Jimmy Butler reportedly has requested to be traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves. The news, which the The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski broke Wednesday, really isn’t a surprise.
Butler isn’t going to win titles in Minnesota, and next summer he’ll have the first and perhaps only chance to be an unrestricted free agent in the prime of his career — at a time when many teams, including several contenders, are expected to have a lot of salary cap space.
The next question is, where will Butler land? He reportedly has given the T-Wolves a list of three preferred destinations.
Should the Boston Celtics, who reportedly have had interest in acquiring Butler via trade many times in recent years, get into the mix?
No, and here’s why.
The C’s already are loaded at Butler’s small forward position. In fact, if the C’s keep last season’s opening night starting lineup intact, head coach Brad Stevens will send out three small forwards in Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward against the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden on Oct. 16.
Let’s not forget Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye and Marcus Smart all can defend shooting guards, small forwards and even some power forwards.
Tatum and Brown both project to be top 20-to-25 players, and several media outlets have put the young forwards in the top 50 of their latest “best players in the league” rankings.
Brown is very similar to Butler in that he’s a very good two-way player and has made huge strides as a 3-point shooter since his rookie campaign. Brown likely will be as good or better than Butler in two years (possibly sooner), and he’s eight years younger than Butler with no injury concerns. Tatum has superstar potential and a more well-rounded offensive game than Butler.
Both Tatum and Brown averaged 18-plus points during the playoffs last season as the first or second option on a team that came within one game of the NBA Finals. Neither player should be considered in any potential deal for Butler.
There’s no point to acquiring Butler and not also giving him a max contract extension. That’s what he’s going to get on the open market if he hits it, and surrendering high-quality trade assets for a one-year rental makes little sense, especially for a C’s team that doesn’t need another superstar because its roster already is loaded.
The Celtics are paying Hayward and Horford max contracts, and Kyrie Irving is making over $21 million this season. Irving and Horford can opt out of their current contracts at the end of the season, and re-signing either one won’t be cheap, especially Irving.
Butler’s salary is just under $20 million for the 2018-19 campaign, and his yearly salary should reach $30 million or more with his next contract, barring some unforeseen injury or issue.
The Celtics could go deep into the luxury tax with three or four huge contracts, but then what happens when Tatum and Brown are up for rich extensions after their rookie deals? Tatum has three more seasons on his rookie deal and Brown has two.
Neither of those rookie-scale salaries are above $10 million annually. Those cheap contracts are vital for a title contender that already has three veterans making more than $20 million per year. The Celtics can have three high-priced veterans and Marcus Smart alongside Tatum and Brown because the latter two are on rookie deals. Tatum ($6,700,800) and Brown ($5,169,960) could be among the best values in the league next season.
The Celtics could have four first-round picks in next year’s draft — their own, the Sacramento Kings’ pick (the 76ers’ if the Kings’ is No. 1), the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick (if it’s No. 9 or lower) and the Los Angeles Clippers’ pick (if it’s outside the lottery). The players they select with these picks should help them surround their veteran core (plus Tatum and Brown) with young, low-cost players to provide valuable depth.
These draft picks also give the Celtics tons of ammo to bring in another veteran star if Irving and/or Horford leave as a free agent in the near future. C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge likes to be in the mix if a foundational star is available, but giving up these draft assets for Butler, who will be 30 when his next contract begins, doesn’t accomplish that.
The Celtics’ roster already is championship caliber. No moves need to be made except small depth signings.
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