Let’s not waste any time here. Jimmy Butler, getter of buckets and four-time All-Star, has requested a trade out of Minnesota, according to multiple reports. The writing was on the wall for Butler to ask out, after long rumored issues between him and his younger teammates. (Andrew Wiggins’s brother was not shy about the dysfunction.) Oh, and it certainly didn’t help that Tom Thibodeau was trying to construct a team as if it were the summer of 2010.
Butler has reportedly requested he be traded to the Nets, Knicks, or Clippers. His alleged preferred destinations have already been met with some ridicule. I don’t think Butler’s logic is as flawed as it seems, however. The Nets, Knicks, and Clippers may not seem like contenders right now, but if Butler is willing to play the long game—or he has some tricks up his sleeve—all three teams make some level of sense.
Here’s what it comes down to: Cap space. Gobs of it. Jeff Bezos-levels of it. The Nets, Knicks, and Clips will each have significant space next summer. If they trade for Butler—who, importantly, is an on expiring deal—it’s possible each team will be in a position to 1) not part with their top assets and 2) have enough money to sign another superstar to join Butler next summer. The 2019 free agency class is loaded, you know this. KD. Klay Thompson. Kawhi. Kyrie.
What if Butler goes to the Clippers—and L.A. can pair him with Kawhi Leonard and more talent next summer? What if the Nets can surround Butler with Kyrie Irving and another All-Star? Imagine if the Knicks had a core of Jimmy, Kyrie and Kristaps Porzingis?
I understand that putting faith in any of the aforementioned front offices is easier said than done. There’s a reason the Knicks have the reputation they do. But the Clippers and Nets, at least, have made positive moves under the stewardship of Jerry West and Sean Marks. Ultimately, all three of the organizations have made moves in the last couple seasons that make them at least somewhat attractive to stars—mostly the flexibility for that star to play with who they want to play with.
There are obvious caveats here. The Wolves may trade Butler somewhere else. The Lakers, Sixers, Heat and countless other teams will be interested. We’ve seen the best-laid plans of players and teams go awry before, as recently as this summer, when the Lakers couldn’t even get a meeting with Paul George. And, frankly, I wonder how effective Butler will be even two years from now, when he’ll be earning considerably more money and his tireless work ethic will have put an absurd number of miles on his legs.
The payoff for the Butler request could come sooner rather than later, with training camp around the corner and Wolves possibly not wanting to put up with the most awkward media day of all time. Butler actually heading to the Nets, Knicks or Clippers wouldn’t create a contender overnight. But the Wolves aren’t winning a championship this season either. As far as long-term plays go, Butler—who seems to have a lot of highly skilled friends around the league—is not crazy for thinking the Nets, Knicks, and Clippers have a compelling future.