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Following a bizarre “return” to the Minnesota Timberwolves, it remains blatantly clear that Jimmy Butler needs to be traded.
After recently exploring the market for the 29-year-old All-Star, the Wolves still haven’t found a deal to their liking, just days before the regular season kicks off.
Butler’s return to practice was apparently both awkward and intense, where he was “boldly challenging teammates, coaches and front-office executives” and told general manager Scott Layden, “You f–king need me, Scott. You can’t win without me,” per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
This has become a bad marriage, and the imminent divorce can be blamed on the Timberwolves’ kids.
“It’s not fixed. It could be. But do I think so? No. Cause you’ve got to be honest. I’m being honest. Do I think so? No,” Butler told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in a post-practice interview.
If this first practice was any indication, it’s clear that both parties need to go their separate ways before the start of the season and things get any uglier.
While Minnesota has been holding out for a king’s ransom for Butler, here are five deals the T-Wolves should be happy to make.
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Timberwolves Receive: G Frank Ntilikina, SG Courtney Lee, C Joakim Noah, 2019 first-round pick (lottery-protected)
Knicks Receive: SG Jimmy Butler, C Gorgui Dieng
The Knicks seem destined to return to relevance in the near future, and Butler would help kickstart that process.
New York was one of Butler’s preferred destinations, per Wojnarowski. The combination of market, history and a budding young core should be enough for Butler to sign an extension beyond this season.
For New York, Kristaps Porzingis and rookie Kevin Knox are basically untouchable. Fellow rookie Mitchell Robinson should be off-limits for now as well.
That leaves 2017 lottery pick Ntilikina—a 6’6″ combo guard who could become an elite defender for Minnesota—as the primary trade bait for the Knicks. Lee, meanwhile, averaged 12.0 points per game on 40.6 percent shooting from deep last season. Moving Dieng’s three years and nearly $49 million helps as well.
If anyone can get anything out of Noah at this point, it’s Tom Thibodeau, who has collected nearly every other former Bull.
The Knicks can gamble and try to sign Butler next summer, and a year of living in New York and playing for head coach David Fizdale would be a nice extended recruitment.
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Timberwolves Receive: SG Lou Williams, PG Milos Teodosic, SG Jerome Robinson
Clippers Receive: SG Jimmy Butler
When word of Butler’s desire to leave Minnesota first leaked, the Clippers were at the top of the list of his preferred trade destinations, per Wojnarowski.
“Butler’s ability to partner on the Clippers with a second star player in a deep summer free-agency market holds a strong appeal to Butler, league sources said. The Clippers have two max contract slots available in July. They are emerging as a front-runner for Kawhi Leonard when Toronto’s All-NBA forward becomes a free agent in July,” Wojnarowsk wrote.
Minnesota should first ask for power forward Tobias Harris, although The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski reported the Clippers “have yet to offer Harris in any package.”
If Harris is off the table, the combination of Lou Williams, Milos Teodosic and Jerome Robinson would be a nice alternative.
Williams averaged a career-high 22.6 points per game for the Clippers last season and is due just $24 million over the next three seasons. With Jamal Crawford leaving in free agency, the Wolves can move from one premier sixth man to another. Teodosic gives them insurance at point guard for the injury-prone Derrick Rose, and Robinson was a lottery pick in this past June’s draft.
While it may sting to give up Robinson so soon, the Clippers can move into playoff contention this season with Butler while still maintaining a max salary spot next summer.
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Timberwolves Receive: F OG Anunoby, SG Danny Green, SG Norman Powell
Raptors Receive: SG Jimmy Butler
Despite finishing last season with an East-best 59 wins and then trading for Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors still seem hard-pressed to push past the loaded Boston Celtics this season.
That is, unless they go all-in for Butler.
A wing rotation of Kyle Lowry, Butler and Leonard may be the best outside of Golden State and puts them head-to-head with Boston and likely above the Philadelphia 76ers. Good luck to all opposing shooting guards and small forwards attempting to score against the Butler-Leonard duo.
For Minnesota, Anunoby is the main prize. The 21-year-old forward started 62 games as a rookie for the Raptors last season and could play alongside Andrew Wiggins to make a long, athletic wing. Green is still a solid two-way rotation guard, and Powell probably needs a change of scenery to jumpstart his promising career.
Would Butler and Leonard’s opposing personalities clash? Maybe, but at least Leonard has a ring and hardware to do the speaking for his laid-back demeanor.
For Toronto, a long-awaited shot at the Finals is worth the risk.
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Timberwolves Receive: SG Eric Gordon, F PJ Tucker, 2021 1st-round pick
Rockets Receive: SG Jimmy Butler
In this scenario, Butler pushes the Rockets to a near-Golden State level while returning to his native Houston. Sounds perfect, right?
While the Rockets are limited on trade assets, Gordon and Tucker are two very good veterans who would keep Minnesota in the playoff picture. For whatever reason, the Rockets have been reluctant to give up both, even for Butler.
As ESPN’s Stefano Fusaro states: “The Wolves contacted the Rockets again Tuesday morning, after their failed deal with Miami this past weekend. Minnesota was still adamant on receiving Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker, but Houston will not put Tucker on the table.”
The Rockets won’t have any cap space next summer, with Paul, Harden and Clint Capela set to make nearly $93 million in 2019-20 alone. This is their only chance to land Butler and finally push past the Warriors into the Finals.
That’s worth giving up Tucker.
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Timberwolves Receive: SG Josh Richardson, C Hassan Whiteside
Heat Receive: SG Jimmy Butler, C Gorgui Dieng
Miami remains the favorite landing spot for Butler. It’s a team desperate to add a star who can help vault the franchise into serious contender status in the Eastern Conference.
As Wojnarowski wrote, “Minnesota hasn’t been engaged in serious talks elsewhere on Butler, with teams’ belief that a Miami deal was inevitable and the Timberwolves’ steep asking price often remaining nonstarters.”
Richardson is the star of the deal for the Timberwolves as a 25-year-old, two-way wing who averaged 12.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists for the Heat in 2017-18. He’s set to become one of the NBA’s best bargains now in the first season of a four-year, $42 million deal.
The Timberwolves also pick up Whiteside, who has one less year on his contract than Dieng. If Thibodeau makes Whiteside’s life miserable enough, he may even decline his 2019-20 player option of $27 million, opening up some serious cash for Minnesota in free agency. (Unlikely, but hey, it’s Thibs.)
Miami gets the best overall player in the deal and removes Whiteside from its locker room, even if it means paying Dieng nearly $49 million over the next three seasons.
Greg Swartz covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.