The Houston Rockets opened the 2018-19 regular-season at home against the New Orleans Pelicans, and it wasn’t the start anyone in Houston had in mind. The Rockets got blown out by the Pelicans, losing by a final score of 131-112. Although it’s just the first game of a long season, the Rockets’ loss makes one thing very clear: Houston needs to trade for Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star small forward Jimmy Butler as soon as possible.
The Rockets have been one of the reported teams to have interest in Butler, who requested a trade from the Timberwolves almost five weeks ago. Minnesota is reportedly asking for shooting guard Eric Gordon, swingman P.J. Tucker, and a first-round pick in exchange for Butler.
While there’s no guarantee Butler will sign a long-term extension with the Rockets, acquiring him is a move Houston general manager Daryl Morey has to make no matter what. Butler can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019 if he declines his 2019-20 player-option, and he is looking for a max contract starting around $140 million.
Jimmy Butler is one of the best two-way players in the game. Last season with the Timberwolves, the four-time All-Star averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 35.0 percent from beyond the arc. He helped the Timberwolves clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2004.
Last season when Butler went to the bench, the Timberwolves’ offensive rating dropped from 116.6 to 110.6, and opponents’ offensive rating jumped by 7.2 points when Butler wasn’t on the floor. His impact on both ends of the floor is invaluable, and it’s something the Rockets need if they want to dethrone the Golden State Warriors.
A guy like Butler is someone who can make things difficult for Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, or Klay Thompson on the offensive end. Right now, the Rockets don’t have anyone who can really disrupt those three.
If Houston were to acquire Butler, they would have a deadly starting lineup of Chris Paul, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Carmelo Anthony and Clint Capela. Anthony came off the bench for the Rockets in the season-opener, but that’s because head coach Mike D’Antoni said he wants to stagger Tucker and Anthony this year. With Tucker out of the picture and Butler at the small forward spot, Anthony can slide to the power forward position and play pick-and-pop with Paul and Harden.
Houston was a top 10 defensive team in 2017-18. They gave up 103.9 points per game, good for sixth place. But with the departures of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, and the addition of Anthony, it’s unlikely the Rockets can reproduce those defensive results unless they acquire a defensive pest such as Butler.
Butler isn’t a sound 3-point shooter, a trait D’Antoni likes his players to have. However, he is one of the best slashers in the league and can finish in heavy traffic due to his upper body strength. The Rockets’ offense is all about shooting 3’s and hitting layups, and Butler is elite at getting to the rim. The 29-year-old Texas native is also good at drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line.
Chris Paul is 33-years-old and has a history of hamstring injuries. Who knows how many more years he’s going to play at an All-Star level. The Rockets are in win-now mode, and need to take advantage of this opportunity to acquire a player of Jimmy Butler’s caliber. Yes, Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker are solid role players.
But in this league, teams win championships with star power, and Jimmy Butler fits that bill.