Minnesota's Jimmy Butler has three preferred destinations for a trade, league sources tell ESPN: The Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks. Those three teams have max cap space to sign Butler as a free agent in July.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 19, 2018
Who should trade for Jimmy Butler is a very different list than where he wants to go. As noted in the above tweet, each of the teams on Butler’s wish list have the ability to sign him as a free agent in the summer of 2019. This brings us the latest iteration of the Paul George/Kawhi Leonard query; if you’re his preferred destination, do you want to use assets to trade for a guy you can sign for free, but if you decide to wait, another team can swoop in and he may end up signing an extension there instead? This isn’t an exact parallel as both George and Kawhi explicitly stated they wanted to go to the Lakers, where as Butler’s list of three preferred destinations brings in multiplying factors to working through the Game Theory in all of this. Regardless of where Butler wants to go, here is the list of who should trade for Jimmy Butler, broken down into groupings. All trades proposed have matching salaries.
Contenders Chasing the Warriors
DOUBLE DOWN. PLEASE DOUBLE DOWN. After rolling the dice on a potential one year rental with the idea in mind that Toronto can sell Kawhi Leonard on the Raptor’s culture and the city of Toronto, for the love of GOD do it again. Go all in.
I want to live in a world where Kyle Lowry-Jimmy Butler-Kawhi Leonard-OG Anunoby-Jonas Valanciunas is a defensive lineup I get to watch in real life. The elite defense and switchability of positions 1-4 on that team would be unlike anything we have ever seen before, don’t @ me. Positions 1-4 all have credible three point shots as well, so spacing shouldn’t be an issue. If the team wants to play five-out, swap in Ibaka for Valanciunas, and have Ibaka stand in the corner.
I understand the Celtics hype heading into the season, but if the Raptors land Butler they’re the best team in the East and it isn’t close. You can even look at this as an insurance policy. What are the odds at least one of Butler or Leonard stays? At least decent? One of them is going to like the idea of playing in the post-LeBron East surrounded by at least Lowry, OG, and Fred VanVleet.
So what would a trade look like? This is where we establish a baseline for moving forward through all these scenarios. Thibs, I’m guessing, will have a preference for win-now/ready to contribute guys in any trade discussions, and the young talent/picks will come second, similar to the Kawhi trade.
That being said, something along the lines of Danny Green, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam, and a lottery protected first makes sense. Green seems like a Thibs guy, mainly because he was a Pop guy. Green plays defense (which no one on the Timberwolves will be doing once Butler is traded) and can shoot (which Minnesota desperately needs). C.J. Miles is the three point marksman this team craves, while Siakam is the young upside guy that needs to be included in a trade for someone of Butler’s caliber.
#MoreyBall. Get stars, everyone else is expendable. If the Rockets want to beat the Warriors before age catches up with Chris Paul they may need to get a third true star in the building. It is weird to say the team that was a hamstring injury away from potentially knocking off the Warriors needs more reinforcements, but it didn’t seem like Golden State was that interested in trying during the Western Conference Finals until the second half of game seven.
Besides, this is right in line with how Morey perceives team building. When someone like Jimmy Butler is available, you get him, and figure the rest out later. Houston could trot out Chris Paul, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Carmelo Anthony, and Clint Capela, and say “this is it, this is the best team we could possibly assemble to take down the Warriors,” and comfortably sleep well at night knowing they tried as hard as they could to build the best possible contender around prime Harden.
Considering the theory that Thibs wants win-now guys, the Rockets can send P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, and some compilation of picks. Houston has all of their own first rounders moving forward, so they aren’t hamstrung in that area.
Tucker would give the Wolves a floor spacing 4 so Towns can have more space in the post. I know Thibs is allergic to this idea, but at least it fits what the team needs (yes, I am aware the team signed Anthony Tolliver). Tucker can also allow the Wolves to play small with him at center for portions of the game. Gordon will bring shot creation and shooting, two areas where Minnesota needs help, although if Gordon is coming off the bench he will get about 10 minutes a game to provide those talents to this team.
