First, Jimmy Butler’s preferred trade destinations were reportedly the Knicks, Nets, and Clippers. Now, there’s a new team the disgruntled All-Star prefers the Timberwolves deal him to: The Miami Heat.
Butler and his agent Bernie Lee have told Minnesota ownership he’d rather be traded to South Beach than anywhere else, according to The New York Times’ Marc Stein. Now, it’s up to the two sides to come together and find a deal that works for both teams before Minnesota chooses to deal Butler elsewhere.
There are several deals that exist that could turn Butler’s wish into reality. Let’s break it all down, starting from the top:
What assets does Miami have to offer?
The Heat own their own first-round picks in every season except 2021. But because of the Ted Stepien rule, which says teams can only trade first-round picks every other year, Miami can’t trade its first-rounders in 2020 or 2022.
That means the only picks it can offer are in 2019, 2023, and beyond. The Heat can offer swap rights for the 2020 and 2022 first-rounders, but if they’re building an Eastern Conference contender around Butler, that pick could be worse than Minnesota’s.
The Heat also only own second-round picks in 2022, 2025, and 2026 thanks to several trades over the years.
Miami made the playoffs last season, and trading for Butler would push them up the Eastern Conference standings, in turn, hurting their draft position. They would have to include any number of promising young players to acquire Butler via trade, and the Heat have few:
- Josh Richardson: $9.3 million this season; 4 years, $41.9 million remaining
- Bam Adebayo: 3 years, $11.5 million
- Justise Winslow: 1 year, $3.4 million
According to The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson, the Heat are “reluctant” to include Richardson in a trade for Butler. That makes sense: He’s the most promising young player on the roster and locked into a reasonable, long-term contract. But if the Wolves don’t budge, the Heat might be forced to include him.
What about other players?
Miami has no salary cap space to sign free agents other than its own and won’t for the foreseeable future. You can thank the summer of 2016 for that.
This is one of the reasons why trading for Jimmy Butler makes sense. It’s the only way the Heat can add him, or any other star player for that matter, and it’s one of the few times a player has publicly requested to be dealt specifically to their team.
Butler is scheduled to be paid about $20 million this season. Here are the contracts the Heat can use to match that salary:
- Hassan Whiteside: $25.4 million this season; 2 years, $52.5 million remaining
- Tyler Johnson: $19.2 million this season; 2 years, $38.5 million remaining
- Goran Dragic: $18.1 million this season; 2 years, $37.3 million remaining
- James Johnson: $14.6 million this season; 3 years, $46 million remaining
- Dion Waiters: $11.5 million this season; 3 years, $36.3 million remaining
- Kelly Olynyk: $12.5 million this season; 3 years, $39.2 million remaining
(All of these players have player options on the final year of their contracts.)
Here are the other players on the roster that the Heat can trade:
- Rodney McGruder: 1 year, $1.5 million
- Luke Babbitt
- Jarnell Stokes
- Briante Weber
Don’t forget about the Kings
The Timberwolves would like to unload Gorgui Dieng’s contract of three years worth $45.6 million in any Butler trade. The Heat have enough contracts to match that salary along with Butler’s, but there’s another option available.
The Sacramento Kings have $11 million in cap space. They’re the only remaining NBA team with anything close to enough room to absorb Dieng’s contract.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports the Kings are willing to leverage that cap space and absorb an unfavorable contract, as they are a young team building for the future and currently do not own a 2019 first-round pick. Miami’s pick, after a Butler trade, could be anywhere between No. 15 and 25.
Is a mid-to-late first-round pick enough for the Kings to take on a bad contract? Something is better than nothing, especially in a draft class with the talent 2019 projects to offer.
What kind of deal would it take for Miami to land Butler?
First, we need to set a bar, and the bar is what Minnesota originally traded to pry the All-Star forward from Chicago. The Timberwolves sent Zach LaVine — sidelined with a torn ACL — point guard Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick that became Lauri Markkanen to the Bulls in exchange for Butler and the 16th overall pick that became Justin Patton.
The Heat are certainly interested in trading for Butler. It’s a matter of finding a deal that makes sense.
The Heat and Timberwolves could deal with each other directly
Miami has enough contracts to match Dieng and Butler’s combined $35 million salary. They’ll have to give up Richardson — a young sharpshooter and wing defender. They’ll also have to ship Tyler Johnson and Olynyk.
The Heat could also argue that including Richardson replaces the value of giving away their own first-round pick. They found him with the 40th pick in the 2015 draft. Miami should be able to find another quality rookie with its own pick.
They could reel in Sacramento
If Miami doesn’t want to take back Dieng’s contract, it can send Sacramento its 2019 first-round pick. In this instance, they’ll take back one year’s worth of Iman Shumpert and Butler.
Miami could also offer the Timberwolves first-round swap rights in 2020 or 2022, with the Wolves taking the better between their own and the Heat’s pick in whichever draft year they choose.
They could rope Phoenix into the picture, too
The Wolves need a leader, and Butler wasn’t the right fit. In this instance, Minnesota recoups Johnson and Richardson from Miami and gets Tyson Chandler from the Suns. Chandler could be the mentor Karl-Anthony Towns lost when Kevin Garnett left Minnesota two years ago.
Phoenix is in dire need of a starting point guard, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Suns have interest in young floor general Tyus Jones. It’s hard to find a trade that involves Goran Dragic to the Wolves and sends Jeff Teague to Phoenix. That would leave the Heat without a true guard. Not the smartest idea.
Minnesota's Tyus Jones has been another PG on Phoenix's radar, too. https://t.co/djW3tdMyNL— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 26, 2018
But in a more feasible scenario, the Kings still take back Dieng’s contract and land Miami’s first-round pick in 2019. The Suns have two first-round picks in 2019: their own and Milwaukee’s. The latter — a pick protected No. 1 to 3 and No. 17 to 30 — is more likely to convey in 2020, when it’s only top-7 protected.
The Suns should keep both of those picks and offer Chandler with a pair of second-rounders. They would also take back Kosta Koufos from the Kings to make the salaries balance.
Miami is also operating without any immediate assurances Butler will re-sign in South Beach long term, but if he’s looking to secure the bag — a five-year, $190 million bag at that — staying with whatever team he lands on is his best bet. The Heat may not want to trade Richardson, but a team can’t trade for an All-Star without giving anything in return, especially when they don’t have attractive draft assets to offer on the side.
For what it’s worth, SB Nation’s Miami Heat blog, Hot Hot Hoops, doesn’t think a Butler trade is worth the hassle:
“As enticing as a Jimmy Butler addition sounds, Miami is more than just one piece away from the top of the East. Including Josh Richardson in a trade for Jimmy Butler toes the line of not being worth it, in terms of the Heat’s longterm prosperity. If the Heat had other assets, a trade could be justifiable, but with Miami’s numerous immovable contracts, the Wolves likely will not consider a deal in which Richardson is not involved.”
Still, it’s the Heat’s best way to add a superstar caliber player. Given their cap sheet, it’s actually their only way.
There are several routes Miami can take to pull off this trade, dealing with Minnesota directly or dodging Dieng’s contract by roping in a third or even fourth team. Butler wants to play in South Beach, but can the Heat get him there?