On a quiet Saturday afternoon in September, The Athletic livened things up in the NBA world by reporting on an important meeting that was set to take place between Jimmy Butler and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
According to seasoned reporter Jon Krawczynski, Butler and the main members of the Wolves’ front office were going to have a sit down regarding his future with the organization. In Krawczynski’s own words:
“In the meeting Monday, the Timberwolves will have to lay out a plan that shows a clear path to contention that will get Butler to commit to plunging into another season in Minnesota. But the Timberwolves will also have an enormous decision to make. If they don’t believe Butler is committed to be in Minnesota long-term, they would have to at least consider moving him. Thibodeau traded Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick (Lauri Markkanen) for Butler and the No. 16 overall pick (Justin Patton) last year.”
No matter how we spin it, that’s troubling news for Minnesota. The fact Butler needs to be sold on the team’s vision before the final year of his contract has even begun is not a good sign. Couple that with smoke regarding a tumultuous relationship between Butler and the team’s young stars, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and we have more than enough reason to believe the marriage between Butler and the Timberwolves is on very thin ice.
As such, we decided to break down a few potential trade destinations and packages that could be put together for Butler. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Only two teams are projected to have more cap space than the Brooklyn Nets next summer. And after a rough few seasons following the now-infamous Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce trade, general manager Sean Marks finally appears to have his team on the verge of turning the corner towards relevance once again.
One way they could expedite the process would be by pulling off a deal to acquire Butler.
As is, the Nets have big plans for next offseason – and adding Butler before next summer’s free agency even opens up would make them that much more appealing as a landing spot for big names, who may currently feel hesitant to join what still appears to be a late-stage rebuild. Even though that all sort of sounds farfetched at the moment, Brooklyn does have the requisite cap space to trade for the Marquette product, sign him to a max extension and still have room left over to go after another max-level player in the 2019 offseason, so it may not be out of the realm of possibilities.
By acquiring Butler and another top-flight free agent, plus projecting the continued growth of promising young center Jarrett Allen and ball-handling playmaker D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn would quickly shift into one of the more interesting teams in the league.
To get a Butler trade done, the Nets could offer a package featuring the Denver Nuggets’ top-12 protected 2019 first-round pick, as well as defensive-minded wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who’s still on his rookie-scale deal for another year. And just to make the salaries work, Brooklyn could include 3-and-D specialist DeMarre Carroll, who had a solid bounce-back season for the Nets in 2017-18.
NEW YORK KNICKS
The other team that resides in what’s probably the biggest market in the league, the New York Knicks also appear poised to make the leap to respectability in the not-too-distant future. Kristaps Porzingis’ ACL injury may have slowed the return to prominence down just a tick, but nevertheless, thanks to their abundant amount of cap space in 2019, and with a decent young nucleus featuring Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox, the future seems promising for the Knicks.
As further motivation for going after a Butler trade, New York expect to be players in next summer’s free agency. After all, rumors are already rampant regarding their plans to use their cap room to chase stars like Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. In order to increase interest from any of the big free-agent names set to be available next July, the Knicks could try to execute a deal for Butler to become more enticing as a landing spot.
Today’s stars prefer teaming up instead of carrying franchises on their own. By that logic, would Durant and Irving not be more interested in signing with the Knicks if it meant playing with an All-Star talent they’re familiar with in Butler, as opposed to joining a bunch of young guys who haven’t proven much, and a centerpiece, albeit a talented one, coming off a major injury?
As far as what the Knicks could offer Minnesota for Butler, a package centered around one of their first-round picks, unprotected, could get things started. It wouldn’t be cheap, but New York’s ability to attract free agents would be greatly buoyed by landing a proven stud, so no matter the price, Butler would be worth it.
The Nuggets have come painfully close to making the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, finishing one game back of the No. 8 seed in both 2016-17 and 2017-18. And although the growth of their excellent young core could be enough to get them over the hump in 2018-19, in the Wild Wild West, there are no guarantees, so making a move for an elite talent like Butler should not be ruled out.
One important aspect of having such a talented-but-young team is that Denver currently has an outstanding crop of trade assets, with multiple players who could be the focal point of a big-time trade for an All-Star. Players like Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Michael Porter Jr. would all make sense as centerpieces for such a deal.
The issue is, would Tom Thibodeau and Co. really be willing to trade one of his two best players to a Denver team that was so close to them in the standings last year? Minnesota only made the playoffs in 2017-18 because on the last day of the season, they were able to defeat the Nuggets in what was the equivalent to a play-in game for postseason qualification. So would it make any sense for the Wolves to strengthen the roster of their biggest rivals through trade?
Of course, if Minnesota believes they have no chance of retaining Butler in free agency and Denver makes the best offer – which they very well may with their fantastic crop of assets – in the end, it may not matter.
After this past summer’s inability to land a marquee name, the Philadelphia 76ers may very well turn to the trade market to acquire someone who can help them become legit contenders… someone like Butler.
Playing next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, Butler would help form one of the nastiest trios not just in the East, but in the entire NBA. Just think about how hard that triumvirate would be to score on; Simmons and Butler’s ability to lock down opposing wings, as well as their switching on the perimeter, to go with Embiid’s fierce rim protection could vault Philadelphia into becoming the stingiest team league-wide. And offensively, Butler’s decent three-point shooting, foul-drawing propensity and his ridiculous overall efficiency would make the 76ers awfully hard to stop, especially late in games.
Like the Nuggets, Philadelphia has a few promising players still on their rookie deals who could prove to be interesting trade chips. A guy like Dario Saric, for example, who had a breakout sophomore campaign and who still has untapped upside that may be unlocked in a different team situation, as more of a focal point, would make sense for Minnesota.
If not Saric, Markelle Fultz hasn’t shown much yet, but his huge potential as a score-first lead guard could entice the Timberwolves.
Either way, a Butler-to-Philly deal would make a lot of sense for both sides, and if the All-NBA talent does hit the trading block, the Sixers should be seen as potential favorites to aggressively go after him.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
After landing LeBron James this offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers could look to bolster their roster even further by pursuing a Butler trade. Acquiring another star wing to place next to James would help L.A. mightily in what projects to be an absurdly deep Western Conference next season. As presently constructed, the Lakers should have enough to be a playoff team simply thanks to the four-time league MVP (and complementary pieces) they signed this offseason. But adding even more firepower to the rotation wouldn’t hurt.
Now that Luol Deng and his albatross of a contract are off of Los Angeles’ books, the Lakers have the room necessary to add another max contract to their roster next summer. Most believe they’re saving that to go after Kawhi Leonard once he hits unrestricted free agency in 2019. However, after seeing another one of their main targets, Paul George, re-sign with his team without so much as taking a meeting with any other suitors, team president Magic Johnson may opt to control his own destiny and use the trade market to strengthen his team.
If that is the route L.A. chooses to take, the Lakers have various young assets that could headline such a deal. Someone like Brandon Ingram or Kyle Kuzma would make sense as a primary return for the Wolves, as both are on rookie-scale deals and possess good-to-great upside. Kuzma, in particular, could be a real fun and, more importantly, sensical frontcourt partner for Towns, as his floor-spacing from the 4-spot is perfectly suited to mesh with someone who dominates the paint like the Minnesota big man.
That may seem pricey, but landing Butler to go with James and other parts like Lonzo Ball, one of Ingram or Kuzma, and Josh Hart, would make the Lakers quite the formidable team – one readier to challenge for more than just a first- or second-round playoff run.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @FrankUrbina_.