Friday, June 23, 2017

Minnesota Timberwolves Acquire Jimmy Butler

As you certainly know by now, last night the Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls agreed to a blockbuster trade that sent Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn and the #7 pick (Lauri Markannen) to Chicago for Jimmy Butler and the #16 pick (Justin Patton).

One year after the teams failed to agree to a similar draft night trade involving Butler, Tom Thibodeau was finally able to acquire his former star. And my goodness, what a deal it was for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Let's look at what the Wolves gave up.


Zach Lavine is an easy player to love. He works as hard as anyone, he's improved ten-fold since his rookie season, his shooting range is seemingly endless and he's one of the greatest NBA dunk champions to ever play the game. He's genuine with fans, and seems like a humble, polite young man. He will be missed. It's worth mentioning he did tear his ACL in February and is still recovering from that. 

However, as mentioned above he's an incredibly hard worker, so I expect his rehab to go very well. Also, while his elite athleticism gives him some long-term upside, his current game doesn't rely too heavily on the athleticism he possesses. That may sound odd, but his exhibition dunking ability rarely translate to live games, except on fast breaks. He's a poor defender, although he's gotten better and he does put forth effort, so there's a chance for improvement if his basketball IQ improves. So even if he loses a little bit of athleticism due to the injury, he should remain a useful player.

He's most likely to be best suited in a sixth man role, a lot like his good friend Jamal Crawford. His offensive game has improved each season, and while he shouldn't play point guard ever, he's a capable ball handler on the wing. 

Entering his fourth season, his contract will need to be extended soon, and as a very capable scorer he seems likely to receive a contract close to the max, either as a restricted free agent next summer or via an extension in the near future. For a player with Lavine's experience, that would be about $25 million per season. Even if he doesn't get the max, at least $20 million a year seems likely in today's NBA market. Factoring in Lavine's $2.8M salary this coming season, and it seems likely the Bulls will need to pay at least $82.5M over 5 years to keep Lavine in Chicago long-term, and possibly over $100M.

Jimmy Butler is due to make about $17.5 million this coming season, then $18.6 million and $19.9 million, which means the Timberwolves will be paying him about $56 million over 3 years. Over the course of the next 3 seasons, it's very unlikely Lavine will be anywhere close to the player Butler is, and he's going to be paid very similarly very soon.

Kris Dunn had a poor rookie season despite being very old for a rookie, which is always a red flag. He did show defensive prowess late in the season and it's possible Fred Hoiberg thinks his system is better designed for Dunn's talents, but his best-case scenario looks more like a future Tony Allen then a future franchise point guard. Of course, I was never a huge fan of Dunn's NBA prospects, so at this point, I'm surprised he had much value, but it's definitely too early to write him off after such a spectacular collegiate career.

Acquiring a lottery pick was a must for the Bulls in any Butler deal, and this deal will be judged mostly by the kind of player Lauri Markannen becomes. For the Bulls, who are clearly entering a rebuild at this point, including the #16 pick was just silly, and I'm truly shocked the Wolves were able to finagle that pick from them. Lavine, Dunn and #7 for Butler alone is still in the Wolves favor, in my opinion, so adding Justin Patton is one hell of a free lottery ticket.

Tom Thibodeau has been criticized quite a bit in his first full year on the job, and while some of the criticism is likely warranted, this move proves several things. First, he's willing to move on quickly and admit a mistake, as he's done here by trading Kris Dunn. He reportedly had Dunn #1 last year on the Wolves draft board, but after a poor rookie season he was willing to move on. He also has proven he understands (or Scott Layden has informed him well) the salary cap situation, as we mentioned Butler is likely going to be cheaper or only a tiny bit more expensive than Lavine as soon as next season despite being a legitimate two-way superstar.

And while one day soon we will take a deeper look into just how great Jimmy Butler is, Britt Robson's take is spot-on so be sure to check it out.