Cleveland needs to match Golden State’s firepower. Adding Jimmy Butler to the mix would be a step in the right direction.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have vaulted themselves into trade discussions in an attempt to acquire Chicago Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein.
The Cavaliers reportedly worked on Monday to add a third team to the deal to give Chicago the necessary assets — young players and draft picks — needed to pry the two-way wing from the Bulls.
The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson reported the Phoenix Suns are a possibility as the third team needed to complete the deal. The working thought includes the Cavaliers shipping All-Star forward Kevin Love to the Suns, while Phoenix sends a mix of young players and future picks to the Bulls, who ship Butler to Cleveland.
But it’s unclear how this move happens after the Cavaliers’ decision to let general manager David Griffin go. Griffin was attempting to bring Butler to the Cavaliers in the hours before his dismissal.
The Cavaliers watched an impressive 12-1 Eastern Conference playoff run reduce to ash after being pulverized by the Golden State Warriors, 4-1, in the NBA Finals. It was a dominant display of basketball put on by a team LeBron James said had the most firepower he’s ever seen.
Cleveland needs to match the Warriors’ output if it intends to reclaim its throne as NBA champion. Butler could help its cause. The Bulls’ swingman averaged 24 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game, earning a nod as an All-Star starter along the way. His defensive versatility would be valuable against an offense as unpredictable as Golden State’s.
How would it work?
In the Cavaliers’ fairytale world, they’d be able to swap Love out for Butler straight up. The contracts are near equal, and the Cavaliers would insert a versatile two-way wing alongside LeBron and J.R. Smith to help offset the Warriors’ infinite switchability.
But Cleveland doesn’t live in a fairytale world. And in the real world, a Love-for-Butler swap gets vetoed quicker than a young Leandro Barbosa gets from end-to-end.
Love scored only nine points in Cleveland’s Game 5 loss to the Warriors in the NBA Finals. He’s a reliable three-point shooter and above-average rebounder, but as the NBA gets faster and more athletic, Love has become a liability.
Instead, the Cavaliers need to send Love to a team that isn’t aiming to win now but could benefit from veteran leadership and an All-Star’s production. As K.C. Johnson points out, the Suns fit that bill.
If Phoenix renounces its free agents, it could absorb Love’s contract while sending the Bulls some rotational players not key to the team’s future. Those players include Eric Bledsoe (28 years old), Brandon Knight, and T.J. Warren. The Suns also own the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft — likely off the table — as well as each of their picks moving forward, and Miami’s top-seven protected first-rounder next season.
Why this makes sense for Cleveland
Unlike going after Paul George, a likely one-year rental with his unrestricted free agency looming in 2018, Butler is under contract at least through the 2018-19 season. Then, he has the opportunity to look elsewhere or sign a lucrative five-year max contract.
The Cavaliers need another look to throw at Kevin Durant, who torched Cleveland to become the most efficient scorer in NBA Finals history. Butler is equally potent on defense as he is on offense, and adding another touted wing defender would help take a load off James, who spends his energy commanding the Cavs’ offense.
Butler is also the Bulls’ primary playmaker and has the ability to run an offense with the ball in his hands. The Cavaliers’ biggest issues of the postseason came when LeBron went to the bench. In Butler, Cleveland could get the playmaker James so desperately yearned for midseason.
We don’t know if this trade makes sense for the Bulls yet
That’s because we have no idea what the official offer looks like to cough up their lone All-Star. Chicago’s management isn’t sold on Butler as the face of the franchise. That much is certain.
But they’re also not going to hand over their temporary cornerstone without getting something of value in return. We saw it during midseason trade talks with the Boston Celtics, when Chicago wouldn’t budge on a Butler deal unless Jae Crowder was involved. The Bulls want a solid player who can contribute to the team winning basketball games as they build for the future.
It’s unclear what the Suns’ end of the offer looks like. Shipping Bledsoe, fresh off of the best season of his career, sounds enticing. But it may take a mix of Bledsoe, other youngsters, and draft picks to fork over their All-Star.
Probability this deal happens: 2.5/10
As of now, this deal is only in the exploratory phase. It’s a tough sell, and it’s unclear if the Cavs will be able to persuade another team to mortgage its short-term future for a 28-year-old Love scheduled to make more than $70 million over the next three seasons.
For that reason, I give Cleveland a 25 percent chance to complete this deal as-is. Those odds can increase depending on what the Suns are willing to offer or what other teams enter the fold as potential third-party trade facilitators. But until those details get hashed out, this deal isn’t as close as Cleveland needs it to be.