2016 Offseason

The Case for Trading for Jimmy Butler

tradeJust over a month ago, the Wolves’ weeklong vacancy at the top of their basketball operations department was filled by Tom Thibodeau and his handpicked GM, Scott Layden. That answered a couple of questions: who would be the team’s next coach? (Thibs.) How much power would he have? (Pretty much all of it.) This past Friday, the next set of questions were answered: who among the current regime would stick around” (Uh, almost no one.) Does Thibs really have all the power? (The answer “yeah, pretty much” was brutally reinforced.) It’s Tom Thibodeau’s organization now.

The next set of questions won’t be answered in such tidy fashion, because they’re a bit more open-ended. It’s Tom Thibodeau’s organization now, yes – but what does he want to do with it? Win, of course. But win now? Trade for veterans to surround the A-plus young core that undoubtedly attracted him here in the first place (Towns and Wiggins), or keep the team’s B- or C-level assets together (Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad, the 5th pick in the upcoming draft) for another season before wheeling and dealing? What, exactly, does the next part of the plan entail?

It’s easy to make the case that Thibs will opt for the former: making deals to find vets in trades or via free agency, especially targeting “his kind” of veterans (tough, smart, defensive-minded guys) while working to develop the team’s two marquee talents. Over Thibs’ past 12 seasons, 7 as an assistant and 5 as a head coach, his teams have won 64% of their games and missed the playoffs just once. He was an assistant for veteran squads in both Houston and Boston, and had more of the same when he held the top job in Chicago.

While he has full power and a long, lucrative contract, he does turn 59 in January. There’s a chance this is his final opportunity as an NBA head coach. The signs seem to point to an aggressive attempt to get back into the playoffs. More than a few of the Wolves’ top beat writers have speculated that the team will trade the pick, which could be the first step in such a process, which brings us to the idea of trading for Jimmy Butler.


jimmy butlerThe Bulls selected Butler with the 30th and final pick of the first round in the 2011 NBA Draft. The team was coming off a 62-win campaign (and a trip to the Conference Finals) in Tom Thibodeau’s first season at the helm. He logged 42 appearances and 24 DNP’s during his lockout-shortened rookie campaign, as he was stuck behind Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, and Rip Hamilton at the wing spots in Chicago’s rotation.

With Brewer and Korver gone, and Rip Hamilton limited by injuries, Butler became a legitimate contributor during his second NBA season, averaging 8.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game on 57% True Shooting (TS) while logging the fourth-most minutes (and third-highest Net Rating) on the team. He was especially good in the Chicago’s second-round series against Miami, averaging 15.6 points and 6.4 rebounds on 58% TS, but the Derrick Rose-less Bulls fell in five games.

Butler appeared to be primed for a breakout in 2013-14, but instead took a step backwards. Despite being severely limited by toe, ankle, quad, and rib injuries, he still played 38 minutes per game in his 67 appearances, but shot 39.7% from the field (and 28.3% from three) as the Bulls scuffled along to a first-round gentleman’s sweep at the hands of the Washington Wizards.

The breakout finally came the following year, in 2014-15, as Butler seemed to put it all together: 20.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game in his new role as the team’s most dynamic playmaker. Butler’s shooting stroke returned (37.2% from deep on 3.0 attempts per game). He elevated his performance in the postseason yet again, averaging 22.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2.4 steals per game, but the Bulls dropped their Eastern Conference Semifinal series versus the Cavaliers in six games. A month later, Thibodeau, who’d helped guide Butler from a shaky rookie to an All-Star wing, was fired.


Jimmy-Butler-Fred-HoibergThe relationship between Thibodeau and the Bulls’ front office was on the rocks for years before he was finally shown the door. Gar Forman and John Paxson were always cool to him; according to Adrian Wojnarowski, during the Bulls’ 2010 coaching search, Forman wanted Mike Brown and Paxson wanted Doug Collins, but both were overruled by team owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Following two successful seasons, it was announced that Thibodeau and the team had agreed to a four year contract extension. Despite this, the deal wasn’t formally signed for more than six months as the two sides quietly haggled over a variety of issues. The following spring, the front office duo fired prized assistant Ron Adams, further antagonizing their head coach.

