Potential Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Timberwolves Star Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Butler's impending free agency has long been one of the most anticipated of the upcoming summer—the four-time All-Star will be one of the headliners of a 2019 class that could also include Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins.
But attention around the final year of Butler's contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves will only intensify in the coming days. The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski reported on Saturday that Butler is scheduled to meet with Timberwolves head coach and president Tom Thibodeau to discuss whether they have a future together in light of Butler's contract status and reported tension with All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns.
Given Thibodeau's win-now attitude and their history together—he coached Butler for the first four years of his career with the Chicago Bulls—it's highly unlikely that the Timberwolves will trade Butler before the start of the season. But if it becomes clear closer to February's trade deadline that he isn't going to re-sign, they may have no choice but to move the 29-year-old.
Given Butler's two-way impact and All-Star status, there will be plenty of teams interested in his services that could put together offers.
New York Knicks
New York Knicks get: Jimmy Butler
Minnesota Timberwolves get: Courtney Lee, Frank Ntilikina
After five seasons of irrelevance, the New York Knicks might in the market for big-name free agents to get back into the postseason. With Joakim Noah's exit seemingly inevitable, they will have most of their bad money off the books and could make a run at one or two major stars.
Trading for one ahead of time would give them an advantage, both from a salary-cap standpoint (they could go over the cap to re-sign Butler by using his Bird rights) and in giving them the opportunity to sell him on the culture that new coach David Fizdale is looking to build.
A package built around veteran wing Courtney Lee and second-year guard Frank Ntilikina balances the present and future for the Timberwolves. Lee, while obviously a downgrade from Butler, would help them stay competitive in the short term as Thibodeau tries to keep them in the playoff picture and potentially save his own job.
Ntilikina, meanwhile, is just 20 and has huge untapped potential, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. He also has three years remaining on his rookie contract, which would give Minnesota an intriguing young prospect who won't cost too much money over the coming seasons. That would coincide with the start of Towns' prime.
Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers get: Jimmy Butler
Minnesota Timberwolves get: Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
It's no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers, with LeBron James on board, are looking for a second star. With a cadre of young players to include in a trade, they could put together a solid package without mortgaging their future.
And after missing out on Paul George and (for now, at least) Kawhi Leonard, it may behoove them to be proactive with Butler and trade for him if he becomes available rather than wait until July and assume they can sign him as a free agent.
The Lakers' offseason after landing James has included some controversial signings such as Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson, but they have signed a series of one-year deals for medium money that are perfect for salary-matching purposes in a trade like this. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's one-year, $12 million deal gets them over halfway to the $20.4 million Butler is owed, although Thibodeau may insist on Rondo instead, having coached him with the Boston Celtics.
From there, the Lakers could afford to give up a couple of their young prospects, such as Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma, which would provide future value to the Timberwolves and more playing time than either one would be able to get on a loaded Lakers team.
Philadelphia 76ers get: Jimmy Butler
Minnesota Timberwolves get: Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Mike Muscala
The Philadelphia 76ers had discussions with the San Antonio Spurs about Kawhi Leonard, and Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported they wanted Paul George this summer before he re-upped with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It stands to reason that they would be interested in going after the similarly talented Butler, who would slot in well next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as a dominant wing defender who can also create offense.
Butler's presence would make Robert Covington expendable, and his good-value contract and solid three-point shooting would be a nice pickup for Minnesota. It would probably insist on Dario Saric too, and as tough as it would be to part with the talented Croatian forward, it worth be worth it to land an All-Star in his prime for a Sixers team that's squarely focused on contending right now.
Mike Muscala's $5 million is included to make the salaries match up, and the Wolves could either keep him, buy him out or reroute him to another team.
The Boston Celtics, with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward healthy, appear to be the favorites in the Eastern Conference, and the Toronto Raptors are gaining ground after trading for Leonard. As talented as the Sixers core is, they would do well to go after a star like Butler to keep pace in a winnable conference.
Denver Nuggets get: Jimmy Butler
Minnesota Timberwolves get: Gary Harris
The Denver Nuggets haven't made the playoffs since 2013, and after re-signing big man Nikola Jokic to a $148 million max contract, they are all-in on competing in the Western Conference. If Butler becomes available, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them put out some feelers.
A straight-up swap of Butler for Gary Harris works financially and gives the Timberwolves a younger player with two-way ability in the backcourt who is under contract long term. Denver would be betting that its culture and a young core, including Jokic and Jamal Murray, would entice Butler to re-sign in the summer.
It would be a gamble to give up Harris, but Butler's talent is worth it.
Phoenix Suns get: Jimmy Butler
Minnesota Timberwolves get: Josh Jackson, Tyson Chandler
The Phoenix Suns are in a strange place as far as roster construction goes. They're still young, with Devin Booker and No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton, but they signed veteran forward Trevor Ariza to a one-year, $15 million contract and traded for Ryan Anderson's contract from the Houston Rockets.
They are clearly interested in at least trying to make the playoffs this season, as unlikely as that is. One thing that could help in those efforts would be to trade for a superstar in Butler, who could help cover up Booker's weaknesses on the defensive end.
With Tyson Chandler's expiring contract to dangle and second-year forward Josh Jackson as a young prospect to entice Minnesota, they could get into the conversation if the Butler trade talks pick up steam. Jackson showed potential during his rookie season, but Butler's presence, as well as that of No. 10 pick Mikal Bridges, would make him somewhat redundant.
Trading for Butler would be a massive gamble for the Suns, but with no track record of landing stars in free agency and no playoff appearances since 2010, it's the kind of risk that could be worth taking.