After the finalization of a four-team trade involving the 76ers, Heat, Clippers and Trail Blazers, the year-long Jimmy Butler soap opera has reached its finale in South Beach. In the crux of the deal, the Miami Heat agreed to a 4-year, $140 million sign-and-trade with the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Josh Richardson, while the Clippers and Trail Blazers moved auxiliary players to plug roster holes and complete the trade. With four potential playoff teams affected, let’s take a deeper dive into the trade that sent waves throughout the association.
After striking out on top-tier free agents like Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Gordon Hayward over the years, Pat Riley and the Miami Heat have finally acquired the marquee player they’ve so desperately coveted. Since the end of the Big 3 era, the Heat have been handcuffed by a slew of regrettable contracts (Tyler Johnson, Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk). A big splash like this gives fans a reason to come to the American Airlines arena.
A vocal critic of tanking, Pat Riley has always strived to construct a contender through trades and free agency; landing Jimmy Butler is a stepping stone to attracting other All-Star caliber players. The Heat’s disastrous salary cap situation will improve once Olynyk’s and Waiters’ contracts end, creating space for another max slot. Losing Josh Richardson hurts, but it’s a modest price to pay for a player of Butler’s stature.
Another part of this deal is the fact that the Heat swapped out Hassan Whiteside’s (and his 1y/$27.1M remaining contract) for Meyers Leonard (1y/$11.3M). Whiteside was on the outs with head coach Erik Spolstrea by the end of last season, and moving his contract in exchange for Leonard saves money and solves a locker room dilemma. Leonard, 27, is a better fit for the modern NBA. In the 11 games he played 20 or more minutes, the Trail Blazers went 8-3, culminating in a career-high 30 points against the Warriors in Game Four of the Western Finals. Leonard shot an insanely impressive 45% from three last season (on 4.6 3PA per 36 mins), opening up the floor for Butler while simultaneously allowing Bam Adebayo to roam the paint freely.
In terms of wins and losses, the addition of Butler doesn’t move the needle dramatically. What it does, however, is provide the Heat with a crucial building block in an aggressive rebuild. For a team still stuck in the post-Lebron doldrums, it’s a productive first step.
Summary: Butler brings star power to one of America’s most attractive destinations
As the 76ers go-to crunch-time playoff scorer, it was a bit of a surprise when it was reported they didn’t offer Jimmy Butler the five-year max he was looking for. His blue-collar attitude resonated with the city of Philadelphia and when they traded for him mid-season, they did it with the intention of re-signing him in free agency. So what happened?
For starters, Jimmy Butler isn’t in the same age vicinity as the young duo they’re building around in Philly. He’ll turn 30-years-old at the start of this season, and his isolation-heavy, lockdown defense style of play typically doesn’t age well. He’ll be an All-Star caliber player for the next couple years but at age 33, will he be worth the $38 million annually? Doubtful.
Within a locker room, Butler has been somewhat of an acquired taste. In Chicago and especially in Minnesota, his struggles with younger players, specifically former high draft picks that he viewed as entitled, were well documented. Within the first couple months of Philadelphia acquiring Butler, there were already questions about the long-term vitality of the partnership.
After trading Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick for Jimmy Butler, the 76ers didn’t want to lose him for nothing. Luckily for them, Butler had Miami in his sights. Without the requisite cap space to sign him, a sign-and-trade was the only option. This deal netted the 76ers Josh Richardson and freed up around $25 million annually to sign Al Horford, their big free agent acquisition of the offseason [Transaction Reaction].
Summary: Questions about Butler’s age, price, and locker room fit forced the 76ers to let him go
Faced with Enes Kanter leaving in free agency and Jusuf Nurkic recovering from a broken leg, the Trail Blazers addition of Hassan Whiteside addresses Portland’s glaring weaknesses in the front court. Nurkic’s versatility and rim protection was central to the Trail Blazers defense. Whiteside, who has an All-Defensive team under his belt, will mimic Nurkic’s impact on that end. Offensively, Whiteside isn’t as refined a scorer or playmaker as Nurkic, but feed him the ball in the paint and he can put it in the hoop. Of centers that took at least six shots per game within five feet of the hoop, Whiteside’s efficiency ranked eighth in the NBA, while Nurkic ranked 19th.