Butler flourished despite the dysfunction, but in his exit interviews in the spring of 2015, he was reportedly one of the three Bulls’ starters who advocated for a coaching change. It was probably coming anyway; during that season, things went from uncomfortable to untenable, highlighted by a  pair of Jeff Van Gundy (a Thibodeau confidant) rants during  nationally televised games, accusing the Bulls’ management of undermining their coach (which royally pissed them off). When Thibodeau was finally let go, the Bulls released a team statement that remains the gold standard of corporate-speak, passive-aggressive shade.

Forman brought in highly-coveted Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg to take over Thibodeau’s old post. The former Pacer, Bull, and Timberwolf player was supposed to bring a modern, uptempo offense to the team, as well as a more amiable coaching style and personality. It didn’t exactly work out that way; He botched the way Joakim Noah’s benching was portrayed to the media, was publicly chided by Jimmy Butler (and others) for being too easygoing, and shepherded the Bulls to a league-average pace and the sixth-worst offensive rating in the league while maintaining a top-10 defense through the All-Star Break. In short, despite the supposed shift in style, the Bulls still seemed to play like a Thibodeau team.

Chicago began the season 22-12, and on January 8th, they held the 2nd-best record in the East and the 6th-best winning percentage in the NBA. From then on, they went 20-28 and fell all the way out of the playoffs. Despite his team’s woeful finish, Jimmy Butler had the best statistical season of his career, averaging 20.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists on 56.3% TS. But the whispers out of Chicago grew louder and louder, and now it’s plainly talked about; Butler has rubbed many people the wrong way, especially since signing a 5 year, $92 million deal in July. The chemistry issues were such common knowledge that several teams came calling at the deadline, the kind of thing that doesn’t often happen with newly-minted max players. ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell stated on a recent podcast with Tim Bontemps that the Bulls’ locker room is divided over whether or not Butler is the leader he claims (or pretends) to be. At his end-of-year press conference, John Paxson acknowledged that no one on the roster was “off-limits.”  That was the match that lit the kindling; Jimmy Butler trade rumors and ideas are burning bright.


CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 27: Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls and Zach LaVine #8 of the Minnesota Timberwolves chase down a loose ball at the United Center on February 27, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Timberwolves 96-89. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Trying to come up with feasible, fair NBA trades is a fool’s errand. There are a thousand little hidden agendas, motivating factors, and moving parts that all have to click into place in order for a deal to be made. If accuracy is what you’re after, camping out on the internet and spitballing prospective deals is not your game. Yet trade “idea” or “rumor” posts draw tons of clicks because people love debating and reading about this stuff, plausibility be damned. And the trade idea I’m about to propose is entirely implausible because there’s no chance in hell GarPax will talk to Tom Thibodeau, much less trade him their best player. But a boy can dream. Plus, it’s the offseason, so why the hell not.

Anyway, here’s the trade idea I’ve come up with:

Minnesota gets: Jimmy Butler

Chicago gets: Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng, and the 5th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

I’ve been floating this idea on Twitter, and the reactions have been mixed. From what I can gather, most Wolves fans think giving up LaVine, Dieng AND the pick is way, way too much for Butler. They make faces like this one:

Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, left, reacts as he talks with guard Jimmy Butler during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Chicago, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)Or this one:

thibs 3And some of them tell me to just go ahead and get out.
thibs get outI should clarify a few points that don’t lend themselves to the 140 character limit on Twitter… If these negotiations (which will never, ever actually happen) began, I wouldn’t start by offering all three of LaVine, Dieng, and the pick. I’d try to do two of the three, or one of the three, or (gasp!) NONE of the three. First I’d see if the Bulls would take Adreian Payne, straight up, for Jimmy Butler.

I assume the Bulls would hang up on me at that point. But if they picked up the phone when I called back, I think we’d land somewhere close to what I described. For what it’s worth, a smart Bulls writer and I talked it over and more or less agreed. We’d both kind of hate the deal, but do it anyway – which is one sign of a fair swap. Proposing trade ideas is a waste of time, but proposing trade ideas where one side (“your” team) is the clear winner is somehow an even bigger waste of time. So don’t bother proposing Shabazz Muhammad and the 5th pick for Butler, because it’s a non-starter.

