Thunder Odds: What does Paul George Trade do for OKC?

paul-george-westbrookThe Oklahoma City Thunder pulled off the free-agency shocker of the summer, trading for Paul George. The former Indiana Pacers star had been linked to Boston, Cleveland, and the LA Lakers in recent weeks.

OKC, however, wasn’t even in this conversation.

The most-exciting thing about this deal is that it pairs triple-double machine Russell Westbrook with one of the game’s best all-around forwards.

But does this make the Thunder a far-better team? Will it raise their championship odds?

Let’s find out by discussing what exactly George does for OKC, and if the Thunder will be hurt by giving up Victor Oladipo and Domantas Saboins.

George Replaces Durant as the Thunder’s Second Superstar

When the Thunder lost Kevin Durant last year, it obviously took away any chance they had at a championship.

Westbrook became the second-ever player to average a triple double and carried OKC to victory. The team finished with a respectable 47-35 record; but they were clearly overmatched in the first round of the playoffs, losing in 5 games to the Houston Rockets.

In comes George, who may not totally replace what Durant is capable of, but he’ll be close. He averaged 23.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 1.6 SPG last season. George also shot 46.1% from the field, including 39.3% from the three-point line.

The Brodie #OKC

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George’s 3-Point Shooting Helps Immensely

Last year, OKC was tied for the league’s worst three-point-shooting team. They and the Orlando Magic both shot a dismal 32.7% from beyond the arc.

The Thunder tried to remedy this by trading for Chicago’s Doug McDermott. The third-year player hit a respectable 36.2% from three after the trade, but this was well off his career mark of 39.4%.

George now does two things in this department for the Thunder:

1) He shoots very well from three-point territory at 39.3%.
2) His presence helps create more open looks for McDermott, which were in short supply.

Westbrook doesn’t Have to Shoulder a Heavy Burden

westbrook-vs-rocketsWestbrook had a season for the ages, averaging 31.6 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 10.4 APG, and 1.6 SPG. People criticize his shooting, but Westboork’s 42.5% mark (34.3% from three) was partly because of all the attention on him.

The good news is that he no longer has to carry this squad. PG will draw plenty of attention and, again, create more open looks for his teammates.

This Becomes a Stronger Defensive Team

We’re not saying that Oladipo wasn’t a good defender. But bringing George in allows OKC to slide Andre Robertson – a lock-down defender if ever there was one – to shooting guard.

These moves create the following starting 5:

  • Westbrook at PG
  • Robertson at SG
  • George at SF
  • Taj Gibson at PF
  • Steven Adams at C

This is a long, athletic, scrappy lineup that’ll make scoring highly difficult for the opposition. Sure, there’s no incredible rim protector here. But Gibson and Adams are both stout position defenders, while Westbrook, Robertson, and George are good at forcing turnovers and bad shots.

What Exactly does OKC Lose?

victor-oladipo-thunderOladipo is obviously the big loss for the Thunder because he averaged 15.9 PPG and 4.3 RPG last year. The 4-year veteran also shot a respectable 36.1% from three-point territory. Another good thing about Oladipo is that he’s a solid defender.

But the problem here is twofold:

1) He’s not a star like Paul George.
2) He’s making $21 million per year.

Combining these two factors, OKC almost wins by getting an above-average starter who’s making $21 million off their roster.

As for Domantas Sabonis, the 11th-overall pick in the 2016 Draft had an okay season, averaging 5.9 PPG and 3.6 RPG. But the rookie struggled to find his stroke, hitting just 39.9% from the field and 32.1% from three-point range. Sabonis may develop into a good player, but it’ll take 2-3 seasons.

Thunder Pursuing Rudy Gay

rudy-gay-tradeOn a side note, ESPN reports that the Thunder are currently interested in signing free agent forward Rudy Gay.

The 11-year veteran would likely come off the bench, due to George playing the same position.

But he’d be a great offensive addition after averaging 18.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 2.8 APG for the Sacramento Kings last year. Gay shot 37.2% from the three-point line, which would also help OKC upgrade in this spot too.

