In today’s NBA, top players are all contending for rings, and franchises are capitalizing on such
enthusiasm by attempting to build a team that would be able to make a run at the Golden State
Warriors. As a result, business and media attention for such teams has not been better—at least
for the most part.
Recently, disgruntled All-Star and All-Defensive Team selection, Jimmy Butler, expressed his
frustration and demanded a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Butler, a 29-year-old, was
traded from the Chicago Bulls last summer in exchange for Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and the
draft rights to Lauri Markkanen. Due to this trade, the Wolves got 59 games of Butler and a
playoff berth—their first in over a decade. In exchange, however, they gave up a future defensive
star in Dunn, an offensive unit in Zach LaVine, and a future star in Lauri Markkanen. Butler’s
wanting out means two things to the Timberwolves. The first being that the Wolves likely gave
away future franchise success for a rental, which in turn could mean less potential for profit or
NBA TV viewership in the feature. After all, the Wolves were only able to grab an 8 seed with
Butler. Would they be able to do so with a package in return for him, even with budding
superstar Karl-Anthony Towns? It is uncertain, but trading him is a must given the tensions in
the Minnesota system.
The teams currently in the Butler sweepstakes come from a variety of markets and franchise
phases. The Sacramento Kings, for instance, are currently in the process of a rebuild, and are in a
small market. Other teams, such as the Heat and 76ers, are trying to contend, but also sit in a
For small market teams in the rebuilding phase, like the Kings, buying Butler from the
Timberwolves would spell disaster. This is because Butler only has one more year on his
expiring deal and would be free to leave after one season. Given that Butler wants to win, as he
stated many times, a losing Kings team would not be his ideal falling place. This would only
prolong Sacramento’s time spent in Limbo, and furthermore, would solidify their spot in
irrelevance, which is something that any GM wants to avoid in terms of vying for actual NBA
Dealing Butler to a team such as the 76ers would also be more than a miss. The impact on the
Sixers would mean irreversible damage to their franchise. In talks with the Wolves, both Ben
Simmons and Robert Covington, two of their core pieces, were demanded by the Wolves.
Philadelphia wisely denied this offer. Given Simmons will be 22 next year and has Magic-
Johnson-esque potential, the only players worth a trade for him MIGHT be LeBron James,
Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Kevin Durant. Clearly, the Sixers knew that they were playing with
fire in discussing obtaining Butler, and were wise enough to shut down talks early.
The Heat, however, have established themselves as the front runners to obtain him. Deals with
the Heat and Wolves have come close to completion, but have fallen apart numerous times.
Every time the parties seemingly agree, the Wolves attempt to be a little greedier. For example,
according to ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski, both sides at one point agreed to a trade, and
upon Minnesota swapping Butler’s medical documents with Miami, the Wolves asked for a
package including Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo, and even a first round pick.
All of the above players are key players on the Heat, and as a result, Miami backed out of the
deal. Even so, however, Miami, in my opinion, has the least risk for damage caused by obtaining
Butler, but also the best negotiating power with Minnesota. The Wolves need to get rid of Butler.
No other team will likely take him except at a huge discount, and he has even threatened sitting
out a whole season. Right now keeping him would be a deadweight loss.
For the Heat, there is very little risk in obtaining Butler, especially considering their net value
and market status. None of their young pieces are too compelling, and likewise, due to their big-
market factor, it is very likely they will profit anyways from the trade. If the Knicks can be the
most valuable team in the league and not make the playoffs for 5 years, Miami could also likely
thrive business-wise in a somewhat similar situation. Furthermore, such an outcome would
probably just be the worst case scenario.
Miami has aging veterans. Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside are great players, but soon
enough, their value will decrease due to the undefeated Father Time. By obtaining Butler, Miami
gets a fringe top 10 player and also competes for a top spot in the East, at least for a year. In
doing so it can also look to clear some of its more regrettable decisions, such as Kelly Olynyk’s
3-year $36M guaranteed sum, Tyler Johnson’s 2 year $38M deal, or Dion Waiters’ 3-year $36M
contract. (Both Johnson and Olynyk have player options but it would be very unlikely for them
to decline it, given their actual value) Doing so would free some cap space up to perhaps bring in
a solid rotation player, if not a star. At the very worst (or perhaps even for the better of Miami if
Butler proves to be an awful teammate), Butler leaves Miami after a year, and the books are clear
for the Heat, allowing them to contend with a clean slate.
Teams like Miami rarely struggle in signing marquee free agents. After all, if the lure of Miami
isn’t enough for a player, the Heat also boasts a great coach in Erik Spoelstra, as well as one of
the best GMs ever in Pat Riley. Creating cap space by trading for Butler, a current top 10 player,
would be a good move for the future. In terms of both business and competitive success, the Heat
have very little to risk in obtaining Jimmy Buckets, and should try their best to work out a deal
without forfeiting too much.
The Wolves again must trade Butler. Disaster is brewing in Minnesota, as evidenced by when
Team President and Head Coach Tom Thibodeau was actually booed during his introduction at a
home preseason game. If nothing is done, the regional fans that the Wolves rely on for business
will turn away from Minnesota not only because of the awful locker room situation, but also due
to the front office’s incompetence. Likewise, the Wolves will have less of a TV viewership and
national exposure due to lessoned team success. Trading Butler will likely serve as damage
control, which, at the very least, is something. After all, as the drama of the Jimmy Butler saga
continues, things are only looking to get weirder for the Wolves.
USBC Journal Writer
Class of 2021