Having spent the best part of a week trying to make sense of the Jimmy Butler dilemma, we aren’t any closer to learning where he’ll be playing his trade next season (no pun intended). Butler has been excused from having to participate in the team’s media day on Monday – not something done very often for players that end up remaining with their current teams. Keeping in that in mind, what’s next for the Timberwolves?
The first news we heard after the meeting between Butler and the Timberwolves front office – other than the trade demand – was that Butler had three preferred destinations: the Nets, Knicks or the Clippers.
We then learned that Thibodeau and the rest of his front office in Minnesota were dead against trading Butler. Sporting News’ Sean Delaney was told by an NBA executive that Thibs’ contract would be dissolved before he’d allow his star player to be traded away for draft picks. This would be very difficult for Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor to do – firing Thibodeau isn’t really an option as he is essentially the front office. Thibodeau holds the titles of head coach and president of basketball operations, whilst the rest of the team’s front office are all his people.
Probably the only way that Wolves ownership could pull off losing Thibs to keep Butler, would be trading their head coach (in a similar move to how Celtics owner Danny Ainge traded away head coach Doc Rivers in 2013 to the Clippers for a first-round draft pick. However, trading Thibodeau wouldn’t make as much sense as it did for Boston – an expensive coach leading a team that was about to transition into a losing team, in order to be able to resurrect itself into the team it is currently.
In the meantime, Thibodeau has come out claiming to have declined trade offers for Butler and that he intends for him to remain on the team. This has subsequently led Wolves owner Glen Taylor to publicly denounce his own front office at a meeting with other NBA owners: telling teams to come directly to him with trade offers. Messy.
However, since then there’s been whispers of teams other than Butler’s three choices showing interest: Miami, Detroit, Houston, Philadelphia and Cleveland.
The Miami Heat‘s interest became serious on Saturday night, with talk of their front office being willing to trade starter-calibre players to free up salary space and lure Butler to Florida in the long term. Miami don’t have the salary cap-space to sign Butler to his super-max next summer as it stands. But, this could aid their trade efforts – they will be more willing to trade players over picks than others (something the Wolves are keen on with their young and hungry squad). Miami hope to acquire Butler, shed some of it’s higher paid players and sell him on the Heat culture and South Beach lifestyle.
A trade including Josh Richardson, James Johnson or Dion Waiters and Hassan Whiteside for Butler and Gorgui Dieng could sway the Thibs and the Wolves to trade away their superstar. Minnesota would acquire two decent players – in comparison to the relatively weak packages Detroit and Butler’s top three can assemble – however, Whiteside has no chance of being a starter at center ahead of Karl-Anthony Towns. Whiteside doesn’t come cheaper either – he’ll be getting paid over $52 million over the next two seasons – and the Wolves have only just signed KAT to a 5 year, $190 million super-maximum contract extension. Meanwhile, Whiteside and Waiters both have priors with wrecking locker rooms – something the Wolves will be keen to avoid after months of apparent off-court chemistry issues. Any trade involving two Heat players will likely see the Wolves part with Gorgui Dieng along with Butler.
Finally, there has been talk of the Heat’s main man Goran Dragic being involved in a potential swap for Butler – personally, I can’t see this, it would see the team parting with it’s best player and primary playmaker with no real replacement coming in. Dragic coming to Minnesota also doesn’t really make sense: the team already have Teague, Rose and young Tyus Jones at point guard – already possibly too deep.
The other main contender at this point is Cleveland. The Cavs’ late entry into the Butler trade conversation is an intruging one as the two teams have history trading their stars. Kevin Love left Minnesota to go to the Cavs, who sent two #1 overall picks in Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins in a three-team trade back in 2014 and the ownerships of both teams have been in contact regarding Butler’s availability. Bennett came attempting to revive his reputation after a poor rookie season in Cleveland average just over four points and played under 13 minutes per game. He was waived by the T-Wolves a year after arriving, making him one of the biggest busts in recent history. Wiggins was a lock for either first or second overall in the 2014: eventually selected first by the Cavs in the draft. Arriving in Minnesota, the team hoped they had a generational talent on their hands – a young, long athletic shooting guard with potential to be great should he work on his shooting and defensive consistency. But, Wiggins stagnated and is yet to evolve into the player his draft position suggested he’d become. Despite this, he was given a $148 million super-maximum contract in last summer.
Should the two teams become trade partners again this summer, the Wolves will most likely pursue a Kevin Love return. Although this is unlikely – trading for Butler and whilst keeping Love would instantly elevate the Cavs into contention for a top seed in the East this summer. Personally, I’d love this to happen as it would make the 5/1 about them making the playoff a huge price! However, it’s difficult to see the team trading away the last of their championship-winning ‘big three’ weeks after signing him to a contract extension.
What it would take for the Knicks to get the Timberwolves’ attention is too much for them to give up, in my opinion. A deal involving Kristaps Porzingis would instantly get Thibodeau and Taylor’s attention, but New York is not going to give up it’s franchise player. What the Knick are willing to give up is likely not enough to persuade the Wolves to accept and David Fizdale has already revealed no future picks will be traded. Furthermore, what Butler’s preferred destinations can do to land him is covered in more detail here.
A trade with Detroit would likely need to include Stanley Johnson, Reggie Jackson and a future draft pick. Plausible, but this should be nothing like good enough for the Wolves – although the team will probably grow increasingly desperate.
One of the more enticing (albeit surprising) trade packages could come from Philadelphia. Should they wish to accelerate their championship contention window, they may be persuaded to part with Robert Covington and Dario Saric (it will probably take a proposal of this level to sway the Timberwolves) to gain a bonafide All-Star two-way player in Jimmy Butler. A team spearheaded by Butler, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in Philly would be a terror on the defensive end for any team, whilst also be able to score at ease. It’s just whether the 76ers are willing to risk two integral pieces of their team on bringing a player in that may no sign with them after this his current deal expires next summer.
Finally, the Houston Rockets. This is probably the team I can last see Butler playing for next season, they are already a contender and haven’t got the salary cap-space to sign Butler to his desired super-max contract next summer. Should the Rockets go ahead and try to bring Butler in for a one year run at a championship, Minnesota would likely be offered three point specialist Eric Gordon, three-and-D player P.J. Tucker and a first-rounder. The loss of Tucker would hit Houston the hardest: his size and defensive enables them to play small so well – as seen in the Conference Finals versus Golden State. Gordon’s offensive contributions would be taken over by Butler and recently acquired Brandon Knight. Although not somewhere Butler would commit to signing a long-term deal after this season, a package of this calibre from the Rockets could be more attractive to the Wolves the longer this saga drags on for.
All in all, this is still an unpredictable scenario – the Timberwolves could yet have Jimmy Butler on the court with Thibodeau coaching. But, it’s looking increasingly likely Butler will get his request to leave the club – it’s just a matter of how much Minnesota will get in return and if they’ll have to shake up their front office and coaching staff as a result.