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June 26, 2019

NBA Trade Rumors: Rockets looking to pick up picks for potential Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade

The Sixers, meanwhile, remain in the driver's seat for Butler.

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The Rockets are pursuing individual trades involving Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, and PJ Tucker in order to pick up assets for a potential Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade with Philadelphia, according to a new report from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe.

This new report follows reporting from Wojnarowski earlier in the week regarding Houston's interest in Butler, and their desire to make a sign-and-trade a viable option.

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. [ESPN]

Here are the snags in that thought process as far as I can see them in advance of free agency.

• Though Wojnarowski cites the trio of Gordon, Capela, and Tucker as potential trade chips in side deals to pick up first-round picks, the only one of those guys who really matters in an individual deal is Capela. He's the only player of the trio has almost no utility in Philadelphia, and thus would have to be the piece shipped to another team in order to bring some sort of additional asset to the table.

The market for Capela is arguably the most important part of the deal, at least aside from whatever Butler's desires are. If he brings back some sort of high-value first for Houston, the market for their trading ability changes a great deal. But if they are low on suitors for a big man with no positional versatility making $15 million+ for the next four seasons, there is no reason for the Sixers to take him as part of a trade.

We saw this situation play out once before in Philly on a smaller scale. The Sixers had two young big men in Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, and their absolute need to move one of them cratered the market for their services. The talent level is much different, but you could argue Embiid's status as the franchise player would kill Philadelphia's leverage even more than their bungling of that situation did.

Every team in the league would know the Sixers need to get off of Capela's contract the second he was on their books, diminishing whatever value he has/had coming in. So unless Houston finds a very able and willing taker for Capela, nothing else really matters. The same remains true in a three-way deal.

• I'll reiterate something I wrote Tuesday — there is a case to be made that the Sixers are best served to prioritize cap space if this is the move Jimmy Butler wants.

Whether or not Butler specifically wants to go to Houston is immaterial here. Knowing he doesn't want to be in Philly long-term would be enough for the Sixers to go into free agency with their eyes wide open and options at their disposal. They would have the ability to create in the neighborhood of $38.5 million in cap space, putting themselves in position to sign quite literally any and every free agent on the market if they wanted to.

Butler's age is a big part of why the Sixers have been viewed as a "win now" team more and more over the last year. If you know he is leaving, a look at the landscape might prompt the Sixers to say they shouldn't take back veterans who will only diminish over the long-term (like Gordon and Capela).

There would be some in the organization who would prioritize getting something back in return for Butler instead of letting him walk outright, and the fear of bad optics is something to monitor with this organization at all times. But there are paths forward that are arguably better for Philly if they just renounce his cap hold and go their separate ways.

• I will have to say this about this situation until it is resolved either way, but ultimately all this comes down to is what Butler wants to do with his life.

An important thing to note about sign-and-trades — the outgoing player signing a contract in a sign-and-trade can't receive a bigger contract than he would otherwise be able to sign with a new team as a free agent. In other words, Butler is unable to get the fifth year and subsequent contractual raises if he ends up wanting to go to Houston. That option is only available to him should he decide he wants to stay in Philly.

That is worth noting because the fifth contract year was reportedly a point of dispute between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Butler when he had his falling out there. Former teammate Derrick Rose cited contract disputes as a major factor in Butler's anger in a recent book, and reporting has been consistent dating back over a year that Butler wants the full five years in free agency, which Wojnarowski and Lowe reported themselves back in September.

Maybe that is not the case, and it would not be the first time Butler didn't agree with how his views or desires were painted to the public. But people around Butler have consistently painted this picture, and that makes it hard to ignore.

If you're the Sixers, and you have a genuine desire to bring everyone back this offseason, that makes your job very simple when free agency opens. You walk in, you offer Butler the full, five-year max, and you move forward together for better or for worse. There is no other team, Rockets included, who can offer that to Butler, and they know that.

Whether they are prepared to go there at 6:01 p.m. on June 30th is the only real question left.

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