The rumors have been swirling for weeks around Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star wing man Jimmy Butler. It has been widely reported Butler wants out of Minnesota and notified the team of his feelings over the summer. His coach (and former Rockets assistant under Jeff Van Gundy) Tom Thibodeau has been reluctant if not outright dismissive of the request while the team's owner has pursued deals of his own.
It has made for an undoubtedly complicated and weird situation in Minny only exacerbated by a report this week that Butler finally returned to practice with a lively display of his explosive talent and a verbal assault on the coaching staff and team administration.
Butler is clearly unhappy and he wants everybody to know it. Which brings us to the Rockets. One of the teams reportedly in the hunt for Butler has been Houston. GM Daryl Morey is often so good at working deals to improve the team, there was even a point the Rockets were considered a frontrunner. But, recent reports indicate the Rockets are unwilling to part with what the Timberwolves are asking for, namely P.J. Tucker.
While Butler is one of perhaps the 10 or 15 best players in the league and one of the top two-way players in basketball, he may not be worth the risk to a Rockets team already loaded with talent. Here are some good reasons why.
The Rockets weren't on his list.
Supposedly, Butler put together a wish list where he would like to be traded, which included the Clippers and the Heat. Houston was conspicuously absent. This may mean he didn't think the Rockets would (or could) deal for him, but it does say something that he didn't mention one of the league's best teams as a possible destination.
For that matter, other contenders like Boston, Golden State and even Philadelphia or OKC didn't make the cut. Granted, he has no say in the matter, but choosing places like Los Angeles (and not the Lakers) and Miami feels like it is more about where he wants to live and the desire to be "the man" on whatever team he joins than it does a guy who wants to win.
At 29, he is in the prime of his career and he is coming up on free agency, so that certainly weighed into his decision. But, quite frankly, why shouldn't anyone question a star talent who wants to play for the Clippers given their recent history.
Getting acclimated this late can be difficult.
Ask Carmelo Anthony. He never fully integrated with the Thunder last year and it cost him and the team. Butler would seem to fit into the team's isolation style of basketball, but he didn't have a summer to prepare or understand what it takes to play with this particular team. The Rockets have finally developed a culture that includes real accountability. Would Butler accept that hierarchy if he believes he is one of the best players in the league?
There is no question the Rockets are a team that could corral someone like Butler and maximize his talent, but only if he agrees with them. And even if he did, the transition wouldn't be a quick one. After all they have attempted to build over the last two seasons, a move for Butler now feels more like fantasy basketball than reality.
It could have disastrous effects on team chemistry.
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Team owner Tillman Fertitta was direct when asked about a potential deal recently. "We think we are as good as anybody in the league," he said. "We're not going to give up unreasonable assets to break up this team to get Jimmy Butler. But we would love to have him." This is exactly the philosophy you want from your owner, your GM and your team as a whole. Does Butler have value? Absolutely. Would he make the team demonstrably better? That depends.
The rumored deals have been for Eric Gordon and Tucker along with other assets like draft picks. Gordon makes sense because he and Butler would play essentially the same spot on the floor. As great as Gordon has been for the team, that seems like a swap that favors the Rockets. But, moving Tucker means trading the kind of versatile player the Rockets have coveted for years. Not only does he defend multiple positions and shoot threes, but he clearly is a leader in the locker room, especially from a defensive standpoint.
Chris Paul said at media day that if anyone comes to Houston and thinks they aren't going to play defense, Tucker will let them know otherwise. That type of value goes well beyond what he brings on the floor, especially now that he has a full season and off-season with the team.
Gordon and a young non-rotation guy, sure. Gordon and Tucker? As crazy as it may sound, that feels like too much.