One other thing – I know the money really doesn’t work in the deal as I proposed it. I assume the front offices and agents could work something out if the two teams really wanted to make it happen (which they won’t).

All that aside – here are three reasons why trading for Jimmy Butler would make sense (if such a thing were ever an option, which it probably won’t ever be):

1. Jimmy Butler is really, really good.

There are plenty of valid arguments against making such a trade, chief among them being, “Zach LaVine has become a bona fide shooting guard prospect at the tender age of 21.” Another is to worry about what would happen to the Wolves’ already thin depth (especially in the frontcourt, as Gorgui Dieng seems to be an excellent third big) if such a deal were to go through (more on that later). A weaker argument concerns the prospect the Wolves could get at 5 (it’s a pretty blah class), but a stronger derivative of that argument holds that the 5th pick on a rookie-scale deal would be a hell of an asset (especially with the rising cap) if the Wolves do find a gem in that spot. Butler’s also been nicked up the past three seasons (missing 15, 17, and 15 games, respectively), but none of the injuries have been too severe. Finally, there’s something to be said for keeping a young group together for awhile to let them grow as a team – the constant shuffling of players hinders camaraderie and comfort. Towns, Wiggins, LaVine, Dieng, and Ricky seemed to gel, especially toward the end of last season, and breaking up that group would be difficult. All of those are legitimate concerns.

The one argument that I’ve seen that makes no sense comes from anyone saying Jimmy Butler isn’t good, because he is. He is really, really good. Like, one of the best two-way players in the league good.

Butler’s streaky outside shooting is harped on by critics of this fake trade I’ve put together, but whether or not he’s hitting from outside, Butler brings plenty to the table by getting into the paint to create for others or finish at the rim. He excels at both, averaging nearly 5 assists in 2015-16, hitting 67% of his shots at the rim, and getting to the line more than 7 times per game. This past season, he ranked in the 81st percentile of all pick-and-roll ballhandlers, per Synergy Sports. His outside shot seems to come and go, depending on the season. Four years ago he hit 38.1% of this threes, and two years ago he hit 37.8% of them. Three years ago he knocked down just 28.3%, and last season it was 31.1%. It’s questionable whether he’ll ever become a reliable year-to-year perimeter shooter.

What can’t be questioned is Butler’s value at the other end of the floor. When healthy, he’s one of the very best wing defenders in the league. He can guard multiple positions thanks to his quick feet (for staying in front of ballhandlers) and large frame (for holding his own near the basket). He’s a strong, tough-nosed competitor. The combination of he, Wiggins, and Rubio on the perimeter with KAT and Other Frontcourt Person X behind them, coached by defensive whiz Tom Thibodeau, would instantly become one of the best defensive units in the league. Period.

2. Butler’s contract will look better and better as the cap rises

Jimmy Butler signed a five year, $92 million contract extension with the Bulls in July of 2015, which includes an early termination option for the final season (2019-20). It’s almost certain that he will opt out during the summer of 2019; at that point, he’ll sill be on the right side of 30, and the cap will be comfortably higher than $100 million , or $40 million more than it was when the ink dried on his current deal. He’ll have one more shot at a big payday. In the meantime, he is basically on a three year, $52 million deal – terrific value for a player of his caliber.

Why bring that up? Because extension Gorgui Dieng’s extension (which could come as early as this offseason, or more likely, in restricted free agency next summer) will start in 2017-18, when the cap will jump all the way to around $107 million. The next contract for Zach LaVine (whose extension would be a priority next summer, no matter who employs him) will kick in during the 2018-19 season, when the cap will likely top $110 million.

Just in case that’s tl;dr – I’d rather pay Jimmy Butler $52 million for the next three seasons and try to contend than give Gorgui Dieng $15-$18 million per season and Zach LaVine some near-max deal ($17-$22 million annually) in hopes he learns how to play defense. The LaVine part would be a solid investment, and trading him away would be a difficult pill to swallow, because he’s got special offensive upside and is, by all accounts, a tireless worker.

