The most popular speculated superstar pairing in free agency this summer has been Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and that very well could happen. But what if Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler also tried to link up?
According to Ian Begley of SNY, several teams are interested in pursuing that possibility:
"Multiple teams have expressed interest in pairing Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler together in free agency this summer, per league sources familiar with the matter.
"Those teams, obviously, would need to create the cap space required to sign both players. The teams interested in Butler and Leonard believe they would have interest in playing on the same team, per league sources.
"This doesn't suggest that Leonard is seeking to team up with any other player; that doesn't fit his persona. But teams interested in pairing Leonard and Butler believe they would have interest in playing together."
Leonard and Butler are two of the biggest free agents on the market, and there are questions about where each will land.
The Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers are considered the front-runners for Leonard, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski (h/t TSN):
"Toronto, the Clippers, and listen, I think they've kept their eye on the Lakers and what that's going to look like. The Lakers, financially, what number are they going to get to in free agency in terms of cap space? Is Anthony Davis going to give up that $4 million trade bonus. He still has time to do that before this deal goes through. But this has been a Raptors/Clippers race."
Marc Stein @TheSteinLine
The Lakers have believed for weeks -- even before they acquired Anthony Davis -- that they would factor into the Kawhi Leonard chase. This has been widely billed as a two-team race between the Clippers and Toronto, but the Lakers' chance to hush their skeptics is fast approaching
The New York Knicks will also reportedly be given an audience with Leonard, per Frank Isola of The Athletic:
Butler, meanwhile, reportedly will be pursued by the Houston Rockets in a sign-and-trade scenario, per Wojnarowski. It's likely the only way they can free up the cap space to secure Butler.
But that would require Philadelphia's cooperation, and per that report: "The Sixers plan to be aggressive in signing Butler to a new deal, sources said, and they could blunt a Rockets push with a full five-year, $190 million offer at the start of free agency on Sunday night. The Sixers could offer Butler a four-year, $146.5 million deal, too."
Butler may also be a backup plan for teams with cap space that don't land a player such as Leonard, Durant or Irving.
As for the potential of a Leonard-Butler duo, the pair would offer elite two-way wing play, as each possesses the ability to score from all three levels and defend an opposing team's top offensive option. Butler also showed off solid playmaking ability with the Sixers, generally running the team's half-court offense during the playoffs.
They perhaps wouldn't make up the most seamless duo—both thrive when an offense runs through them—but there's little doubt they would be the league's top wing combo and make any team a title contender. From both a cap space perspective and when considering the teams that have been linked to each player, a partnership with the Clippers or Knicks would seem most likely, though perhaps another team will emerge.
Granted, that assumes both players will leave their teams. Leonard is fresh off an NBA title, while Butler and the Sixers gave the Raptors their toughest test, taking them to seven games, and would be among the top two favorites in the Eastern Conference with the Milwaukee Bucks if Butler returned to Philly and Leonard headed to the Western Conference.
There are plenty of scenarios in which Leonard and Butler never join forces. But it'll be scary for the rest of the NBA if they do.