The Houston Rockets were close to beating the Golden State Warriors last year in the WCF, but it’s looking more and more like that was just one special year. After a questionable offseason and disappointing start to the season, the Rockets are ready to risk it all to win a championship.
Losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in free agency, two of the best 3-and-D wings in the business, hurts. Having to play Michael Carter Williams and Carmelo Anthony is just atrocious. And with Chris Paul and PJ Tucker aging, and Harden statistically unlikely to perform as well as he did last season, the Rockets don’t have much time with this current core.
Jimmy Butler would fix a lot of problems the Rockets have. An elite wing defender and an efficient scorer on high volume, he’d complement Paul and Harden’s scoring nicely, all while shoring up their currently questionable defense. He’s a little ball-dominant and not a great shooter for Mike D’Antoni’s offense, but he’s talented enough to make it work.
Butler is a prickly personality, but the Rockets are betting that he’ll make it work on a great team. The Rockets are desperate to add talent given their small championship window, and Butler is by far the best talent available.
However, the Rockets refused to put PJ Tucker to trade for Butler earlier in the offseason, only offering Eric Gordon. Tucker was their defensive lynchpin in the 2018 Western Conference Finals, playing incredible on both ends, and the Rockets wouldn’t have any replacement for him at the power forward position. But he’ll be thirty-four by next playoffs, and asking him to repeat a career year might be too much. Nevertheless, the Rockets believe in him.
Then on Thursday night, Adrian Wojnarowksi announced that the teams were resuming negotiations.
Story posting soon: The Houston Rockets are making a renewed bid to acquire Minnesota All-Star Jimmy Butler, including four future first-round draft picks in their most recent trade offer, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 25, 2018
Trade talks are largely resuming now because on October 31st, Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss become available for trades involving more than one player. Brandon Knight’s large contract can be combined with Chriss’s to provide the framework for a Butler trade, though there could be additional players included on either side.
This is obviously not enough value in a trade for a superstar, so Rockets GM Daryl Morey is offering four first-round picks as well. Because of the Stepien Rule, teams cannot trade consecutive future first rounders, so the picks would have to be for 2019, 2021, 2023, and 2025. This is the maximum number of first rounders to include in a trade. These picks could be protected, but likely, the Rockets wouldn’t be able to get away with outlandish protections.
Morey’s proposal is an all-out gamble: if the Rockets win the championship at any point, it’s worth it. If not, they’ll almost surely be in a bad position: James Harden and Clint Capela will be good for years, but Chris Paul is aging and Jimmy Butler could leave in free agency this year. The Rockets will almost certainly not be bad, but those four first-rounders are just so much to give up.
A normal Timberwolves front office would take this deal. But GM and coach Tom Thibodeau has refused every deal offered for Butler, asking for way more than what teams have offered. Thibodeau is also fighting for his job as head coach, and wants to field a good enough roster to make his coaching look good. He’s probably looking for a deal that gives more immediate value than future value. He’s not staying around until 2025 anyways.
That said, nobody knows what’s going on in Minneapolis. The team looks discombulated by Butler’s trade request, and Thibodeau’s strange coaching decisions only make the team look worse. Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor should fire Thibodeau, but at this point it’s hard to predict what they’ll do.
If this deal gets done, the Rockets will be much improved, and probably good enough to take down the Warriors. It’s pretty much their last shot, so going for it in such a risky way is admirable.