While pending free agents Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant have always been considered top targets in NBA free agency this year, Philadelphia 76ers guard Jimmy Butler has recently emerged as a hot item.
The Houston Rockets, for example, have been trying to set up a potential sign-and-trade in order to acquire Butler from the Sixers.
According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Houston has offered up the likes of Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker in an effort to draft picks that could be flipped to Philadelphia:
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
Reporting w/ @ZachLowe: Houston’s offering Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker individually to teams w/ space to absorb salary. Rockets trying for best available first-rounder for any of those three, hoping to redirect pick to Philly in pursuit of Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade.
Naturally, the 76ers would have to be willing to sign Butler to a new deal with the idea of trading him for this to work, but the prospect of gaining a high draft pick rather than simply losing Butler in free agency could be enticing.
The Rockets, for their part, seem to have at least part of the equation figured out.
According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, Houston has identified a trade partner for Capela but won't actually deal him until a Butler deal is imminent:
The next step, of course, is to convince both Butler and the Sixers to execute the sign-and-trade. Unfortunately, for the Rockets, if Butler and Philadelphia do decide to go this route, Houston isn't the only option.
ESPN's Zach Lowe has reported that the Miami Heat could also factor into the sign-and-trade market for Butler.
"Houston, of course, has very loudly entered that market. Scoff if you want, but the last time Daryl Morey boasted of his capped-out team having something 'up its sleeve,' he pulled out Chris Paul," Lowe wrote.
The flip side of this equation is that there may be mutual interest. According to Associated Press NBA writer Tom Reynolds, Butler is "very interested" in joining Miami:
Miami isn't the only team Butler has interest in, either. According to Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher, he could even be willing to take less money on the open market to join LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers:
"Butler, [one] Western Conference executive said, has interest in being the third star with the Los Angeles Lakers, even if it means accepting slightly less than a maximum salary. This is a shift by Butler and could reflect the value of the Lakers in his eyes now that they are about to pair Anthony Davis with LeBron James."
Butler is going to have options come June 30, but the ball may be in Los Angeles' court in this scenario. They appear to have a strong chance of landing Butler, but he may not be their top option. The Lakers have interest in reigning Finals MVP Leonard, and it appears they'll have their chance to make a sale pitch.
According to Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times, Leonard will meet with Lakers president Jeanie Buss early in free agency:
Regardless of which player the Lakers land to form their "big three," the team would still need to fill out the roster with role players. Butler's reported willingness to take "less than a maximum salary" could give him an edge there.
One player who won't be taking less than a max deal in free agency is Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson. Per Turner, Thompson will listen to offers from both the Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers if the Warriors don't give him the max.
Fortunately for Golden State fans, it appears that the Warriors are open to meeting Thompson's demands. Wojnarowski reported that Golden State will present him with a five-year, $190 million maximum contract when free agency opens at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday.