Jimmy Butler wants to be traded to the Miami Heat, , and a 25-year-old swingman who was drafted No. 40 three years ago is suddenly at the center of the league's most important story. Why are the Heat apparently reluctant to include Josh Richardson in any deal for Butler, and why would the Minnesota Timberwolves insist on Richardson coming their way?
Let's start with the fact that Richardson is the most valuable player on Miami's roster. His per game averages of 12.9 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists don't jump off the page, but he represents the Heat's famous culture as well as anybody with his versatility, all-out effort and two-way play. He earned minutes quickly because he could guard three positions, and he maintained his intensity there while becoming a more well-rounded player. He made 37.8 percent of his 3s last season and has slowly added some playmaking flourishes every year. It is not crazy to argue that, with increased offensive responsibility, he still has star-level upside.
Just as important as all that, Richardson is entering the first season of a four-year, $42 million contract extension. Depending on how he develops over the lifetime of that deal, it will be somewhere between a bargain and robbery.
If Miami is considering offering Butler a five-year, $190 million contract next summer, it will need good contracts like Richardson's on the payroll in order to build a contender. If the Wolves are moving Butler and not getting a proven superstar, the next best thing is an improving player who they control for four years on a team-friendly salary. Also, Minnesota president and coach Tom Thibodeau would love Richardson's hard-nosed style of play.
While Richardson might not be a household name for non-Heat fans, he is a massive success story for the organization's scouting staff and player development program. One could argue that simply being able to move a former second-round pick for a player of Butler's caliber would validate what Miami has done with Richardson, but one could also argue that it can afford to be greedy here. Butler's list of preferred destinations isn't long, and for anyone outside of that group, he is a one-year rental that, in a best-case scenario, comes with a risky price tag next summer. The Heat could be keeping Richardson off limits equally because of how well he and Butler could work together and simply because they think they have the leverage to do so.
On the other hand, is Miami's front office prepared to watch Butler wind up somewhere else because Richardson is untouchable? That is the conundrum here, and we're at the point where fans will be bummed out if they have to watch essentially the same roster as last season compete for a low playoff seed in the Eastern Conference again.