Tensions have been simmering with the Minnesota Timberwolves for most of the summer and things finally hit a boiling point on Wednesday. Jimmy Butler met with Tom Thibodeau and requested a trade from the Wolves. His desired list of teams reportedly includes the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks. What does this have to do with the Boston Celtics? More than it might seem at first glance.
Let’s start with the Nets and Knicks, who share space in the country’s largest city. They also share a recent history of struggling to find success in the win/loss column. But things are looking up for both franchises. Both teams finally own all their own first round draft picks going forward. In addition, both clubs are finally digging out from under years of salary cap rubble and project to have significant cap space this summer.
Again, what does this have to do with the Celtics? For Boston, this all starts and ends with Kyrie Irving. You have to do some connecting of the dots to put Kyrie with either the Nets or Knicks, but it’s like one of those puzzles for a three year-old. There are only a few dots and each one is huge and easy to find.
Let’s start with the fact that Irving is from the general New York area. He grew up in New Jersey and played his high school ball at St. Patrick High School. Irving has expressed a fondness for New York in the past, and those close to him have suggested he’d like to play for the Knicks or Nets at some point. Dot one!
Moving on to dot two…Irving and Butler are close. Now, to be fair, friendships in the NBA are often overrated. Almost all NBA players are friendly to some degree. But, oddly enough, this doesn’t really seem to include Butler, who has alienated teammates both in Chicago and Minnesota. Nonetheless, Irving and Butler are said to be friendly and are rumored to have talked about teaming up at some point. Dot two!
Dots three and four are right next to each other. They are so close, they are almost touching. Neither Irving nor Butler has any interest in going somewhere that isn’t ready to be competitive. Irving has been on contenders in Cleveland and Boston. Butler has been on playoff teams. Both guys want to win. Do the Knicks or Nets fit this criteria?
You have to look at both the roster and cap situation. In order to win, you’ve got to have good players, cap flexibility to add more good players and the ability to keep that moving down the line. The Knicks and Nets are both just about there. For both teams this season is about keeping their cap flexibility or creating more. Winning is nice, but it’s almost secondary. Both clubs finally have all their own first round picks, which is big for the future. And both sides have some nice players you can add to going forward.
The Knicks have Kristaps Porzingis, assuming he recovers fully from a torn ACL, as one of the best young bigs in basketball. They also have intriguing rookies in Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson. Irving and Butler would fit in perfectly leading that young trio.
The Nets are sitting on all sorts of cap space (somewhere between $50 and $75 million, depending on roster decisions) and have good young pieces of their own. Jarrett Allen looks like a legit starting center and the Nets have a slew of good wings to build around too. Again, Irving and Butler would immediately come in and help lead a young squad forward. Dots three and four!
You can pretty easily connect all the dots the put Irving and Butler together in the Big Apple. It’s not even a stretch to do so. Well, unless you disregard that the Celtics can pay Irving more than anyone else, the team is already a contender and they have more young talent than either the Nets or Knicks.
What about the Clippers? This one isn’t about Kyrie Irving. He’s said in the past that he’s an East Coast guy. This one is all about Danny Ainge’s favorite thing in the world. No, not bulldog, defense-first guards that can’t shoot. It’s about draft picks!
It might be forgotten in the pile of picks Boston has recently made, and will still make, but the Celtics are still owed a pick from LA. That pick is lottery protected (1-14) in 2019. That means Boston only gets it if the Clips make the playoffs. LA has a chance, but in a deep Western Conference they are projected to miss out. That would mean the pick rolls over to 2020 with the same protections. If it doesn’t convey in 2019 or 2020, it then converts to a 2022 second round pick.
Because the protections are “playoffs or bust”, all Celtics fans should be pseudo Clippers fan this year and next. LA acquiring Butler would go a long way towards getting them to the postseason. If not this year, then in 2020, when the team would build around Butler and a likely max free agent addition. Plus, you get to root for old friends Doc Rivers and Avery Bradley to get back to the playoffs!
What about the Celtics? Could they make a play for Butler themselves? That ship has probably sailed. A couple of years ago, Ainge made offers at the trade deadline to try and bring in both Butler and Paul George. Since then, just about everything has changed for the Boston. Isaiah Thomas is gone, Irving and Gordon Hayward are Celtics and youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have burst on the scene. It’s unlikely that Ainge will sacrifice any of the future for Butler, who would be only a minor upgrade (if that) over any of the aforementioned players.
For a second straight year the NBA has some late-offseason drama. Last year it was Carmelo Anthony being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder on the eve of training camp. Oh and there was that late-August trade of Irving to the Celtics. Once again, Irving is tangentially tied to trade talks. This time around however, Irving isn’t going anywhere until the season is over. If he’s going anywhere even then.