According to The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania, Timberwolves All-Star wing Jimmy Butler, who has been rumored to be unhappy in Minnesota over the last 12 months, has requested a trade. Butler would like to be moved before the start of training camp, and has three preferred destinations: the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers. It seems that Butler is focused on playing in a big market, and for a team with significant salary cap flexibility. While the Sixers don't seem to be a front-runner given Butler’s preferences, they have enough assets to satisfy the Timberwolves and roll the dice that Butler ultimately buys into their culture if he is given a year to witness it up close, similar to what happened with Paul George in Oklahoma City.
So, let’s break down the price, pros and cons.
Obviously, any package of assets traded for Jimmy Butler will be a substantial one. He’s a perennial All-Star in his prime, who can help any team make a big step. Butler makes just under $19M this year, so the Sixers would need to offer a nearly identical amount of salary back.
The most obvious piece in this deal is Miami’s 2021 unprotected first-round pick, acquired from Phoenix in the Mikal Bridges-Zhaire Smith trade. If Minnesota is going to trade Butler, they will almost definitely want young players and draft picks to kickstart somewhat of a rebuild. One of Jerryd Bayless or Wilson Chandler would have to be a part of the deal too, in order to make the salaries of the trade match, if not both.
The argument to go after Butler is clear- he is the epitome of a two-way wing. While also being a lock-down defender on the wing, capable of guarding just about any perimeter player in the league.
I don’t need to say much about how much he’d help the defense. Let me just say this: with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington and Jimmy Butler as four starters, I could be the fifth starter and we’d still have a great defense. A move for Butler would give the Sixers four players who are either elite or very close to it on the defensive end.
In each of the last four seasons, Butler has averaged at least 20 points per game on relatively efficient shooting splits. And, he is truly a good fit in the offense Brett Brown loves to run. According to Synergy Sports, Butler landed in the 95th percentile in transition offense, 89th percentile in spot-up shooting, 87th percentile on hand-offs, and 93rd percentile on cuts to the basket. One could argue these are the four most important skills for any Sixers wing player on the offensive end. It’s hard to imagine Brett Brown not maximizing Butler’s abilities, especially given all of the great surrounding pieces Butler would have that he hasn't had elsewhere.
In addition to all of the two-way value he provides on the wing, Butler would also be insurance for the Sixers. Because whether or not you believe in Markelle Fultz, it has to be acknowledged that there is a world where he never shoots the same again, and is a shell of the player coming out of Washington. If he simply doesn't pan out, the Sixers would be able to just use Butler in the role reserved for Fultz- the secondary playmaker who, when Simmons is off the floor, can take over most of the ball-handling duties and be a bucket-getter.
Jimmy is a premier player in this league, and his fit in Philadelphia is clear.
While going after Butler may seem like a no-brainer, it’s a much tougher decision when you look at all of the potential downsides. First off, while there’s plenty of reason to think the Sixers would have a realistic chance of convincing him to stay, they will be working from behind in that regard- it seems clear that Butler is determined to end up in New York or LA, and it will be tough to convince him otherwise.
And then, what if you do convince him? Butler reportedly will be asking for a five-year max contract, which will be worth over $187M. And that is a contract that should make a team feel very nervous. The final two years of the deal, when Butler would be 34 and 35 years old, hold massive cap hits of $40.1M and $42.6M. And while there is a handful of players who still can produce at a high level, there is great reason to be particularly skeptical about how Butler’s game will age. Not only did he suffer a meniscus tear last spring, but his workload in years past is something to be very worried about. Butler has played 37.5 minutes per game over his last five seasons, a ridiculously high number, even for someone who played many of those years under Tom Thibodeau, a coach who has always been notorious for giving his best players too many minutes. It is very easy to see Butler suffering the same fate as some of his early-2010s Bulls teammates - Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, all excellent players just a handful of years ago, are now barely even in the league. Butler likely will at least still be a serviceable player by the end of his contract, but it is not crazy at all to imagine him being a complete shell of himself by that point. It’s a serious possibility that the Sixers, or any other team who ponders trading for him, will seriously consider when evaluating his trade value.
There is another factor that might mean more to a young team like the Sixers than other ones- and that is that, well, Jimmy Butler has not necessarily been well-liked by the young teammates he has had in the past. While his hypothetical young teammates in Philly would be by far the best (and most mature) group of youth he has been with, the fact that he seems to not get along with younger players is nerve-wracking when considering adding him to a team where he would be the oldest part of the core.
So, where do you stand? Do the long-term risks outweigh the potential jolt Butler could provide in the short-term? Let us know what you think!