Trade Ideas for 2 of the NBA's Hottest Targets, Jimmy Butler and Kemba Walker
The 2018 NBA offseason never felt like much of an off period, did it?
It's only right, then, that the Association continues delivering juicy roster gossip just before the first training camps open.
Jimmy Butler has requested a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves, sources told Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Butler has even provided a list of preferred destinations, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski: the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks.
Well, Jimmy, we have good news and bad news for you.
The good is that we've mapped out three different ways to get you out of the Gopher State. The bad is that none of the three leads to New York or California.
What follows are five realistic trade ideas for two of the most talked-about stars on the trade rumor mill: Butler and Kemba Walker.
Kemba Walker to Philly
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum
Charlotte Hornets receive: Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, Wilson Chandler, Furkan Korkmaz
While patience was pivotal in getting the Sixers through the darkest parts of The Process, should last season's 52-win breakout propel them to accelerate their plans? It almost has to if they want to keep pace with the full-strength Boston Celtics and Kawhi Leonard-led Toronto Raptors.
After striking out on big-ticket free agents this summer, Philly should look to the trade market for difference-makers. This swap might deliver two, albeit one who's entering the final year of his deal and another who's grossly overcompensated.
But it isn't hard to imagine Walker warming to new digs if the win column is stacked. It very well could be with him helping to shoulder the scoring and outside shooting loads. He's a potent weapon on the ball (92nd percentile pick-and-roll ball-handler) or off it (86th percentile spot-up shooter), and he's as comfortable in the clutch as anyone (ninth in clutch scoring).
As for Batum, he's not worth the $24 million-plus he'll collect each of the next three campaigns, but the Sixers are in a position to stretch their budget. They also have enough top-level talent to deploy him in the glue-guy complementary role that best suits his skills. Philly wouldn't need much scoring from him, so he could focus on being a versatile defender, secondary playmaker and floor-spacer.
This only works if Charlotte concedes all hopes of contending with its current group, though back-to-back 36-win seasons suggest that shouldn't be the hardest pill to swallow.
If the Hornets prioritize their future, they might see a lethal backcourt combo in Fultz and Malik Monk, a spark-plug shooter in Korkmaz and a young enough three-and-D wing to still fit the timeline (Covington, who is 27). Chandler's salary makes the money work, but he could either be shopped again himself or provide depth should Charlotte opt to deal a different forward.
Kemba Walker to Phoenix
Phoenix Suns receive: Kemba Walker
Charlotte Hornets receive: Tyson Chandler, 2019 first-round pick (lottery-protected), 2019 first-round pick (via Milwaukee Bucks)
Despite talking playoffs and an aggressive approach to improving the roster, the Suns are only half-stepping into the next phase of their rebuild. Signing Trevor Ariza and trading for Ryan Anderson improve the on-court product, but the point guard rotation isn't ready to compete for anything.
Walker would be exactly the type of splash they need. They've tried going that route, per Arizona Sports 98.7's John Gambadoro, but haven't met the price tag yet. A pair of first-round picks and zero financial obligations beyond this season might do the trick.
If the Suns can get an agreement from Walker about sticking around, then Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal—who first put together this hypothetical exchange—thinks they should pull the trigger:
"Phoenix ... doesn't need to worry about parting with some of its draft capital. Not only does the team already have plenty of rookie-scale contributors expected to play prominent roles, but it doesn't currently have any outgoing picks other than a 2021 second-rounder owed to the Brooklyn Nets. It's perfectly set up to make this kind of trade, counting on a veteran floor general to help the development of the many other talents."
Between Walker, Devin Booker and top pick Deandre Ayton, the Suns could conceivably have three 20-point starters in the opening group. While there are defensive concerns with that trio, some can be offset by the lanky, athletic, switchable trio of Ariza, Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges.
Getting the Hornets to accept wouldn't be easy since this doesn't deliver Michael Jordan his coveted All-Star. But if Charlotte deals Walker, it has to shift its thinking forward and should desire a draft-heavy package like this. Plus, Chandler's arrival would give the Hornets even more incentive to clear some of their frontcourt clutter in exchange for further assets.
Jimmy Butler to Philly
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Jimmy Butler
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Mike Muscala
Remember that third star the Sixers openly coveted this summer? This ensures they don't have to depend on Markelle Fultz becoming that player, with the added bonus of keeping last summer's No. 1 pick and seeing what he can become.
