When the Sixers and Wolves get on the phone with the league office on Monday morning, it will all be official. Jimmy Butler is being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. The complete trade is as follows: the Wolves will send Butler and Justin Patton to Philly in exchange for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick. Initially, it looks like a deal that both sides should be comfortable with, at least given the circumstances. Minnesota finally gets to move on, and hopefully, start looking like a basketball team again. The Sixers get a third star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. For the purpose of this article, I will be providing reactions on the side of the Timberwolves.
It was time to move on
When push comes to shove, the Timberwolves had to trade Jimmy Butler. They already let the situation go on too long, and it was beginning to take a toll on the locker room. Media members who were in Minnesota’s locker room following their loss to the Kings last night described the scene as frustrated and beat up. Despite the players insisting that the Butler situation wasn’t affecting their play, it was hard to deny the lack of chemistry on the court for Minnesota early in the season.
Was this the best deal?
Perhaps Minnesota didn’t get the best deal. Their best offer could’ve came before the season when Miami reportedly offered Josh Richardson and a first-round pick to Minnesota. The Wolves balked and had to settle for what they could get. However, the deal they did get was not equal value, but good value considering the situation.
The new-look Wolves
Perhaps the biggest winner in this trade is Karl-Anthony Towns. It appears the Wolves are ready to run through the all-star center on offense, something Wolves fans have been pleading for all season. With Butler out of town, Towns and Wiggins will be the main scoring threats for Minnesota, and with all the talk about Minnesota not being able to win without Jimmy, those two players should be motivated. Additionally, getting Covington and Saric provide long-term stability to the roster that sets them up great for the years to come. While the team may flourish under a coach not named Tom Thibodeau, this was the first step in the right direction.
How the new guys fit in
If I had to guess, Covington and Saric should see themselves plug right into the starting lineup. While Thibs may decide to keep Taj Gibson in the starting lineup, with Saric coming off the bench, Saric needs to be the starter while Minnesota plays this season out.
The biggest upside to the return for Minnesota is the spacing that Covington and Saric provide. Covington is attempting 5.9 threes per game this season, while Saric is also shooting 5.4 shots from downtown this season. Minnesota has been focused on the three ball so far this season, and Covington and Saric will provide even better spacing for Minnesota when they enter the lineup. In Philly, Covington and Saric were a big reason why Embiid could be so efficient in the paint. Guys who were defending Covington or Saric could not sag off those guys to help on Embiid, because both players are effective shooters from three.
Another upside in the return for Minnesota is Covington’s defensive ability. Widely known as a great perimeter defender, Covington will likely guard the opposing team’s most effective player night in and night out. Minnesota is not a great defensive team, and while trading Butler will hurt their defense, adding Covington will make the drop off a little less hurtful.
As I have said all too many times, this was a move the Wolves needed to make. It was time, everybody knew it, and it was getting obvious on the court. While the Wolves likely won’t be contending for a title anytime soon, this was the first step in the right direction in getting Minnesota where they want to be.
I am sure many sports bloggers are going to make some joke about Woj bombs and the actual pipe bombs sent to prominent Democrats lately.
I, however, have some common sense and will not be one of those people.
But, I will still give some really quick-hitting points about the latest offer by the Houston Rockets to acquire Jimmy Butler. Check out what Woj tweeted:
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.
How would this work? Isn’t there a rule about how many first round picks you can send in consecutive years. All good questions. First of all, The Stepien Rule prohibits teams from shipping off first round picks in consecutive years. That is hurdle number one, but Houston can jump over it.
Secondly, the picks have to abide by the Seven Year Rule stipulation. Bobby Marks of ESPN did a better job of explaining this than I could do. So, I will let him do the talking (writing) here.
7-year rule allows a team to trade up to 4 picks between 2019 to 2025. The first has to alternate each year (19, 21, 23 and 25) and cannot have protection unless the pick does not rollover to the following season. Ex: Protected top 14 and doesn’t convey if HOU is in the lottery.
The map is clear. Houston would most likely be sending over a package that included the 2019, 2021, 2023 and 2025 first round picks. My question: How do these picks align with the development of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Both players are locked up for the foreseeable future, as both former number one overall picks have either signed or agreed upon 5-year extensions.
Time for a chart
Andrew Wiggins Age: 23 Karl-Anthony Towns Age: 22
2019 pick Age: 24 2019 pick Age: 23
2021 pick Age: 26 2021 pick Age: 25
2023 pick Age: 28 2023 pick Age: 27
2025 pick Age: 30 2025 pick Age: 29
Time for a recap
When is a star considered to be in their prime? There is no true science to answer this question, although ages 25-30 seem to sound right. Sure, a player can perform well after and before that age (see James, LeBron.)
The question for Minnesota management (and fans, of course I have to shoutout armchair GMs!) is simple. Do these picks meet their team timeline?
Let us assume that the 2019 pick is some 19-year-old kid from UConn (duh, go Huskies.) in 2023, this kid would be close to or if not directly entering his prime at age 23. Wiggins would be in the last year of his contract, but entrenched in his peak star years, at least we hope. The same would go for KAT, except he would have more contract years remaining. This could be promising and something of a replication of what the Boston Celtics have tried to do.
