Butler's Emergence Could Help Bulls Get Love, Even with Bargnani Trade

Andrew DannehyCorrespondent IFebruary 7, 2013

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 5: Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves drives to the basket in front of Brandon Bass #30 of the Boston Celtics during the game on December 5, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Jimmy Butler's recent emergence for the Bulls could pay off in both the immediate and distant future as he has made Luol Deng a tradable asset that could help them net a second superstar to play alongside Derrick Rose

Prior to the season, Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said on ESPN 1000's "The Waddle & Silvy Show" that the team needed a second star to go with former league MVP Derrick Rose and that they have tried acquiring one.

It's long been thought that Deng's value to the Bulls was too great and they couldn't or wouldn't trade him. However, when he was forced to miss a few games, Butler filled his shoes admirably.

In six starts this season, Butler averaged 14.5 points and 8.8 rebounds, while shooting 43 percent from the field and a staggering 96 percent from the free-throw line. 

The second-year forward gives the Bulls energy and athleticism. He's widely known as a terrific defensive player, but perhaps the most impressive part of his game is the fact that he understands his limitations, a rarity in today's NBA.

In addition to shooting 49 percent from the field, Butler shoots 86 percent from the free-throw line and has a Player Efficiency Rating of 15.4, slightly higher than Deng's 15.2.

I'm not suggesting Butler is better than Deng. He isn't and probably will never reach Deng's All-Star status, but he is certainly good enough to be a starter, which would give the Bulls the option of moving Deng for a bigger piece.

Many fans want to see the Bulls trade Carlos Boozer, but there isn't much of a market for him and his contract. Joakim Noah has been the biggest key to their success this season and should be considered nearly untouchable. Nobody else on the roster has enough value to bring back a big star, so that leaves Deng as the most tradable asset currently on their roster.

I'm not one who thinks the Bulls necessarily need a star to win a championship—see the 2011 Dallas Mavericks—but I do think they should grab one if they get the opportunity and they might be able to scoop up Minnesota's Kevin Love.

Love and Rose are friends as they've worked out together in the summer and Love is far from happy with his current situation with the Wolves. He made his displeasure known in December.

Love also essentially said he won't be re-signing when his contract expires if they're not a contending team, which is why he re-signed for three years instead of five when he had the option. At this point, it seems highly unlikely the Wolves will accomplish that by the time his contract runs out.

While Love has missed all but 18 games for the Wolves this season, they currently sit 10 games under .500 and are 12th in the Western Conference, well behind the eighth-seeded Houston Rockets. It seems unlikely that Love alone would make them contenders.

The teams at the top of the Western Conference are going to be contending for a while, at least until Love has a chance to become an unrestricted free agent and the Wolves don't have enough players or assets to catch up to them.

Love's style is perfect for the Bulls. He's considered a great passer, a dominant rebounder and could open the floor with his three-point shooting. While he's not a great defensive player, he certainly isn't as bad as Carlos Boozer.

The Bulls could offer the Wolves a package centered around Deng and European prospect Nikola Mirotic and the Wolves would certainly have to consider it. 

If Deng and Mirotic aren't enough for the Wolves, there is the possibility they could make it a blockbuster with a third team. ESPN's Marc Stein reported the Bulls and Raptors have discussed a potential trade involving Carlos Boozer and Andrea Bargnani. The Bulls could ship Bargnani to Minnesota, giving them a replacement for Love.

Using ESPN.com's trade machine, the deal can be worked out if the Bulls also take Greg Stiemsma—which would fill another need—and Landry Fields. The Raptors would have to be willing to take Luke Ridnour, but the Bobcats future first-round pick that the Bulls own could convince them to do so.

The problem with this trade is timing. It's unlikely to happen this season as Love won't be returning until March, around the same time Rose is expected to come back. The Bulls can integrate one star before the playoffs, but it's unlikely they could do so with two, especially without Deng and Boozer in the interim.

If the Bulls are capable of winning without another superstar, this could be their last chance to prove it. If they don't get the job done, it might be time to be aggressive and go after a player who could be the perfect compliment to what they already have on their roster.