Jimmy Butler

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Schmeelk: Jimmy Butler Trade Demands Big Test For Knicks' Front Office

Dealing For Him Would Be A Melo-Like Mistake

John Schmeelk
September 20, 2018 - 11:32 am
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According to reports on Wednesday from The Athletic's Shams Charania and ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, Jimmy Butler has told the Minnesota Timberwolves he wants to be traded to one of three teams that will have cap space in the summer of 2019: the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks. Wojnarowski would later add Butler is prioritizing the Clippers and Knicks as potential landing spots.

It is ironic that it was only Monday night at the Knicks season-ticket holder town hall when Knicks president Steve Mills addressed this specific situation.

“We are not going to trade away assets for a guy we can go out and get on our own later,” Mills said.

It was one line during an evening in which Mills, general manager Scott Perry and coach David Fizdale professed the importance of patience as the Knicks grow into a better team.

MORE: Schmeelk: Takeaways From The Knicks Town Hall

“We are not going to take shortcuts, trade our draft picks,” Mills said. “We believe New Yorkers will live with a plan as long as we articulate it. We are going to lay out a plan and stick with it.”

If that’s true, the Knicks aren’t going to be in on Jimmy Butler. It would be the type of smart and prudent move owner James Dolan’s Knicks have done the complete opposite of for the past 18 years since they traded Patrick Ewing. It takes discipline to resist a move like this. There is no better test of Mills’ and Perry’s sincerity and forthrightness than whether they pursue this trade with any sort of fervor.

Even if the Knicks were considering signing Jimmy Butler next summer as a free agent, which would not require giving up any assets, there would be serious concerns to carefully consider. When the 2019 season begins, Butler will be 30 years old with a lot of mileage on his legs thanks to years playing under Tom Thibodeau. NBA wings normally begin to decline at age 32, though it is certainly different depending on the player. For Butler, it could very well be sooner.

Whether signing Butler to a four-year, $141 million deal if he is arriving from a different franchise, or re-signing him to a five-year, $189 million dollar contract if he is traded for before hitting free agency, there’s a good chance that at least half of that contract will be spent paying a declining player who is no longer the star he was when acquired. For the Knicks, who are still years away from competing for anything significant, investing in a player like that would create a new unrealistic timeline to become a high-level team.

MORE: 5 Highlights From Knicks’ 2018-2019 Schedule

The idea of acquiring a player such as Butler makes even less sense if the Knicks are liquidating young talent on the roster and future draft picks to do it. It would be an identical situation to the Carmelo Anthony trade from 2011. Anthony wanted to maximize his payday and wind up on the team of his choice, the same “have your cake and eat it, too” scenario Butler is trying to manipulate with the Timberwolves.

The trade for Anthony cost the Knicks so many assets that it made it impossible for them to put enough good pieces around Anthony to sustain a winner. A trade for Butler in 2018 would likely do the same thing, depending on the cost. Before even taking the salary into consideration, his acquisition would make the Knicks too good to get a high lottery pick in 2019 to add another high-level piece to the roster.

Others have suggested that making such a move for Butler makes sense if it means the Knicks guarantee themselves that Kyrie Irving would be joining the team next summer. First, depending on the nature of the trade with the Timberwolves, the Knicks will probably not have the cap space necessary to sign Irving due to Butler’s cap hold. It would require further shedding of salary that might force the Knicks to attach more assets to clear the requisite space. This doesn’t even consider Irving’s constant knee problems. Would those two even put the Knicks into title contention?

The only possible way a trade for Butler would make sense is if the Knicks not only trade no assets of high value but also dump the salary of their own long-term contract on the Timberwolves. Joakim Noah would be the first candidate to move in such a trade, with Tim Hardaway Jr. the other more realistic candidate. Including either player would limit the future cap damage done to the Knicks by adding Butler’s new megacontract.

Of course, why would the Wolves take back someone like Hardaway or Noah, Courtney Lee and a future protected first-round pick for a player of Butler’s caliber? The Knicks will not be the only bidder for him. The Pacers got Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in return for Paul George last year. Minnesota would certainly be looking for similar value given the nearly identical trade and contract situations of the two.

Putting aside the micro-portions of this trade for a moment, there is no more relevant reason not to make a trade for Butler than this: The Knicks are not going to challenge for an NBA title in the next two or three years, when Butler is going to be in his prime. He will certainly make the Knicks better, but not put them over the top in that timeframe.

Adding his salary, especially at the cost of other assets, will make it very difficult to acquire other players to the roster to help Butler get the Knicks where they want to go. The Knicks would once again be stuck in purgatory with few avenues left to add the talent necessary to take the next jump to be a title contender.

Butler is tempting. He is the piece of cheese sitting there ready to be claimed. He is the bait. If the Knicks go for it, they’ll fall into the same trap that’s been getting them for 18 years. We’ll see soon whether the new regime realizes this and avoids the mistakes of the past.

You can follow John on Twitter for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports at @Schmeelk.