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June 29, 2019

NBA free agency rumors: Jimmy Butler taking meetings with Miami, Houston (and Philly)

The free agent has also drawn interest from the Lakers and Nets

Jimmy Butler will take meetings with the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets in the opening days of free agency, according to a new report from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

UPDATE [8:30 p.m.] — According to Shams Charania, Butler also intends to meet with the Sixers in free agency, and has drawn interest from the Lakers and Nets, as well as teams who would be interested in acquiring him in a sign-and-trade.

It appears everything is on the table for Butler this offseason. 

The exact timing of the meetings is unclear, but it's going to be a busy few days for Butler and his agent.

The million-dollar question here, obviously, is why? Neither Miami nor Houston can outright sign Butler, which means in order to go to those two destinations, he would need cooperation from the Sixers to make it happen. The Sixers have tried to dismiss the threat of outside parties in internal discussions, but the public pressure is mounting as he helps amplify these other suitors.

Because of that, there are a couple of schools of thought to consider here. Let's run through them real quick...

"Butler is posturing" — This would not be the worst guess in the world. If Butler was all that serious about leaving, he and his agent would have set up additional meetings with cap space teams like the Clippers, Knicks, etc. in the opening days of free agency. This could be more about negotiating with Philadelphia, who has the ability to offer more than everyone else but has to be willing to get to that level.

Could Butler's meetings just be about pressuring the Sixers to give him the fifth year at the full max in free agency? I suppose it's possible. 

The problem I have with this theory is that the Sixers know good and well what the cap situations are in Miami and Houston. Posturing only works when you can make the opposite scenario happen without needing the help of the team you're (theoretically) trying to bleed for more years and money. How is Buttler threatening to meet exclusively with teams who can't pay him going to goad the Sixers into doing anything they don't want to do?

Perhaps those meetings with cap space teams are still to come down the road, but if this is about leverage, I don't see how it's created here. Unless you believe Butler is specifically going to meet with teams that he'd have to be traded to because he has a soft spot in his heart for the Sixers and wants them to get something back for him, I don't buy this as an explanation.

That being said, if at any point it comes out that Butler's decisionmaking was driven by the Sixers trying to haggle with him, they will deserve to get ripped for it. When you executed major trades for Butler and Tobias Harris, you had to be prepared for everything that came with it, including top-of-the-market demands on contracts. If there was any uncertainty about the investment, you don't make the deals. But again, this is all speculative at this stage.

"Butler wants to go somewhere else" — Sometimes, the simplest explanation is the one that makes the most sense. Perhaps Jimmy Butler just doesn't want to play in Philadelphia. I don't know if that's true one way or another, but if he decides he wants to live in Miami or play with James Harden instead of being a secondary figure in Philadelphia, that is certainly his right.

If this is the case, it is better for the Sixers to know this sooner rather than later, either to work on a trade with either of these teams or to move forward in free agency after renouncing his rights. They can't force Butler to want to stay and play with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but it is within their control to act quickly and intelligently if that's what Butler decides.

Another thing to consider — does this have any bearing on Butler's actions down the road? Imagine a scenario where the Sixers come out of this and sign him to a new contract anyway. It doesn't take a huge leap in logic to suggest that if Butler is willing to try to goad the Sixers into trading him to specific destinations now, successful or not, perhaps he will try to force his way out of Philly the second he decides the situation doesn't suit him any longer. It's not like he hasn't caused a fuss to get his way in the past.

Can you plan around that scenario? Maybe not. But if you talk with Butler and you get anything less than his full-fledged commitment to the program moving forward, turning your attention to players who are all in would be the logical next step.

Soon enough, we will get some real answers on what the future looks like. Until then, in the words of Samuel L. Jackson...

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