After an NBA off-season that already saw the likes of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins, DeMar DeRozan and DeAndre Jordan change teams, we could be adding another name to the list of stars on the move.
“We offered him the extension, and they’ve met and come back to us and said they’re really appreciative of it, they appreciate that we got to them right away and all that,” Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told ESPN, “but they declined it.”
Butler, 29, is firmly in the prime of his career and would almost certainly command a higher figure in the free agent market, which could explain the decision, but the rumblings of his frustration with the Timberwolves organization only fuelled things further.
As the summer wore on, Timberwolves’ fellow all-star centre Karl-Anthony Towns was added to the list of players Butler was reportedly at odds with and with the season approaching both sides are looking for resolution.
Minnesota’s problems go well beyond Butler, with Towns himself said to be waiting to see how things are resolved with his disgruntled teammate before nearing any decisions on his own future with the organization.
Just earlier this week, Butler and Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau reportedly met to lay their respective cards on the table — a meeting that was originally slated to take place in Minnesota Monday before being relocated to Los Angeles at Butler’s request and now here we are.
In 2017, Butler was traded on draft night from the Chicago Bulls to the Wolves in exchange for Zach LaVine and the seventh-overall pick that was used to select Finnish forward Lauri Markkanen.
Last season, Butler averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game and made his fourth-straight all-star game. There’ll be a long line of suitors for Butler should he want out but the asking price could be discouragingly low given the lack of leverage Minnesota seems to have in this situation.
Amid speculation of what his preferred destinations list may look like, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Butler would like to be traded to either the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets or Los Angeles Clippers.
Each of the franchises presents a major market, but none of those teams are currently considered contenders by any means. They do share a through line in that they’ll all have ample cap space to re-sign Butler at season’s end when his current contract expires. They’ll also likely be able to feature Butler in a leading role.
So what kind of trade packages could the Timberwolves receive in return for Butler from each team? Let’s take a look:
Despite winning just 65 games total over the last three seasons, the Nets haven’t drafted higher than 22nd overall thanks to trading future assets when they acquired Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from the Boston Celtics five years ago. Their picks in that span have ultimately yielded Jaylen Brown (borderline star potential), Markelle Fultz (who knows, we’ll see), and rookie point guard Collin Sexton (very promising).
This season, the Nets finally hold their own draft rights and are likely to figure as a lottery team, making it unlikely they’re in a hurry to part with another potentially high first-rounder.
But that’s almost certainly part of what it would take to land Butler. The Nets do have a talented young player in 22 year-old D’Angelo Russell, though swapping those two wouldn’t entirely make sense for either team; with a veteran supporting cast around Towns and Wiggins, pending a complete blowup the Timberwolves are closer to win-now mode than not.
The Nets are a tough trade partner in that sense because aside from Russell — and perhaps sophomore big man Jarrett Allen — their best assets are still in the future.
Nets receive: Jimmy Butler, Tyus Jones
Timberwolves receive: Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeMarre Carroll’s expiring contract.
New York Knicks
The Knicks would love to land a star player like Butler to run alongside Kristaps Porzingis and Summer League breakout rookie Kevin Knox. In another universe, those players could even be considered quasi-realistic trade pieces, but with Butler on an expiring deal and the Timberwolves potentially wanting to rip the band-aid off quickly and not let the situation erode its upcoming season, they’ll be in tough to find compensatory value from any of these teams.
The Knicks could offer, like Brooklyn, draft picks and how soon Porzingis cements himself as an all-NBA type player (it could happen as early as this season if he’s healthy) would go a long way to determining how protective New York will be of an upcoming first-round pick.
They do have interesting players like 20 year-old Frank Ntilikina, who projects to be a legitimate impact player on both ends of the court if perhaps not a face-of-the-franchise like Butler has been in the past. And that could be the level of talent required to get a deal done (again, almost none of these would be fair value given the circumstances).
Timberwolves receive: Frank Ntilikina, Joakim Noah (obviously).
Knicks receive: Jimmy Butler.
Los Angeles Clippers
Like New York, the Clippers have promising young assets that could be tempting for Minnesota to potentially build around or add to their core — specifically Canadian rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. They also have picks (not as enticing as the other two teams) and more players who could help the Timberwolves remain competitive in the West, which, after a 14-year playoff draught was broken last season, is likely their preference.
While the Nets and Knicks are both fairly early into a bona fide rebuilding process, the Clippers are stuck in no-mans land between competing and building, and could be swayed in one direction or the other. The Blake Griffin trade landed them draft assets and quality starter Tobias Harris, but you’d think they would have swung a deal for Butler in a heartbeat had that been on the table.
(Side note: Raptors fans who would like to see Kawhi Leonard re-sign in Toronto should have their fingers crossed for this one, as the Clippers have long been believed to be a high-potential landing spot for Leonard should he pursue free agency next summer).
Timberwolves receive: Tobias Harris, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Clippers receive: Jimmy Butler, lottery-protected 1st round pick.