The Jimmy Butler-to-the-Timberwolves rumors have permeated the offseason ever since Tom Thibodeau accepted the head coaching position.
The rumors popped up again on Monday, with Marc Stein and Chad Ford from ESPN leading the charge.
When the possibility of a trade was first discussed a couple of weeks ago, I was all-in on trading for Butler. He is a superstar that is in his prime, but at 26, he’s still young enough to grow with this Timberwolves team for a good number of years.
Butler is good enough to carry the offense on one end while locking down the opposing team’s top wing player on the other end. He also had his best season statistically last year, averaging 20.9 points and 4.8 assists (both career-highs) to go along with 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 steals.
Butler shot just 31.2 percent from deep, though, a number that would simply add to the Timberwolves’ most glaring offensive affliction: three-point shooting.
He has actually shot better than 37 percent from deep in two of his five seasons in the NBA, but consistency seems to be his biggest enemy. His three-point percentage has been on a wild roller-coaster ever since he entered the league, going from 18.2 percent in his rookie season to 38.1 percent as a sophomore, then plummeting back down to 28.3 percent in his third year, climbing back up to 37.8 percent in his fourth campaign and finally settling at 31.2 percent this season.
Butler did not have very many offensive weapons surrounding him this season, as Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson were solid but did not relieve Butler of any ball-handling responsibilities. As such, his low three-point percentage can partially be attributed to not getting very many clean looks as a result of the offense. His three-point percentage would likely fall somewhere between 35-39 percent on a team that provided him some help on offense, which would be a stellar number for a player that also has the size and athleticism to drive to the rim and get buckets there.
So, Jimmy Butler is good; everyone already knew that. But just how much would it take to pry him from the Bulls?
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Any trade offer the Wolves would float to the Bulls would start with that number-five pick. The first trade that the Wolves might throw out there would be a package of the #5 pick, a 2018 first-round pick, a future second-rounder, Gorgui Dieng, and Shabazz Muhammad for Butler, the Bulls’ first-round pick this year (#14), and maybe a role player or two as salary-cap filler.
This would be similar to what the Houston Rockets gave up for James Harden in their trade with the Thunder in 2012. Chicago’s roster is aging, with Gasol, Gibson, and Joakim Noah all over 31 (or will be 31 in about a week, in Gibson’s case). On top of that, Derrick Rose is never going to reach his old heights. Those future picks may look tasty enough for them to accept this deal and try to load up on young talent while throwing max money at a free agent.
For the Wolves, this would be the ideal trade. They don’t need to trade any of their young studs, and with a core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, Ricky Rubio, and Zach LaVine (a super-sub in this scenario), those traded draft picks wouldn’t be too big of a loss.
They could then use the Bulls’ #14 pick pick to grab the likes Domantas Sabonis from Gonzaga, who I think would be a perfect front-court mate for KAT and would fill the hole the Wolves would have at power forward.
However, it seems likely that the Bulls won’t accept a trade for Butler without the Wolves including one of LaVine or Wiggins along with the fifth pick. This is where a potential trade gets tricky.
Trading, say, the #5 pick and LaVine for Butler probably makes sense if you’re looking at this in strictly basketball terms. Butler is already a young superstar who’s great on both ends, while LaVine has mad potential but may never reach the level that Butler is already playing at.
Would the Wolves trade that potential for the sure thing? I think that they would, but then there is also that thing called team chemistry. By all accounts, Towns, Wiggins, and LaVine love being around and playing with each other. The brand of basketball the Wolves played last season after the All-Star break was super fun to watch and also showed the continued growth of all three of those players. They learned where the others would be on offense, and LaVine and Wiggins began canning open triples in the last few weeks as they figured out how to really play together.
Defense was a different story, but I have no doubt that will come under the tutelage of coach Thibodeau. If the Wolves broke up the trio of Towns, Wiggins, and, LaVine, how would the other two feel about it? “It’s a business,” some might say, “and the players should know that.” True, but team chemistry is horribly undervalued in many front offices and we see it season after season. The Rockets immediately come to mind, and the Cavaliers are playing better against the Warriors in the NBA Finals when Kevin Love isn’t playing.
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On the other hand, the Warriors have some of the best chemistry in all of sports and, not coincidentally, set the record for wins in a season and are on the brink of a second consecutive championship. The Warriors also have a ton of talent, of course, but all the players buy-in and sacrifice for the team. Butler would have time to grow with Towns and Wiggins (or LaVine, if the Wolves decide to give up Wiggins instead in a potential trade), so the chemistry wouldn’t necessarily be all lost, but a lot of the growth from last season would dissipate.
This Timberwolves team is possibly the most fun and exciting team in franchise history. Thibs and GM Scott Layden haven’t had much time to seriously evaluate the roster and what they have in the players here, so the hope is that they don’t make a rash decision on a trade. If they genuinely believe that they are getting a great deal in return, they should pull the trigger. It’s their job to make the team better.
Still, it would be a shame to see this young core get broken up after only one year together. This team is brewing some serious hope among Timberwolves fans, and LaVine is a huge fan-favorite. Fans would undoubtedly embrace Butler, but I’d like to see the front office evaluate what they already have here before making a big decision such as trading away a major piece for Butler.
Grab a few role players to fill holes on the roster, let this team learn the concepts and gel, and then make a decision at the trade deadline or next off-season.