But Jimmy Butler is just better. Period. LaVine’s ceiling, as far as being an effective player, is around or below Butler’s level. Thibodeau can coax passable defense out of lots of players, but thinking he’ll ever turn LaVine into a stopper is way too optimistic.

(An aside: the people who argue LaVine and Butler are “similar” in any way are nuts. Look at them. One is a wire-thin gunner who can’t play defense. The other is an extremely strong wing stopper who thrives on getting to the basket. They’re literally nothing alike. Stop.)

3. Contending cores attract good role players

My final point, in an attempt to assuage fears about what dealing away two (and perhaps three, if the pick works out) rotation players for an All-Star would do to the Wolves’ depth: playoff teams have a way of finding veteran role players on cheap deals to fill in the gaps. Rubio-Butler-Wiggins-Towns would qualify as a playoff team, and perhaps (in two years) as something resembling a Conference Finals team.

And look:

TABLEFree agent role players will see some pretty significant bumps in pay, but the Wolves would have $19.4 million in straight cap room, plus nearly $40 million to play with underneath the luxury tax (if they wanna get really crazy). In 2017 Pek and KG are off the books, go ahead and add $20 million to that figure. The Wolves would have the money, the core, the coach, and the practice facility to be players in free agency. Adreian Payne would not play 40 minutes per night. Stop the lunacy. Players would come to Minnesota. Add a stretch-four and some spot-up shooters to that core and let’s have some fun.

In conclusion…

Congratulations! You’ve read over 2,500 words about a fake trade idea that will never happen due to the animosity that exists between a coach and his former employers, even though the deal sort of makes sense for both teams and would make the Wolves a contender, which would be lots of fun, and would jumpstart the dysfunctional Bulls re-build with some young talent, which would also be lots of fun. Today is (checks watch) day 41 of the 200ish day Wolves’ offseason. The good news is: pretty soon the Wolves’ offseasons will be much, much shorter, whether they trade for Butler or not. (They won’t.) But they should. (They can’t.) I’ll hold onto that sliver of hope it’s a possibility. (I am delusional and I like it that way.)

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26 thoughts on “The Case for Trading for Jimmy Butler

  1. I like Butler, think your projected price might be too high unless the Bulls take Pekovic as well.(never happen). Thibs is a teacher and a driver. I would like to see what he can do with the current roster, especially if he can make Lavine and Muhammed play decent defense. I think we can wave goodbye to Payne, maybe trade him for a waterboy and a player to be named later, much later. Too bad, I agreed with Flip when he got him, thought he had the potential to be a heck of a power forward. Shows what I know.

  2. I agree that Butler is one of the best two-way players in the league. I agree that he brings the type of defensive salve at the SG position that would allow Wiggins to permanently work at the SF spot and enough offense to take some scoring burden off of KAT & Towns. I would love to have him on our team. But here are four reasons not to make the trade:

    1) First: Would Butler even want to be here? If Butler was one of the starters advocating for Thibs getting fired, then why the hell would Thibs want him here and why would Butler want to come here?

    2) Chemistry: From what I’ve observed of the Wolves, LaVine is the bridge between our future stars. One shouldn’t the discount the fact that Towns and Wiggins seem like better friends with LaVine than they do with each other. I’ve seen plenty of strong friendships disintegrate when the catalyst of a Three Amigos pairing moves away. I don’t want that to happen here.

    3) You briefly touched on the value of a top5 pick – usually a quality player on a very reasonable contract. If you look at the last 25 years of 5th overall picks, you have 6 sure-fire Hall of Famers, 6 non-HOF quality All-Stars, and (depending on how you evaluate players) another 3 to 5 more decent starters. I know this draft doesn’t seem like much, but history says the 5th pick has just less than a coin-flip’s chance of being more valuable than Butler alone. Plus there is a 100% chance of Bender, Hield, Murray, or Dunn being available at 5 and they seem good enough to take a chance on even if each presents different risks. Throwing in Dieng and LaVine on top of that pick would be absurd.

    4) I doubt that LaVine will ever be a better defender than Jimmy, but his offensive game is already further along at 20 years old than Butler’s was at 24 years old. I think they have similar ceilings (even if they have drastically different strengths) and I’m willing to see what Thibs can do to develop LaVine.

