The Chicago Bulls have been searching for the playoff magic that has eluded them since Derrick Rose tore his ACL. After trading Rose to the New York Knicks this past offseason and signing Dwayne Wade, the Bulls got off to a 10-6 start behind their new alpha dog: Jimmy Butler. Butler has played incredibly well to start this season, but after the Bulls lost to, you guessed it, the Denver Nuggets, the Bulls fell into a tailspin. Since that 10-6 start, the Bulls are 8-12, and the magic that Wade brought at the beginning of the season is already gone.

According to Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report, the Bulls have begun to shop their top player.

On the surface, there may not be anything here, but if there is, I don’t see any reason why the Chicago Bulls should trade him. Why get rid of a player with the following per-game averages and efficiency?

Points Rebounds Assists Steals True Shooting % Win Shares/48
Butler per-game averages 25.2 6.8 4.5 1.7 59.0% .254

I also don’t see a reason why the Denver Nuggets wouldn’t go after him. There are a host of reasons why Tim Connelly and company should pursue Butler, but for now, I will stick to the top three:

  1. Jimmy Butler is a legitimate All-Star and a talent upgrade. The Nuggets’ perimeter players have struggled to generate consistent offense in the pick and roll. Butler has the 12th most pick and roll possessions in the NBA, and he’s in the 80th percentile in efficiency. Butler also has the highest defensive rating of any Bulls starter, meaning he’s certainly not the issue in that lineup. The Nuggets have the 26th ranked efficiency coming from the pick and roll ball handler as a team, and they have the 28th ranked defense. Butler would upgrade both positions.
  2. The Nuggets need to consolidate assets. With veteran players desiring more time and young players needing more time, neither “faction” on the Nuggets is particularly happy with the current situation. With multiple draft picks in next year’s draft and Danilo Gallinari the only major rotation piece not guaranteed to return next year, there’s a stark possibility that unless changes are made, the only improvement Denver will see is internal. The Nuggets are ALWAYS at the top of lists of teams that could use an upgrade, and in order to do that, they have to combine their assets.
  3. Butler’s contract is absolutely incredible. Butler is currently making $17.5 million in 2016-17, and he’s under contract through the 2018-19 season, with a player option for 2019-20. In each of those seasons, Butler will make less than $20 million annually, meaning that the Nuggets would have an opportunity to add to the roster in free agency. With a core of Butler, Nikola Jokic, and one of Gary Harris or Jamal Murray, the Nuggets would be an extremely enticing free agent destination for a variety of players for the foreseeable future.

With those reasons in mind, let’s explore what a trade would look like:

(Nikola Jokic is off the table, so don’t ask.)

Option 1: Mudiay + Nurkic + veterans for Butler

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Nuggets Receive: Jimmy Butler, Robin Lopez

Bulls Receive: Emmanuel Mudiay, Jusuf Nurkic, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, 2017 1st round pick (DEN)

This offer would be the most ideal for Denver. The Bulls will ask for multiple young prospects from Denver, as well as veteran talent. Mudiay and Butler would likely clash stylistically, and if the Nuggets want Butler around long term, then maximizing Mudiay’s trade value is essential. Nurkic is also a prospect the Nuggets would be willing to part with overall Jamal Murray or Gary Harris.

This deal would allow the Nuggets the most short term and long term potential, but the Bulls may not see it as enough to move Butler.

Option 2: Harris + Nurkic + veterans for Butler

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Nuggets receive: Jimmy Butler, Robin Lopez

Bulls receive: Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic, Will Barton, Kenneth Faried, 2017 1st round pick (DEN)

The Nuggets would likely start Mudiay, Butler, Gallinari, Chandler, and Jokic, meaning that the only short term upgrade they would have is Butler over Harris. I wouldn’t like this deal for the Nuggets because I don’t see Mudiay and Butler pairing well. Neither shoots excessively well, and both project to be the main pick and roll ball handlers, which I’m very against. I also doubt that the Bulls would accept this deal because of the lack of upside other than Nurkic.

Option: the godfather deal

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Nuggets receive: Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic

Bulls receive: Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, 2017 1st round pick (MEM), 2018 1st round pick (DEN)

Here’s the deal that would win over Butler’s services. Nobody in the NBA can come close to offering the package the Nuggets can if they are willing to part with Murray. It’s certainly not ideal for the Nuggets to give up Mudiay AND Murray, but Butler is a top 10 player in the NBA on an incredible contract who will be in the prime of his career for another five years. Also, the Nuggets can still win in this scenario. Butler would operate as the de facto point guard when Jokic wasn’t facilitating, and Harris would defend point guards.

Whether the Nuggets end up asking for Butler’s price or not, it will be interesting to see how they go from here. I would expect Denver to be very interested in Butler, as Butler already has some connections to the city.

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