Jimmy Butler has reportedly demanded a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Immediately after those reports surfaced, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Butler prefers three teams: The Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. The team very obviously not on that list: The Los Angeles Lakers.
Minnesota's Jimmy Butler has three preferred destinations for a trade, league sources tell ESPN: The Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks. Those three teams have max cap space to sign Butler as a free agent in July.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 19, 2018
Here’s the thing, though: That really doesn’t matter at all.
For starters (and this is really all that does matter), the Lakers don’t have salaries that could feasibly make a deal work. As so much of their cap is designated to newly-signed free agents, the Lakers’ hands are tied until December 15. In order to make a deal work now, the front office would have to include Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and more assets to match salaries.
They wouldn’t do that for Kawhi Leonard this summer, or Paul George last July, so that definitely isn’t happening with Butler (an objectively lesser player).
Another thing to keep in mind is how superstar trades have gone down in recent years. None of George, Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard wound up in the cities that initially made their list of preferred destinations.
A couple explanations for this make sense: Teams that are about to lose a superstar probably aren’t in the mood to help the player scorning them get anything they might want. Even if they were interested in making that happen, it behooves the team trading away the star to ask for more from a team that is on track to re-sign said player anyway, and that’s before you take into account the very human instinct to say “eff those guys” about the team on track to take their best player.
Teams that aren’t on that list of destinations might have more leverage, in a weird way, as they can frame the acquisition as a loan, and a more realistic (read: lower) asking price can be met.
Basically, the gap in realities between the trade sending a player out and a franchise on that player’s preferred destination list is too wide. On one hand, if a team can sign said player in free agency anyway, why should they offer anything up of substance? And on the other, why should a team put in this situation do right by anyone other than themselves?
This is by no means an attempt to say that the Lakers are better off not being on the list. There’s no way of knowing that, and there are too many moving parts behind the scenes to know why Butler has this list put together in this way specifically, and what — if anything — it means for the Lakers, or about players wanting or not wanting to play with LeBron James in L.A. It’s just fascinating to watch this trend of players basically entering pre-agency in the year before their contract is up.
As I said earlier, though, all that really matters is that a) the Lakers aren’t on Butler’s list and b) that even if they were, it wouldn’t matter hardly at all seeing as they don’t have access to the assets right now to make a realistic deal work. If this situation carries on into December (extremely unlikely), then we can reevaluate. But until then, the focus for Los Angeles is training camp with this roster.