Yet, the later picks will probably bring in draft picks that are better prospects, but less aligned with the team trajectory due to their presumably young age. Logically, the 2023 and 2025 Houston picks should be better than their 2019 and 2021 ones. Those years reflect a post-CP3 age and Harden will be starting the back 9 of his career, although probably still awesome.
Time for a question
It is a conundrum, isn’t it?
The later picks do not totally mesh well with the team’s timeline for its current studs. Yet, those 2023 and 2025 picks could be excellent. The 2019 and 2021 picks do mesh well with the rise of these two stars, but those picks could be late first rounders, which are often throws at the dart board. Decisions, decisions.
Of course, the personnel in this alleged deal matters as well. But, the picks are what is sexy here. So, what do you do if you are the general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves?
It has now been over three weeks since Jimmy Butler requested a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, Butler still remains on the team. For some Wolves fans, it has been three weeks too long. With the lovely reports of dysfunction in the Timberwolves organization, nobody seems to know when, and even if, Jimmy Butler will be moved. A sensible person would think that Butler will be moved before the season, which is now just four days away. But, this is Tom Thibodeau we are talking about. There is a chance that Thibodeau could be coaching for his job this season. Thibs has three years left on his contract that he signed back in the 2016 offseason. Are the Timberwolves a playoff team without Butler? Likely not. That seems to be what is holding Thibodeau back from making a deal. If Thibodeau leads the Wolves to a non-playoff finish, he could be out the door, and that non-playoff finish becomes even more likely without Butler.
On the other hand, there is upside to moving Butler. Getting something for Jimmy now is better than losing him for nothing later. There is a chance that Thibodeau could find a deal that sets the Wolves up well for the future, to fit in with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. So, let’s run through trades that every team in the NBA could offer that would set the Wolves up well enough for Tom Thibodeau to keep his job. It’s time for NBA teams to call and say “Gimme Jimmy.”
*Trades below are deals that I believe the Minnesota Timberwolves would/should accept. All trades work through the ESPN NBA Trade Machine.
Sixers get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Markelle Fultz and Robert Covington
We start off with the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers are young and poised for another breakout season. Many experts project the Sixers to finish in the top-three in the Eastern Conference. However, adding Jimmy Butler to the roster could make them the favorites in the East. In return, the Wolves get an established veteran in Robert Covington, and a still promising talent with Markelle Fultz. Just entering the prime of his career, Covington averaged 12.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season. Covington shot 36.9% from three and could slide right into the Timberwolves starting lineup as a small forward with Andrew Wiggins as the shooting guard. Markelle Fultz gives the Timberwolves the future piece that they are looking to add in a Jimmy Butler trade. Fultz had a disappointing and very interesting rookie season in the NBA, to say the least. His jump shot was broken last season. However, Fultz worked with Drew Hanlen over the offseason, and the shot looks better, not great, but better. All in all, this would be a complete package for both teams.
Celtics get: Jimmy Butler and Gorgui Dieng
Timberwolves get: Gordon Hayward
The Boston Celtics are a team that I thought would be very involved in the Jimmy Butler talks when he requested a trade from the Wolves. One of Butler’s good friends, Kyrie Irving, is on the team, and the Celtics have the assets to pry Butler away from the Wolves. However, there doesn’t seem to be any steam on Butler to the Celtics. Boston seems to be content with staying the course with their young core and letting them gel into a championship-caliber team. But, there could be a way to get Butler without giving up a young piece. Offering Gordon Hayward, who is coming off a season where he played five minutes, would be a safe option for the Celtics. Butler would slide in and fill the spot that Hayward opens in the lineup. Butler would fit in nicely with Brad Stevens, competing on every possession on the defensive end of the floor. For the Timberwolves, they get a high-level player that can help them stay in the playoff picture this year and into the future. While it may not be the most futuristic trade for the Timberwolves, acquiring an all-star caliber player and getting off a bad contract would be a win for the franchise.
Nets get: Jimmy Butler and Gorgui Dieng
Timberwolves get: Allen Crabbe, Kenneth Faried, and D’Angelo Russell
The first report that came out about Jimmy Butler’s preferred destination listed Brooklyn as a team of interest. However, Brooklyn’s name hasn’t come up much since. The Nets have a load of expiring contracts they can offer to the Timberwolves that allows them to take on salary. But, the Nets may not be too interested in taking on a lot of future salary because they are in line to have two max contract slots next summer. But, locking up a star player on the roster is worth it. D’Angelo Russell had a solid season in Brooklyn last year averaging 15.5 points and 5.2 assists per game, but he played just 48 games. Russell has missed 55 games in his first three seasons in the NBA, not a great number. Trading Russell, for an also injury-riddled Butler is worth the price. Russell will be a restricted free agent next summer, likely looking for a nice payday. If the Nets want to sign two max contract players, they may not have room for Russell anyway. For the Wolves, getting a player of Russell’s caliber that still has good potential, along with dumping Dieng’s contract would make the sour taste in the mouth of Wolves fans a tad less sour.