Whiteside’s minutes won’t be guaranteed in the Rip City though. Although an astute shot-blocker, people raised questions in Miami regarding how much he actually improved a team’s defense. With long-term money locked into Damian Lillard and extensions for C.J. McCollum and Nurkic on the horizon, it’s unlikely Whiteside is more than a one-year rental. If this change of scenery re-ignites his career, however, it’s possible Portland could benefit greatly from his services in a wide-open Western conference.
Summary: Whiteside will ease the loss of Nurkic and Kanter
For the Clippers, this trade was just one small piece to the Kawhi Leonard puzzle. Maruice Harkless, while a reliable defender, isn’t worth the $11 million he’s due this year, and therefore has negative trade value. Portland was eager to shed his contract. For taking on the excess salary, LA obtained the rights to Miami’s 2023 first-round pick (lottery protected). They agreed, then Los Angeles rerouted that pick in part of the package sent to Oklahoma City for Paul George. Jerry West, take a bow.
Although he’ll likely only spend one year with the team, it’s not like Harkless provides no value at all. He’ll give the Clippers solid depth at small forward as a guy who can guard almost anyone on the floor. When George and Leonard inevitably miss games for “load management,” Harkless will hear his number called. The Clippers also acquired the rights to Mathias Lessort, a second-round pick who’s playing overseas. He could be the cherry on top of another trade package down the road.
Summary: Taking Harkless’ contract netted a draft-pick used in the Paul George trade
Despite all the criticism Jimmy Butler has faced over the past two years, let’s not forget: the dude is called Jimmy Buckets for a reason. In their second-round slugfest with Toronto last postseason, Philadelphia turned to him as the go-to offensive option down the stretch. Head and shoulders better than anyone on Miami’s roster, Butler has gotten his long-awaited opportunity to be a franchise centerpiece.
Last season, the Heat ran an equal-opportunity offense filled with cuts and handoffs to compensate for its lack of a go-to scoring option. A nice idea in practice, but it landed the Heat 26th in points per game. Adding Butler to the equation presents new possibilities for head coach Erik Spolstrea, one of the best tacticians in the NBA. Miami was fifth-lowest in isolation frequency a year ago; that number will rise with Butler on board. Butler can set up the pick-and-roll as well, where he ranked second in points per possesion last season. His poise and control could help athletic freaks like Derrick Jones Jr. and Bam Adebayo flourish. Not to mention, Butler’s clutch ability gives Miami a dependable option in crunch time.
As talented as Butler is, this team won’t make any real noise in the Eastern Conference with this current roster. Their three-point shooting is still dreadful and although there’s potential, the rest of the roster is too raw and inexperienced. Ideally for the Heat, they secure a top-six playoff spot, Jimmy Butler makes an All-NBA team, and someone signs with Miami the summer of 2020.
Future Outlook: Two-way All-Star lacking the surrounding talent to make a real playoff run
A second-round sleeper out of Tennessee, Josh Richardson was the crown jewel of Miami’s treasure trove of draft picks. Their leading scorer last season, Richardson is an elusive guard with elite handles and all-around athleticism, built to play in the modern NBA. He’s upped his average in points, assists and rebounds every year in the league and while he’s no J.J. Reddick, he is a career 37% three-point shooter. Advance analytics highlight his value as well, ranking him fifth at his position in real plus/minus. Like the Heat, the 76ers run lots of handoff actions to start up their offense, easing the adjustment for Richardson. Imagine him whipping around the corner of a Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons handoff and attacking the basket downhill: that’s a green light every time.
Richardson is capable of stringing together lockdown possessions, but like many young players, he can get lost defensively. He’ll have opportunities to jump passing lanes with world-class defenders Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Al Horford backing him up. Given his potential, Richardson could be the X-factor for a franchise in “win-now” mode.
