Minnesota Timberwolves guard and 2019 free agent Jimmy Butler has been tangentially linked to the Los Angeles Lakers a few times, but never concretely enough to warrant as much attention as the Kawhi Leonard or Paul George rumors over the last year.
That might be set to change, as Jon Krawczynski of the Athletic is reporting that Butler plans to meet with Timberwolves management to “have honest conversations about the All-Star’s future with the team,” and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN followed that up with a report that the Timberwolves might trade Butler instead of losing him for nothing:
Rival executives believe that Butler could come available on the market by the February trade deadline if Minnesota fears that it will lose him for nothing in July free agency.
Butler, 29, will be the subject of an intense recruitment in July free agency, which includes the possibility of six maximum contract slots among the four New York and Los Angeles teams. Butler has never been enamored with the idea of a big market, but rather feeling that’s he’s surrounded with like-minded players who’ll give him a chance for annual postseason success.
That final sentence was a bit of a rollercoaster for those looking for how this report affects the Lakers, because while Butler not being “enamored with the idea of a big market” initially seems like a bad thing, wanting to be “surrounded with like-minded players who’ll give him a chance for annual postseason success” sounds like great news for Los Angeles, whether at the trade deadline in February or if pitching Butler next year in free agency.
In case you missed it, the Lakers signed LeBron James this summer. James has been to the last eight NBA Finals, and while that streak looks set to end this year barring some sort of miracle, his mere presence would seem to give Butler the “annual postseason success” he’s reportedly seeking.
Perhaps that is why Butler is reportedly “open” to the idea of joining James on the Lakers, or why ESPN has Los Angeles as the second-most likely destination for the All-Star. Either way, a lot of evidence is building up that the Lakers might be pitching something Butler wants.
The question is, should that interest be reciprocal?
The short answer is yes, because the Lakers should want an All-Star to pair with James next summer, potentially the last July they can have max cap room and James as their pitch before their young core start to come up for rookie extensions.
The longer answer is that its complicated. Butler is a great player, there is no disputing that, but he is a notch below the Kawhi Leonard/Kevin Durant duo that will be the crown jewels of next July’s free agent class. Does that make Butler a bad option? No, but it does make him a seemingly lower priority than trying to get those two players.
Butler also has a lot of miles on him from two tours of duty under head coach Tom Thibodeau, and while Butler isn’t the same situation as Luol Deng, the Lakers already saw up close how quickly that much wear and tear can take a player from All-Star to cap albatross. Butler is almost assuredly not in for that big of a drop-off at age 29, but there is at least a chance he ages more like milk than wine, and that the Lakers don’t want to be the ones paying him when he does.
But beggars looking for 20+ point scorers who are also among the best two-way players in the league can’t be choosers, and Butler would be a more than solid consolation prize if the Lakers’ bigger free agency dreams don’t come true.
There just might be compelling reasons for them to look at other options first, and there certainly doesn’t seem to be a lot of reasons for them to be motivated to give up assets for Butler at the deadline. Still, this is certainly a situation worth keeping an eye on as next summer approaches.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.