New York Knicks
Knicks get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Courtney Lee and Kevin Knox
Remember, these are trades that the Minnesota Timberwolves would or should do. Are the Knicks really going to offer Knox in a trade with the Wovles? Probably not. But, would the Wolves do a trade with the Knicks that doesn’t include Knox? Probably not. Point being, there is not a great match between the New York Knicks and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Courtney Lee would fill the Wolves’ immediate shooting needs, and Kevin Knox would be a great piece next to Karl-Anthony Towns to build for the future, but it just isn’t happening. Call me the first to be wrong if the Knicks and Timberwolves somehow come to terms on a Jimmy Butler trade.
Raptors get: Jimmy Butler and Gorgui Dieng
Timberwolves get: Kyle Lowry and C.J. Miles
Oh boy. Could you imagine a Kawhi Leonard/Jimmy Butler defensive duo? Opposing teams would be better off not crossing the border into Canada. That reason alone makes this trade worth the cost for the Raptors. In the case of the Timberwolves, they would be getting a veteran all-star in Kyle Lowry that can keep the team afloat this season. Yes, the Wolves have Jeff Teague, but getting Lowry would still be a win for Minnesota. In addition, adding three-point shooting with Miles, a guy Minnesota pursued in the summer of 2017, would bolster a Timberwolves bench unit that ranked towards the bottom of the league last season. Finally, as a cherry on top, like most of these trades, dumping Dieng’s salary allows the Timberwolves to possibly create more wiggle room in the years to come. The Raptors are a team that I would keep my eye on in talks about Jimmy Butler, especially if the talks with the Heat never pick back up.
Bulls get: Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau
Timberwolves get: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen
The pettiness would be real.
Cavs get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Kevin Love
First off, this trade can’t happen right now. The Cavaliers re-signed Kevin Love over the summer, so he isn’t able to get traded until January 15th. However, if Butler is still a member of the Timberwolves come January, this trade makes sense for both sides. It is possible the Wolves could go into the season with Butler. Then, if Butler is still set on leaving the organization in the summer, the Wolves may have no choice but to trade him at the deadline. This leaves the Cavaliers as a great trade option. Offering Kevin Love at the trade deadline would be a hard offer to refuse if you’re Minnesota. Love had a successful first stint with the Wolves that ended on a bad note. However, pairing Love with Karl-Anthony Towns could turn out to be a very deadly duo, at least on offense. If push comes to shove and Jimmy Butler is still on the Wolves at the trade deadline, don’t be surprised to see the Cavaliers make a push.
Pistons get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Stanley Johnson, Reggie Jackson, and Khyri Thomas
The Pistons made a ton of moves last year. The deal to bring in Blake Griffin at the trade deadline was the biggest deal of the regular season. So, don’t be surprised if the Pistons got back in on the action with the next star player to be moved. The Pistons have some promising assets that could entice Minnesota to make a deal. Stanley Johnson is a young wing that has shown flashes on both ends of the court. While he doesn’t shoot the three-point shot at an effective clip, his defensive ability would be welcomed in Minnesota. Khyri Thomas is another young wing that has the potential to develop into a capable NBA player. The 2018 second-round pick out of Creighton is known for his defense, something the Timberwolves aren’t known for. Finally, Reggie Jackson comes in, makes the salary work, and can help the Wolves stay competitive this season. Jackson likely would not have much of a future in Minnesota, but he could be re-routed to a point guard needy team like the Suns.
Pacers get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Aaron Holiday, Thaddeus Young, and a protected first-round pick
The Indiana Pacers have reportedly not shown great interest in Jimmy Butler. Pairing Butler with Victor Oladipo seems like a worthwhile idea, but Indiana seems content with the pieces they have. For the Timberwolves, Holiday, Young, and a pick would be a solid return for the all-star wing. The Timberwolves showed interest in Holiday during the pre-draft process, but went with a more versatile defender in Josh Okogie out of Georgia Tech. Young played in Minnesota previously, but as an expiring contract, he could fill in as a great role player for Tom Thibodeau. The protected first-round pick is an extra asset that would give the Timberwolves multiple first-round picks in an upcoming NBA Draft.
Bucks get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Khris Middleton and Tony Snell
Early on in the Jimmy Butler trade request, there was a report that the Bucks had expressed interest in Butler. In fact, there was a report from Darren Wolfson that the Bucks had offered the Timberwolves Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon in exchange for Jimmy. However, the Wolves would need more for their all-star. A package involving Khris Middleton would get the Wolves to pull the trigger. Middleton is a solid defender and a great offensive player that doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make plays. In addition, Snell is a three and D wing that has ties to Tom Thibodeau. For the Bucks, getting Jimmy Butler to slide in next to Giannis would highly increase their chances in the weaker Eastern Conference.
Heat get: Jimmy Butler and Gorgui Dieng
Timberwolves get: Josh Richardson, Hassan Whiteside, and a first-round pick
The Miami Heat. The most talked about team in the Jimmy Butler sweepstakes. In fact, the Heat and Wolves came close to a deal for Butler last weekend, before the Wolves asked for more and Pat Riley reportedly hung up the phone and called Thibodeau a mother****er. After that report surfaced, it seemed like it would be hard for talks to pick up again; however, when teams were that close to a deal, it’s hard to see the two not coming to terms on some sort of middle ground. In fact, that middle ground, at least for the Timberwolves could be Josh Richardson, a young wing on a team-friendly deal, Hassan Whiteside, makes the cap work and provides interior defense, and a first-round pick to bring in a future young player. That seems reasonable for the Timberwolves at this point. For the Heat, getting Butler, which would allow them to re-sign him next summer, brings a star back to Miami. Ever since LeBron left, the Heat have been mediocre at best, Butler can help change that. While talks may currently be stalled, if I was a betting man, I would put my money on Butler being in a Heat jersey before the season ends.
