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As Bulls rebuild, Kyrie Irving's trade request intensifies Cavaliers turmoil

As Bulls rebuild, Kyrie Irving's trade request intensifies Cavaliers turmoil
The Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving talks with a teammate in the first half of a game against the Bucks in Cleveland on Feb. 27, 2017. (Tony Dejak / AP)

In 2007, Kobe Bryant made it clear to the Lakers that he wanted to be traded to the Bulls.

The Lakers had no intention of trading the face of the franchise. But they ended up exchanging proposals to placate Bryant. Most of them involved gutting the Bulls to the point Bryant no longer found playing in Chicago attractive.

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Bryant settled down and helped the Lakers to three straight NBA Finals, winning two championships.

Fast forward 10 years.

Friday's stunning news, first reported by ESPN.com, that Kyrie Irving asked the three-time reigning Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers to trade him in a meeting last week included one nugget the Sun-Times first reported June 20. The Bulls appealed to him because of Jimmy Butler.

The Bulls ended up trading Butler to the Timberwolves on draft night for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the exchange of first-round picks, moving from No. 16 to No. 7 to acquire Lauri Markkanen.

Given that the Timberwolves sit currently on Irving's list of preferred destinations, along with the Spurs, Heat and Knicks, Irving's bond with USA Basketball teammate Butler is legitimate.

What's unclear is if Irving's late-June desire to play with Butler ever formally made it to Bulls' management. Two league sources insisted the Cavaliers weren't aware of Irving's intentions until last week. Otherwise, they likely would have engaged in the trade talks that moved Chris Paul from the Clippers to the Rockets.

Multiple outlets, including the Tribune, reported during draft week that former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin had worked to try to engineer three-team deals to land Butler in Cleveland. In fact, Griffin had been doing so up until his final day of employment June 19.

Two league sources said Friday that one exchanged proposal that didn't gain much traction while Griffin remained on the job featured Irving moving to the Bulls and Butler to the Cavaliers. It's unclear if a third team participated in that trade scenario, if other assets were included and which team initiated it.

Irving's desire to team with Butler will do nothing to slow the debate on whether the Bulls pressed the button on a full rebuild too soon. Although, similar to the Bryant saga, it's difficult to figure a trade package for Irving that would have satisfied the Cavaliers.

The difference this time is that the Bulls actually lack young assets. In 2007, they had several in Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Joakim Noah, Thabo Sefolosha and a then-27-year-old Kirk Hinrich. But trading as many as would have been needed to land Bryant if the Lakers had considered trading him seriously would have gutted the team to the point of alienating Bryant.

That 2007-08 Bulls team ended up crashing and burning, finishing 33-49 and featuring John Paxson firing Scott Skiles on Christmas Eve. The reward ended up being the Bulls overcoming ridiculous 1.7 percent odds to land the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery and eventually selecting Derrick Rose.

With no Butler — or Irving for that matter — the Bulls surely would love for this rebuild to replicate similar luck.

Earlier this month, general manager Gar Forman addressed whether or not the Bulls regret moving into full rebuild mode now that the Eastern Conference has gotten weaker. An Irving trade — and persistent whispers LeBron James will entertain moving West next summer in free agency — could weaken the conference further.

"We look at it as far as what we feel we need to do," Forman said then, answering a question about the Eastern Conference and not the James' speculation. "You never know until you're in somebody else's shoes what's going on. But I do know we feel really good as far as taking a step back and the direction ahead as far as rebuilding around these young guys and continuing to add to that."

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Given all the recent organizational turmoil, it seems unlikely the Cavaliers will follow the Lakers' path with Bryant from a decade ago and hang onto Irving with similar success. Either way, the Bulls don't typically play the "what if?" game.

The rebuild is underway.

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