For the second year in a row Jimmy Butler has become the hottest trade target in the NBA and for the second year in a row the can be seen as a dumpster fire.
Ever since news broke on September 18 that Butler met with Minnesota Timberwolves president/head coach Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden and demanded a trade to either the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, or New York Knicks it has been chaos. Reports of teams calling for inquiries on Butler being shot down were quickly followed by accounts of confusion over who to listen to inside the organization.
On Saturday a trio of news on the matter dropped. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and The Athletic’s Shams Charania Butler was given permission to miss the Wolves’ media day on Monday and start of training camp. Then both men reported that team owner Glen Taylor put his foot down and ordered his front office to focus of trading Butler which interestingly enough was followed by news of young center Karl-Anthony Towns agreeing to a five-year $190 million super max extension.
The estranged relationship between Butler and young players on the Wolves like Towns and Andrew Wiggins is seen as a key factor in his trade demands.
The situation is a mess and rival team executives are circling it like sharks smelling blood.
Among them is Miami Heat president Pat Riley.
Even though the Heat are not in Butler’s initial list the overall situation seems tailor made for Riley. His signature during his tenure in Miami when it comes to trades is getting disgruntled star players no matter the cost. Whether it was Alonzo Mourning in 1995, Shaquille O’Neal in 2004, or current Heat guard Goran Dragic in 2014 Riley was able to not get the player he wanted but also keep Miami in playoff contention. Butler can not only help Miami improve their chances in the now LeBron James-less Eastern Conference but it can give the team what it lacks at the moment, a bonafide superstar for the future.
This is also fitting considering that Dwyane Wade, the Heat’s greatest player, is coming back for his final season. Wade and Butler bacame close in their one season together with the Chicago Bulls.
All of this however is dependent on Minnesota being open to trade discussions with all teams, which given Taylor’s stance the team will likely be.
The other caveat will be what direction the Wolves decide to go in making the trade. The Western Conference is already stacked with the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets being on top and overtaking them seems unlikely so going with a youth movement would make sense. Last season however Minnesota made the NBA playoffs for the first time in 14 years and Thibodeau could be on the hot seat should the team regress.
Luckily for the Heat Riley may have trade packages for both scenarios and possibly get out of the cap situation the team is burdened with.
When it comes to youth Miami can offer guard Josh Richardson, forward Justise Winslow, or center Bam Adebayo. The contracts of each by themselves wouldn’t be enough to acquire Butler so they would be have to be part of a bigger package that also includes one of the Heat’s bloated contracts. The Wolves might also try to unload their own bloated deals like those of center Gorgui Dieng, forward Taj Gibson, and guard Jeff Teague. The inclusion of these contracts would shape the package Miami prepares but it also might let the team keeps their young core out the deal.
One possible trade that can accomplish this would consist of the Heat sending guard Tyler Johnson and forward Kelly Olynyk in exchange for Butler and Dieng. Johnson’s restricted free agent contract this season is set to balloon from $5 million to $19.3 million. It was a necessary evil when Miami agreed to match the offer sheet he signed with the Nets in 2016 but it is now an albatross. Despite this Johnson is a homegrown talent that can play the one and two positions and is defensive minded, a trait that will be attractive to Thibodeau’s coaching style. Olynyk has proven himself to be reliable on both sides of the floor particularly in perimeter shooting, something that is needed if a team wants to challenge the Warriors and Rockets.
Another package would have Miami sending the same players in exchange for Butler and Gibson’s expiring contract. While it would make little sense to trade Gibson because he’ll come off Minnesota’s books next summer finances may not be a factor. Taking of contracts that go beyond 2019 not only would cement a group of role players around Towns but it also undoes some of Thibodeau’s other moves (acquiring Derrick Rose and Loul Deng) that have earned the Wolves another moniker, the ‘TimberBulls’
Should Minnesota push for youth Miami might try to unload their biggest contract in offering center Hassan Whiteside along with Richardson in exchange for Butler and Dieng. While Dieng is owed $15.2 million this season that is much less than Whiteside’s $25.4 million salary. It would also alleviate much of the luxury tax burden that the Heat, and team owner Micky Arison in particular, like to avoid paying. For the Wolves it would give the team a rim protector in Whiteside that can mask the defensive flaws of Towns and a growing two-way player in Richardson.
Whichever way the Wolves decide to go will be determined by Taylor, who is by no means an absentee owner. He was personally involved in signing Wiggins to a five-year $148 million extension in 2017 and likely played a similar role in Towns staying. He is also not a stranger to trading top players. In 2007 he sent his first franchise star, Kevin Garnett, to the Boston Celtics as a reward for loyalty. In 2014 he saw Kevin Love be sent to the Cleveland Cavaliers and got Wiggins in return. He may not need to search for a young player to lead Minnesota into the future as Towns’ extension starts in 2020.
Taylor’s involvement in the trade talks may also give Riley a chance to sell him and Butler the biggest intangible Miami has, their culture. None of the three teams that Butler had on his list have the sustained level of discipline and winning culture that the Heat have. The expectation that Miami has for its players is also a selling point as work ethic has been a major complaint Butler has had in Minnesota.
If Riley is somehow able to accomplish this it will likely be his last whale. Sentiment in Miami has been that retirement looms and the successors to Riley (head coach Erik Spoelstra, Mourning, and team CEO Nick Arison) are already in place.
And there is that fabled mansion in Malibu, CA that awaits him.