Hornets get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Malik Monk, Jeremy Lamb, and Marvin Williams
First and foremost, this trade is not happening. The chances of Jimmy Butler being traded to the Hornets are little to none. However, it’s not a bad trade for either team. The Wolves get a young guard in Monk that still possesses a ton of potential. While Monk had a rough rookie season, he is currently averaging 11.3 points and 4.7 assists per game this preseason. In addition, Monk is making 40% of his three-point attempts in preseason action. Yes, it’s preseason, but it appears that Monk is primed for a much better sophomore campaign. Additionally, Jeremy Lamb gives the Wolves another wing that had his best season of his career last year with the Hornets. Lamb has one year left on his contract, but Lamb is a more than serviceable wing in today’s fast paced game. Finally, Marvin Williams makes the salary work and provides the Wolves with even more shooting. For a team that didn’t make many threes last season, all three of these players would provide a boost for Minnesota. For the Hornets, what do they have to lose? Why not try and make a splash, pairing Butler with Kemba Walker and see how far they can get in the Eastern Conference. If it doesn’t work, reset over the summer and go into a rebuild.
Wizards get: Jimmy Butler and Gorgui Dieng
Timberwolves get: Otto Porter Jr. and Ian Mahinmi
The Wizards need to make a play on Jimmy Butler. Washington has been stuck in the middle of the Eastern Conference for what seems like forever. If Washington could get Minnesota to bite on a deal that basically swaps Porter Jr. for Butler, that is a must for the Wizards. For Minnesota, they could do worse. Getting a younger wing that has already had proven success in the NBA is a win for the Timberwolves. In addition, swapping Dieng and Mahinmi is a win for Minnesota. At the same salary figure, Mahinmi has just two years left on his deal, where Dieng has three years remaining. One downside for the Timberwolves in this trade is the money the team would owe Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Otto Porter Jr. With each of those players being on a deal over $25M a year, the future cap space for the Timberwolves would be ugly.
Hawks get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Jeremy Lin, Kevin Huerter, and John Collins
Add this to the list as one of the most unlikely trade scenarios for Jimmy Butler. Again, this is deal that Minnesota would at least think about from other teams, there is no chance the Hawks would actually do this. For the Wolves, getting two youngs guys in Huerter and Collins would help them build around Karl-Anthony Towns. Adding Lin helps with guard depth, but he wouldn’t be around for more than a season, unless Minnesota lets Tyus Jones walk next summer. If this trade happens, check on me and NBA Twitter, because nobody would be able to handle it.
Magic get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Evan Fournier and two future first-round picks
What are the Magic doing? If anyone can answer that question, hats off to them, because that team has problems. Taking a chance on Butler would likely not be worth it for Orlando, considering Jimmy would likely bolt after the season. However, getting Fournier and a couple future picks would be an okay return for Minnesota. Fournier would slide into the starting two-guard position for the Wolves and help them win games this season. The future picks would allow Minnesota to draft young, cheap talent in the NBA Draft. Again, unless the Magic are really looking to take a chance and they don’t care about their future, this trade isn’t happening.
Golden State Warriors
Not applicable. I don’t even think the Warriors would pick up the phone. The Timberwolves wouldn’t do anything without Klay Thompson, and the Warriors aren’t giving up Klay.
Kings get: Jimmy Butler and Gorgui Dieng
Timberwolves get: Buddy Hield, Iman Shumpert, Zach Randolph, and Ben McLemore
The Sacramento Kings have been in rumors with the intention to get involved in Jimmy Butler trade talks. However, the Kings aren’t trying to get involved for Butler. Sacramento is trying to get involved to take on salary cap in hopes of gaining extra draft picks. So, this is another trade that is not the most likely to happen. However, getting Jimmy Butler would quicken Sacramento’s rebuild, even if he was there for just one season. For the Timberwolves, Buddy Hield is a solid future piece that drills threes. The ability to get off Dieng’s contract while taking on three expiring contracts is also a win for Minnesota.
Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lonzo Ball
Off the bat, this trade can’t happen until January. Since KCP was signed by the Lakers over the summer, he is ineligible to be traded until January 15th. But, if Butler is still with the Wolves come January, this trade could make some sense for both sides. For the Lakers, pairing Butler with LeBron James would be an obvious choice. Butler is the ideal second option on a championship-caliber team. In Minnesota’s case, getting an expiring contract in KCP, that they can re-sign if they would like, and a young point guard in Lonzo Ball would be a solid return around the deadline. I am a firm believer in Lonzo Ball. So much so that I don’t know if Magic Johnson would do this trade at the deadline. Either way, this trade makes sense for both parties if Butler is still in Minnesota as the deadline nears.
