The aim of the meeting between Jimmy Butler and Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau was to provide a solution to the months-long ‘chemistry’ issue the team was apparently suffering from. However, instead of the expected ‘clear the air’ talk between the two, Butler requested to be traded by the team.
Listing three preferred destinations: the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets or Los Angeles Clippers – three franchises with not only the required cap-space to sign Butler to his desire super-max contract, but also spare change to secure another top player for him to play alongside towards the end of his prime years.
Firstly, lets look at what the Wolves gave up to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for Butler last summer:
- Zack LaVine – potential to be a solid starting two-guard should he improve his consistency beyond the arc and at least contribute on the defensive end. His athleticism seems to have been maintained despite the ACL tear that kept him out for the best part of a year.
- Kris Dunn – a defensive-minded point guard with plenty of potential. Dunn was selected #5 in the 2016 draft.
- #7 pick in the 2017 draft. The Bulls used this pick to select Lauri Markkanen. The Finnish rookie played impressively in his rookie season – averaging over 15 points per game and 7 rebounds. Markkanen a treasured commodity: a big man comfortable shooting the three.
Giving up all these youngsters was tough for fans in Minnesota, despite picking up an All-Star in Jimmy Butler, but this was easily forgotten with the team looking like it could secure home court advantage for much of the season. One year on, Butler has played a total of 59 games for the Wolves, turned down a contract extension and is now seeking an exit one year prior to his free agency next summer.
As of now, Chicago is definitely the winner of last summer’s trade and will remain so unless Butler makes a dramatic U-turn and decides to stay AND sign a long term deal. What the Wolves would get in exchange for Butler and his expiring contract will, barring a stroke of genius from the front office, not be as good as what they lost to bring him to the twin cities.
Should Butler be traded to one of either the Nets, Knicks or Clippers, what the Timberwolves will be able to get in return will not be as impactful as what they’ll be losing: one of the best two-way shooting guards in the game today.
Best package for Minnesota from the Nets probably includes DiAngelo Russell and one of either Allen Crabbe or their 2019 draft pick with protections. This, or any other deal the Nets could put together, would see the Timberwolves chances of returning to the playoffs severally hampered.
The best the Knicks could offer – assuming Porzingis is off the table – would be a package including Frank Nitlikina and Tim Hardaway Jr (New York have stated no draft picks will be traded). Ntilikina has a lot of upside, despite a relatively inconspicuous rookie season, but these two would not be an adequate replacement and I can’t see the Wolves accepting.
Perhaps the most likely of the three of Butler’s three choices is the Clippers – Butler’s reported number one choice. I can see Doc Rivers making a play to bring Butler to LA to hopefully form an elite one-two defensive punch with Kawhi Leonard in 2019. A trade deal with the Clippers would likely see Tobias Harris or Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a future draft pick or two heading to Minnesota. For me, this is by far the most appealing deal the Wolves will receive from these three teams and, although Harris and Gallinari are nothing like the level of player Butler is, I could see the Timberwolves just about staying on the fringes of playoff contention come spring 2019.
All in all, I really can’t see playoff basketball returning to Minnesota should Jimmy Butler be traded – unless, like I say, Thibodeau pulls off the coup of the summer somehow. Sadly, Wolves fans’ best option right now is probably just to keep their fingers crossed that Butler has a change of heart and stays put for at least this season.