Sports

Rockets Appear All In on Deal for Butler

James Harden will miss at least two games with an injury, but he might have a new teammate soon.
James Harden will miss at least two games with an injury, but he might have a new teammate soon. Photo by Jeff Balke
In 2015 after only 11 games, the Rockets fired coach Kevin McHale. On Valentine's Day in 1995, fresh off the city's first championship, the team traded Otis Thorpe for Clyde Drexler. Robert Horry and Sam Cassell were shipped to Phoenix for Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen was signed as a free agent a year after that. Then there was the deal to acquire Tracey McGrady. The Rockets have never been shy about shaking things up.

Now, in 2018, with a different owner and a different set of variables (including a run to the Western Conference Finals last year), the team seems set on making a deal to bring Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star wingman (and Tomball native) Jimmy Butler to Houston.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday evening (while the Texans were beating the Dolphins) that the Rockets were now offering four first round draft picks in a deal to acquire the disgruntled guard. Trade talks had cooled for Minnesota since it was made known Butler, 29, wanted out this offseason, putting coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau and owner Glen Taylor at direct odds with one another. But, that has changed with the Rockets' ramped-up offer.

Part of the timing has to do with the fact that recent acquisitions Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight, neither of whom have suited up for the Rockets this season, could be included in a deal as of October 31. While the T-Wolves have been said to want young prospect, draft picks AND a rotation player in the deal, the availability of Chriss and Knight along with the offer of four picks could change the dynamic of the deal, perhaps even avoiding having to move Eric Gordon, who was long considered one of the centerpieces of earlier deals.


Butler, who is one of the best two-way players in the NBA, would certainly improve the Rockets, but he is a free agent after this season. The Rockets, according to reports, want to sign Butler to a max deal after this season and make him a centerpiece of their team along with James Harden, who will miss at least the next two games with a hamstring strain, and Chris Paul.

Initial reactions around the league have been mixed. Some believe the offer of four draft picks is outrageous and constitutes a mortgaging of the team's future. But, in truth, the league only allows first round picks to be traded in non-consecutive years and no more than seven years at a time. Four is the max they could offer and there hasn't been a significant first round pick in quite a few years.

On the other side are people who see the value in a player like Butler both for matching up with the likes of Golden State and for providing depth in the case of an injury. Adding the guard to an already stacked lineup, assuming the Rockets give up, at most, Eric Gordon in the deal, means putting a great defender and scorer already loaded with great scoring potential.

Whether or not the Rockets can pull off such a deal or the Timberwolves will go for it is beside the point right now. For the moment, this is another clear indication that this team is about winning now no matter what the cost. Les Alexander was always a gambler, willing to take chances if he thought it would lead to winning. It appears Tillman Fertitta isn't much different. While some of Alexander's cornerstone deals worked to perfection, others flopped badly. But that is what happens when you roll the dice and Fertitta, with his interest in casinos, is clearly no stranger to going all in. Hopefully, if the deal goes through, his gamble pays off.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke