flashes that he displayed in Chicago due to injury and/or inconsistency and has said that it was time for a change.

“I think it got to a point that it wasn’t that much fun anymore, the last two years in Chicago,” Markkanen told Shams Charania of The Athletic in November. “So it was a big thing for me to be in Cleveland and such a fun year that we have had with that group of guys. Now it’s just so much easier to go out there and play the game I fell in love with.”

Still, it’s another in a stunningly long list of miscalculations by the Bulls’ previous and current front-office regimes punctuated most notably by the trade for Nikola Vucevic.

“Quite frankly he was the centerpiece of the trade,” said NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson on the ‘Bulls Talk Podcast’ in 2021. “I mean, Zach LaVine, there were obviously organizational aspirations for him as well, but Lauri was the crown jewel.”

Utah also got solid contributions from former Bulls guard Kris Dunn down the stretch of the regular season.

That is unlikely to make Markkanen’s ascent any easier for fans of the moribund Bulls to digest.

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