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Bulls do right thing, realize time to move on and trade Jimmy Butler

Photos of former Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler.

An amazing thing happened Thursday night at the Advocate Center.

And the Bulls traded All-Star guard Jimmy Butler too.

But before the Bulls completed what will go down as the biggest transaction of the 2017 NBA draft, they had to clear a significant philosophical hurdle that always had tripped them up in the past. They had to reach a consensus to rebuild the organization, which requires a new foundation and different blueprint. They had to agree to embark on a long-term project requiring patience for a franchise with an 81-year-old chairman, Jerry Reinsdorf.

The Bulls began by unloading Butler, their most valuable asset who had done all he could do in Chicago. Give credit to the kid from Tomball, Texas, who worked his way onto the NBA’s elite level, but the Bulls had gone as far as they were going to go with Butler as their best player. Over the last two seasons as Butler emerged as one of the league’s top 15 players, the Bulls were 83-81 and won zero playoff series. And the longer Butler remained a Bull, the closer the team came to investing as much as $230 million in his next contract beginning in 2019 under the designated veteran exception — a factor not to be forgotten when putting Butler’s exit into context.

Life without Butler will test the Bulls’ resolve, but it was time for them to start over, time for a risk-averse organization to take a risk. Finally, the Bulls established an unambiguous plan, stopped running in place and realized in pro sports taking two steps forward requires taking one step back. Finally, they were as decisive as they were daring in taking the best offer among others made by the Celtics and Nuggets and deserve credit for doing whatever they felt was necessary to escape NBA purgatory known as the middle.

Trading an All-Star guard to the Timberwolves for three young players — guards Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine and No. 7 pick Lauri Markkanen — represented a leap of faith by two Bulls executives who like to keep their feet on the ground. Vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman leaped anyway. They understood Butler’s value never was going to be higher on the trade market, and perhaps they sensed the appetite for change among Bulls fans was as voracious as ever. Even if some of those fans expressed the belief via social media that the Bulls should have received more in return for Butler, everybody will agree the organization can stop worrying about apathy. Nothing piques the interest of a fan base quite like a blockbuster trade.

Look at White Sox fans. Reinsdorf teams now have traded Chris Sale, an ace, and Jimmy Butler, an All-Star, in the past year, and both deals made sense for the Sox and Bulls, respectively. One day, history even might show that Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau, the man the Bulls fired two years ago, made Paxson and Forman look good after all. The deal gives the Bulls three skilled young players to develop and allows them to tailor a roster for the offensive style they seek to play under coach Fred Hoiberg — though the presence of Hoiberg played no role in trading Butler.

Photos of Fred Hoiberg, the 19th coach in Bulls franchise history.

Bulls veterans, beware. The days of point guard Rajon Rondo and center Robin Lopez on the Bulls should be numbered, and the discussion about Dwyane Wade, who just exercised his player option for $23.8 million, suddenly includes the word buyout. The future just took a double-digit lead over the present at the United Center, but at least the Bulls have a game plan for winning.

It includes Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen, the most intriguing of the new trio. Dunn, a 6-foot-4-inch guard coveted by the Bulls before the 2016 draft, endured a disappointing rookie season after the Timberwolves selected him fifth. He struggled running an NBA offense and shooting the ball. But Thibodeau often referred to him as "a special defensive player," a solid base. LaVine, the former slam dunk champion who tore his ACL on Feb. 3, showed explosiveness in averaging 18.9 points before the injury. Just 22, LaVine also shot 38.7 percent from 3-point range, and Bulls brass felt good enough about the recovery of LaVine’s knee to make him the centerpiece of the trade.

Unless you consider Markkanen that guy. A skilled 3-point shooter at 7 feet whose finesse game has been compared favorably to fellow European Kristaps Porzingis, Markkanen gives the Bulls a perimeter threat to space the floor. According to a Sports Illustrated profile, Markkanen grew up in Jyvaskyla, Finland, shooting baskets four hours per day as a 10-year-old. Having just turned 20, Markkanen is too young to expect too much too soon, but his style ideally suits today’s 3-point-oriented NBA.

"It’s a historic organization I’m truly proud to be a part of," Markkanen said of the Bulls during a teleconference.

If you had said a Chicago team was going to draft a promising Finnish prospect in the first round this weekend, the odds favored the Blackhawks. The Bulls getting Markkanen was a pleasant surprise — but not the biggest one on a seismic night for a team finally headed in a clear direction.

Twitter @DavidHaugh