The Small Market Contender That Can’t Attract a Free Agent
Do it. Go for it. Be bold. Get aggressive. Make everyone #TakeNote. The core duo of Gobert and Mitchell are young enough that Utah doesn’t need to rush to try to summit Mount Golden State, but the odds the team ever lands a player of Butler’s caliber in free agency are, uh, low.
Utah is looking at $24.3 million of cap space next summer if they renounce all their cap holds, and can open up an additional $16.9 million if they waive Derrick Favors before July 5th. Even if the Jazz do walk into free agency with $41.2 million in available cap space, who is going to take their money? Do you think it is likely Jimmy Butler would even meet with Utah?
This is Utah’s chance to pitch a star on their culture and city. Butler can be flanked by Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, playing for an elite coach, and will perhaps grow to enjoy Salt Lake City (perhaps not, who knows. I left a voicemail on Butler’s phone asking about this, but I have yet to hear back).
So what would Utah have to give up in order to obtain Butler? I just get the feeling that Thibs would like Joe Ingles. I’m basing this on literally nothing, for the record. But Ingles plays hard, has done well for a very good coach (so he takes coaching well and executes correctly), and can be a secondary or tertiary playmaker for the Wolves. Jae Crowder’s defense and shooting might also intrigue Thibs, while the Jazz would probably throw in Grayson Allen and a top 20 protected first.
The Next Pre-Agency Victims
This trend of players demanding a trade a year ahead of their ability to hit free agency, or in Kyrie’s case two years ahead of the ability to hit free agency, has been deemed “pre-agency.” Kinda love that. There are two obvious choices of teams that profile to be the next victims of this scenario.
New Orleans Pelicans
I’ve previously talked about the idea of a star forcing his way to New Orleans, and while the information in the article is now outdated, the core, obvious concept is the same: Pair another star with Anthony Davis.
Anthony Davis still has three years remaining on his contract, but after this summer he will be 26 with two years remaining on his contract, which puts him into the Kyrie situation. Davis may not want to spend the remainder of his prime on a roster he believes has no chance of competing, and therefore demand a trade.
The best idea for the Pelicans is to show Davis the franchise is committed to winning, so much so that they’re willing to gamble on Butler being a rental with the idea he falls in love with Davis as a teammate and the city of New Orleans. If it works, awesome, and if it doesn’t, then it was already a ticking time bomb till you have to blow this thing up anyway.
In case you haven’t heard, Thibs shows an affinity for collecting every player he ever coached on the Bulls. Nikola Mirotic would provide a floor spacing 4. New Orleans can also send back E’Twaun Moore to fill in some wing depth the Wolves will be losing by shipping out Butler.
The Pelicans’ big advantage in these negotiations (in theory) is that they seem to make the most sense to be comfortable sending a pick with the lightest protections. Well, maybe that distinction belongs to Houston, but based on what the Rockets and Pelicans are sending back in terms of players, New Orleans would have to send back a better pick.
I could see the Pelicans being comfortable with only a top 10 or even top 8 protection on the pick. If New Orleans has a big three of Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler, and Jrue Holiday, two of those three guys probably needs to suffer a significant injury in order for the team to be really out of playoff contention. Given each player’s injury history it isn’t that far fetched, but it is still unlikely.
Also of note is New Orlean’s lack of hesitancy to trade away picks previously. There isn’t really a pathway for the Pelicans to get significantly better than the current iteration of themselves, which probably isn’t enough to keep Davis happy long term. Be aggressive.
You can copy and paste everything I just said about Anthony Davis here and apply it to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis has three years remaining on his deal and will be 24 year olds next summer, putting him into the Kyrie situation. Giannis has repeatedly said he isn’t one for big cities and he really loves Milwaukee, but at some point his desire to win is going to override everything else.
