If Jimmy Butler goes to Knicks, Nets or Clippers, he better have another superstar following him soon
It's a two-year plan that looks about as obvious as Butler wanting out of Minnesota in the first place
To pretty much nobody's surprise, Jimmy Butler reportedly requested to be traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. Playing for Tom Thibodeau is a grind. Playing with Andrew Wiggins is a double grind. Butler is a grinder, but he likes to, you know, actually get somewhere with his grind other than a 14-year celebration for earning the No. 8 seed. So he's out. Or at least he wants to be out.
For what it's worth, Thibodeau has said he has no interest in trading Butler. Of course he's going to say this to make teams up their offers. Time was when the Spurs said they had no interest in trading Kawhi Leonard, either.
So all this talk is for show. The news here, the only real news, is that Butler wants out, that he'll probably end up getting out because losing a star for nothing is the greatest fear among NBA general managers these days, and that he has listed three teams as his preferred destinations -- which is to say, he would be open to signing a long-term extension with these three teams, thus giving them the confidence to actually offer a compelling package in return.
I have to admit, as an NBA fan, there was some initial disappointment in hearing these teams. I don't think I'm alone in being sick and tired of there only being three actual contenders in the NBA right now, and any time a legitimate star player becomes available, I find myself hoping he'll go to a team that, you know, can actually move into the ranks of contention. Make the trade worth something in the short term. The Warriors are too good for Anthony Davis to be all alone in New Orleans, for LeBron James to be all alone with the Lakers, for Damian Lillard and Karl-Anthony Towns to be in danger of not even making the playoffs. And now Jimmy Butler is going to be on the Nets? Or the Knicks? Or the Clippers?
Put Butler on any of those teams right now, with any sort of reasonable package heading out to the Wolves, and there's a good-to-very-good chance they still don't make the playoffs. Obviously Butler is free to choose any team and situation he fancies. He has earned that. But to the NBA fan who is tired of watching a movie to which they already know the ending, it feels like a waste.
Put Butler on the Raptors, or the Rockets, or the Sixers, or the Lakers (by the way, why doesn't anyone want to play with LeBron anymore?), or hell, even the Jazz or the Wizards or any other team that is one player away from being totally for real, and now we're talking. Now we have some intrigue. Now we have a reason to watch the NBA other than Instagram highlights and player beefs served up as thinly veiled sideshows meant to distract us from the fact that we already know who's going to win.
Well, we don't totally know.
The Celtics could genuinely beat the Warriors this season.
I suppose the Rockets could, too, though that's a stretch.
But generally speaking, we know. It's the Warriors and everyone else. It felt like Butler maybe, if only just a little bit, could alter that reality on the right team, in much the same way that I think a lot of neutral fans were hoping LeBron would go to the Rockets or the Sixers. It would've actually meant something to the grander competitive landscape in the short term. Instead, the Lakers are playing a two-year game, looking at the free-agent class of 2019. Now Butler, who is part of that free-agent class, is very clearly doing the same thing.
If Butler goes to the Clippers, Kawhi Leonard has already talked about wanting to go there. If he goes to the Knicks or Nets, we know that Kyrie Irving leaving Boston for New York is on everyone's radar. We also know that Butler and Irving have made no secret of their mutual admiration, or of their fairly-easy-to-deduce desire to end up playing together. That can, theoretically, happen in New York. If the Knicks can swing a deal without including Kristaps Porzingis, that's a legitimate championship-chashing big three.
All the while, Kevin Durant is lingering out there.
Durant signed a two-year deal with Golden State this summer, but he has a player option on the second year meaning he could walk next summer, too. There's a fairly strong belief around the league that Durant won't finish his prime with the Warriors, that he could ultimately want to cement his all-time status by leading his very own team to a title, and that he would want to do that in a big market where he could continue his business pursuits. You know, someplace like New York or Los Angeles.
In a perfect world, Butler goes to one of these three teams and Irving, Leonard or Durant, or some combination of two of them if we really want to get dreamy, joins him in the summer of 2019. If that happens, this league will be rocking and rolling. But there's a long way between now and next summer. Butler was basically on a two-year plan with the Wolves when he was traded there, and in one year that appears to be over. Time was when Carmelo Anthony requested a trade to the Knicks thinking a bunch of guys would soon follow. All he got was a hobbled Amar'e Stoudemire. All we got was one of the best players in the league wasting away his prime on an irrelevant team.
Here's to hoping that doesn't happen with Butler. If he ends up with the Knicks, Nets or Clippers, which it certainly sounds like he will, let's hope someone joins him next summer. Or that more dominoes fall in some regard. Big-name trades are fun when they go down, no matter the teams involved. But then the season starts. The excitement wears off. And now you just have Jimmy Butler on the Nets trying to win 40 games and 27 other teams playing as varying iterations of the Washington Generals whose only role in the league is to fill the schedule and lose.
Everyone has an opinion on this. Some say dynasties are great for sports. That you need a villain and all that. Look, I'm fine with there being one team better than the rest, and the truth is, the only reason these Warriors came together was a fluky salary-cap spike. There is a lot of great parity in the league outside of the Warriors, and when they eventually fade, which they will at some point, the league should be in a place of unprecedented competitive quality and equality.
But until then, personally, I want to at least have the faint hope that under optimal circumstances -- without hoping for lame injuries or some other ill-timed non-basketball equalizer to balance the field -- a handful of teams can challenge. I love the NFL for that. The Patriots are clearly a dynasty and yet nobody can say with any certainty whether they'll win the Super Bowl this season, or any season for that matter. Basketball is a different game. One player controls more of the outcome. Seven-game series change the whole dynamic. But it doesn't have to be as predictable as it is right now in the NBA. Please, Jimmy Butler, if you go to one of these three teams, do it with a wink from a buddy that you won't be alone for long.
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