The Rockets may be going all in for a Jimmy Butler trade. According to a report Thursday, Houston has offered a whopping four first-round picks to the Timberwolves in exchange for the talented but disgruntled swingman.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski cited league sources in reporting that the Rockets are willing to “sacrifice some long-term roster flexibility” to land a third major star to pair with James Harden and Chris Paul. Those two helped Houston get within a game of toppling the eventual NBA champion Warriors in May’s Western Conference finals, but this season has seen the Rockets sputter to a 1-3 start.
The Timberwolves have been fielding offers for Butler, 29, since September, when he demanded a trade. The four-time all-star, who was traded to Minnesota last year from the Bulls, is in the last year of his contract and has been unable to agree with the Timberwolves on an extension.
In addition, Butler has made little secret of his dissatisfaction with Minnesota’s two younger stars, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Shortly before the season began, Butler acknowledged the accuracy of reports that he belittled them during a practice session, while also berating the team’s management, including Tom Thibodeau, the head coach and president of basketball operations.
If reports are accurate, the Rockets' bid would represent the most first-round picks allowed by the NBA in any trade offer. Such picks cannot be traded in back-to-back seasons, and the furthest out one can be moved by a team, in terms of timeline, is seven years.
Houston would also have to include some players in a deal for Butler to offset his salary. A pair of Rockets who might be candidates for inclusion, Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight, cannot be traded until Oct. 31, per league rules; that date represents the passage of two months since they were acquired from the Suns.
The reported offer reminded many Thursday of an infamous trade made by the Nets in 2014, when they sent three first-round picks, plus the rights to swap positions in another first round, to the Celtics in exchange for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, along with Jason Terry and D.J. White. That deal quickly turned into a disaster for Brooklyn, which got little from the players it received and quickly tumbled in the standings, enabling Boston to use the extremely valuable selections to help stock its squad with top-flight young talent.
That worst-case scenario likely wouldn’t come to pass for Houston. Harden alone would figure to ensure a level of competitiveness for years to come that should keep the Rockets from tanking, and there could be limited protections placed on the traded picks. However, the team would be taking a major risk that, no matter how much success Butler might help to attain, he might simply leave in free agency at the end of the season.
Butler reportedly expressed a preference to be traded to the Clippers, Knicks or Nets. If he went to the Rockets, though, they would have months to convince him to sign a contract extension, which could be worth as much as $188 million over five years.
The Rockets could also hope that Butler, who was born in Houston and raised in a suburb of the city, might view his ties to the area as a reason to remain. The Timberwolves' decision on the reported trade could come down to whether having made the playoffs last season for the first time in 14 years, they preferred to include Butler only in deals that offered more short-term help.
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