It’s coincidental that Jimmy Butler arrives in Chicago on Wednesday for his first trip with the 76ers because his June 2017 trade signaled the start of the Bulls’ full rebuild.
On Tuesday, the Bulls faced a comparison point with the Pacers, who traded their franchise superstar, Paul George, just two weeks after the Bulls traded Butler.
In fact, only two players — Myles Turner and Thaddeus Young — remain from the Pacers team that went 42-40 in the season before they traded George to the Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. After the trade, they went 48-34 last season and took a 41-23 record into Wednesday’s matchup to rank third in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls went 41-41 in the season before they dealt Butler. Similar to the Pacers’ rebuild, only three players remain from that team — Cristiano Felicio, Robin Lopez and the injured Denzel Valentine.
Their 27-55 finish last season led to the draft pick of Wendell Carter Jr., another player the Bulls hope they hit on to try to advance the rebuild. They’ve also since traded for Otto Porter Jr.
Oladipo took the kind of jump, to third-team All-NBA, the Bulls are hoping to see from Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine.
Furthermore, the Pacers’ shrewd acquisitions of Cory Joseph, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Tyreke Evans have helped them keep afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race despite Oladipo’s season-ending ruptured right quadriceps tendon and surgery. Sabonis missed his fourth straight game Tuesday because of a sprained left ankle.
When Oladipo returns, the Pacers hope to move from contender to championship challenger, although several players are headed for free agency and would need to be re-signed.
“This is I think one of the remarkable teams in our league right now,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. “To be down Sabonis, who is almost unguardable, and to be down Oladipo and to play competitive basketball and be near the top of the East is unbelievable.”
Boylen heaped praise on Bogdanovic, calling him “as good a wing as there is in the league,” and said he’s not surprised where the Pacers are.
“This is a tough franchise. I worked here,” Boylen said of his assistant coaching stint under coach Frank Vogel. “They instill toughness in guys. It’s a tough city. It’s a good city. And they like good basketball. It’s Indiana. There is something to that. It’s not just fairy dust. This is a basketball place.”
With the multiple free agents they signed following their trade of George, the Pacers stayed competitive. They’ve added T.J. Leaf and Aaron Holiday through the draft.
The Bulls bottomed out following their trade of Butler and plan to build through draft picks and now around Porter.