On June 22, 2017, the Chicago Bulls decided it was time to part ways with guard Jimmy Butler.
At the time, many believed the Minnesota Timberwolves were the definitive winners of the Butler trade, acquiring the All-Star and the No. 16 pick of the 2017 NBA Draft for Zach LaVine, an under-performing Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick of the 2017 NBA Draft.
The Timberwolves' pick turned into Justin Patton, while the Bulls turned their pick into All-Rookie First Teamer Lauri Markkanen.
Butler played in 59 regular season game and led Minnesota back to the playoffs, where they fell in five games to the Houston Rockets. He played another 10 games in a Timberwolves uniform in the 2018-19 season before being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second round pick. The Wolves gave up Patton in the trade as well.
All the fans that were so sure the Bulls were getting the worst of that trade back in the summer of 2017 might want to think again.
LaVine is averaging a career-high 25.5 points per game this season, good for top-10 in the NBA. Dunn has only played in one game this season due to a minor MCL sprain, but he showed some serious flashes of living up to his No. 3 overall selection in Chicago last year. Markkanen has missed every game so far this season with an elbow injury but is close to returning. Regardless, his rookie campaign spoke for itself - 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 36.2 percent from deep.
The Bulls don't have any results to show for it yet, but they are absolutely looking like they got the better of that deal.
The Timberwolves have improved since moving on from Butler, though, mainly because Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins seem to be playing more freely. Towns has averaged 20.2 points, 14.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 blocks while shooting 55.2 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from deep. Wiggins has averaged 17.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.2 steals while shooting 37.9 percent from three.
With how much the team has invested in those two rising stars, they'll need them to reach their full potential to have hopes of competing in the future.
The combination makes Saturday's matchup between the Bulls and Timberwolves (8 p.m. ET on NBA League Pass) more exciting than it may look on the surface. It's even a notable game for Minnesota head coach Tom Thibodeau, who served as Chicago's head coach between 2010-2015. Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng also have plenty of ties to Chicago, combining for 26 season playing for the Bulls.
It will be interesting to watch these two heavily crossed-over franchises go head-to-head in their first matchup since Butler was moved to Philadelphia. It becomes a battle of what is left over after each team parted ways with the four-time All-Star.
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