Mazurek: Reflecting on the most ridiculed NBA trades
Marek Mazurek | Tuesday, January 30, 2018
Knee-jerk reactions are fun.
Or I guess I should say they’re absolutely and utterly fantastic.
In any case, they drive a lot of sports media content in today’s market, and one area where such reactions get a platform is in trade evaluations.
When trades happen — particularly in the NBA — every TV personality has a take right away, it’s what they’re paid to do.
But after the initial news breaks, the talk simmers down.
Rarely do trades get examined after the players involved have settled into their new teams and put up meaningful data points.
But in this column, I’d like to look at two of the most ridiculed trades in the NBA last summer to see how they’ve turned out half a season later.
Chicago forward Jimmy Butler had been in the thick of trade talks for at least a year and a half. The Bulls needed to enter rebuilding mode and potential suitors had expressed interest, most notably Boston, who was rumored to be willing to give up draft picks.
But the Bulls traded Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves on draft night for Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn. The teams also swapped draft picks with Chicago taking the No. 7 overall pick and Minnesota switching to No. 16.
The move was unpopular with Bulls fans to say the least. A group of fans even paid to put up a billboard calling for general manager John Paxson and vice president Gar Foreman to be fired.
Everyone understood the necessity of giving up Butler to rebuild, but few thought a switch of draft picks and two non-stars was worth it.
But halfway through the NBA season, and that trade is looking good for both teams. Butler is leading a budding Timberwolves team to the fourth seed in the Western Conference, and to everyone’s surprise, the Bulls aren’t doing too poorly either.
With Minnesota’s pick, the Bulls took Lauri Markkanen, who has been much better than advertised. The Finn is averaging 15.3 points a game, while shooting 43 percent from 3-point range. Markkanen was also the fastest player in NBA history to make 100 3s.
The most ridiculed part of the trade, however, was guard Kris Dunn. Dunn was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2016 draft, but severely underachieved in his first year in Minnesota. Dunn was one of the worst shooters in the league last year, shooting under 29 percent from 3, barely over 40 percent from inside the arc and just 61 percent from the free-throw line.
This year, given the opportunity to be a starter, Dunn has improved his shooting percentages and is third in the NBA in steals per game. He has a long way to go before he’s a star, but with LaVine looking alright coming off of his injury, the Bulls have some solid young talent to build around.
The other big trade which drew intense criticism over the summer was the Indiana Pacers sending Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
As with Butler, Indiana fans saw the writing on the wall, as George had been vocal about his desire to move to a bigger market and compete for a championship. With one year left before he likely left in free agency, the Pacers dealt him to the Thunder for two players without much production to their names.
Oladipo was a role player in Oklahoma City on an offense built around and solely for Russell Westbrook. He averaged around 15 points a game, but didn’t seem capable of more than that.
Without Westbrook controlling the ball, however, Oladipo has blossomed into an All-Star and is averaging 24 points per game this year. Sabonis too, struggled with the Thunder, being pigeon-holed as a spot-up shooter. But with the Pacers, Sabonis has improved his field goal percentage by 12 points and is a big part of a playoff contender.
Obviously, the ultimate pros and cons of both trades will be known as the young players in Indiana and Chicago progress in their careers, but even just half a season later, both the Pacers and the Bulls look a heck of a lot better than many thought they would.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.