Thunder Championship Odds for 2018

Oklahoma City opened the summer at 80:1 odds of winning the NBA title. Now, they shift to 40:1 odds at the major Vegas sportsbooks after signing George.

thunder-george-westbrookIf they can also pick up Gay through free agency, OKC would become a stronger playoff seed in the tough Western Conference.

The Golden State Warriors are expected to be the first seed again, while the Houston Rockets (via Chris Paul trade) will fight with the San Antonio Spurs for the second seed. With Paul leaving the Clippers, and Gordon Hayward’s fate with the Utah Jazz up in the air, this leaves the fourth spot open for OKC to slide into.

Assuming the Thunder have a strong season, then it gives them a better chance of re-signing George and Westbrook – both of who will be free agents in 2018.

Rockets Trade for Chris Paul Boosts Title Odds

chris-paul-rockets-tradeThe Los Angeles Clippers have traded star point guard Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets. According to

The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Paul opted into the final year of his $24.2 million contract, which allowed LA to make the trade.

In exchange, Houston will send guards Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams; forward Sam Dekker; and a 2018 first-round pick (protected No. 1-3) to the Clippers. There are also smaller pieces to the deal, including non-guaranteed contracts that haven’t been disclosed yet.

Paul could’ve opted out of the final year of his deal and become an unrestricted free agent.

This would’ve allowed him to sign a new contract starting at $34 million per season. The 12-year veteran can still make plenty of money with Houston because he’s eligible for a 5-year, $205-million max extension with his new team.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s continue discussing why this deal happened, how it makes Houston better, and why it doesn’t work in their favor.

Paul Wanted to Play with Harden

james-harden-chris-paulPaul played in LA for 6 seasons and had some pretty good seasons there. But his former team has been marred by an inability to get out of the conference semi-finals. Going further, it’s unclear if the Paul/Blake Griffin/DeAndre Jordan trio was ever going to advance out of the brutal West.

This fueled Paul’s desire to play with a superstar like Harden. “The Beard” is coming off the best season of his career – averages of 29.1 PPG, 11.2 APG, 8.2 RPG – and finished a close second place behind Russell Westbrook in the 2017 MVP voting.

Paul and Harden were in talks before he opted in, discussing how they could thrive together. And now we’ll see how this scenario plays out.

As for the Clippers, they lost their long-time floor general. But the fact that they got contributors and a (late) first-round pick is at least better than the nothing they would’ve received if Paul left in free agency.

How does Paul Fit into the Rockets’ Game Plan

chris-paul-sign-spursAfter two years of the failed Harden/Dwight Howard duo, the Rockets elected not to sign the latter and reshape their team.

New head coach Mike D’Antoni brought his uptempo style and it worked wonders for the team.

Houston improved their record from 41-41 to 55-27, while setting records for three-point shooting. They were the feel-good story of the NBA…until the playoffs happened.

The Rockets battled San Antonio in a tough semi-finals series, before laying down in Game 6 at home. Without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs still blew out Houston 114-75, with Harden scoring 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting.

But in comes Paul, who adds another offensive weapon who can also distribute the ball. The 9-time All-Star is coming off a season where he averaged 18.1 PPG, 9.2 APG, 5.0 RPG, and 2.0 SPG.

Going beyond the numbers, Paul gives this team a serious playmaker who takes pressure off Harden. The Rockets have good shooters like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. But none of these players can create like Paul.

Going further, Harden can play off the ball more, take longer rests, and have another player to handle the ball when defensive attention is completely focused on him.

Why Paul doesn’t Fit with Houston

chris-paul-houston-rocketsWhile the Paul for Williams/Beverley/Dekker deal upgrades the team, it’s still not a perfect match.

The biggest problem is that Paul and Harden both need the ball to excel. Neither is a Klay Thompson-type, who can still star as a spot-up shooter.

Harden and Paul won’t defer to one another, which will give them both a share of the ball. However, it might also take them time to learn how to play each other.

Another problem is the loss of Beverly. Although he doesn’t have half of Paul’s playmaking abilities, Beverly is a strong on-the-ball defender who’ll be sorely missed. This isn’t to say that Paul isn’t also good at defense (2.0 SPG). But Beverly is a defensive stopper who isn’t afraid to dirty up the game when necessary.

The Williams loss also hurts because he provides instant offense (14.9 PPG) and gets to the free throw line numerous times. Losing Dekker and the (late first-round pick) are much smaller pieces to give up.