This may actually be the most interesting of my potential Butler trades as Milwaukee would be sending back the best player out of anyone; Khris Middleton. It would be nice to add Butler to both Giannis and Middleton, but given what the Bucks have to offer it isn’t very realistic. Still, Butler represents an upgrade over Middleton and will improve Milwaukee’s defense.
In order to make the money work the Timberwolves would have to take back Matthew Dellavedova, but the Bucks can add in Thon Maker and also include a lottery protected first round pick.
There isn’t really a pathway for the Bucks to get significantly better than the current iteration of themselves, which probably isn’t enough to keep Giannis happy long term. Be aggressive.
LeBron’s Gone – Let’s Go For It
My obsession with the Pacers’ roster management continues. Indiana has the ability to open up around $52 million (!!) in cap space in the summer of 2019. They could pitch Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving on the idea of teaming up together in the Eastern Conference on a team that already has Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, and Domantas Sabonis (if Indiana can find a taker for both McDermott and T.J. Leaf). It’s not a bad pitch.
But the Pacers are still a team that has issues getting marquee free agents. What are the odds that either Butler or Kyrie takes a meeting with Indiana this summer? Probably low. So why not try the Paul George thing?
The fascinating part of the Pacers trading for Butler is it won’t affect their ability to have another max slot available should Butler sign an extension. Thaddeus Young, Tyreke Evans, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, and Cory Joseph (among others) are all expiring contracts.
Again, Bojan just seems like a Thibs type of guy, and he is someone that can offer some playmaking and shooting to the roster. In order to make the money work, the Wolves would have to take back Cory Joseph, but again he is expiring. Indiana would add in Domantas Sabonis and a lottery protected first round pick. Why? If Bogdanovic and Cory Joseph both walk then all the Wolves will have to show for their Butler trade would be either Sabonis or a first round pick presumably in the 20s, which just isn’t enough.
Because of course they should be involved in this discussion.
Bringing in Butler would allow Miami to add a star while also getting off long-term money that is currently limiting their flexibility. The benefit for the Wolves here is that Miami probably can offer the best package of players that will make an impact this upcoming season.
Miami can send back Kelly Olynyk to stretch the floor, Josh Richardson, and Justice Winslow, who seems like Thibs guy since he can play defense and can’t shoot. Considering there is no upside to explore for either Olynyk or Richardson, and Winslow is heading into free agency, Miami might send a lottery protected first in the deal. Considering Pat Riley doesn’t care about draft picks at all, this isn’t unrealistic.
This one is rather straight forward. The Wall/Beal/Porter trio isn’t enough. You can argue they have never had enough depth around them, but if that big three was good enough this team would just be better. At a certain point Washington is going to start sniffing around Otto Porter trades.
So why not try to roll the dice on Butler? It’s entirely possible he hates Dwight and just leaves, but it’s also possible the Wall/Beal/Butler trio gets them into the Eastern Conference elite (health permitting).
In order to make the money work the Wolves would have to send Tyus Jones to Washington, with the Wizards sending back Thomas Bryant. Considering Thibs apparently hates Jones, he would probably be cool with this.
It’s fair to think that isn’t enough for Butler, and Washington should send a pick, but Porter has two more years left on his deal before a $28.5 million player option after that. I’m not going to try to predict what Porter is going to do concerning his player option two years ahead of time, but at that point he will be 27, point being hitting the market at 28 isn’t exactly a bad thing. Considering how stingy teams are now with player contracts in the wake of 2016, it’s certainly possible Porter wants to cash in that $28.5 million before securing a long-term deal the following summer.
For the record, I hope it’s Denver that takes a swing at adding a potential rental with the hopes of persuading him to stay, but I wasn’t able to figure out a trade that made sense unless it involved Gary Harris, and given how long Harris is locked up and how high everyone is on the Nuggets’ young core, I’m not sure Denver sees that as a worthwhile calculated risk.