All it takes is one “Woj Bomb” to stir up the masses.
Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA news guru from Yahoo/The Vertical, tweeted on Monday, “Sources: Chicago’s price for Jimmy Butler remains elevated, but Minnesota has assets and interest. Sides made preliminary contact this week.”
While that’s hardly anything close to a trade being likely since a lot of teams make preliminary contact about a lot of things that never happen, there are still some things to unpack from that tweet.
Let’s sort through a few of them here:
*Butler, who has two years remaining on his contract, has been linked to a lot of teams in possible deals. Chief among them are the Cavaliers and Celtics. Cleveland might need to swing a three-team deal to make it happen. Boston has a ton of draft picks to use as assets in a deal.
Both teams, though, are top contenders in the Eastern Conference, which should tell you something about Butler. He is highly coveted by very good teams not only because he is potentially available as the Bulls consider a rebuild but also because he is just that good. In 2016-17, he had a Player Efficiency Rating of 25.19 (15 is the baseline for league average), which was 14th-best in the entire NBA (ahead of guys like Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin).
Butler turns 28 before next season and should be on the ascending side of his prime still. If the Wolves are really interested in him — which 1) they’ve been said to be previously and 2) Woj is rarely wrong — it is for very good reason.
*But then the question becomes: What would it take to pry Butler loose from the Bulls, and how far should the Wolves go in that pursuit?
When examining the Wolves’ assets and considering that Chicago’s asking price is elevated (both words used by Woj in that tweet), it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that it would take a considerable haul to deal for Butler.
Would it be enough to offer the injured (but recovering) Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio and a player drafted at No. 7, as The Ringer suggested as an asking price? I wish it was. I really don’t think it is. My guess is that it would delve into the territory of trading Andrew Wiggins as part of the deal. Lavine, Rubio and a pick just doesn’t sound like an elevated asking price for someone like Butler.
Thinking about trading Wiggins — maybe along with Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick? — would have to make anyone involved with the Wolves swallow hard. But as part of a package for Butler, I would do it. That’s nothing against Wiggins. It’s just how good I think Butler is. Karl-Anthony Towns is the only untouchable on the Wolves roster in my mind.
In his third NBA season, Wiggins improved in some areas (overall scoring, three-point shooting), but in a lot of ways aside from volume he was pretty similar last year to what he was two years ago. Butler is five-plus years older and should be ahead of Wiggins in development, but even in his earlier years Butler showed all-around offensive and defensive tendencies that the more one-dimensional Wiggins just hasn’t shown.
Butler’s all-around game led to his breakout 2016-17 season in which he averaged 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists while shooting 86.5 percent from the foul line and 36.7 percent from three-point range. Wiggins was nearly the same as a scorer (23.6 ppg), but he averaged just 4 rebounds and 2.3 assists.
Win shares — an estimated number of wins contributed by a player — isn’t a perfect metric, but it is a way to look beyond just scoring at a player’s contributions. Butler has had five consecutive seasons above 7 win shares — including his second and third seasons in the NBA, and checked in at a whopping 13.8 last year. Wiggins has never topped 4.2. As exciting as Wiggins is, and as much as you might not want to include him in any trade, Butler is clearly the superior player and very well might be better right now than Wiggins will ever be.
*As a few of you pointed out on Twitter, one potential problem with trading Wiggins for Butler is that the Wolves are likely years away from true contention just like every other team in the league because Golden State is so good. So why not bet on young players like Towns, Wiggins and LaVine to grow together?
It makes sense in theory, but there’s also this: Towns, Wiggins and LaVine are all due for big paydays soon. Wiggins and LaVine were part of the same draft class and could sign big extensions ($25 million-plus per year) that kick in as early as next season. Towns is just a year behind them. If you’re going to dole out big money to all three, you’re basically locking yourself into that core. If you’re not sure that’s the Big 3 you want to build around, especially after last year’s disappointing season, there are decisions to make. The Wolves might also look at Wiggins and LaVine as somewhat redundant players (athletic wings who score big but aren’t great defenders) and decide the roster is better with just one of them.
Butler is under contract for two more years at a pretty reasonable price (relatively speaking) of roughly $19 million per season. Assuming the Wolves could sign him to an extension after trading for him, he would still be plenty young by the time the Wolves were ready to challenge — and he could accelerate the timeline for at least getting into the playoffs and starting the process of building toward a championship.
Of all his former players Tom Thibodeau might want to pursue, Butler makes the most sense. It would come at a steep price, but it would be one worth paying.