Rockets Championship Odds with Paul

Even with the downsides we covered above, Paul is going to make this team better. But how much better? Good enough to get past the Warriors and Spurs?

Houston now has a chance of doing both. We won’t anoint the Rockets as favorites in the West. In fact, we still think they’re third best right now.

But with Paul, Houston is a much-closer third that could possibly beat San Antonio or Golden State if everything goes right. That said, it’ll definitely be fun to watch the Rockets’ improvement with Paul and Harden both running the show.

Cavs could Land Wade, Carmelo after Buyouts

carmelo-wade-cavsThe Cleveland Cavaliers struck out on trading for Jimmy Butler. And so far, their trade attempts for the Indiana Pacers Paul George have yet to yield anything. But they could still end up improving on their mission to beat the Golden State Warriors by adding Carmelo Anthony and Dwayne Wade.

ESPN’s Marc Stein floated the idea this week, and we’re sure that the Cavaliers front office has their eyes on this situation too.

Wade recently opted into his $23.8 million option with the Chicago Bulls. Just days later, Chicago decided to trade star guard Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for rebuilding pieces.

It’s obvious that Chicago isn’t trying to be competitive right now. This begs the question of whether or not they’ll truly consider keeping a 35-year-old shooting guard who doesn’t fit into their rebuilding plans. Furthermore, Wade will be taking minutes from new arrival Zach LaVine and second-year shooting guard Denzel Valentine.

As for Anthony, he clashed with New York Knicks president Phil Jackson. The Zen Master and New York decided to part ways this week, but this doesn’t change the fact that Anthony – who has a no-trade clause – isn’t leading the team to victory right now. This makes us wonder if Melo would accept a buyout if offered.

How the Cavs would Benefit from these Buyuts

carmelo-knicks-buyoutCleveland is in a tough position as far as trying to improve to beat the Golden State Warriors:

  • They’re capped out.
  • Cleveland has no draft assets for the foreseeable future.
  • They can’t seem to find a trade suitor for Kevin Love.

This is where Anthony and Wade come into play.

Anthony is signed through 2019 and set to make $26.3 million this year, and $27.9 million in the 2018-19 campaign. Because of his contract and age (33), few teams are willing to give up anything for Anthony. On the other end of the spectrum, Melo doesn’t want to waive his no-trade clause unless he’s sent to a serious contender.

But if he and New York could agree to a buyout, Anthony can still get paid around $20 million over the next two seasons and chase a ring in Cleveland.

Likewise with Wade, who’d probably receive $15-$20 million in a buyout. And with both players already getting their money, they’d be more likely to accept a veteran’s minimum contract to compete for a title.

The Cavs would benefit immensely from adding two skilled veterans to their roster and upgrading their overall talent. Cleveland’s bench played terribly against Golden State, and it’s obvious that they need more firepower when LeBron James and Kyrie Irving go the bench.

Anthony is still a good isolation player, averaging 22.4 PPG on 43.3% shooting. He’d probably shoot better if he wasn’t a focal point like he is in New York. Wade also has something left in the tank, as he averaged 18.3 PPG on 43.3% shooting.

Seeing as how Cleveland isn’t getting much closer to a Paul George deal, and they have limited other options, Wade and Anthony represent their best shot to catch Golden State.

LeBron’s Friendship with Melo and Wade will Help

If the aforementioned scenario does play out, then it won’t be like Wade and Anthony are just randomly signing with Cleveland to go after a ring. Instead, these two are good friends with LeBron and go vacationing with him.

Often described as the Banana Boat crew (along w/ Chris Paul), this is a close-knit group that would enjoy playing with each other and going after a championship.

If the buyouts happen, look for both to heavily consider the Cavaliers.

lebron-banana-boat

Why this Scenario won’t Help Beat Golden State

After Cleveland was thoroughly handled by Golden State in the NBA Finals, it’s clear that they’re not currently constructed to beat the Warriors. But are Anthony and Wade the answers?

Yes, offensively both players will help Cleveland. As mentioned earlier, the Cavs need more overall depth because their bench lacked firepower during the Finals.

carmelo-vs-warriorsBut both Wade and Anthony have holes in their games.

