Photos of Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler.
speculation has buzzed anew since news broke Friday that the Celtics and 76ers are poised to swap the first and third picks in Thursday’s NBA draft, with the Celtics adding another future first-round pick to their already deep vault of assets.
Surely, the Celtics must be coming for Butler next, right?
As of Sunday, the talk is based more on speculation than reality, a stance that at least three league executives the Tribune spoke to over the weekend don’t expect to change by Thursday. There is plenty of belief within the league and the Bulls organization that the Celtics are poised to use the No. 3 pick Thursday and then pursue Jazz All-Star Gordon Hayward in free agency come July.
What’s stopping the Celtics from pursuing Butler in July if they need to or want to, depending on how Hayward’s free agency concludes? Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge hasn’t built his trove of future assets while also building an Eastern Conference finalist by taking the short play.
The Jazz have a real shot at re-signing Hayward, who is also expected to draw interest from the Heat. But the Celtics are in position to take the long view because they can try to add a star without giving up assets, only money.
There’s also no guarantee in this Age of LeBron that the Celtics aren’t just stockpiling picks to build for the future while remaining relevant.
It’s instructional to remember that when the Celtics and Bulls briefly re-engaged in talks centered on Butler in February, they were far less serious than those held last June. At that time, the Celtics refused to offer their first-round pick from the Nets — the one that, via the May draft lottery, became this No. 1 pick about to be traded to the 76ers — without protections on it.
Granted, the Celtics are poised to add another future first-round pick in their imminent deal with the 76ers that could be included in trade talks. But the Bulls didn’t engage in February without the potential of that pick being No. 1, and once the trade with the 76ers is finalized, it will drop to No. 3.
The Bulls aren’t giving Butler away. That’s why they asked for at least three — and, in some proposals, four — assets last June in their talks with the Celtics.
Now Butler is a third-team All-NBA player on top of a three-time All-Star, and the Bulls told him how much they value him at his recent player exit meeting.
At that time, the Bulls remained consistent in their message to Butler: We value you and want to build with you but must listen to any offers we receive out of due diligence. As of now, there have been no new offers from the Celtics.
Only the Celtics know if that will change by Thursday. In the meantime, the Bulls are preparing for the draft, in which they own the 16th and 38th picks.