Los Angeles Clippers
Clippers get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Tobias Harris and Milos Teodosic
The Los Angeles Clippers were one of Jimmy Butler’s initial preferred trade destinations. So, if Butler was traded to the Clippers, there would be a great chance that he would re-sign with the team over the summer. For Minnesota, getting Tobias Harris would be golden for the franchise. Coming off a breakout season that saw Harris average 18.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, Harris could slide into the hole left by Jimmy Butler. In addition, Harris is a free agent at the end of the season, so Minnesota would have a chance to ink him to a long-term extension. Teodosic fills in for the money, but is a serviceable backup point guard. With Minnesota already having more than enough point guards, Teodosic could be re-routed in another trade.
Suns get: Jimmy Butler and Gorgui Dieng
Timberwolves get: T.J. Warren, Tyson Chandler, and Troy Daniels
The Phoenix Suns are an aggressive team, there is no doubt about it. After firing a good chunk of their front office, speculation is that the team wanted to be more aggressive on the trade front. What gets more aggressive than acquiring one of the best wings in the NBA? The Suns would create a great partnering between Butler and Booker that would have the perfect mix of defense and offense. Minnesota would also get some valuable pieces back in the deal. T.J. Warren is a great forward that can put the ball in the basket. While it may be tough to pair Warren and Andrew Wiggins together because of the lack of three-point shooting, there is little doubt about Warren’s scoring ability. In addition, Troy Daniels would provide the Wolves with the three-point shooting that I have talked so much about in this article. Finally, Tyson Chandler would slide in as the team’s backup center with Dieng on his way to Phoenix. If the Suns really want to get aggressive, a move for Jimmy Butler would be bold, but possible.
Mavericks get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Wes Matthews and Dennis Smith Jr.
It’s hard to see the Mavericks moving on from Dennis Smith Jr. in just his second season in the NBA. Smith Jr. had a great rookie season averaging 15.2 points and 5.2 assists per game. The Timberwolves would be getting their point guard for the future. With Wes Matthews, the Timberwolves get a great three and D player with the ability to start or come off the bench. For Dallas, they get their star to pair with Luka Doncic and company. A Dallas lineup of Doncic, Butler, Barnes, Dirk, and DeAndre Jordan could do some damage, even in the Western Conference. Even though it may not look like a good move to trade Dennis Smith Jr., there are a number of great upsides to take the risk if you are the Mavericks.
Rockets get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker
This is the trade idea that has been floating around Rockets Twitter for weeks. Rocket fans are excited of the possibility of adding Butler to a core of Harden, CP3, Capela, and that Carmelo fellow. If the reports are true that the Rockets are holding back because of their reluctance to include Tucker in the trade, they need to bite the bullet. Tucker is a very valuable player for Houston, but Jimmy Butler does everything Tucker does at a way higher level. It may be tough for Houston to move on from two of their most valuable role players, but this is Jimmy Butler we are talking about. The NBA is a star-oriented league and adding Butler puts Houston even closer to the Warriors. For Minnesota, it may not be the sexiest trade, but Tom Thibodeau wants to win now. This would be a trade for the present. Gordon and Tucker would come in, provide the toughness that Thibs is looking for, and keep Minnesota in the playoff race this season.
New Orleans Pelicans
Pelicans get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Wes Johnson, Nikola Mirotic, and a first-round pick
Should the New Orleans Pelicans be worried about Anthony Davis leaving in the future? If so, it’s time to make a move to convince him to stay in New Orleans. Adding Jimmy Butler to the roster, in my opinion, bolts New Orleans into the three spot in the Western Conference. With a lineup of Jrue Holiday, Jimmy Butler, Solomon Hill, Julius Randle, and Anthony Davis, there is no saying how much damage the Pelicans could do in the West. After trading for DeMarcus Cousins two seasons ago, it’s clear the Pelicans are willing to take risks to keep Davis happy. For Minnesota, the main return is Nikola Mirotic and the first-round pick. Mirotic is great at stretching the floor, and he played for Thibodeau in Chicago. The first-round pick lets the Wolves continue to add cheap youth to their roster, something they will need to do because of their salary cap. Finally, Wes Johnson is a filler that can slot in and provide wing depth if needed, but he is an expiring contract. If there is a secret team that nobody sees trading for Jimmy Butler, it could be New Orleans, based off the potential rewards for the Pelicans.
San Antonio Spurs
Spurs get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: LaMarcus Aldridge
Once again, mark the San Antonio Spurs as one of the most unlikely trade destinations for Butler. With Lonnie Walker IV and Dejounte Murray being injured, it would be hard to see either one included in a trade. That leaves LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge thrived in San Antonio as the main option with Kawhi out last season. Getting Aldridge to pair next to Towns would be a great offensive frontcourt for Minnesota. For San Antonio, getting Jimmy Butler allows the Spurs to add on to the next generation of Spurs players. Butler would be great with Popovich, but the fit next to DeRozan would be tough. Neither DeRozan or Butler are great three-point shooters, which could complicate spacing. However, if there is anything to know about the Spurs, it’s that they will figure it out. If they get talent in the building, the Spurs will get the best out of those players and make it work. It’s not a likely trade, but is an interesting proposition for both sides.
