Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard will dominate the free agency conversation, but a slate of All-Star talent is ready to reshape the league landscape behind two of the league’s premier talents. Kyrie Irving may be the Durant whisperer and Kemba Walker can salvage a disastrous summer in Boston. And Jimmy Butler could leave Philadelphia for another title contender, potentially forming a new superteam in the Lone Star State.
We won’t learn Butler’s decision for another week, but the rumor mill is buzzing with potential landing spots for the four-time All-Star. We at The Crossover helped separate fact from fiction, identifying five key questions leading into Butler’s free agency.
What is Philadelphia’s economic commitment?
Butler stomped his way out of his Minnesota term largely angered by the Timberwolves lack of economic commitment. Even with Wiggins’ deal and the upcoming KAT money, Butler still expected to be treated as an All-NBA talent, one who helped return to Minnesota to the postseason. His assumption proved false.
A second chance at big money comes this summer. Long-term fit issues, it’s hard to see Butler leaving Philadelphia if it coughs up the full five-years, $190 million. The 76ers are unlikely to balk at a four-year deal. The extra year looms large. If Philly is unwilling to commit to a fifth season, then the open market begins. Perhaps Daryl Morey pulls off another blockbuster or the Nets settle for Butler as their second star. Those possibilities may be sorted out next week, though don’t be so fast to ship Butler off. The Sixers could be prepared to pay a historic tax bill, maxing Butler for the next half-decade.
Will anyone else offer the max?
If the Butler market emerges from Philadelphia’s hesitation, who can be the major players? Each of the four New York and Los Angeles teams could be in pursuit. Butler proved himself to be a malleable second and third option with Philadelphia. He was comfortable stepping back and working as a cutter and corner shooter in the regular season, allowing Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to run the show. Butler took the reigns in the postseason and could have reached the Finals if not for Kawhi Leonard’s historic bounce. The four-year max will be given by someone. Butler’s earned his money
The Knicks, Clippers, and Nets are all likely to give Butler the full $140 million if he comes with a second superstar. Butler could lead a scrappy underdog in a Durant redshirt year, then try to win his first title at 31-years-old. Kawhi Leonard provides a clearer route to the title, especially with the upstart Clippers. We’ll see how much cap space the Lakers can clear. Butler’s postseason chops would appeal to LeBron James. But the dollars may not line up. Regardless of his final stop, Butler shouldn’t fret about his bank account. A big payday is coming.
Which star pairing makes sense?
Butler is expected to join a second All-Star if he chooses to bolt from Philadelphia. But identifying that star in particular is a perplexing challenge. Kevin Durant appears to be the least likely partner-in-crime. KD is expected to ride solo if he leaves Golden State but doesn’t pair with Kyrie Irving. There’s little apparent connection between Durant and Butler. Irving or Leonard both make more sense as Butler’s running mate. Leonard and Butler would bring some serious postseason chops to the Clippers. Irving could sign with Brooklyn on July 1, then bring in Butler if the Durant pursuit falls short. There are far worse fall-back options. Butler has played the market well. He’ll likely join an elite talent somewhere if he leaves Philadelphia.
Can Morey land another big fish?
Another Western Conference contender lurks as a potential destination for Butler. Daryl Morey executed a sign-and-trade with the Clippers two years ago, jumpstarting the Rockets’ fully into title contention. Acquiring Butler could bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to Texas, even at the cost of a key rotation piece. But the mechanics of a potential deal are dicey, and we’ll see if the Sixers play ball. Pulling off the trade would be Morey’s best work of magic yet.
The Rockets could entice Philadelphia with a first round pick acquired from dealing Clint Capela, Eric Gordon or P.J. Tucker. The asset is better for Philly than losing Butler for nothing, especially after sending a valuable Heat first rounder to the Clippers for Tobias Harris. The Sixers went all-in on their core last season. It’s hard to imagine them backing down now. Morey will do his best, but unless Philadelphia balks at Butler’s price, don’t expect the Rockets to add a third star.
Is there Minnesota 2.0 potential?
Butler is a cantankerous sort, even early in Philadelphia tenure as he and Embiid clashed over touches. Should Butler’s newest team worry about another chemistry flare up in a new location? Butler tanked his way out of Minnesota less than a year ago, hurling expletives at teammates as he sabotaged his situation. There’s no guarantee Butler will be on his best behavior once he lands a long-term deal.
But Butler isn’t the cancerous force some made him out to be upon joining Philadelphia. The Marquette product formed a bond with Embiid last season and helped will the young Sixers through their seven-game series with Toronto. He’s less likely to spar with accomplished veterans like Leonard or Irving, a pair of players miles ahead of Minnesota’s former youngsters. Growing pains won’t play a major factor. Butler’s impatience caused an ugly scene in Minnesota, but it shouldn’t follow him like a scarlet letter. Any character concerns with Butler are near-nonexistent.