By Rob Mason, PSO President of Sports Operations
Jun 21, 2019

With Kevin Durant suffering a ruptured Achilles, Jimmy Butler’s leverage and liklihood of getting a max contract instantly went from likely to almost certain. Kawhi Leonard is still ahead of him in the pecking order of Free Agent wings, but with him limited to choosing between two teams that Butler likely wouldn’t consider (Clippers & Raptors), Butler is still priority #1 for most of these teams. Of course, Kyrie Irving might be the more desirable player on the market and command more interest than Butler, but with him to Brooklyn a “done deal,” it puts Butler in the position of the top free agent that can help a team this season who’s still up for grabs. Let’s take a look at the teams most likely to grab that opportunity and ink Butler to a long-term deal. 

The Philadelphia 76ers have to be the presumed favorite to land (re-sign) Jimmy Butler on a long-term deal. While Butler stated he has “enough money anyway,” it doesn’t hurt that the 76ers can offer the Marquette-product nearly $50M more guaranteed money than any other team. That was a major factor as to why Philadelphia pulled the trigger on acquiring Butler mid-season, with the hopes of getting the edge in this free agency.

Still, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that Butler has said multiple times, “Don’t show me the money, show me the trophy.” So if money isn’t as big of a factor as it would be for most people ($50M is a shit ton of money no matter who it is), Philly still makes sense from an on-court perspective. They have two young All-Stars likely entrenched there for years (Embiid has 4 years left, Simmons enters RFA next year). No other team in the East can say that.

Philly has been a team primed to compete for championships once they finally got past their dreaded “Process” days. It looked like 2019 would be the year they finally could get over the hump, especially after adding two other All-Stars throughout the year.. but a quadruple doink prevented that from coming to fruition. Butler could easily say “we were 1 shot away from beating the champs last year, let’s run it back.”

The biggest thing going for the Nets in this battle to sign Jimmy Butler is a player not even shown in the depth chart above. Butler has said publicly on First Take that Kyrie Irving would be the number one player he’d want to play with. He also mentioned in that appearance that he’d thrive best playing alongside a lights out shooter. The Nets also house the reigning 3P% and 3-point shootout champ Joe Harris. Playing next to Kyrie will give him a scorer to take the load off Butler, and aligning with Joe Harris will give Jimmy the space needed to attack and get his buckets. If Butler were to leave Philadelphia, Brooklyn would make a lot of sense.

Right off the bat, no matter who the free agent is, the Lakers already have an instant advantage. 1.) It’s Southern California, the weather doesn’t get better and there’s palm trees everywhere 2.) It’s Southern California. There’s a lot of exciting and lucrative opportunities for players off the court reserved for players in that market. 3.) The history of the franchise. 16 championships speaks for itself. 4.) The opportunity to play alongside King James and AD, two MVP-caliber Hall of Famers that form one of, if not the best duo in the league now that KD is out. 5.) Add in Kuzma and Jimmy Butler and only a major injury would prevent Butler from reaching his goal of becoming a NBA Champion. All of that might be too much for Butler to turn down, even if does have to be limited to a No.3 option.

A lot of turmoil has surrounded Houston this off-season, and this certainly can’t be a destination for Jimmy Butler with the current roster constructed. Regardless of what may be going on behind the scenes, the Houston Rockets are already over the cap and can’t afford Butler. This would only be a realistic scenario if they can shed Clint Capela & others 2018-19 salary caps, or more unlikely, are somehow able to unload Chris Paul’s $160M monster contract. Houston will probably have to attach multiple draft picks and/or other appealing assets to get rid of CP3, but if it yields them Jimmy Butler, it could certainly be worth it. The two major factors here are the fact that Houston is a premier contender that Jimmy could help get over the hump and H-Town is where he was born and raised.

Mavs offseason priority #1 will be to re-sign PF Kristaps Porzingis. As a restricted free agent, all they have to do is match any offer he receives this summer, which they’ll certainly do. They definitely didn’t make the trade for him four months ago while he was recovering from a torn ACL to let him walk this July for nothing.

So with Porzingis and 2018-19 Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic each under contract, Butler could come in as the third piece to elevate this team back into title contention. Now that the Warriors are wounded, the league is as open as ever for a new heir to the throne, especially if Kawhi leaves Toronto for the Clippers.

A Doncic-Porzingis-Butler trio could do some serious damage. The Mavs enter the off-season with the 6th most cap space in the league (before re-signing Kristaps) so theoretically they could add other pieces before matching KP’s offer sheet. Considering Dallas is also only an hour flight away from his hometown, this could be an attractive destination for JB.

The New York Knicks were one of three teams Jimmy Butler reportedly had on his “list” of preferred destinations when requesting the trade out of Minnesota. While much has changed since then, New York could still be a viable landing spot for the standout two-way player. Butler could make it work in Madison Square Garden whether Kevin Durant comes or not.

KD has been NYK’s #1 target for over a year, but with him out for the 2019-20 season, Butler could come in as the go-to option this season, see where it goes, grow with the young players and then coexist with Durant in the following years. If Durant doesn’t come, it certainly makes a contending team in the mecca seem less plausible, but with RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith, and Mitchell Robinson, they definitely have some interesting young assets. Butler could be “the guy” in this scenario and try to recruit free agents next summer.

1. Los Angeles Clippers: Clippers also made the list of preferred teams Butler had less than a year ago. The Clippers have the same weather/palm tree benefits as the Lakers, but lack the history and prestige that being a Laker comes with. Unless they land Kawhi, they wouldn’t be much of a contender either. 

2. Sacramento Kings: Sacramento is turning around their previous demons and building an impressive young core that could be a dark horse in this Jimmy Butler battle, but it might take another year or two, or playoff appearance before Sactown can be truly considered a free agent destination. 

3. Atlanta Hawks: Similar to Sacramento, it may be too early to consider Atlanta a true free agent destination, but they are surely building something special in A-town. Trae Young’s game is exactly what Butler would thrive with, not to mention he could be the face and seen as the reason a young team emerges as a legit contender. Could be an interesting proposition for an ultimate competitor like Butler. 

4. Phoenix Suns: This one is pretty far fetched as the Suns have been stuck in lottery drafts, not playoff contention, but perhaps Butler could see something in the young core Phoenix has and the lights out shooting Booker would provide alongside Butler along with last year’s No.1 pick Deandre Ayton. 

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