Anthony is a subpar defender who could be exposed on the pick and rolls that Golden State runs. Plus, he’s another player who scores best in iso sets – much like Irving and (sometimes) James.

Wade has never developed a great three-point shot (28.7% career), which doesn’t fit the current Cavaliers team that set three-point records. Moreover, Wade struggled against the Boston Celtics’ tough defense in the playoffs last year.

Chances of Wade and Anthony Joining Cleveland

Anthony’s odds of taking a buyout may have gone done with Jackson now fired. After all, Jackson was the biggest source of contention for Melo. But this isn’t to say that owner James Dolan won’t still look for a buyout just so the franchise can start new with Kristaps Porzingis as their centerpiece.

Wade is much closer to a buyout scenario after the Jimmy Butler trade. It might not happen until a few months into the season, when Chicago is faltering. But we strongly believe that he’ll be bought out at some point. If either scenario happens, it’ll definitely strengthen Cleveland’s chances of reclaiming the throne.

Manny Pacquiao vs Jeff Horn Odds – Pacquiao Favored Big

manny-pacquiao-jeff-horn-oddsThis is definitely going to be a summer for big fights.

Floyd Mayweather and Connor McGregor agreed to an August 26 bout, while Manny Pacquiao and Australia’s Jeff Horn will fight on July 1.

The WBO Welterweight champ Pacquiao is favored big on the betting lines. But Horn is looking for an upset during the “Battle of Brisbane” in his home country. That said, let’s look at the odds and discuss if Horn has a chance to beat his favored opponent.

Pacquiao vs Horn Odds & Fight Details

When: July 1, 2017 at 10:00pm EST
Where: Suncorp Stadium Brisbane, Australia
GTBets.eu Line: Jeff Horn +425 vs Manny Pacquaiao -667

Pacquiao Has a Big Experience Edge

manny-pacquiao-2017-oddsThis isn’t Jeff Horn’s first rodeo because he’s 29 years old and has compiled a 16-0-1 record. He definitely has some punching power – as evidenced by 11 KOs – and he’s the WBO Inter-Continental title holder.

However, he steps into a totally different world when facing Pacquiao. The 38-year-old Philippino fighter boasts a 59-6-2 record, and this is his third time holding the WBO Welterweight belt.

After dropping a 12-round unanimous decision to Floyd Mayweather on May 2, 2015, he’s won two straight fights against Timothy Bradley and Jesse Vargas. Pac Man hasn’t delivered a knockout in six straight fights, but he’s almost assured to win if the fight goes the distance.

Horn Looking to Channel Márquez KO

Pacquiao’s greatest career rival is Juan Manuel Márquez. The pair fought four times, with Pacquiao taking the series 2-1-1. But the last fight on Dec 8, 2012 saw Márquez deliver a knockout win.

jeff-horn-vs-pacquiaoHorn has been reviewing tapes of the Mexican’s victory over Pacquaio and wants to bring some of the same tactics to the July 1 fight.

“He does leave himself open a little bit, as he was seen to do with Marquez in the fight where he got knocked out,” Horn told On the Ropes Boxing.

“I will be trying to get him with that same shot if I possibly can. I’m working on all of the strategies and trying to see what’s going to work best on the night, but you don’t know until you step in there.”

For what it’s worth, Australian boxing legend Jeff Fenech believes that Horn is ready to pull off a shocker.

“He’s bigger, stronger, younger, he can punch, and he wants it more than Manny Pacquiao,” Fenech wrote on Boxing Scene.

He also believes that Pacquiao’s success will make him less hungry.

“Anyone who thinks Manny’s hungry, of course — $8 million or $10 million is going to be great to go and help his people back at home,” Fenech explained.

“But you lose your hunger when you have success for so long and this kid’s very, very hungry. That’s going to be the difference. He’s going to make a lot of people eat humble pie.”

Pacquaio Has “Never Been as Motivated”

From the way Pacquiao talks, he’s quite the opposite of what Fenech described. In fact, he’s really fired up for the Battle of Brisbane.

“In all my years of boxing, I have never been as motivated and fired up as this fight,” he told the Courier Mail. “My team is very happy with my preparation. I am looking forward to this and I will be going home as world champion.’’