Grizzlies get: Jimmy Butler and Gorgui Dieng
Timberwolves get: Mike Conley and Garrett Temple
The Memphis Grizzlies are ready to put their name back in the playoff conversation in the Western Conference. A season ago, Memphis sustained too many injuries, and they wound up with the fourth pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. This season, Memphis could be back to playing grind it out basketball to get some wins. Jimmy Butler is the ideal player for the type of basketball Memphis plays. Butler would fit in great to their defense-oriented culture. The Timberwolves would be getting a proven player back in the deal with Mike Conley. Coming off a season that saw Conley injured, he will be looking to regain his form this season and get back to being one of the top point guards in the NBA. However, there is risk involved for the Timberwolves. Conley is on a massive contract. Conley still has three years at $30M a season remaining on his deal. That would mean the Timberwolves would be locked into paying Towns, Conley, and Wiggins max money for the next handful of seasons. There isn’t a great match between Memphis and Minnesota when it comes to Jimmy Butler, but if talks ever happened, this would be the kind of deal to expect.
Nuggets get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Gary Harris and a first-round pick
The Nuggets always seem to be a sleeper team when star players are mentioned in trade talks and for good measure. The Nuggets have the assets to pull off a trade for Jimmy Butler. With guys like Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, there is enough value in those guys to entice Minnesota. In fact, I think Minnesota would be happy with just one of them and a pick. Gary Harris averaged a career-high 17.5 points per game last season on 39.6% shooting from three. At just 24 years old, Harris is still developing and could become one of the top shooting guards in the NBA before it’s said and done. For Denver, they get another veteran to add to their lineup and a good one at that. Butler would provide the Nuggets with defensive intensity, something Denver lacks. In addition, Butler’s ability to impact games at the end would help Denver close games in crucial situations. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I think the Denver Nuggets have a better chance at acquiring Jimmy Butler than some may think.
Jazz get: Jimmy Butler
Timberwolves get: Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder
There is little chance that the Utah Jazz want to move anyone with value on their team. The chemistry and togetherness of Utah is part of the reason they were so successful last season. But, since the article is about trades the Timberwolves would do, getting Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder would allow Wolves fans to be happy with the trade package. Ingles is a sniper from three. In addition to shooting 44% from three last season, Ingles is a great distributor. For someone that is considered a forward in the NBA, averaging 4.8 assists per game last season is no joke. Along with Ingles, Jae Crowder would give the Timberwolves a tough-minded defender. Crowder is a fierce defender, something Tom Thibodeau would love. Finally, even though Crowder and Thibodeau got into some arguing last season, I think they could both move on.
Oklahoma City Thunder
No logical match. There doesn’t appear to be a great trade match between the Thunder and Timberwolves. The Thunder aren’t parting with George, Westbrook, or Adams, which makes a package undesirable for Minnesota. Without loading a trade with picks and young talent, something the Thunder don’t have a lot of, there is no clear path to a trade between Minnesota and Oklahoma City.
Portland Trail Blazers
Blazers get: Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton
Timberwolves get: C.J. McCollum
What to the Blazers have to lose? The Lillard and McCollum pairing hasn’t made noise in the playoffs yet, so why expect that to change? The Blazers could take a chance on Butler and hope it pays off come playoff time. Butler is a player that wins games for your team, and he does it on both ends of the court. For Minnesota, this would be the ideal return. To get a player of McCollum’s caliber in a trade for Butler would be everything Minnesota could ask for. McCollum would come in and keep the Timberwolves in the playoff picture now and in the future. For both teams, this seems like a blockbuster trade that should happen, but won’t.
The NBA is at an all-time high. The main reason the NBA is gaining popularity is because of the on-court play. However, the off-court activity has a great impact as well. In addition to the madness during free agency and at the trade deadline, burner accounts have begun to play an interesting role in the NBA. It first started with Kevin Durant replying to a fan from what was supposed to be a second account. Unfortunately for Durant, the message was sent from his main account. Then, this summer, Bryan Colangelo was caught with burner accounts that gave secretive information about the 76ers. So, with all these burner accounts, I decided to create some fake tweets from fake accounts. The first team I looked at was the Minnesota Timberwolves Burner Account Tweets.
The first-year point guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves had an up-and-down season. Long time Timberwolf Ricky Rubio was loved by fans around Minnesota everywhere. What the Wolves should’ve done at point guard is the main topic of the first burner tweet.
The Timberwolves signed Andrew Wiggins to a max contract last summer. Even though the team showed faith in Wiggins, Wigs effort on the court last season remained subpar. Wiggins’ contract and effort provide a great second burner tweet.
At this point, everyone knows about Jimmy Butler’s frustration with the Timberwolves’ young players and their effort levels. That alone made for an interesting Jimmy Butler burner account tweet.
It seemed like Taj Gibson was one of the only Timberwolf players last season that didn’t have an rumors flying around his head. In a lot of ways, Gibson holds the Wolves together, on and off the court.
KAT is one of the most exciting young talents in the NBA. Towns is in line to receive a max contract this summer, after the inevitable meeting with Glen Taylor to make sure Towns is committed to winning. That meeting that Taylor had last summer with Wiggins is where this burner tweet stems from.
If you watch the Minnesota Timberwolves, you know that Tom Thibodeau loves to yell. What is his favorite word? ICE. ICE.
After the Kawhi Leonard trade that sent him to Toronto and DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio, the Thunder dumped Carmelo Anthony on the Hawks in order to lighten their luxury tax bill. With free agency for the most part behind us, teams will start revving up trade talks before training camp starts. The question is, now that Leonard has been dealt, who is the next star player to find himself in a new city.
