CHICAGO – If they felt vindicated by one of the biggest trades of their tenure by drama unfolding in Minnesota this week, they certainly didn’t show it.
Bulls executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman were stoic when asked about Jimmy Butler’s trade demands and whether they felt better about the return now that the All-Star forward could be leaving the Timberwolves.
They weren’t about to take the bait, even when they are very close to claiming a major victory with the deal.
“It’s never about vindication,” said Paxson when asked about the Butler trade. “We did exactly what we thought was the right thing for the organization last year to rebuild. We walked out that night and we were comfortable then and we’re comfortable now.”
It’s not just hyperbole for the Bulls, who netted three critical pieces to their rebuild in that trade – Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Makkanen. While they are all still developing their game, there was enough positivity in what they showed at times last year to make one believe the new restructuring of the team could be a success.
Ultimately the full scope of the trade is years away from being realized, but for the moment the team has a healthy amount of positive vibes as training camp started up on Tuesday at the Advocate Center.
“The first thing I see is the energy,” said Dunn, who returns for his second year with the Bulls after playing his first with the Timberwolves. “I think everybody is excited to be here to work, everybody’s here to improve, and the chemistry is looking good.”
Staying on the court would certainly help that. Dunn had his own injury issues during the 2017-2018 season as he missed 30 games. Meanwhile Zach LaVine was limited to 24 last season after missing an entire calendar year following a torn ACL suffered while in Minnesota. Both showed flashes of potential during the season, especially during their limited stretch of time together on the court, leading to some of that optimism that Dunn was talking about.
“I think we take that into consideration and use it as fuel,” said LaVine when talking about the low expectations for the second year of the rebuild. “With training camp coming, we’ve all been here, and it will be fun. That’s why I think we’ll be able to get a jump on the season because we are all healthy now.”
Some are stronger, like Lauri Markkanen, who gained 17 pounds of muscle in the offseason and had a more robust look as training camp began. All of this adds to the positive vibe around the team so far this season – or at least better than the team they made a major trade with a year ago.