    1. I agree with this and would add 5) The goal for Thibodeau should be to develop another Butler with a later pick like he did the original one.

    2. I appreciate you reading and your thoughtful replies.

      Regarding point 1 – Thibs and Jimmy were friendly at the Draft Combine in Chicago two weeks ago, so I don’t think that relationship is totally broken. The fact he basically begged Hoiberg to coach more like Thibs in the middle of the season is another sign, I think, that Jimmy could possibly be open to a reunion. But this is all speculation.

      Regarding point 2 – Chemistry is important, but if one of the three is dealt away for a better player who can help the team win, I think they’d get over it. It’s a business.

      Regarding point 3 – The historical argument for the value of the 5th pick works to a point, but doesn’t necessarily ensure the Wolves will get a good player at that spot. Is there a DeMarcus Cousins (2010) in this class? Or a Dwyane Wade (2003)? I seriously doubt it. Everyone calls it a two-horse race at the top. Depth is not a strong suit of this class. And yes, again, it’s a steep price, but Butler is an All-Star. I don’t think it’s absurd to pay a high price for a 26-year-old All-Star on a reasonable contract for three years.

      Regarding point 4 – There’s really no arguing that, as it’s mostly feeling-based. But given the two players, who do you think has a better chance of succeeding in Thibs’ system?

      1. I’m one of the few Wolves fans who completely agree that we should trade for Butler. At this point in LaVine and Butler’s careers, Butler is better at everything except shooting behind the 3 point line. He is better at every aspect of defense, every aspect, he is better at working within an offensive flow, getting offensive rebounds, getting to the FT line, finding cutters and getting assists, just not shooting the three. And it shows in their advanced stats. Butler is just way better at basketball than LaVine. To say LaVine will approach Butler in any way is projecting a ton. There is no guarantee he will ever be better than he was last season. To clarify, I think he will improve to a good sixth man option, but there is no guarantee. We know how good Butler is, and he is way better than Dieng, LaVine, and whoever is available at pick 5 right now. And he’s still only 26! And he fits a Thibs team better, it’s a no brainer if they accept that offer in my opinion. You bring in a great basketball player you know fits the system, you have an amazing, emphasis on AMAZING, young core that you then surround with reasonably priced FA’s who understand the value that Rubio/Butler/Wiggins/Towns bring to a team. Easy decision in my opinion.

  3. Just to further complicate this, we can’t actually trade our draft pick since we owe Atlanta a protected first starting next year for Payne. We could do a pick swap, but with Chicago also in the lottery it doesn’t make much sense on their end.

    1. We can agree to the trade, and take who the Bulls would want to take in that spot. Once the pick is “used” it can be traded. This happens all the time with teams who have their next season’s pick already thrown into a deal.

  4. I enjoyed reading this. One quibble is that Pek’s contract actually expires in 2018, not 2017 but it probably won’t have that much effect on the overall cap situation.

    I would have like to have seen more discussion on why Thibs would need to make a trade like this now rather than spend at least one season with the current core to see what he can do with them. I agree LaVine will likely never be on par with Butler as a defender. But that doesn’t mean he can’t still improve significantly, especially considering that a big reason for his deficiencies on defense is he’s physically overmatched. He’ll become a better defender simply by getting stronger and knowing that he’s a hard worker, I think it’s safe to expect he’ll put forth the effort to do that as his body matures.

    1. Mark – Should’ve clarified in the body of the post, but Pek’s 2017-18 contract is partially guaranteed, which is why I didn’t count it, because that is getting bought out the second it’s possible.

      Regarding why Thibs would want to make a deal like this – I tried to cover it in this section near the top, but probably could have done a much better job at it:

      *** “Over Thibs’ past 12 seasons, 7 as an assistant and 5 as a head coach, his teams have won 64% of their games and missed the playoffs just once. He was an assistant for veteran squads in both Houston and Boston, and had more of the same when he held the top job in Chicago.

