The Starters is a daily show on NBA TV, and they recently addressed trade rumors surrounding Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls. Butler is a premier guard in the NBA, but during the 2015/16 season, there has been friction between he and head coach Fred Hoiberg.
Fairly early in the season, when Chicago was still in control of its own destiny for the playoffs, Butler made the following comments:
“I believe in the guys in this locker room, yeah,” Butler said. “But I also believe that we probably have to be coached a lot harder at times. I’m sorry, I know Fred’s a laid-back guy, and I really respect him for that, but when guys aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, you got to get on guys, myself included. You got to do what you’re supposed to do when you’re out there playing basketball.”
Those comments were made in December and Hoiberg seemed to smooth the situation over in suggesting that such comments should be made in 1-on-1 situations instead of through the media. However, with the trade rumors circulating you have to wonder if the situation never really did smooth over. That is especially the case given that Chicago are in grave danger of missing the 2016 NBA playoffs despite being the 2nd favorites in the Eastern Conference pre-season.
The Starters program challenged their viewers to fill in the blank for the following phrase: “Bulls would be _______ to trade Butler this offseason.”
A knee-jerk reaction, in respect to Butler’s skills, would be to fill in the blank with the word “stupid” or if you want to be nicer “mistaken.” Keeping Butler in place would keep Chicago’s core intact while looking ahead to next year, supposing that this year ends up as a bust.
However, let’s change the perspective on this with one assumption that you can either take or leave: Fred Hoiberg is in over his head right now in the NBA. This moderately successful college coach might have done well to take an assistant’s position in jumping into the Association. However, you can’t really blame the guy for signing the contract that he was offered: $25M over five years. Unfortunately, he doesn’t appear to be paying dividends as Chicago are in danger of missing out on playoff revenue this season.
A five-year contract is difficult to get out of without some major costs being incurred. In my view, it’s very difficult to see Hoiberg getting the heave-ho in Chi-town due to that – he’s still got four years left on a contract after this one, and that’s way too big to just buy out.
If the Bulls are stuck with Hoiberg, let’s say for two more seasons before the numbers involved become more manageable, then rebuilding for a couple of years might be the smart move. During that time, Hoiberg might actually improve, and the Bulls might have an average coach in charge of an above average team in 2017/18, not a bad spot to be in.
But I don’t think Chicago can hang on to all of their big salary guys with a guy like Hoiberg in charge. Butler is a $16M+ cap hit (Spotrac), and it gets a little worse in the near future. The Bulls need some playoff games to bring in the revenue and, while Butler is good for getting those, I don’t think Hoiberg is. You can’t just trade a coach in the NBA, but you can get stingy on player salaries for a bit in hopes of keeping expenses manageable, and offloading Butler would help do that. In fact, it might be smart to try and offload Pau Gasol’s contract as well and bring in some solid guys that are under 25.
My fill in the blank for The Starters: “The Bulls would be SMART to trade Butler this offseason.” I don’t see how keeping Hoiberg in charge of an expensive team will work unless you’re willing to take a risk on him improving. Trading, at least, Butler for some developing players while keeping player salaries low for a bit is the way to play the hand that they have been dealt.