Nothing is guaranteed in the NBA. Just because a team has a superstar (or two or three or four) on its roster doesn’t mean a title is imminent. If anything, that only adds pressure to an already difficult task. And yet, that doesn’t mean teams won’t jump at the chance to add supremely talented players to their roster. Especially if it’s an individual as gifted as Jimmy Butler.
According to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, a front-officer source told him that Butler is “as good as gone.” Now, considering the three-time All-Star remains under contract with the Chicago Bulls through the 2018–19 season (and has a player option for the following year), this individual, it would seem, was making the case that Chicago may trade Butler this summer. If that’s the case, the real question is, where could he wind up?
This isn’t the first time Butler’s name has come up in trade discussions. And while anything is possible, the way we see it, if the Bulls moved their superstar, he’d mostly likely land in one of these five places.
1. Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic are not a good basketball team; there’s no other way around it. They have the second-worst record in the East with a 27-50 mark, allow 107 points per game (21st of 30), and are destined for a top-five pick in the upcoming 2017 NBA Draft. While this team is fairly balanced on the offensive end of the floor and has some nice young players at its disposal, the Magic lack a bona fide superstar. Here’s where Butler comes in.
Butler is the alpha the Magic desperately need. He’s averaging almost 24 points per game this season while shooting 45.4% from the field and 35.7% from beyond the arc. The three-time All-Star is a complete player who gets the job done on both ends of the floor. He is the type of leader who could get the most out of Orlando’s youth.
On top of that, the Magic have the sort of assets — draft picks and skilled players who could thrive with a change in scenery (think: Mario Hezonja) — that might entice the Bulls to part ways with their superstar. Chicago needs to start considering a full-blown rebuild. A trade with the Magic would be a good way to begin the process.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
Like the Magic, the Lakers are not a good basketball team. Yet, with Luke Walton at the helm and a recent shakeup in the front office, it appears the purple and gold are finally moving in the right direction. Let’s be clear: These aren’t exactly the “Showtime” Lakers. However, thanks to core pieces like D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles has a chance to evolve into something special. The addition of Butler could certainly help speed things along.
In order to snag a player of Butler’s caliber, the Lakers would have to part with some of their young building blocks. There’s no getting around that. But as we’ve seen before, the Lakers are open to the possibility. Of course, if the price for Butler gets too steep, Los Angeles might be more inclined to wait for a stud like Paul George to hit the market. After all, the Pacers star, who can opt out of his contract after the 2017–18 season, is apparently all about joining his hometown squad.
3. Denver Nuggets
Denver has been a pleasant surprise in 2016–17. Granted, the Nuggets are pretty awful on the defensive end (see: opponents’ points per game and a putrid defensive rating). However, a high-powered offense has kept them in the playoff hunt. Unfortunately, given the deep pool of talent in the Western Conference, there’s a big difference between making the postseason and actually being a legitimate title contender. If the Nuggets are ever going to fall into the latter category, then they’ll need to step up their game. Or rather, they’ll need to add a top-flight player who can help make that a reality.
Thanks to the continued growth of Nikola Jokic (not pictured), the Nuggets aren’t completely devoid of superstars. The 22-year-old center with the impressive post game and the sensational vision has the look of a perennial All-Star. However, considering the fact that he is the only “untouchable” on the roster, it’s clear Denver needs more star-power — especially if it wants the sort of one-two punch that strikes fear in the opposition. The addition of Butler would give the Nuggets just that.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Minnesota Timberwolves should be better. In fact, following the offseason hiring of Tom Thibodeau, many expected this group to push for a postseason spot. Instead, despite having the dynamic duo of Karl-Anthony Towns (who will be a top-five player soon enough) and Andrew Wiggins, the T’Wolves remain near the bottom of the NBA standings. Bringing Butler into the fold could help change that.
Minnesota’s problem isn’t a lack of talent; it’s a lack of leadership. Luckily, the addition of Butler would give the team both. During Thibodeau’s tenure in Chicago, Butler grew in every way imaginable. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the man now calling the shots in Minnesota tried to trade for his former player after the 2016 Draft. The Timberwolves have a chance to be one of the better teams in the league for the foreseeable future. But they’re missing a key piece. If Butler becomes available, they have to make another run at him.
5. Boston Celtics
No team has been linked to Butler more than the Boston Celtics. The C’s know that the Cleveland Cavaliers have a stranglehold on the conference. If they’re going to topple the champs, they’re going to need more than what they currently have on their roster (even though Isaiah Thomas is an absolute beast). Fortunately for the Boston faithful, if any team in the league has enough capital to get the job done, it’s their beloved Celtics.
The Celtics are stocked with valuable assets. You want quality young players who can grow with a rebuild? Check. You want a plethora of future first-round draft picks? The Brooklyn Nets made that a reality a long time ago. Simply put, this is a group with a bunch of trade chips at its disposal. Butler is not going to come cheap, and if the C’s really want him, they might have to part with something — or someone — they don’t want to (cough, Jae Crowder, cough). But this is the best play for all parties involved. Now all that’s left to do is get the deal done.