      While he has full power and a long, lucrative contract, he does turn 59 in January. There’s a chance this is his final opportunity as an NBA head coach. The signs seem to point to an aggressive attempt to get back into the playoffs. More than a few of the Wolves’ top beat writers have speculated that the team will trade the pick, which could be the first step in such a process, which brings us to the idea of trading for Jimmy Butler.” ***

      1. Those are good points. Bearing in mind that we know this trade is unlikely for a host of reasons that you detailed, I wonder if he’d be inclined to trade the 5th pick for a veteran that may not be on the caliber of a Jimmy Butler, but who can provide the defense/leadership I’m sure Thibs would like to have on the roster (and who can actually step on the court)?

  5. LaVine is already a significantly better perimeter shooter than Butler, who isn’t a good shooter. Doesn’t make sense to pair him up with Rubio who is one of, if not the worst shooting + scoring starting guard in the NBA. People are going to be surprised at how good Zach will be on defense next year cuz they stopped watching games last year. He absolutely tore it up in the 2nd half of the season defensively, the guy has to be the quickest going laterally along with Westbrook. He’s showed his length and impressive ability to knock the ball away with his long arms. There was significant improvement from year 1 to 2, and it would be foolish to trade him now unless he’s packaged for a guy like Griffin or Paul George.

  6. There are starting-caliber players available in the 20-40 range of every draft. Don’t the good organizations find and develop those guys?

    Also, as long as we’re on the subject of unrealistic goals, isn’t that basically what the column is putting out there? The Bulls aren’t trading Butler to the Wolves unless Wiggins is involved.

  7. I don’t like Butler. I don’t want him on our team. I get that he’s a pretty good player, I just don’t want to watch him every night and I think we can be just as good without him. He’s good but I think his value is inflated. Why give up a bunch of our assets that could blossom under better coaching for one player? This off season is starting to stress me out. You can’t escape the Butler talk, although it does seem to be baseless speculation at this point. I keep hearing things about Rubio being on the block too, and I don’t think that makes any sense for a team looking to win now or win later. I also love watching Rubio. A lot of the guesses about what we will do in the draft (Dunn Murray) bore and annoy me mildly. I’d like us to add someone dynamic like Heild or big like Bender, as we could use some options at PF. More generally, I find the idea of trading the pick boring. Just picking fifth is a gamble, as all picks are, but it’s a good gamble and with the young talent we already have, I think we don’t need to hit a home run with it. Just developing the guys we have and having better coaching and a real system will improve this team so much. Take the pick unless you find a gift trade, and Butler isn’t a gift trade.

    When we picked LaVine I wasn’t mad, but maybe I scratched my head a little. I saw it as a ‘freak pick’—picking a guy with an underdeveloped game in hope that his freak athletic ability won’t be wasted in the long run. But LaVine is developing really well. He is a hard worker, a confident energetic guy, has a beautiful shooting stroke that is now getting him consistent shooting numbers. He’s still very young and will improve a ton. LaVine has earned the chance to play next season on this roster. He is also a guy that you trade away and are haunted by the next ten years. We should not trade LaVine.

  8. Will, great thought piece. Through the luck of Love’s petulance and the KAT lottery ticket, the Wolves are set up to be a dominant team for a decade, if they don’t screw it up. So Will, what if you frame this fake trade (as a template for other more realistic trades) in the terms of “what would Jesus, or the Spurs, do”? It seems to me that the Spurs would shun splashy trades, hang onto young value players, hit the market hard after Durant, Drummond (in which case KAT becomes PF, which I love, a la Robinson-Duncan but with more range), DeRoazen (maybe not Thibs’ type) or Barnes (too expensive?); pick smart at number five (eg Kawai 15, Parker 28, Ginobili 57), which here should be Murray, Dunn, Bender in that order; and round out with value veterans, Hibbert will be cheap (Thibs’ defense; or a guy like Miles Plumlee), and smart, competent players (Henderson, Barbosa, Agustin could be a nice PG to share backup with Tyus if they don’t take Dunn) will be available, etc. I love Jimmy Butler, I would relish seeing him play nightly with this group. I’d even say a trade is 50-50, the personal enmity thing won’t stand up to the “it’s business” mentality of professionals. But I notice that the Spurs never do trades like this, what do you think?

  9. I love your point about the projected salaries in the future. I hadn’t thought much about how paying a bigger contract for Butler now could save us money in the future considering players like Dieng and Lavine could be asking for even bigger contracts in the near future.

