Why the Timberwolves should not trade for Jimmy Butler

The Minnesota Timberwolves are willing to part with the number five pick in the 2016 NBA Draft in hopes of acquiring Jimmy Butler, according to a Monday report by ESPN.

Butler just completed his fifth season in the NBA, earning his second all-star selection and a spot on the league’s All-Defensive Second team. The 26-year-old is one of the best shooting guards and two-way players in the league. He averaged 21 points, five rebounds and five assists per game last year, with an effective field goal percentage of 48.5 percent. Butler can guard multiple positions, switch any screen, run an offense and play off the ball. He has been the first option on a playoff team. On top of that, Butler is locked in for at least the next three seasons at approximately $18 million a year, an ideal contract under the rising cap.

So why wouldn’t this be a good deal for the Timberwolves?

What it comes down to is what Minnesota has to give up in the deal. Parting with the number five pick in a weak draft year won’t be an issue, but the Bulls aren’t swapping Butler straight up for Buddy Hield or Jamal Murray. Timberwolves beat writer Darren Wolfson reported on Tuesday that Chicago wants Andrew Wiggins in any deal that sees Butler join forces with his former head coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota.

There is no scenario here in which Minnesota should move Wiggins. An outright Butler for Wiggins swap could be tempting for Thibodeau, but he shouldn’t entertain the idea for long. Butler will be 27 when the 2016-17 NBA season begins, Wiggins will be 21. Butler is a better player now, but Wiggins will close that gap quickly. His current trajectory suggests he could overtake Butler before his rookie deal ends.

Wiggins, the former number one overall pick out of Kansas, is strikingly similar to the former Marquette standout. Wiggins also averaged 21 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of 48 percent. Neither player has been consistent from beyond the arc, but Wiggins projects to be a solid shooter down the road. Butler is a top-notch defender and Wiggins has already showed himself to be a stout defender. He has the tools to be even better than Butler on that side of the ball.

Butler’s contract includes a player option that allows him to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. The Timberwolves have contractual control over Wiggins for at least the next six seasons.

If you’re not sold on Wiggins for whatever reason, just know that Butler may not be the right answer either. Here’s some basic math that might convince you of that.

Karl-Anthony Towns is 20. He is unquestionably the centerpiece of the franchise and any planning the organization does should revolve around him.

Andrew Wiggins is 21. Zach LaVine is 21. The core of Towns, Wiggins and LaVine (with the help of Ricky Rubio) has already proved they can win together, if only in a small sample size. The championship window for this team opens in approximately three to five years.

Ricky Rubio is 25. When that window opens the Spaniard will be approaching 30 and his descent may already be underway. However, Rubio is not a player that relies on athleticism or physical tools that will decline rapidly. He is a cerebral player whose prime will extend into his early 30s. If Rubio is not the point guard to lead this team to a title, his contract is team-friendly and he will be easy to move. His age is not a concern based on his skill set and his projected role as a defensive minded, pass first player on a title contender.

Butler is also a cerebral player, but his offense relies on athleticism rather than a pure stroke when it comes to shotmaking. Any championship team that relies on Butler as a first or second option, which a Wiggins/Butler deal would signal for the Wolves, would need to be in their title window as soon as next year.

Though the Wolves have missed the playoffs for a league high 12 straight seasons and head coach Tom Thibodeau plans on making the playoffs this season, there is no immediate requirement for postseason basketball at the Target Center. If the Timberwolves finish 41-41 and miss the playoffs in a tough Western Conference next season, with the current roster intact, that would be a successful season.

In a world where everything revolves around 20-year-old Karl Towns, acquiring Jimmy Butler just doesn’t make sense.

 

Notes

-There has been a suggestion that a deal could be completed if the Wolves offered LaVine/Rubio/Tyus Jones and the number five pick for Butler. As tempting as this would be for Chicago, Boston could offer more. The Celtics have the assets to outbid any deal the Wolves present that does not include Wiggins. The most prominent NBA reporters believe Boston is willing to part with any of their picks (3, 16, 23, 31, 35, 45, 51, 58) and a number of their top players including Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and others.

-Zach LaVine is the best shooter on the Timberwolves roster and would be difficult to part with in any deal that does not bring a shooter back the other way. A deal that includes both LaVine and the number five pick, with which many presume the Wolves will seek shooting, is unlikely at best.

-Ricky Rubio is one of the best defenders in the league at the point guard position and the Timberwolves record over the last two seasons without him is beyond futile. There has been little reporting regarding Thibodeau’s value of Rubio, but based on his offenses in Chicago and his value of defensive prowess, it’s likely that Thibodeau will hold Rubio in higher regard than many other organizations around the league.

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