CHICAGO — On the surface, Jimmy Butler may indicate that his first visit to the United Center as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves is just another game.
Zach LaVine, on the other hand, admits the Friday night affair carries a bit more weight than that.
LaVine, who was dealt to the Chicago Bulls in an offseason trade that sent Butler to the Timberwolves, is now part of a rebuilding process that started with Butler being dealt.
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With the Bulls in the midst of a seven-game losing streak and struggling without guard Kris Dunn, who remains out with a concussion, the return of Butler and Taj Gibson on Friday night is sure to draw its share of attention.
Gibson was a free agent when he joined the Timberwolves in the summer. He had his best season in 2013-14 with the Bulls, averaging 13.0 points and 6.8 rebounds in 82 games while finishing second in Sixth Man of the Year voting.
Butler and Gibson will be honored with a video tribute, the team announced Thursday, when Chicago made two minor moves as the trade deadline came and went.
A week after trading embattled Nikola Mirotic to the New Orleans Pelicans, the Bulls dealt Jameer Nelson — who was acquired in the Mirotic trade — to the Detroit Pistons for center Willie Reed and the right to exchange second-round draft picks in 2022.
Reed was waived before the Bulls acquired Noah Vonleh — a former No. 9 overall pick — from the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for the rights to Milocan Rakovic.
While the Bulls remained relatively quiet on Thursday, Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson told reporters that the moves — including trading Mirotic last week — is “consistent with the direction we want to go” and that patience will continue to be the key to Chicago’s rebuild.
“So much of this is about the young core that we have and their growth and development,” Paxson told reporters on Thursday. “That’s going to continue.
“We feel good about where we’re at and where we’re headed.”
The Bulls (18-35) will look to win for the first time since Jan. 20. They have struggled with their offensive rhythm without Dunn on the floor.
While LaVine has shown progress since returning last month from a torn ACL, Chicago has failed to maintain the momentum it picked up when Mirotic took more of an active role before he was traded last week.
The Timberwolves (34-23) are coming off a 140-138 overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night. While Minnesota has been steady at home, the Timberwolves have struggled on the road, losing 16 of 28 away from home.
While Butler and Gibson may face an emotional return in their first game as visitors to their former home arena, the Timberwolves will look to bounce back from their latest road loss, which was the back end of a back-to-back.
A day off on Thursday, the Timberwolves hope, will help.
“(That day off) helps tremendously, not only just physically but mentally,” guard Jamal Crawford told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “When you’re out there, you have to be as locked in as possible. You’re playing against the best players in the world and you have to be locked in every single second because that possession can mean something in the game.”
Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, who previously coached the Bulls, said the grind is all part of part of NBA life.
“But everyone goes through it,” Thibodeau told the Star-Tribune. “Everyone is going to play a stretch where you have maybe four games in six days or five in seven. So how do you deal with it?”