Derrick Rose is still the most recognisable name from the Chicago Bulls roster. On the court, however, Jimmy Butler is the real star, but could he be exiting the windy city soon?
Last season, with Rose unable to play at his once-MVP level after coming back from serious knee injuries, Butler put the Bulls on his back as he carried them to the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Chicago were a LeBron James game-winner away from being 3-1 up in their conference semi-final series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. But, now, one win for the Indiana Pacers in their final three games of this regular season will mean the Bulls do not even make the 2016 playoffs.
Article continues below
Prior to the season it would be a huge shock to see Chicago eliminated from playoff contention, but with the team struggling greatly in recent weeks they have never been able to fight their way back past Detroit or Indiana once they fell out of the Eastern Conference playoff positions.
Long-term injuries to two starters, Mike Dunleavy and Joakim Noah, have been the most painful losses for rookie head coach Fred Hoiberg, who made the step up from coaching college basketball to the NBA this past off-season.
Article continues below
Why the trade rumours?
When reports began to surface last week suggesting that Butler may be on the trade block at the end of this campaign, it came as a real shock. For the past two seasons now Butler has been by far the best and most consistent of the Bulls' players.
It was also suggested that the Boston Celtics made a trade offer for Butler at February’s deadline, although the rumoured offer was nowhere near what the Bulls would want in return for one of their star players.
There are differing opinions to whether Butler has clicked with the new system put in place by Hoiberg this season, which even led to the shooting guard calling out his own coach for not being tough enough on the team earlier in the season.
But even if the two have not gelled personally as well, Chicago fans would hope that the two would be able to sort out their differences during the summer, as losing their star player for the last two seasons would be a huge blow for Bulls fans.
Recent development has made him a star
Butler has developed into one of the elite two-way players in the NBA, alongside players like Kawhi Leonard. He has the ability to lockdown the biggest offensive threat on the opposition and has an impressive scoring game on the attacking side of the ball making him a vital piece to any franchise.
That Chicago would be willing to sacrifice all of the building work they have done with Butler to suddenly ship him out for some assets seems a potentially very odd move, as they would need some extremely talented players, or very high draft picks in return to even consider letting him go.
Nearly every team in the NBA would be after his services if he was to become available, but, some believe that the Bulls should break up their current squad as they have struggled on with this side for too long.
Why let go of your most important player?
Yet surely, if you are going to do that, Butler would be the main piece you would keep?
He is arguably the best current player, and at 26, should only continue to get better. He could definitely progress into at least a player who could be the second option on a title-winning side, if he is not that already.
Rose’s trade value may never be higher, and Pau Gasol is able to test free agency this summer. If there is a time to rebuild it is now, but instead of making Butler the first out the door, he should be seen as the core for the new side to be built around.
Unless a monster offer is laid down in front of the Bulls, I would not even consider the thought of trading Butler. But, if there are differences between him and Hoiberg it leaves the front office with a tough decision.
Personally, I see no way in which the Bulls can have any title aspirations in the near future without Butler, and any decision to let him go could soon come back to haunt Chicago.