Assessing Jimmy Butler’s trade value
Thanks to his trade request, Jimmy Butler instantly became the hottest name on the NBA’s trade block. How much is he worth to teams that want to deal for him? The answer is particularly complex, with numerous – significant – factors pulling each direction.
This sounds simple, but it’s an important place to start: Butler is really good at basketball. He aces every test. Traditional stats, advanced stats and old-school scouting all reveal an elite player.
Over the last two years, Butler has averaged 23.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. A large majority of times a player hit those marks for a full season, he got MVP votes.
Butler’s real plus-minus has steadily climbed over the years – from 69th to 23rd to 18th to 7th all the way to 4th last season. His individual numbers aren’t empty. He immensely positively impacts winning.
Just watch him play. He’s a force on both ends. He digs into his man defensively and takes charge offensively. He’s not fancy, but he steadily creates and converts good shots while adding an excellent all-around game. He just does so many little things – making the right pass, the right rotation, etc. – to help his team.
Butler will turn 30 before playing on his next deal. He’s reaching the age most players decline, and a long-term deal would surely take him past that point.
Tom Thibodeau coached four All-Stars who were in their 20s with the Bulls – Butler, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. The other three have aged terribly, and it doesn’t seem like total coincidence. It’s not just heavy playing time, though Butler has consistently ranked near the top of the league in minutes per game. Thibodeau also pushes his players hard in practice.
Butler’s max next summer projects to be $190 million over five years if he re-signs or $141 million over four years if he leaves his team. Given the previous two concerns, that’s a scary amount of money.
Few think as highly of Butler as I do. Even I would be leery of maxing him out over the most possible years.
Pro: Work ethic
He didn’t just get lucky in his rise from overlooked college recruit to No. 30 pick to NBA star. He earned his rise by putting in the work.
Pro: Example set
Not only does Butler’s strong work ethic help him, it can inspire teammates. Some young players just don’t understand how much effort it takes to thrive in the NBA, but they can look to Butler as a model. Ideally, everyone follow his lead.
However, not every player wants to work that hard. Some just want to get by, and Butler – understandably, considering his background – doesn’t have much patience for that. His testiness toward teammates who didn’t match his competitiveness and effort caused problems in Minnesota and Chicago. If he wants to be a leader for all situations, Butler must get better at lifting teammates who aren’t on his level. Coarseness doesn’t work on everyone.
Pro: Kyrie Irving friendship
Butler is close with Kyrie Irving, and there has been plenty of chatter about the two playing together. That type of talk occurs way more often than stars actually team up. But getting Butler could mean an inside track on signing Irving, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Butler’s trade request tanked the Timberwolves leverage. They proceed as if they’ll keep him, but everyone knows he wants out.
Some interested teams will wait to try signing him outright next summer rather than surrender significant assets now.
Con: Flight risk
Butler can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. An extension before then seems unrealistic. Any pledge Butler makes now would be nonbinding. There’s always a chance things go south over the next season and Butler leaves a team that trades for him.
Even the Clippers, Knicks and Nets – Butler’s reported preferred destinations – can’t be assured he’ll re-sign.
Butler is an awesome player. The cost of trading for him should be high. The cost of re-signing him should be high.
Given the circumstances, teams might be able to trade for him without surrendering as much as a player of his caliber would usually command. But that likely comes with giving him a massive contract next summer, and that deal could age poorly.
Teams ready to win now or soon that have key players with strong competitive streaks should target Butler. There are more than enough such teams to drive up the price.
That’s why Minnesota has a valuable asset – for now – and Butler is positioned to cash in next summer.