Future Outlook: Starting SG on title contender
Facing a contract year and a league that’s moving out from under him, Hassan Whiteside is coming into Portland with something to prove. After signing a four-year, $98 million contract with Miami, the game noticeably shifted towards the perimeter with big men expected to now space the floor. Whiteside failed to adjust, and whatever hype he had a few years ago has since died down.
In Portland, Whiteside has an opportunity to prove there’s a spot for him on a contender in today’s NBA. The Trail Blazers lack front-court depth. He needs to showcase his trademark rim protection and touch in the restricted area to turn Portland’s weakness into a strength. His biggest obstacle is switching defensively on the perimeter, something he’s struggled with his whole career. If Whiteside can provide valuable minutes for a top-tier playoff team, he’ll pave the way to his next big-money contract.
Future Outlook: Starting center on a title contender
Another player in a contract year, Leonard is set to prove the flashes he showed at the end of last season were no fluke. An adept three-point shooter, he’ll allow Jimmy Butler to test a pick-and-pop combination when the two-man game with Bam Adebayo or Derrick Jones Jr. goes stale. The type of hustle player that fits with Pat Riley’s idea of “Heat Culture,” Leonard has playoff reps for a franchise looking to burst back onto the postseason landscape. Miami possesses Leonard’s bird rights, enabling them to offer him the largest contract come free agency. If the price is right, Leonard may fit into Miami’s long term plans.
Future Outlook: Contributor for playoff contender
Signed during 2016, Maurice Harkless’ contract turned out to be an overpriced mistake for the Blazers. The Clippers took his contract on solely for the draft pick, and although he likely won’t be the difference maker in a playoff series, he fills some holes for the team.
Defensively, the Clippers are blessed with an embarrassment of riches this season. In addition to Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Pat Beverley, they’ve now added Maruice Harkless to an outstanding defensive cast. Tasked with guarding the opponents best wing player in Portland, Harkless is now the fourth-best perimeter defender on the team. He averaged 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks last season, a solid balance at the small forward position, especially considering he played less than 25 MPG. He also gives Doc Rivers a decent insurance policy when Leonard needs the second night of a back-to-back off for rest.
With over $200 million moved around, this mega-trade put each team a little deeper in the hole. Moving Josh Richardson’s and Hassan Whiteside’s contracts ($37 million combined next year) gave the Heat the requisite cap space to sign Jimmy Butler. Richardson is owed around $11 million annually for the next three years, leaving the 76ers enough cap space to sign Al Horford.
Although they plugged the hole in their frontcourt, Portland’s cap situation went from bad to worse after absorbing Whiteside’s $27 million contract. For the Clippers, taking on Harkless’ $11 million expiring contract was perfect: it netted them a draft pick and still left enough room to sign Kawhi Leonard.
Each team’s cap sheet took a hit with this trade, but all of them are contenders; the time to spend is now.
Erik Spolstrea: Adding a standout offensive weapon of Jimmy Butler’s caliber alleviates play-calling pressure from Spolstrea. The Miami Heat have fielded mediocre rosters for years now, forcing Spolstrea to command the offense with a firm hand. Now he can take a step back and let Butler have the reigns for possessions at a time, generating organic offense that’ll keep defenses guessing.
Ben Simmons: Josh Richardson is the ideal shooting guard to play alongside Ben Simmons. He can shoot from deep and attack one-on-one matchups when Simmons shuffles the ball to him on the wing. In late-game situations, we’ve seen how teams back off Simmons and treat him as a non-factor on offense. If teams force Brett Brown’s hand, Richardson can take over as the primary ball-handler.
Dion Waiters: The end of the Dion Waiters era in Miami may be upon us. He’s played in only 120 games the past three seasons and with the acquisition of Butler and drafting of shooting guard Tyler Herro, the Heat are likely to phase Waiters out of the offense. He’s got two years left on his contract, so expect the front office to try and shop him around the league.
