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Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade to the Rockets: could this really be a thing?

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Chicago Bulls v Houston Rockets

Jimmy Butler is having a ball down in Brazil just days away from a major pay-day. Here back home, his name seems to be in the news almost every other day with rumors or rumblings. One day Stephen A. Smith says that the Tomball, Texas native is talking to MVP runner-up James Harden all the time.

The next we hear that Brian Windhorst and Tim MacMahon, on The Hoop Collective Podcast say:

I’m hearing these rumblings about Jimmy trying to get back there,” Windhorst said.

”They’re real rumblings,” MacMahon noted. “The Rockets think they have a chance.”

Now ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that a priority for Houston this off-season will be luring Butler to his hometown area via sign-and-trade.

Now of course, the Rockets don’t have the max cap space they’d need here to just sign Butler outright. Their options would include what Woj suggests and also a pair of highly unlikely possibilities like Butler doing what Chris Paul did not long ago and opting-into the final year on his deal with some type of wink-wink agreement in place for more money down the road. That one isn’t going to happen. It would be way too risky for Butler, who turns 30 in September and could earn up to $189m from Philadelphia on a 5 year deal, the team’s trump card.

The other way would have been to move Chris Paul. Reportedly, from Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, the Rockets already tried basically giving Chris Paul away to someone with cap-space, like the Knicks but nobody was interested. They do have some future first round picks they once offered for Butler to sweeten that pot, but their GM, Daryl Morey has denied that they want to trade Paul. Morey has long had the reputation for seeking talent without too much regard for potential personality clashes. And parting with his most talented players, even as overpaid as Paul is, isn’t his style.

Houston can’t simply create space by trading away Clint Capela and Eric Gordon into some other team’s cap-space because that would only free up about $11.4 per EarlyBirdRights.com. The most realistic case here is: Butler convinces the Sixers he is leaving Philadelphia regardless, and then dares them to take some of Houston’s goodies or simply turn to free agency to fill the void his absence would create.

Losing Butler for nothing is far from ideal. If Butler could convince Elton Brand that he would happily join the Clippers, Knicks, or Nets for example, then the Sixers might begin to listen to sign-and-trade possibilities for players like Eric Gordon or Clint Capela, who Wojnarowski names. (Worth noting, the Sixers could not get both because of something complicated called base-year deals).

Bobby Marks of ESPN doesn’t seem to think it’s likely:

But I feel like if Daryl Morey watched that he’d chuckle and say “that’s why you’re on t.v. Bobby, hold my beer....”

For Houston, this is not necessarily an ideal scenario as it would hard-cap them and take away their ability to spend well over the cap and into the tax. That would hamstring Morey’s ability to build around the margins and buttress a top-heavy core. As good as Butler is, it’s not a no-brainer for a team who might suddenly have a path towards the finals as is-now that Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson are no longer blocking their path.

For Philadelphia, keeping Butler and Tobias Harris should be the top priority. With the team’s various Bird Rights, they can spend upwards of ~$138m on their roster. Losing a key free agent would bring that total number down to around ~$114m. A lot less value. But if “running it back” begins to feel more and more unlikely, than settling for a player like Eric Gordon, or better yet testing the market for a player like Clint Capela to see what other two-way (that’s offense-and-defense not G League) shot creators or wings they might be able to get could reduce the loss a bit. It depends on how much they can get off Houston and what third teams might be willing to give up for someone like Capela who is under contract for years to come.

Who would want Capela? The Mavericks, Suns, Celtics, Clippers make some sense. Imagine Sixers fans’ nightmare if the team was losing Jimmy Butler and suddenly engaged in a three-way trade with Morey and Danny Ainge? Yikes.

Daryl Morey would sure be gambling, as Jimmy Butler isn’t exactly a calming presence for a locker-room with existing problems. But man, a sign-and-trade sure would be more enticing if the Rockets still had Lou Williams, Pat Beverely and Montrezl Harrell, wouldn’t it?