Possible trade partners: Blazers, Wizards, Pacers
Best trade offer: Love to the Blazers for Evan Turner, Anfernee Simons, future first-round pick (top 10 protected).
The Blazers are over the luxury tax and need to make a deep run in the playoffs to make it worth wild. The western conference has gotten stronger this offseason and the Blazers are being left behind. Adding Love, who grew up in Oregon, would give the Blazers a third star to pair with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Turner hasn’t been an ideal fit with Lillard and McCollum and has negative trade value. Pairing him with the high upside Simons and a first round draft pick should be enough to get the Cavaliers to trade away the 30 year old, injury prone Love.
Just because the Cavaliers recently signed Love to a contract extension, that doesn’t mean they won’t trade him if the right offer comes along. The extension is a win-win for Love and the Cavaliers. For Love, he has locked up an additional $120 million dollars. For the Cavaliers they have a star player on the roster long term if they choose to do a quick rebuilding. However, if the team struggles and they decide to take the long term rebuilding approach, a new team will like that Love is locked up through the 2022-2023 season. Assuming the Cavaliers trade Love, the Blazers can offer back a solid package. Turner has only two years left on his deal and is a good locker room guy. Simons is a 19 year old kid with some athleticism and upside to him, that should get plenty of minutes on a rebuilding team. The first round pick would give the Cavaliers another asset to help rebuild around Simons, Larry Nance Jr., and Collin Sexton.
Possible trade partners: Knicks, Nets, Suns
Best trade offer: Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Frank Kaminsky to the Knicks for Joakim Noah, Kevin Knox, future first-round pick (top seven protected).
For the Knicks, this is the kind of move that pushes all the chips all in for a chance to make a run as the top team in the eastern conference starting in 2019. Finally being able to shed Noah’s contract for the 2019 offseason, the Knicks will have a projected $46 million dollars in cap space with the cap holds for Walker and Kristaps Porzingis. Both Lamb and Kaminsky are free agents after the season and should be renounced. The Knicks can use the cap space to add a third star in free agency and still have enough room left over to add another starting caliber player, then resign Walker and Porzingis using their bird rights. While giving up the first round pick and the promising Knox is a tough pill to swallow, getting rid of Noah’s $19.3 million dollar salary for the 2019-2020 season is critical.
Given all the bad contracts on their roster, the Hornets best course of action might be to trade Walker for young assets, bad contracts and rebuild long term. Taking back Noah’s contract isn’t ideal but they could work towards a buy out in order to save some money. Like Knox, Miles Bridges had an impressive summer league and looks like a future impact player. The Hornets would likely have two lottery picks next year to go along with Malik Monk, the 11th pick in the 2017 draft, Bridges and Knox that can help jump start their rebuilding process. The best part about this deal for the Hornets is it keeps them out of the luxury tax; which is critical for a rebuilding team.
Possible trade partners: Lakers, Clippers, Knicks, Nets
Best trade offer: Butler to the Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, future first-round pick (top three protected).
With the reports that Butler is frustrated with the young Wolves players and won’t resign with the team this coming offseason, they should look to move him for the right package. So, who wouldn’t love to play on the wing with LeBron James in Los Angeles. If the Wolves fear they will lose Butler next summer they could look to trade him for a younger player and an expiring contract given their long term cap issues. With both Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns up for contract extensions next season, the Wolves will be very deep in the luxury tax penalty in 2019. Caldwell-Pope is a 3&D guy who can help this season and is on an one year deal. Ball is only 20 and while his rookie season was a disappointment to some, maybe a change of scenery will help. For the Wolves, Butler didn’t really fit their long term plans while a trio of Ball, Towns and Andrew Wiggins (all 23 or younger) could turn into the next great big three.
Now the James is a Laker, the team’s mindset has totally changed. Ball is no longer the focal point of the team. The Lakers can finally have enough with LaVar Ball and ship Lonzo off to Minnesota much easier now; especially if it lands them a star player. Butler would be able to play off the ball better than Ball and guard the other team’s best player. The Lakers would now have two star players and several of their young players still on the roster, setting them up for a big summer in 2019 where they could add a third star.
Possible trade partners: Celtics
Best trade offer: Towns, Jeff Teague for Kyrie Irving, Aron Baynes, Robert Williams, Kings 2019 first-round pick (top one protected).
Reportedly, Butler wants to team up with Irving, his best friend, this offseason. Also reportedly, Butler has grown frustrated with the young Wolves players. If the Wolves want to keep Butler long term, getting Irving would certainly help. While giving up Towns is tough, the Wolves would get back two big men in the trade, a likely top five pick and the multi time all-star Irving. Baynes would provide some size and veteran leadership, while Williams is a raw and athletic 20 year old kid. If the Wolves can resign Butler and Irving next summer and add a nice prospect with the Kings 2019 first round pick, this trade will be a steal for them.
The report that Butler wants to team up with Irving next season has to be concerning for the Celtics as well. However, the Celtics won 55 games and went to the eastern conference finals last season despite Irving missing 22 games in the regular season and not playing a minute in the post season. The combination of Teague and Terry Rozier would give the Celtics solid enough production to replace Irving. The biggest factor for the Celtics is they would have control of Towns as he is a restricted free agent next season. The Celtics have struggled at times rebounding the ball when Al Horford is playing at center. Meanwhile, Towns’ has averaged 11.7 rebounds per game for his career. Lastly, Horford can become a free agent after the season and at 33 years old, the Celtics may not be so inclined to give him a long term deal at a big salary given they have to think about locking up Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum in the coming years.