    Being the hopeless optimist (which every Minnesota sports fan can relate to if they don’t want to live depressed, unfulfilled lives) I’ve dreamed about this young core of Wiggins, Towns, and Lavine wanting to stay together no matter what kind of salary sacrifices they have to make, similar to the Spurs’ trifecta of future Hall of Famers. This is a long shot, and INCREDIBLY optimistic, but do you see that kind of relationship and desire for ‘championships over $$$’ when you watch this young Wolves core?

    I know the NBA is a business, but I just hope that they have seen KG/Marbury fallout, what it could have been, and then decide to follow in the footsteps of the Duncan,Ginobili and Parker and GET RINGS.

    What do you think?

  10. Although very talented, Butler is not nearly as good of a player as you portray him to be. The Bulls have not been good the past 2 seasons and he has accumulated his ‘upper-echelon’ statistics more or less by default, as he has been the best scoring option for the Bulls and his usage rate is high given the lack of other weapons *cough* D-Rose. You can throw a whole book of numbers out there defending Butler’s prowess as a player, and he is indubitably skilled, but giving up LaVine, AND Gorgui, AND the pick for him is ludicrous. Picture the second half/most developed version of LaVine playing for the Bulls last season in place of Butler’s minutes and usage and the results would likely be comparable on the offensive end. Defense is definitely more teachable than acquiring that “it” factor that LaVine possesses in terms of his ability to create buckets and deliver in open space, and the new coaching regime has a wonderful opportunity here to mold LaVine into an upper tier two-way player at his position.

    With that being said, it is becoming frustrating to keep on reading and hearing about how Gorgui is a “B” player or a simple piece to the puzzle, an important part of the Wolves yet not a “core” guy. This is ridiculous. Gorgui has consistently tangibly improved his game from the moment he stepped on the court as a rookie until the end of last season, and he currently has the ability and polish to easily be a top power forward in the league as soon as this year. The dude shot 82% from the line and developed not only a consistent knockdown jumper that opens up space down low for KAT to operate, but his passing vision has gotten substantially better and is superb for a big man. Slap that on top of his already excellent rim protection and above average rebounding rate at the age of 26, and there is no reason to believe that he is not going to continue to evolve into a top-flight, blue-chip power forward that will be an asset for years to come.

    I would not be opposed to trading the 5th pick unless we can somehow miraculously finagle to get Bender, I just don’t understand the logic of giving up Gorgui on a whim here, and in a few years it can be argued that Gorgui’s value could just as easily surpass Butler’s and LaVine’s altogether. LaVine has shown that he can be something truly special, and you don’t cash that in unless the player you receive is a sure-fire, carry us to the promise land type of player, which are a dime a dozen, and Butler does not make that list.

  11. Will, great thought piece. What do you think the Spurs would do in this case? I love Jimmy Butler. But I notice that perennially winning organizations like the Spurs (or Steelers in football) never do splashy trades like this.

  12. So, I think I agree with several of the comments that 1) that price is way too high, especially considering Lavine’s potential growth; 2) the #5 pick ain’t nothin’. Kris Dunn is already a tremendous defender and Buddy Hield can shoot the lights out.

    I think more significant, though, is Jimmy Butler’s terrible attitude. He has numerous problems with coaches and teammates. Why would we want a malcontent on a developing roster? That would be potentially toxic. Also, with Chicago likely saying goodbye to Joakim Noah, and with Pau Gasol likely not exercising his player option, trading Butler would put them near full rebuild mode. I just don’t see it happening.

    So, what’s more likely? (changing topics in the comments section! Oh yeah.) The Timberwolves need defense and shooting. Thibs probably wants veterans. My wild guess for the traded pick would be the Timberwolves sending the #5 pick and Adriean Payne to Sacramento for Willie Cauley-Stein and Marco Bellinelli. The Kings would likely be thrilled to draft Dunn and let him develop under Darren Collison. Dunn likely will eventually do for Dave Joerger the things he was getting from Mike Conley in Memphis. Cauley-Stein is also unnecessary behind Cousins and Koufos.