The 11-time world champion isn’t taking anything for granted and is training as hard as ever. The Courier Mail reports that he knocked his Mexican sparring partner, Adrian Young, down twice during their last session. He didn’t go any easier when sparring with Australian lightweight George Kambosos.

Puncher’s Chance

Based on the odds, it seems very likely that Pacquiao will grab his 60th win and retain his WBO Welterweight title. But Horn has the power to pull off an upset. Moreover, he also has a 4-inch height advantage and is 9 years younger than the champ.

Does all of this make Horn worth a long-shot bet?

You stand to win $425 on him for every $100 wagered, which is always an exciting prospect. But on the other hand, maybe Horn isn’t quite seasoned enough to take down a fighter of Pacquiao’s stature.

We shall see on July 1.

2018 NBA Futures – Which Teams Won in 2017 Draft?

markelle-fultz-phillyThe 2017 NBA Draft brought promise to 29 teams that have been chasing Golden State for the past three years. And this summer’s draft was particularly deep, with a number of potential stars going in the first round.

But which teams upgraded their roster the most in the 2017 Draft? Let’s look at a few teams that benefited greatly.

1. Philadelphia 76ers – Take Washington PG Markelle Fultz No. 1 Overall

Other Picks: Anzejs Pasecniks (C, Latvia) at No. 25; Jonah Bolden (PF, Australia) at No. 36; Sterling Brown (SG, SMU) at No. 46; and Mathais Lessort (C, France) at No. 50

Analysis: This wasn’t a hard pick because Fultz has been listed No. 1 on draft boards for the past year. His Washington Huskies team didn’t experience much success (9-22 record), but Fultz showcased all the skills he needed to in Seattle. The 6’4″ point guard averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.7 rebounds in his lone collegiate season.

Fultz’s only weakness is that he shot 64.9% from the free-throw line. But this can be overlooked when considering that he has the height and wingspan to defend both guard positions, along with the playmaking skills to be a true point guard.

Philly gave up this year’s No. 3 pick and LA’s top protected pick next year (or Sacramento’s 2019 pick) to get Fultz. But the price is worth it for the perfect compliment to 6’10” Ben Simmons, who’s best suited to be a playermaker in half-court sets. Both players will find Joel Embiid and Dario Saric for open looks on a consistent basis.

For good measure, Philly also added 7-footer Anzejs Pasecniks, whom they can stash overseas for a year or two until he’s ready.

2. Phoenix Suns – Take Kansas SF Josh Jackson at No. 4 Overall

Other Picks: Davon Reed (G, Miami) at No. 32; Alec Peters (PF, Valparaiso) at No. 54

josh-jackson-kansasAnalysis: The Suns haven’t had a winning record in three years, and they haven’t made the playoffs in seven years. This team needed a strong draft, and they sealed it by getting Josh Jackson at No. 4.

The 6’8″ small forward gives Phoenix the wing they need to go along with the lineup of Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, and Dragan Bender.

They also have T.J. Warren at wing, but he’s not a great defender. Jackson solves this problem because he brings immediate aggression to the position. In fact, he’s too aggressive sometimes, and must tone this down to prevent foul calls.

Jackson’s other weakness is that his jumper isn’t perfect. But the Suns are willing to take a chance on this improving based on the entire package – especially when some draft boards had him as high as No. 1.

The Suns also added shooting guard Davon Reed, a 6’6″ prospect with a 7-foot wingspan. They took a shot at No. 54 with Alec Peters, an injured stretch forward who can provide value here.

3. LA Lakers – Take UCLA PG Lonzo Ball at No. 2 Overall

Other Picks: Kyle Kuzma (PF, Utah); Josh Hart (G, Villanova) at No. 30; Thomas Bryant (G, Indiana) at No. 42; P.J. Dozier (G, South Carolina) signed as undrafted FA

lonzo-ball-uclaAnalysis: The Lakers are too young to be good right away. But they made the right move here, taking UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 selection.

Ball became a big name months before the draft, thanks to the antics of his father, LaVar Ball. But Lonzo has the skills to back his dad’s mouth up, averaging 14.6 PPG, 7.3 APG, and 6.0 RPG. His 274 assists during the 2016-17 campaign set a UCLA record.

