As another season is set to unfold, the Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves in a precarious position that could undermine their championship aspirations. Superstar shooting guard Jimmy Butler, whom the team acquired via trade in 2017, recently declined a max contract extension that would pay him $110-million over four years.
Reported rifts with several young teammates suggested that he no longer sees himself as a long-term piece in Minny. Then on Wednesday, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that Butler has requested a trade from Minnesota.
This conundrum places team officials in the unenviable decision of dealing him now and receiving some value in return or waiting until next summer with the chance of losing him for nothing. Personally, I believe their best bet is to stand pat, but if they opt for the latter, the Toronto Raptors could become a potential trade partner.
The Canadian-based franchise is a group filled with aspiring young assets and experience-rich veterans. Packaging one of each with a first-round pick, as seen by this trade, should be enough for the Timberwolves to pull the trigger.
After trading for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in an earlier deal with the Spurs, the procurement of Jimmy Buckets instantly puts the Raptors in the same conversation as Boston and Philadelphia. Rolling out a starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, Green, Butler, Leonard, and Jonas Valanciunas, with their ability to switch off on all positions, would be a matchup nightmare for the rest of the league.
Additionally, the toughness that these players bring to the table should be enough to shed the team’s Barney image of softness during the postseason.
The only downside to this transaction, though, is that both newly acquired stars will be unrestricted free agents in 2019, which means that Toronto could earn two strikes if they don’t perform up to standards. Still, I feel that it’s a small risk to take in exchange for an immensely improved roster and a legitimate chance to win the Eastern Conference.
Although this is far from what Minnesota is expecting, they have to understand that not a lot of squads willing to exchange equal value for the one-year rental. That’s just how the business of the NBA works. However, Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, and a 2021 first-rounder are still a good enough haul.
Ibaka, also known as Air Congo, may be well past his prime, but he was still able to post pedestrian numbers of 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.4 threes made, and 1.3 blocks on 48% shooting from the field. He’ll be able to provide solid rim protection and floor-spacing abilities as the starting power forward or first big off the bench. He, together with Taj Gibson and incumbent star Karl-Anthony Towns, will form a trifecta able to line up with the league’s best.
Anunoby, on the other hand, may not be a monster on the stat sheet but has developed into a nice three-and-D role player.
His long limbs and strong defensive instincts should make him a favorite of Tom Thibodeau and the man-in-charge of shadowing the opposition’s best scorer. This will take a lot of pressure of Andrew Wiggins, allowing him to focus on getting the ball in their basket.
This deal does not happen to be all sunshine and rainbows, though. There’s a bit of a mystery in the deal.
Ultimately, the first-round pick that they’ll be getting is the biggest wildcard in this agreement. It has the ability to fall either in the early part of the draft or the middle, depending on Toronto’s performance. If they end up losing both Butler and Leonard next year, it could be all the more valuable as the team is suddenly vaulted into full rebuild mode.
Not a bad exchange for a disgruntled star, right?
After thoroughly going through this hypothetical trade, it looks like it’s a win-win for both organizations. Only time will tell, though, if this deal does come to fruiting. But as the season is set to beginner and we draw closer to February’s deadline, the Timberwolves would be wise to at least explore this possibility before its too late.