We’re a full two weeks removed from reports surfacing that Jimmy Butler wants to be traded from the Timberwolves.
The first week was an intense bit of posturing; the second week has been much quieter, which — and this might sound counterintuitive — could mean talks are getting more serious behind the scenes.
There have been plenty of scenarios and potential suitors mentioned for Butler, but the most plausible — and most consistently reported — possibility still seems to be a three-way deal involving the Heat and Kings.
The Heat are reportedly Butler’s new preferred destination and they have a good mix of assets to entice the Wolves, while the Kings have salary cap room that could give the Wolves some salary relief if they are able to include Gorgui Dieng in a Butler deal. The Kings are rebuilding and would theoretically want to recoup draft picks in the deal.
A trade where the Heat winds up with Butler and an expiring Sacramento contract … Dieng and draft assets wind up in Sacramento … and Hassan Whiteside and Josh Richardson wind up in Minnesota makes some sense for all three teams.
The Heat get the best player and a chance to compete in the East this year while also getting a jump on locking up a top-15 player long-term (albeit at a hefty price) while also moving on from Whiteside. The Wolves get a talented if enigmatic big man (Whiteside) but more importantly a cost-controlled potential Butler replacement (Richardson) and rid themselves of the final three years of Dieng’s expensive deal. The Kings get a useful player in Dieng and future assets to keep building.
Since I’m already deep in the weeds on this potential deal, I took a look at how both Sacramento and Miami have been handling the preseason so far to see if it offers any clues on a potential deal. I’d say there are a few things that are possibly interesting:
*Richardson, whom the Heat have reportedly been reluctant to include in any deal for Butler, has sat out the Heat’s first two preseason games. The official word is that Richardson suffered a thigh bruise in a scrimmage Saturday, but head coach Erik Spoelstra deemed him “totally fine.” It’s the kind of perfect short-term injury — kind of like Butler’s continued recovery from long-ago hand surgery — that a team can use to keep a player off the court if they worry a bigger injury could blow up a trade. (It’s also worth noting here that Bam Adebayo, a young center who could be coveted as part of a deal, has also sat out the first two preseason games with a shoulder injury).
*Whiteside, meanwhile, is a player the Heat would love to get rid of because of his up-and-down play and his huge contract. He has two years left (the second is a player option) at $25 million and $27 million, respectively. He led the NBA in blocked shots in 2015-16 and is an advanced metrics darling with a career PER of 24.2 and defensive rating of 98 per Basketball Reference. But he regressed last year and was awful in the playoffs. Personally, I’d love to see him as the Wolves starting center — their first true rim protector in forever — and Karl-Anthony Towns at power forward, but the Wolves don’t seem sold.
And so: Maybe the Heat are showcasing him in the preseason? Whiteside has played 50 minutes combined in their two preseason games. He had a monster 20-13 line in 23 minutes in the opener, following that up with 14 points, 15 rebounds and two blocked shots in a team-high 27 minutes Tuesday night against Charlotte. There’s even talk of Whiteside adding a three-pointer to his arsenal. He has attempted two in his entire career but let one fly (and made it) in the preseason opener.
*As for the Kings, Chris Sheridan notes that three of their four possible salary dump candidates — Zach Randolph, Kosta Koufos and Iman Shumpert — sat our their preseason opener Monday against Phoenix.
Koufos is said to have strained his hamstring Sunday at practice, with a report noting that he will be re-evaluated in 10 days. Shumpert has been held out of the early part of camp with what is being termed a sore left calf and is day-to-day. Randolph was a DNP-CD in the box score. It could be a matter of showcasing young players since Randolph doesn’t need to play, but it is worth noting that he started the Kings’ preseason opener a year ago.
The Kings could be wary of those players getting hurt in a meaningless game and blowing up a deal.
*The Wolves, it should be noted, played Dieng 19 minutes in their preseason opener and could be taking the Whiteside approach by continuing to show off his usefulness. He’s a solid player who started all 82 games in 2016-17 but had his role diminished with the arrival of Taj Gibson last year.
All of this could just be coincidence, but it could also be important subtext in the Butler Watch.