The two knocks against Lonzo include his unusual jump shot and marginal lateral quickness. The latter could prove a problem, but Ball made over 41% of his three-pointers at UCLA. In any case, the Lakers couldn’t pass up his combination of height (6’6″) and excellent court vision. The latter has Ball being compared to Brooklyn Nets legend Jason Kidd.

LA made a trade to add more picks so they could draft Utah power forward Kyle Kuzma and Villanova guard Josh Hart in the first round. Kuzma averaged 16.4 PPG and 9.3 RPG, despite playing through an ankle injury. Hart was a key part of Villanova’s 2016 national championship run.

4. Dallas Mavericks – Take NC State PG Dennis Smith at No. 9 Overall

Other Picks: None

dennis-smith-mavericksAnalysis: Dallas has been toiling in mediocrity for the past few years. And the ping pong balls haven’t given them any great luck. But the Mavs may have gotten a gem at No. 9 with NC State point guard Dennis Smith.

At 6’2″, he’s not Lonzo Ball, but he’s got great explosion and is an excellent finisher. The one-and-done freshman turned these attributes into 18.2 PPG on 50.2% shooting.

The downsides to Smith include that he doesn’t have great size or wingspan (6’3″), nor does he shoot particularly well outside (35.9%). But the 19-year-old still has the quick hands to create lots of steals (1.9) on defense. Long story short, Dallas needed an injection of athleticism into their lineup, which Smith provides in spades.

5. Detroit Pistons – Take Duke G Luke Kennard at No. 12 Overall

Other Picks: None

luke-kennard-pistonsAnalysis: Luke Kennard is far from the most-tantalizing pick in the 2017 Draft. He’s a 6’5″ shooting guard with 6’5″ wingspan and middling athleticism.

But the Detroit Pistons didn’t draft the Duke product to be a defensive stopper or outstanding finisher – they drafted him to shoot.

The Pistons only made 33% of their three-pointers last season, which ranked 28th in the league. This makes it awfully hard to create room inside for center Andre Drummond, and driving lanes for athletic wings like Stanley Johnson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Kennard helps in this aspect because he made 43.8% of his three-pointers at Durham. This is even more impressive when you consider that he took 5.4 treys per game, often with a hand in his face. Even when accounting for the NBA three-point line’s greater distance, these numbers will translate well to the pro game. Furthermore, it should make Detroit a more dangerous team overall.

And Kennard shouldn’t have trouble learning NBA playbooks if he can memorize every word to the Disney movie Frozen.

Jimmy Butler Trade Makes Timberwolves Rising Contender

butler-traded-timberwolvesDespite stockpiling lots of young talent over the past few years, the Minnesota Timberwolves have yet to turn it into wins. In fact, their 31-51 record in 2017 is their best mark in the last three seasons.

But Minnesota traded for Jimmy Butler – a proven winner – and have suddenly upgraded their roster big-time.

It wasn’t cheap to get Butler since Minnesota gave up the No. 7 pick (Lauri Markkanen), Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn. But the return is a 3-time All-Star who’s coming off averages of 23.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 5.5 APG, and 1.9 SPG.

Getting Butler doesn’t mean that the T-Wolves are suddenly poised to contend with the Golden State Warriors. But as we’ll discuss below, it means that Minnesota could very likely contend in a few years.

Butler Joins Towns, Wiggins & Rubio

Minnesota already had a good core in place before trading for Butler. Karl-Anthony Towns is on the verge of stardom after averaging 25.1 PPG, 12.3 RPG, and shooting 54.2% in his second season.

butler-wiggins-townsWiggins also had a strong year, averaging 23.6 PPG and 4.0 RPG. Rubio has never developed a jump shot (40.2%), but he does everything else well, averaging 9.1 APG and 1.71 SPG last year.

The team could still use a deeper bench and veteran role players. But with a rising core in place, and Butler bringing a winning pedigree, the hard part is done.

Butler Reunited with Thibodeau

jimmy-butler-reunited-thibodeauChicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg and Butler never meshed well. This isn’t to say that they were at each other’s throats – in fact, Butler took the chance to defend Hoiberg a few times.

