The Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as the ideal destination for Jimmy Butler if the Minnesota Timberwolves trade him this offseason.
Zach Lowe reported that Los Angeles is considered highly unlikely to offer either of the two rookies they drafted in the lottery of the 2019 NBA Draft (via ESPN):
“The Clips have among the easiest ready-made offers that would satisfy [Tom] Thibodeau‘s presumed desire to chase a playoff spot: Tobias Harris, one of Lou Williams/Patrick Beverley/Avery Bradley (not tradable until Jan. 15)/Milos Teodosic, and a future first-round pick (conveyed two years after the pick they already owe Boston via the disastrous Jeff Green deal). Some of those combinations would vault Minnesota over the tax, complicating talks. The Clips could substitute Jerome Robinson for the pick, or add Robinson (though I doubt they would do that). It would be shocking if they included Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, league sources say.”
The most likely path to convince Minnesota to send Butler to the Clippers before the seasons begins would be Harris and Gilgeous-Alexander, per The Athletic’s Jovan Buha.
But as noted by Lowe, there’s almost no way that Los Angeles parts ways with the former Kentucky star before he plays a game for the franchise. Minnesota is reportedly more interested in win-now players than emerging talents like the 20-year-old point guard anyway.
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor speculated that “it would be a stunning turn” if the Clippers parted ways with Gilgeous-Alexander, noting that it would be significantly more likely that Los Angeles would offer Robinson alongside “some combination” of veterans.
This also means that the front office would presumably not trade Gilgeous-Alexander to land Kawhi Leonard, who will also become a free agent at the end of the season.
Lowe reported that the Clippers have not “acted aggressively” in a potential pursuit of Butler. Adrian Wojnarowski hinted at a similar tentativeness (via ESPN):
“Nevertheless, it remains uncertain how much — if anything — the Clippers would trade for a player whom the team could sign this summer without surrendering any assets.”
As such, it’s clear that Los Angeles values Gilgeous-Alexander and believe he is a franchise centerpiece moving forward – especially after trading away Blake Griffin and Chris Paul as well as letting DeAndre Jordan walk in free agency.
The youth is certainly a priority for the organization and if they can keep it intact while also making a free agency push for Butler and Leonard, it’s the best-case scenario for the franchise.
This approach could eventually attract other stars to the franchise. This is very similar to the strategy that the Lakers, who share the Staples Center with the Clippers, used prior to landing LeBron James.