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ESPN lists Lakers as second-most likely destination for Jimmy Butler next season

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A panel of ESPN Insiders think that like the Lakers, Jimmy Butler could eventually leave Minnesota for Los Angeles.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

There have been whispers of Jimmy Butler being unhappy with the Minnesota Timberwolves for months from various members of the media, and with the Los Angeles Lakers having another max salary slot next summer, it was only a matter of time before he was linked to L.A.

That day has finally come, as a panel of ESPN insiders gave the Lakers the second-best odds (21.2 percent chance) of any team to be Butler’s next destination. However, the panel still gave New York (42.4 percent chance) the best odds to land Butler. Here’s why:

As with Irving, our panel sees New York as Butler’s most likely destination, though it’s difficult to see at this moment how the Knicks would create the cap space for both of them (not to mention the chance Durant chooses New York too). Perhaps most telling about these results though is the fact that 10 possible Butler destinations were listed, in addition to his current team.

Still, those insiders do think Butler really will be one of the most gettable stars this summer, as was made clear by this interesting nugget:

Butler was also the only player in our Forecast for whom his current team didn’t finish first or second in the voting, with only 12 percent of panelists seeing Minnesota as his long-term home. Expect the four-time All-Star to have a new team next summer.

New York and Los Angeles (and their massive fanbases who love to click on things) are always listed highly in hypothetical roundtables like this, so this should be taken with a grain of salt before we go any further.

Still, it really seems like there might be some smoke to go with the fire with Butler, as there have been reports that something seems to be up in Minnesota all summer, with varying degrees of seriousness being hinted at. If Butler really is sick of the Wolves after just a season-plus there (two seasons by next summer) then he would be a pretty solid wing option to pair with LeBron James, a versatile 2/3 hybrid who can defend 1-4 and keep James from the most taxing defensive assignments, while easing his burden on offense to boot.

If that sounds a little like how Kawhi Leonard has been described here, that’s not an accident. The two are very different players obviously, but they would fill similar tertiary roles for the Lakers as the Robin to James’ Batman. If healthy, Leonard is also a much better player, especially with Butler being one actual year older and about 10 basketball years older by playing under Tom Thibodeau. To keep with the Batman analogy, Leonard is the Dick Grayson to Butler’s Jason Todd.

If the Lakers miss on Leonard but can get Butler, then he’d be a solid option. But if they sense they have a real chance at the former, they should go after him hard — even if it means worsening their odds with Butler — because of how much higher Leonard could raise their ceiling. There is still a long way to go until next summer though, so for now, let’s just sit back and see how this shakes out.

You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.