But the newer NBA coach never impressed Butler as much as Tom Thibodeau, the hard-driving former coach of the Bulls.

Thibodeau is now in Minnesota with both coaching and GM responsibilities. And he used the latter role to bring in his former star shooting guard. Thibs was instrumental in developing Butler into one of the league’s top 10 players. And he’s no doubt happy to see the finished product rejoining him in Minneapolis.

Expect a Defensive Upgrade

The Wolves didn’t have trouble scoring last season, ranking 10th in the NBA in points per 100 possessions. But as good as they were offensively, they were even worse defensively. Minnesota ranked 26th in defensive efficiency, something that should change with the addition of Butler.

The 27-year-old came into the league with a defensive reputation, only to later develop the offense to go along with it. He hasn’t lost the defensive fire either, finishing on the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team the last three seasons.

Happy to be Leaving

jimmy-butler-chicago-bulls-tradeLeading up to the 2017 NBA Draft, Butler was involved in numerous trade rumors. And he even seemed interested in going to a contender like the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Butler ultimately told the Cavs that he’d like to stay in Chicago, namely over concerns regarding LeBron James’ future in Cleveland.

This is why it was surprising to hear that he was heading to Minnesota. Butler himself was surprised, telling the Chicago Sun Times that he felt betrayed. Here’s a look at his statement:

“It doesn’t mean a damn thing. I guess being called the face of an organization isn’t as good as I thought. We all see where being the so-called face of the Chicago Bulls got me. So let me be just a player for the Timberwolves, man. That’s all I want to do. I just want to be winning games. Do what I can for my respective organization and let them realize what I’m trying to do.

“Whatever they want to call me … face … I don’t even want to get into that anymore. Whose team is it? All that means nothing. You know what I’ve learned? Face of the team, eventually you’re going to see the back of his head as he’s leaving town, so no thanks.”

Butler’s trainer, Travelle Gaines, took an even more aggressive tone, offering the following now-deleted tweet on Bulls GM Gar Forman:

“0-82.worst culture in the league.I met drug dealers with better morals then their GM. He is a liar and everyone knows”

Bulls Finally Enter Rebuild

butler-bulls-celticsMany have criticized Forman and Bulls VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson for their half-hearted rebuild attempts.

The team has mixed a number of young players with veterans Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, and (formerly) Butler. The result was a 41-41 regular season and first-round playoff exit.

Now, Chicago has finally embraced a rebuild – although they’ll still have Wade and possibly Rondo. Wade opted into the final year of his $23.8 million option, while Rondo is waiting to see if the Bulls will exercise a $13.4 million option on his contract.

It’s possible that Chicago doesn’t pick up Rondo’s option because this will give LaVine more floor time. The third-year point guard had his best season in 2017, averaging 18.9 PPG, 3.0 APG, and shooting 38.7% from the three-point line. But if the Bulls do bring back Rondo, LaVine can also play off-guard, as he did next to Rubio.

The only problem with LaVine is that the explosive dunker is coming off a torn left ACL. And the Bulls only have one season to re-sign him before he becomes a restricted free agent. But the risk seems worth the reward.

As for Dunn, he struggled during his rookie season, averaging just 3.8 PPG and shooting 37.7% from the field. But he was also the fifth-overall pick in 2016 and highly regarded as a two-way player – one the Bulls coveted. Dunn still has a lot of time to turn things around in Chicago.

The Bulls got one more important piece in their rebuild with Arizona 7-footer Lauri Markkanen. The No. 7 overall pick this summer can shoot outside, making him a solid stretch big.

“I’m just excited to get to Chicago, and I’m going to bring a lot of energy,” said Markkanen. “I can do a lot of things for the team, and not just shooting the ball. I can stretch the floor a lot and I can help the team on rebounding.”

Chicago had to Trade Butler Now

Butler has two years remaining on his deal, which made him a more-attractive trade chip than the Indiana Pacers Paul George – who’s on the last year of his deal.

If Chicago was going to get maximum value for Butler, they had to do it now. And they found a great team to make the trade with, given that Thibodeau can convince Butler to sign an extension after two years. In return, they got the assets they needed to make a real rebuild.

As for Minnesota, they add a proven winner who can play defense. That said, look for Minnesota to make the playoffs next year.