Jimmy Butler trade rumors have been an ongoing thing for the past year, but it was mostly quiet on that front heading into Monday afternoon.
That’s when the Butler rumor mill went into overdrive with a flurry of reports from all over the place regarding the Chicago Bulls forward.
First, it was The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reporting “preliminary contact” between the Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves about a deal.
Then ESPN’s Marc Stein dropped the bomb that the Cleveland Cavaliers were working on “assembling multi-team trade scenarios” to try to acquire Butler. The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson reported the Phoenix Suns as a possible third team, while CSN Chicago’s Vincent Goodwill mentioned the Suns as a team doing “due diligence.” Goodwill also said the Boston Celtics are “lurking” after acquiring the No. 3 pick and an extra future first-rounder after dealing away the No. 1 overall pick.
And just like that, Jimmy Butler Trade Watch is back on.
The Bulls reportedly aren’t seeking out Butler trades, but they’re rightfully listening to offers and asking for a lot in return. The 27-year-old Butler is coming off the best season of his career and still has two affordable years left on his deal before a player option in 2019, so there is little reason to rush into a trade. However, Chicago’s mediocrity and the possibility of having to pay Butler a super-max extension in the near future could drive the Bulls to make a deal and rebuild sooner rather than later.
With this in mind, take a closer look at some of these rumors.
The Bulls and Wolves engaged in Butler trade talks at last year’s draft, with some reports suggesting a deal was going to get done. While that didn’t pan out, it appears former Bulls head coach and current Wolves president/coach Tom Thibodeau is again going to try to reunite with his former player.
Minnesota has the No. 7 pick in this draft and a bevy of young talent. Karl-Anthony Towns is obviously untouchable. But what about Andrew Wiggins? While the 22-year-old made strides in his third season, perhaps Thibodeau would be willing to part with him to get a bona fide star in Butler in his prime to accelerate their rebuild.
Zach LaVine reportedly was on the table last year, though the talented youngster is currently recovering from a torn ACL. The Bulls liked point guard Kris Dunn heading into last year’s draft, but he just suffered through a dreadful rookie season and is older than Wiggins. Ricky Rubio wouldn’t make much sense for Chicago at this point.
Given Butler’s talent level and the frosty relationship between the Bulls and their former coach, it’s hard to see Chicago making a deal that doesn’t involve Wiggins as the centerpiece player (plus the No. 7 pick). Maybe the Bulls would accept something like No. 7, LaVine and Dunn, but that doesn’t seem like enough for Chicago at the moment.
Cavaliers and Suns
It’s no surprise the Cavaliers are looking to do whatever they can to match up better with the Golden State Warriors. Cleveland also has been mentioned as a destination for Paul George, but Butler may be a safer option considering his contract status and George’s supposed insistence on heading to Los Angeles.
It first must be noted that the Cavaliers front office is currently in flux. Not long after the Butler rumors dropped, Cleveland announced it would be parting ways with general manager David Griffin. He had been working the phones on Butler trade possibilities, but Stein says it’s now unclear how things will proceed on that front.
If the Cavaliers continue to try to make this happen, they have to get a third team involved. Cleveland has no attractive assets outside of its Big Three. Kevin Love for Butler isn’t happening. Kyrie Irving for Butler is intriguing but would be a stunner.
That is where a team like the Suns comes in … but they would have to want Love. Phoenix has the No. 4 pick and young players like Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and T.J. Warren to dangle in trades, although Booker has to be close to untouchable. Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight also could be on the table, with Bledsoe a more attractive option given the toxicity of Knight’s contract. The Suns also have two extra first-round draft picks (2018 pick protected 1-7 before becoming unprotected in 2019 and an unprotected 2021 pick) courtesy of the Miami Heat.
Would the Suns be willing to give up what the Bulls want just to take on Love? He is still a really good player, but giving up a slew of prime assets to get him would be a mistake by a young Suns team in rebuilding mode. We can’t rule out this scenario taking place, but Johnson calls it “a long shot.”
Another option here includes Phoenix and Chicago cutting out Cleveland and negotiating with each other, but it’s unclear if the Suns want Butler.
The Celtics always have been the prime target for a Butler trade thanks to their treasure trove of assets. That fact doesn’t change much even after Boston traded away the No. 1 overall pick. Maybe the Celtics are more willing to engage now that they have an extra asset at their disposal from the trade with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Any trade with Boston would have to include the No. 3 pick in this draft. The unprotected 2018 pick courtesy of the Brooklyn Nets is also extremely valuable, but the Celtics likely wouldn’t give up both. The Bulls could turn to that extra pick Boston just acquired from Philly. It’s a 2018 first that originally belonged to the Lakers, although it wouldn’t convey if it’s the No. 1 pick or if it’s No. 6 or later. In that case, the pick would be the better of the Sixers/Kings 2019 picks, unless that better pick turned out to be No. 1. The Celtics have a number of other first-rounders in their treasure chest that aren’t quite as valuable, though they could be thrown in as sweeteners.
As for key players, Boston has a number of wings. Jaylen Brown would be ideal given his youth and potential, but Boston loves him. Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart are other options.
A realistic best-case scenario for the Bulls likely would involve the No. 3 pick, the Lakers pick and Brown heading to Chicago (more salary would be needed to match). That seems like a bit much for a Celtics squad toeing the line between trying to compete and building for the future, though Brown could potentially be swapped for one of the other wings. Either way, if Boston were able to get Butler and also add Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin in free agency while keeping the 2018 Nets pick in its arsenal, that would be a huge summer (more salary would need to be cleared to pull this off). Trading for George could still be an option as well.
Any Butler trade would signal the Bulls going into rebuild mode, which could also prompt Dwyane Wade to opt out of his $23.8 million for next season. The bare minimum in a deal should be a high pick in this year’s draft (Johnson reports the Bulls have looked into Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox) and at least one other prime asset, followed by a “tank” next season that could give Chicago another high pick next year. Luka Doncic, Michael Porter Jr. and DeAndre Ayton are just three of the top studs likely to be available in the 2018 draft.
A Butler deal still feels a bit unlikely given the Bulls’ high asking price and their apparent hesitation to head into rebuild mode, but plenty of smoke exists. And maybe this year it will actually turn into fire.
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