Butler would arrive in Philly as Robert Covington on steroids. Butler could replicate all the defensive versatility, match most of the outside shooting (similar efficiency at a slightly lower volume) and offer tremendous upgrades as both a scorer (22.2 points per game to 12.6) and shot-creator (4.9 assists to 2.0).
The Sixers need another offensive alpha. Their non-Joel Embiid scoring options dried up in the second round—Dario Saric and JJ Redick supplied the second- and third-most points, respectively—and Butler could prove the perfect antidote. He's one of 12 players to average 20-plus points each of the last four seasons and completed this past campaign tied for 25th in isolation points per game (2.4).
On the surface, the 'Wolves don't do great leaving the exchange without Fultz or the unprotected 2021 first-rounder the Sixers own from the Miami Heat. But those are forward-thinking assets, and Minnesota probably isn't keen on starting another playoff drought.
This should keep the Timberwolves competitive. Covington does all the dirty work on defense, and his outside shot might give Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins more room to work. Saric helps modernize the 4 spot with above-average shooting and passing. Mike Muscala is around mostly to make the money work, but he might carve a small niche if Justin Patton's latest foot injury keeps him off the floor.
Jimmy Butler to Portland
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Jimmy Butler, Gorgui Dieng
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: CJ McCollum, Meyers Leonard, Caleb Swanigan
What's the breaking point for the Blazers? When do they decide—much like the Raptors did in the Leonard deal—that their high-scoring backcourt isn't built for playoff success and dramatic change is preferable to continuity? It depends on what they're chasing.
"This narrative that if you don't win a championship then it's not worth competing, that's a false premise," general manager Neil Olshey told SB Nation's Paul Flannery.
Hmmm. While there's some truth to those words, pessimists might paint the quote as Olshey's admission that a championship isn't in this core's future.
Would a Butler-Damian Lillard tandem fare any differently? Hard to say. It would, however, fit a play style more conducive to success. Swapping out McCollum for Butler means moving from a defensive liability to a four-time All-Defensive selection. And while Butler isn't quite as slippery off the bounce, he's more productive on the offensive end.
If Butler sticks around, Portland should have an easier roster to build around. If Anfernee Simons or Gary Trent Jr. explodes out of the gate, the Blazers have their replacement scoring guard and, in Butler, their badly needed two-way forward. If Butler bounces, Portland gets that much closer to cleaning its books with Evan Turner and Maurice Harkless slated for 2020 free agency.
McCollum is the best current player Minnesota can hope to get for Butler, assuming the aim is to keep chasing victories. Swanigan is young, interesting and potentially a source of frontcourt spacing. Leonard's primary appeal is a cheaper, shorter remaining contract than Dieng, although the former is also a 7-foot three-point shooter, so maybe there's something else to like.
Jimmy Butler to Toronto
Toronto Raptors receive: Jimmy Butler, Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones
Minnesota Timberwolves receive: Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, CJ Miles, Delon Wright, 2021 first-round pick (lottery-protected)
Toronto has already thrown caution to the wind once this offseason, as any franchise should when a potential top-five talent becomes available. So, why not double down on the all-in push for 2018-19 by pursuing a player who probably ranks comfortably inside the top 15?
The possible payoff is massive. Butler had the NBA's fourth-best real plus-minus last season, per ESPN.com. Kyle Lowry finished ninth. The last time Leonard was healthy, he claimed the No. 5 spot. For context, no team has rostered three top-10 RPM finishers since the stat arrived in 2013-14.
This would be a full-fledged superteam with potentially multiple superpowers. An offense with Leonard as the lead, Butler as the All-Star sidekick and Lowry as an overqualified third banana is almost guaranteed to be elite. A defense blanketing opposing wings with Leonard, Butler and Danny Green sounds like possible kryptonite for even the best small-ball clubs.
This is a(nother) home run for the Raptors. Would the Timberwolves feel the same about their return?
This would probably mean the market isn't in a frenzy given Butler's uncertainty. That said, Anunoby is a plug-and-play contributor with sufficient upside, Wright's defense would endear him to Tom Thibodeau, and Ibaka is a proven commodity who can stretch the floor. Throw in the pick and future savings (Ibaka and Miles will reach free agency before Dieng), and this might be the best Minnesota can do.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.