Jerry West: Regarded by many as the greatest executive in league history, Jerry West is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers. For taking on Maurice Harkless’ $11 million expiring contract, he got a 2023 first-round pick from Miami (lottery protected) which he then re-packaged into a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Paul George. Paul George served as the lure for Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, and in the span of a year the Clippers went from barely a playoff team to Championship favorites. The legacy of Jerry West continues to grow.
Here’s a summary of the best league reactions:
– The return of D-Wade?
– Change of Heart 😅
In 2013, Jimmy Butler said there's one thing he'd never wear ... a Miami Heat jersey 😅— ESPN (@espn) July 1, 2019
(h/t u/Carlos_Boozer/Reddit) pic.twitter.com/uuOpob4I62
– Meyers Leonard and Josh Richardson give thanks
Portland, I honestly don’t even know where to begin. I moved to PDX when I was just 20 years old. I had dreams of being in the NBA and there I was, a young man, fulfilling my dreams and taking care of my family playing a game I love. pic.twitter.com/c7bLW2c4bu— Meyers Leonard (@MeyersLeonard11) July 1, 2019
Miami, thank you. Thank you for giving this kid and opportunity that otherwise I’m not sure he would have gotten. Thank you to the coaches and my teammates.. Thank u to the fans for embracing me.. my years there have been great and i will never forget you guys.. always love.! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/MOxuW6xKWH— Josuélito (@J_Rich1) July 2, 2019
– Hassan is excited
– Jimmy Buckets embracing the culture
This move is likely to turn out one of two ways for Miami. In the first scenario, Butler attracts another big name free agent or Pat Riley makes a trade (for someone like Russell Westbrook) to create a two-man show that is actually capable of winning the East. In the second scenario, Butler is solo act for the rest of his time in Miami and gets bounced in the first or second round, year after year. However things shake out in the years to come, acquiring a star of Butler’s caliber, especially in the city of Miami, is worth giving up a player with Josh Richardson’s potential.
Final Grade: B
Although it’s been reported that Philadelphia did offer Jimmy Butler the five-year max, the prevailing sentiment is that the 76ers did it to save face and weren’t actually that interested. With Butler already halfway out the door, getting back a talent like Josh Richardson is a huge win. He’s a guy who can work in almost any system and also possesses the talent to go off for a 30-piece out of nowhere. Under contract for three more years, Philadelphia will have plenty of time to determine if he’s in their long term plans.
On paper, giving up Meyers Leonard to acquire Hassan Whiteside makes sense. In the context of the modern NBA, however, Leonard might be more useful. Whiteside’s inability to shoot will limit his effectiveness in the playoffs when opponents zero in on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. He also has a reputation as a bit of a hot-head, not exactly aligning with the culture Portland has created over the past few years. His relationship with Damian Lillard will be crucial for how his time in Portland goes.
With all that being said, Whiteside is an efficient big man who provides essential minutes for a depleted front-court. Leonard’s previous production pales in comparison to Whiteside, who will keep Portland afloat as one of the top rebounding units in the NBA. With one year left on his contract, this isn’t a trade of massive consequence.
While overpaid, Maurice Harkless provides some depth behind Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and he’ll be off the books in a year anyway. As only a small part of the enormous haul sent to Oklahoma City, the 2023 draft pick they acquired was sneaky valuable. Although lottery protected, the pick will roll over to the 2024 if Miami makes the playoffs where it has less protection. Don’t forget, the NBA is likely to allow high schoolers in the draft around 2022, which could make things even more interesting. The bottom line for the Clippers is that this deal helped them get Leonard and George. For that reason alone, Jerry West and the front office deserve the praise they’re getting.
A rarity in the NBA trade landscape, every team involved walked away looking better for making the deal. Miami got its coveted star player, Philadelphia got a high-quality replacement, Portland shored up front-court depth, and Los Angeles gained an asset to bring in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Bottom Line: Everybody benefitted in one of the most complex trades this free agency