CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls set a clear direction by trading All-Star Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves on draft night last week.
The Bulls had plenty of people talking after they traded one of the NBA's top two-way players for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and No. 7 overall pick Lauri Markkanen, three newcomers who were introduced at a news conference on Tuesday.
Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said debating which team got the better end of the deal is "the wrong way to look at it" at the moment.
"We've defined our direction," he said. "We made the playoffs (eight of nine) years. Wasn't good enough. We have to now reset what we're about."
The Bulls added three players to the mix who are 23 or younger. They believe they are starting to build a team that fits coach Fred Hoiberg's pace-and-space offensive system as he heads into his third season.
They see a promising core that can help lay the foundation for bigger things. And they're not too concerned about what others think.
"I'm excited about what the environment in this building is going to be like going forward," Paxson said. "I'm not worried about perception. We understand this could take time, it's a process. But as long as these kids can play hard and compete our fans will appreciate them, and we'll get better."
There was plenty of room for the Bulls to improve after last season.
They made the playoffs on a tiebreaker after missing out the previous season, then put up a fight against Boston before bowing out in the first round.
Only once since the Michael Jordan era has Chicago advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2011. Derrick Rose tore the ACL in his left knee in the playoff opener against Philadelphia the following year, and the Bulls haven't been a serious championship threat since then.
The Bulls sorely needed more shooting and athleticism if Hoiberg's offense was going to work the way they hoped, and they believe they are on their way.
They are counting on LaVine to work his way back from a torn ACL in his left knee, for Dunn to improve on a disappointing rookie season after being drafted No. 5 overall and for the 7-foot Markkanen to make a smooth transition to the NBA with his sweet shot.
"I'm feeling really good," said LaVine, who was averaging 18.9 points when he was injured in February. "I'm attacking this injury like I do everything in life, working my butt off for it every day, in the gym and doing as much as possible. There's always that base timeline of 9-12 months with it. I feel like with my ability I'm able to come back early. But I really haven't set a timetable for that. I'm very confident that I'll come back better."
Agent Bill Duffy said LaVine is "definitely ahead of schedule" and called him the "consummate workaholic."
"But on the other hand, you've got to kind of mitigate his progress because he's eager to be at the (practice) facility," he added. "We're going to have to put the brakes on at some point."
Dunn, meanwhile, acknowledged a difficult rookie season under coach Tom Thibodeau. He didn't live up to the hype that accompanied him from Providence. He gets another chance with the Bulls, who tried getting him and LaVine a year ago for Butler.
Dunn described last season as a "roller coaster ride." But he also credited Thibodeau, the former Bulls coach.
"He helped me become a professional," Dunn said. "He loves players that love to work. He made sure all his guys are always in the gym working hard, attacking every day, trying to improve each day. Just keep learning the game. Tom really helped me be a pro."
Markkanen, who shot 49.2 percent from the field and 42.3 from 3-point range in his lone season at Arizona, sees his offense translating to the NBA. His defense needs work.
"I'm going to work on that," he said. "I know I'm going to get better when I put the work in."
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