    The Wolves would get a developing rim protector with a previous playing relationship with frontcourt partner KAT. They would also get depth and shooting at the wing. Remember, Bellineli played for Thibs in Chicago before Layden was part of the front office that brought him to San Antonio. While Cauley-Stein isn’t a veteran, he did two seasons at Kentucky, and he’s actually older than Wiggins, Lavine, KAT, and Tyus Jones. So, not exactly a teenager.

    I would love this trade. Also, unlike the Jimmy Butler idea, we would preserve a good amount of cap space. Just an idea…

  13. Love the article. Love speculating! Don’t like this particular idea.

    I’m surprised there’s no mention here of what seems like the most obvious downside. The article touches on it – Butler’s a shaky shooter – but then simply insists that he’s a good player. Butler is a good player and could be highly effective on a team that compensated for his weak shooting with other great shooters. But this idea involves pairing him with not one but two other shaky shooters on the perimeter in Rubio and Wiggins, so that all three perimeter starters would be shaky from 3 and somewhat ball dominant besides. Does anyone really think that new school analytics are so far wrong that starting zero reliable 3 point shooters could work? Name one contender in the last 5 years, 20? 30? that’s been remotely as bad at shooting 3s as this proposed team probably would be. Even if you think Towns is a great 3 point shooter, and maybe he is, is that the best way to maximize his talents, as the sole spot up shooter spreading the floor for other guys? Isn’t he also – just like Rubio, Butler and Wiggins – at his best inside the line? They’re all good players, but that doesn’t mean they make any sense together. Start Bejlica and that compensates for it some, but the fact still remains that, according to metric wisdom and I think common sense, Rubio-Butler-Wiggins represents an extremely inefficient perimeter mix of guys all of whom need the ball inside the line and none of whom can reliably spread the floor, which wouldn’t help the best part of Towns’ offensive game either.

    Having said that, I totally agree that the Wolves should be trading for veterans as part of a fairly significant overhaul, in fact, even more significant than the one proposed, though I also agree that there’s a psychological danger in going too far. If you’re talking about adding Butler and also trading both Rubio and Wiggins and putting solid shooters in their place, then maybe I like the deal, though I’d worry that might be going too far. Otherwise, don’t we need to be getting better, not worse, at shooting 3s? Doesn’t that mean that Rubio or Wiggins has to go, and a proficient 3 point shooter unike Butler put in his place? Aren’t we already hoping that Wiggins will be very much like Butler in both strengths and weaknesses?

    As a final word on this, I suspect there’s some reluctance to acknowledge how middling the Wolves really are outside of Towns and maybe Wiggins, especially as a supporting cast. To wit, there isn’t one single player on the entire roster except Towns (or for that matter available in the draft) on a clear trajectory towards being good in both of the critical role-playing areas: defense and 3 point shooting. This puts the team on a trajectory to the very place most unsuccessful teams are, of having to make choices up and down the roster between one or the other – 3 point shooters who can’t defend or defenders who can’t shoot 3s – and bleeding out accordingly. If Wiggins seems like a good beta and can’t garner fair value in trade, ok, but to my way of thinking that means there’s no room left for anything but 3 and D role players on the rest of the roster. Dieng is a good fit. Lavine might be. Rubio isn’t. Butler isn’t. As a readier beta alternative to Wiggins, Butler is a good fit, but in that case Wiggins isn’t. Right?

    Also, I like Dieng and would much prefer to keep him. He’s solid on both ends, big, quick, seemingly a fit with Towns, a drafted and three-year Wolf, might still be getting better, might even be developing into a stalwart defensive big or 3 point shooter or both, and, best of all, he’s one of the most underpaid players in the league this summer and next. Replacing his production in the lineup even for the next year or two would probably take 10, 15, 20 million a year? which could be going to free agents instead. Relative to his probable trade value, Dieng is the last guy I’d want to trade (after Towns obv). I’d rather throw in 2-3 more picks.

    As for the money, wouldn’t it work with the cap going way up? Both teams will have tons of space so no need to match the salaries?

    Please keep the speculative trade scenarios coming! Anyone think the Pacers would go for 2016/19/21/23 unprotected 1st rounders and everyone but Towns and Dieng for Paul George and George Hill? Now that would be going pretty far…

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