Storyline: Jimmy Butler Trade?

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Should the Heat be interested in acquiring Paul George from the Pacers? — Daniel, Miami. A: I don’t know if they “should be,” but I know that they will consider every and any possibilities when it comes to elite-level players, be it George or Jimmy Butler, when those respective teams are eliminated from the playoffs. For as much as Pat Riley praised what the Heat have in place, the reality is that you win in the NBA with elite-level talent surrounded by the proper supporting pieces. But if a playoff team is to move on from such a talent, it likely will require a top-tier piece and a youth element in return. So if you’re talking about George or Butler, you’re probably also talking about Hassan Whiteside or Goran Dragic in return. When it comes to the youth element, the Heat do not have a first-round pick to offer in return, although there is the youth of Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. So, to instead offer the simplest response: Yes, absolutely, should a player of that ilk come on the market.

Butler’s name has been rumored in trade talk, though there hasn’t seemed like any serious discussions. “I never know what tomorrow brings, so I’ll just lay down, dream and hopefully wake up the next day,” said a contemplative Butler looking forward to his shorter All-Star break. “Am I anxious for (Thursday)? I don’t worry about that; I’ll be OK. Not saying I’m untradeable, but I don’t think about that. If I’m not in a Bulls uniform, I’ll give you (reporter) a hug and say goodbye to you. Hopefully I’m not going to die, but hopefully I’m not going to get traded, either. I won’t know. I don’t control that. Control what I can control, like going on vacation.”

Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Indiana’s Paul George and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins are three players who on paper at least, would meet that criteria. Multiple league sources this weekend confirmed that each of their respective teams isn’t making a push to trade them. But like every team in the league, they will certainly listen to any and all offers. Only Indiana and Sacramento have come out publicly to say they are not planning to trade their players, with the Pacers indicating they’re willing to give up their first-round pick in order to add a stable, proven talent to the mix in order to help George going forward.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have been somewhat indifferent to potentially moving Butler, who is playing his third all-star game tonight. That’s why several teams, the Celtics included, have inquired about Butler’s availability. While the Bulls haven’t set any specific parameters, league executives believe they are seeking some combination of high draft picks and young veterans (players with experience who are either near the end of their rookie deals or have team-friendly contracts) just to consider moving Butler.

League sources sort of joked at the idea of either Chicago guard Jimmy Butler or Pacers forward Paul George being obtainable in trade at the deadline, saying “You can always call, every team answers the phone during the All-Star break.” The consensus on both Butler and George is that neither team, Chicago nor Indiana, would actually consider a serious offer at this point, mainly because moving either player would require an open roster spot to consummate and neither team really has one.

Butler, sources said, is a favorite of team President Michael Reinsdorf. The Tribune reported in June that ownership at the time wanted to avoid a full rebuild, having lived through the post-dynasty era. Whether that stance will change is unknown. Butler was asked Wednesday about his relationship with management. “It’s good. They’re my bosses,” Butler said. “We talk like men if I have a problem. If they have a problem, we talk like we’re supposed to. It’s very professional.”

Bulls sources said recently that the team is at something of a crossroads, admitting that many of the young players the team had hoped could grow into the support players around Butler, frankly, have not been equal to the task. When you combine that with recent outbursts from both Butler and Dwyane Wade in the media about the work ethic of some of the Bulls’ younger players, there is a growing sense among league insiders that cashing Butler out might be the best course for the future.

Teams have inquired about Butler’s price tag this season in the type of talks that take place all the time throughout the league. Executives from two other teams said last month they were given the impression that Butler isn’t available for now. It’s unlikely that changes by the Feb. 23 trade deadline, which comes four days after Butler’s third straight All-Star Game, although non-efforts like Friday night’s loss at Atlanta give pause. This offseason will bring more inquiries.

Horace Grant, who serves as special advisor to president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf, says Chicago doesn’t need any drastic moves to reach the postseason. In a video posted on CSNChicago, the former Bull says the team just needs its key players to stay healthy. “I wouldn’t worry about trading anyone,” Grant said. “I wouldn’t worry about trading Jimmy or anything. I will find a way with the pieces that we have now, which I sincerely think that we’re going to make the playoffs, that we’re going to make a push.”

The Timberwolves explored several trade options in June, including for Chicago star Jimmy Butler, but Thibodeau, also Minnesota’s president of basketball operations, now sounds as committed as anyone in the franchise to his young trio. Outside the organization, executives wonder about Minnesota’s inclination to keep all three. But within the franchise, there is no question: management and owner Glen Taylor will do whatever it takes financially in order to win. “I love our core three guys, and what I love most is their work ethic, their dedication to work,” Thibodeau said. “They understand the level we need to reach, particularly defensively, and their work shows that they will work to get it right. We understand that it’s going to take some time and we need to work at it each and every day.”

A league source with knowledge of the situation indicated to me that Chicago also demanded an additional starter-level player in the deal. It’s unclear what was and wasn’t discussed exactly, but what we do know is that the Bulls weren’t prepared to go full-rebuild (though that could change by the trade deadline). “We’re trying to find deals. And sometimes you have to make small deals in order to be able to have big deals,” Ainge said. “You have to put yourself in position with good young players and good contracts and future assets. It puts us in the game if there’s a player that becomes available in the trade market, but they have to like those young players and assets,” Ainge said.

And he didn’t think too much into draft night back in June, as the Bulls were in heated discussions to try and land highly coveted guard Kris Dunn, reportedly using Butler to do so. “It’s not their job to report anything to me,’’ Butler said of general manager Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson. “I’m a big boy. I don’t need you to tell me, ‘No, you’re not going to be traded.’ I know it’s a business and if it happens it happens, but I’m here. “I don’t pay attention to it. I was in the gym working out during the draft. My phone was blowing up, but what can I do? I can go in the office and be like, ‘Hey please don’t trade me?’ If they were going to do that, that’s on them not me.’’

The initial key for the Bulls was the third overall pick from last month’s draft and the ability to select Providence guard Kris Dunn. The aforementioned sources added that the Celtics were willing to add one player from their rotation when Chicago wanted a second. “Another sticking point in that and in other deals Boston is talking about is that pick from the Nets next year,” said one of these sources. “Danny will make it available in the right situation, but he’s not going to give it up with core players, too. That’s going to be a good draft, and that’s going to be a high pick.

There is strong evidence the Celtics could have made a trade for Butler, but neither side felt what was being offered by the other was worth doing. If it had simply been a matter of getting Butler to get Durant, the C’s would have overpaid and done it. But that’s where the story changes. According to sources close to Durant, one of the things that interested the former league MVP about the Celts, as we’ve stated before, is the core that has been gathered. He was very interested in playing with a cohesive and complementary unit, which is what he is getting in Golden State.
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May 23, 2017 | 2:18 pm EDT Update