June 25, 2019
The Houston Rockets are planning to push the Sixers to sign-and-trade Jimmy Butler once free agency begins on June 30th, according to a new report from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Here's the latest from Wojnarowski, who says the Rockets are planning to use the threat of Butler walking in free agency to prompt the Sixers to avoid losing Butler for nothing:
Once free agency starts on Sunday, the Houston Rockets are planning to recruit Jimmy Butler to push the Philadelphia 76ers for a sign-and-trade deal that would allow the All-Star forward to join James Harden and Chris Paul, league sources tell ESPN.
The Rockets don't have the salary-cap space to sign Butler, so they'd need the threat of the Sixers losing him for nothing to a team with the available room to motivate the Sixers into a trade.
The Sixers plan to be aggressive in signing Butler to a new deal, sources said, and could blunt a Rockets push with a full five-year, $190 million offer at the start of free agency on Sunday night. The Sixers could offer Butler a four-year, $146.5M deal, too.
If you have followed Daryl Morey's GM tenure in Houston at all, you will know this is the sort of move the Rockets always, always pursue, even though they don't always come to fruition. He places a premium on stars perhaps more than any other front office leader, even when it comes attached to chemistry and fit concerns.
An important thing to note before going any further: there is nothing that has suggested Butler is actively trying to make a move to Houston. It's a move that would make sense for Butler on certain levels. He's a Texas native, and Butler has allegedly been in contact with Rockets star James Harden this offseason, even though there might not be enough basketballs in the league for a Butler-Harden-Chris Paul trio.
But most people are simply filling in blanks on their own when it comes to Butler's priority list. There have been stories about him buying a house in Ambler — which is still on the market, by the way, if you have $6.5 million laying around — stories about LeBron James reaching out to him, and everything in between. If Butler has been clear about anything with regards to reporting on him, it's that he doesn't want anyone speaking for Jimmy Butler that isn't Jimmy Butler. They could walk in on the evening of June 30th and come to an agreement in short order for all we know.
But the Sixers' side of this is interesting, certainly. The running assumption has been if they offer Butler the fifth year that no one else can offer, he would be content to stay in Philly. If Butler makes it clear he doesn't want to come back to the Sixers no matter what, that's when the Sixers have an interesting choice to make.
The only players Houston has that are useful to Philadelphia in a sign-and-trade as salary weight and rotational pieces are Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker*, and they turn 31 in December and 35 next May respectively. Both would help the Sixers in the immediate term, but if the Sixers are losing Butler in a deal, there is a case to be made the Sixers should be exploring options involving younger free agents (a la Malcolm Brogdon) to round out their core and grow with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons over the long term.
(Clint Capela probably needs to be involved from a financial standpoint, but his presence complicates trade talks significantly. The Sixers have no use for a backup center making as much money as Capela does. A third team willing to take Capela and provide value in return would have to exist, and that seems unlikely.)
The Sixers could look at the market and decide that if Butler's leaving, they'd rather just take the money and use it to chase other free agents instead of sending him to Houston, because they have no leverage to force that deal. Tobias Harris only has a $22.2 million cap hold, roughly $8.5 million less than Butler's this offseason, which would allow the Sixers to get up to around $38.5 million in space if they just decided to cut bait and renounce Butler's cap hold in the face of news that he wants to move on.
That would put basically any free agent on the market on the table — Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, you name it and they could make it happen. There is still the chance they could whiff on the big boys in this scenario and have to scramble for backup options, but it's a path they can pursue.
Butler leaving would certainly throw a wrench into Philadelphia's offseason, especially if Tobias Harris feels an itch to leave as well. But the Sixers are by no means boxed in if he does want out, and everyone should keep that in mind as we approach the start of free agency.
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