Don’t Blame Jimmy Butler
As we enter the 14th day of “Jimmy Butler Watch” in Minnesota, there are a few things worth pointing out about the situation and its ultimate resolution.
The timing of all of this is certainly the biggest issue for the Wolves and their fans. As Wolves forward Taj Gibson phrased it, it was absolutely a “gut punch” to a franchise that expected another training camp together to possibly mend some of the rough edges that surfaced during the season last year.
The problem is, the Wolves didn’t understand how insulted Butler was, so the franchise didn’t go out of its way to re-work Butler’s contract or address how disinterested Butler was in trying to make the Andrew Wiggins-Karl-Anthony Towns pairing work.
This brings us to second week of the drama of the Wolves trying to trade a multi-time All-Star just as training camps open.
Here are some thoughts worth considering:
Wolves Can’t Force A Trade
As much as the Wolves and their fans would like closure on the Butler situation, the Wolves can’t force another team to up their offer. Equally, the Wolves gave up a ton of value to obtain Butler on draft day in June 2017 and getting pennies on the dollar in return doesn’t seem to be overly attractive at this point.
It’s also important to note that NBA teams spend months assembling the rosters they bring into training camp. There is always a desire to see if what you have works as expected before blowing things up. The Wolves know that they can take what’s on the table now at almost any point in the season. The question is: Will someone get desperate and up the ante on a deal?
The Wolves have been super aggressive with the teams inquiring about Butler, either putting insane names on the table or countering offers with insane counter proposals. This has been the Wolves track record for a while, so no one really connected to the situation seems overly surprised, mainly because there is a sense in NBA circles that the Wolves have to salvage the Butler situation or the whole process in Minnesota will come apart (worse than it seems to be now).
The Wolves don’t have a ton of leverage in the situation other than to say no for a while longer. There is a reality that at some point (soon) they will have to pull the trigger even if the deal isn’t what they would hope – but at the same time, the reason a deal hasn’t been done yet is simply because the Wolves can’t force a team to deal them what they want in return.
What’s A Rental Worth?
The other part of the Butler situation is the prevailing notion that not only will Butler expect a huge new contract next July, but there’s also a big chance he could walk away as an unrestricted free agent, which is risky in a deal that could involve rookie-scale players and draft picks.
There is, however, no shortage of NBA teams willing to trade their own potentially-expiring contracts to the Wolves. What’s holding up a deal is the idea of an All-Star for an All-Star, and, worse yet, an All-Star under team control for a couple of years.
There is value in the rental situation, especially for a team that’s middling like the Miami HEAT, or a team that feels it is one player away from the NBA Finals like Milwaukee and Houston.
There is always doubt about the long-term odds of a rental situation, but as Paul George proved with the Thunder, sometimes a rental could be a long-term recruiting pitch, which can break a team’s way if the team is wildly successful.
Getting Under The Tax Matters
There is another factor in a Butler deal that is framing how aggressive some teams will go, and that’s the looming Repeater Luxury Tax some teams are facing.
The beauty of trading for Butler is that his Bird Rights go with him, so the acquiring team won’t need cap room to re-sign him, even to a monster new deal.
The flip side is that teams that have big contracts on the books now could see not only Luxury Tax penalty, but also the really punitive Repeater Tax penalty that comes with overspending in consecutive years.
Rockets ownership has already talked about their concerns over the limitations Repeater Tax has on team building. The Thunder also made several deals this past summer to reduce their tax burden.
Teams like Miami and Milwaukee are extremely mindful of their tax situations and how a bad deal could hamper their team development going forward.
So while it’s easy to say a team should take Butler and whatever other cap luggage the Wolves want to pack into a trade, there are harsh realities that teams have to weigh in when it comes to what they will take back in a Butler deal. Equally, with both Wiggins and Towns now locked into huge new deals, the Wolves have to keep their eye on the tax line too – especially with some of the secondary deals they have done to build the current team.
Jimmy Didn’t Pick Minnesota
As much as people love the narrative of former Chicago Bulls players running back to Wolves president and head coach Tom Thibodeau, the truth is Butler didn’t pick the Timberwolves. The Wolves chose him.
In what has been well-publicized, Butler really believed he was staying in Chicago and in-line for a Supermax deal from the Bulls. They opted to trade Butler, and the rest is history.
Butler wasn’t unhappy with the reunion with Thibodeau, but he wasn’t thrilled to have left some $40-$50 million behind in Chicago. It’s why the Wolves inability to re-work his contract this summer ultimately poisoned the relationship.
Butler isn’t without blame in all of this. He was temperamental all of last season. His expectations that the Wolves would or could dump off enough cap money to rework his deal was far-fetched to begin with, especially given how little open cap space there was this summer. But none of that changes that Butler didn’t pick the Wolves.
It is easy to get caught up in the process teams go through to obtain players and believe there should be loyalty to a situation, whether that players teams draft, sign, re-sign and/or even trade for.
The truth of it is the NBA is a business, and every time the romance of the teams comes into play, there is a brutal example of how cold the business really is.
Ask Blake Griffin -the LA Clippers told him he’d be, “a Clipper for life,” and he was traded less than six months later.
It is easy to be mad at NBA players who ask out of unfavorable or undesirable situations, but the truth of the matter is NBA careers are short. Expecting players to remain in situations they don’t want is unrealistic, especially when teams will ultimately cave and concede to a trade in the spirit of the bigger team dynamic.
While it’s likely the Butler situation will come to a close sooner rather than later, at this point there doesn’t seem to be a front-runner for Butler.
Although, that could change fairly quickly.
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