There has been drama brewing in Minnesota for quite some time, especially when it comes to Jimmy Butler.
With the four-time All-Star set to become a free agent in 2019, the Timberwolves are being forced to take a hard look at their future. Butler will reportedly meet with head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden this week to have “honest conversations” about where the two parties go from here, according to The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski.
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Thibodeau has downplayed rumors about Butler’s frustration with the team, particularly his relationships with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, but it’s clear Butler and the Timberwolves must sort through a few issues. If they can’t, Minnesota could consider moving him before the February trade deadline. The alternative is losing him for nothing in free agency.
So, who wants Butler? Well, any franchise would love to insert one of the NBA’s top players into the starting lineup, but these five teams could emerge as realistic suitors if the Timberwolves can’t convince Butler to stick around.
Jimmy Butler to the Knicks?
Why they make a deal: Phil Jackson is gone. Jeff Hornacek is gone. Joakim Noah is heading out the door soon. It’s possible president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry decide to be conservative with next year’s class of free agents, but if they can snag Butler, would that attract another star?
Butler and Celtics guard Kyrie Irving have reportedly explored the idea of playing together. An Irving-Butler backcourt along with Kevin Knox and Kristaps Porzingis in the frontcourt would make new coach David Fizdale (and all Knicks fans) very happy.
A trade would likely require parting ways with talented prospect Frank Ntilikina, but adding Butler improves New York now and could mean bigger moves in the near future.
Jimmy Butler to the Lakers?
Why they make a deal: Paul George? Nope. Kawhi Leonard? No guarantees with him in Toronto. Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson wants that second star next to LeBron James, and Butler would certainly qualify.
Butler doesn’t necessarily need to jump to a big market, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, but he is looking for teammates who will “give him a chance for annual postseason success.” Yeah, James works for that. It seems like a natural fit on the court with Butler serving as a secondary playmaker and scorer while taking on the tougher defensive assignments to keep LeBron fresh.
The real question is whether the Lakers want to make a trade. Johnson was content to keep his assets rather than risk it all for Leonard this past summer, so it wouldn’t be surprising if this situation follows that blueprint. Brandon Ingram is off limits, but what about Kyle Kuzma? Would the Timberwolves accept a lighter return if Butler makes it clear he’s gone?
Jimmy Butler to the Clippers?
Why they make a deal: If that other team in LA wants to hit fast forward on its rebuild, the opening could be here. This wouldn’t just be about Butler — this trade is made with Leonard in mind.
Ramona Shelburne: The #Clippers are the number one ranked team for Kawhi Leonard next season. The #Raptors are number two, and the #Lakers are number three.
Via: 710 ESPN Mason and Ireland
— Farbod Esnaashari (@Farbod_E) September 15, 2018
Putting Butler and Leonard together on the wings would instantly transform the Clippers into a real threat in the Western Conference. That’s two guys capable of dropping 20-25 points per game and defending most of the league’s top offensive threats.
The potential trade package from the Clips could be intriguing. Is Thibodeau scanning the roster for up-and-coming talent (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson), or will he lean toward some of the veterans available? (Imagine if head coach Doc Rivers still had power in the front office like Thibodeau. That’s an interesting negotiation process.)
Jimmy Butler to the 76ers?
Why they make a deal: The Sixers are in a great position with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons ready to lead the franchise for years to come. But it kind of feels as though Philadelphia missed on opportunities this offseason with James, Leonard and Paul George either moving elsewhere or staying home.
Insert Butler. He’d slot in nicely next to Embiid and Simmons as another offensive creator. The Sixers had the third-best defensive rating in the NBA last season, so Butler only makes the team’s defense that much more impenetrable.
If Philly would commit to Butler, it would likely require sending Robert Covington and Dario Saric to Minnesota. There could also be chemistry questions given Butler’s tension with Wiggins and Towns. Could that happen again with Embiid and Simmons?
Butler is a win-now player, and the 76ers are trying to win right now. He could elevate them into the same tier with another Eastern Conference contender. …
Jimmy Butler to the Celtics?
Why they make a deal: Boston doesn’t really need another star in the same sense as some of the other teams on this list. That’s the luxury of having Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford as well as future All-Stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. But if the Celtics want to reach that Warriors level, Butler would help.
When Leonard’s name was flying through the rumor mill, the Celtics were willing to do a pick-heavy deal as opposed to trading away players. They own first-round selections from the Kings (top-one protected), Grizzlies (top-eight protected) and Clippers (top-14 protected) as well as their own first-rounder.
The problem? Any Butler trade would require serious salary-cap maneuvering, as Rafael Torres of Celtics Wire explains:
With the recent contract extension of Marcus Smart, the Celtics have put themselves further behind in the race for Jimmy Butler. In order for the Celtics to sign Butler, they would have to clear a significant amount of cap space. Their best chance at retaining Irving and getting Butler would likely be via trade…
It isn’t likely that the Celtics would end up with a trio of Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Gordon Hayward but anything can happen in the NBA. The Celtics would have to likely part ways with Al Horford and one of Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown as well as a few other pieces to make it work.
And that’s before even considering on-court chemistry. Acquiring Butler allows him to play with Irving but presents other issues for Brad Stevens.
The Celtics are always a threat before the trade deadline simply because they have so many pieces on the board. However, this might be a reach considering the challenges involved.