Why Jimmy Butler Could End Up in Los Angeles, But Not with LeBron and the Lakers

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterSeptember 19, 2018

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler (23) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, April 5, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The Jimmy Butler experience has come to a head in Minnesota, as the All-Star forward has reportedly requested a trade from the Timberwolves, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

On Wednesday, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Butler's preferred trade destinations are the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. The Los Angeles Lakers, meanwhile, are notably absent from that list.

According to Wojnarowski, Butler had "once imagined" playing for the Lakers, "but LeBron James' arrival as the franchise's cornerstone made it less appealing for Butler in the prime of his career."

Also per Woj, Butler seems to have eyes specifically for that "other" L.A. team at this point in his process:

Even if Butler changes his mind and adds the Lakers to his list, the earliest they can feasibly trade for him is mid-December.

The Lakers would need to send out at least $16.3 million in salary in any Butler deal. However, they can't trade recently signed players such Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley until Dec. 15 at the earliest.

Phil Long/Associated Press

With so many of their players ineligible to be traded at the moment, the Lakers would need to start Butler trade talks with Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. However, that would only get them to $13.2 million in salary, leaving them $3.1 million short of what they'd need to make a deal legal.

Including both Ball and Ingram would also be a non-starter for the Lakers, as they'll have enough cap space next summer to chase players like Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard without sacrificing any of their young prospects.

If the Lakers wanted to pair Butler with James, they would have held on to Luol Deng's contract instead of buying him out. Butler was never enough of a priority for the Lakers, not if it meant parting with the assets necessary to entice the T-Wolves to take on Deng's full $36.8 million salary at the time.

Instead, the Clippers may be the favorites to land Butler. 

The Clips are well-situated for next summer, as they're poised to have upward of $56 million in cap space. A straight-up swap of Butler and Danilo Gallinari would work salary-wise, as Gallinari is under contract for $44.2 million through 2019-20. Such a deal would leave the Clippers with $48.3 million in room next summer even after accounting for Butler's $30.7 million cap hold, which is more than enough to hand out another maximum contract.

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

If the Clippers have designs on pairing Butler with Leonard, getting out of Gallinari's contract would likely be a necessity. Flipping Gallinari for Butler would be a significant win for them.

If Gallinari's contract is a non-starter for the T-Wolves, the Clippers have a number of players on expiring deals, including Tobias Harris, Patrick Beverley, Marcin Gortat, Boban Marjanovic, Milos Teodosic and Wesley Johnson. Much like the Lakers, the Clippers cannot trade Avery Bradley, Montrezl Harrell, Mike Scott and Luc Mbah a Moute until Dec. 15.

The Clippers already have 15 players on guaranteed contracts, plus the nonguaranteed $5 million owed to Beverley. They also recently matched the New Orleans Pelicans' offer sheet to Tyrone Wallace, which guarantees only $300,000 of his two-year, $2.9 million contract. If the Clippers intend to make room for Beverley and Wallace, they need to open two roster spots.

The Clippers may have a trade partner for Beverley in the Phoenix Suns. Per a source within the Suns organization, the team is looking to acquire a veteran point guard, and Beverley is one of many targets.

If the T-Wolves look to send Butler to one of his requested teams in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks can look to build a trade package around several players, including Joakim Noah, Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee and/or Enes Kanter. Lee, who's earning $12.3 million this season, is the only one of that group who would need to be packaged with another player from the Knicks to match salaries.

The Nets can offer Allen Crabbe straight up for Butler, although they could build packages around DeMarre Carroll, Kenneth Faried and/or Jared Dudley as well.

Jim Mone/Associated Press

The T-Wolves would undoubtedly like young prospects and/or draft picks in a Butler deal. The challenge is asking teams to give up valuable pieces when they'll have cap space next summer. New York could reach over $40 million, while Brooklyn can get all the way to a staggering $80 million in spending power.

Considering Butler can walk as a free agent, it's a risky proposition for any team to give up too much to acquire him. A deal might make more sense for the Portland Trail Blazers, who will have a significant payroll next season. Would the T-Wolves take on a multiyear contract like Evan Turner, Moe Harkless or Meyers Leonard for Butler?

Technically, Butler can opt into the final year on his contract to encourage a team to trade for him. To do so, he would likely need assurances (nonbinding and not technically legal) that whichever team acquires him will use $12.9 million in cap space to restructure his contract next summer.

Regardless, the T-Wolves aren't obligated to honor Butler's reported trade request. If they wait until trade restrictions lift in December, they'll have more trade options, including the Lakers.

While Minnesota ended a 13-year playoff drought last season, the price it paid to acquire Butler only to lose in five games to the Houston Rockets doesn't look like a winner. The T-Wolves' only hope is to salvage the situation with a winning Butler trade.

              

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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