One would need unhealthy doses of both Magic Johnson’s beaming confidence and LaVar Ball’s unflappable optimism to claim with a straight face that the Los Angeles Lakers got everything they wanted this offseason.
Of course, LeBron James was the biggest piece of the Lakers’ plan for the immediate future, and the franchise was quick to get him under contract soon after free agency opened.
But it was no industry secret that the Lakers’ summer goals involved teaming LeBron with at least one more All-Star, be it Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins in free agency, or Kawhi Leonard or Damian Lillard in a trade. Some dream scenarios had the Lakers bringing in two stars to flank LeBron and creating an instant contender.
So far, however, the Lakers have failed to land any of those big-name targets. George decided to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Cousins joined the Golden State Warriors. Leonard was traded to the Toronto Raptors, and the Lillard trade talks didn’t materialize into a deal.
Barring a surprise move, the Lakers will begin the 2018-19 season similar to how the Cleveland Cavaliers ended the 2017-18 season — with a roster that features LeBron leading a collection of youngsters and veteran role players.
No one outside of the Lakers’ front office knows exactly what the plan is moving forward, but the end-goal is obviously to contend for NBA titles. Which means competing with the Warriors. Which means having the offensive firepower to keep up with the Warriors. This means the Lakers may have to reach back into the archives and create a team that is reminiscent of their “Showtime” glory days from the 1980s.
And who better to build that team than Magic Johnson?
Whether it’s at the 2019 trade deadline or next summer’s free-agency period, there are some available players that can truly bring the “Showtime” element back to L.A.
5. Ricky Rubio
Word on the street is that LeBron wants to move away from playing de facto point guard, and it looks like the Lakers are trying to facilitate that by employing true playmakers like Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo.
As brilliant as he is at orchestrating an offense, it’s not a coincidence that Rondo has played on five teams in the past four seasons. He’s clashed with enough coaches and teammates that it seems no one is willing to commit more than one season to him despite his talent and his knack for stepping his game up in the playoffs.
If things go according to trend, Rondo won’t be with the Lakers after next season.
At the same time, Rubio will be a free agent after next season. And as I’ve written before, Lonzo Ball would be in pretty good shape if he were to put together a career using the Rubio and Rondo blueprint. (Jason Kidd would be the ceiling in that scenario.) So if the Lakers lose Rondo, bringing in Rubio would be the next best fit for that style of point guard.
Rubio is an incredible passer (7.9 assists per game in his career), a defensive playmaker (2.0 steals per game) and a good rebounder for his position (seven games last season of 10-plus rebounds). He and Ball, like Rondo and Ball, have similar skill sets, all the way down to their suspect jump shots.
Rubio currently has a nice gig in Utah as the starting point guard on a playoff team. But if he wants to be on a championship contender sooner than later, he might be willing to accept a lesser role in L.A.
4. DeAndre Jordan
During his last season in Cleveland, LeBron reportedly wanted the Cavaliers to make a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers for Jordan. It wasn’t difficult to see why.
Jordan is one of the more explosive athletes at his position in the league. He’s a three-time All-NBA pick, one-time All-Star, two-time All-Defensive pick and a two-time league leader in rebounds.
His offensive game doesn’t go far beyond catching lobs, getting putbacks and dunking the ball, but at least he knows what he can and can’t do and stays within his limitations. Jordan has led the league in field goal percentage five times — last season was the first time he hadn’t been No. 1 in that category since 2012 — and he is the NBA’s career leader (67.3 percent) in field goal shooting.
Surrounded by great passers like LeBron and Lonzo (and Rubio?), Jordan would thrive like he did when he played with Chris Paul in L.A.
Jordan left the Clippers this summer to sign a one-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks. He’ll be a free agent next summer. After coming up short in the playoffs so often in L.A., and being on a likely lottery team next season in Dallas, he may be another player interested in winning a title with the new-look Lakers.
3. Klay Thompson
One player who certainly has his share of championship rings but may have other priorities next summer that work in the Lakers’ favor is Klay Thompson.
The four-time All-Star shooting guard has won three NBA titles with the Warriors, and will be favored to add a fourth ring in 2019. After that, he’ll become a free agent.
Because he has previously been the No. 2 and now the No. 3 option with the Warriors, and perhaps because he’s been labeled by many as a shooting specialist rather than an all-around star, Thompson hasn’t been making superstar-level money. He’s not broke by any stretch — his salary is $18.9 million next season — but he hasn’t yet cracked that $20 million mark that often represents real superstardom in the league.
Klay is also an L.A. native whose father, Mychal Thompson, won championships with the Lakers in the 1980s. There may be a part of Klay that wants to wear the purple and gold for the hometown squad.
Klay won’t rise beyond being the No. 2 option in L.A. as long as LeBron is around, but he could get out of the No. 3 spot he’s currently in behind Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, if that means anything to him. Like De Andre Jordan, Thompson would benefit a lot from having passers like LeBron and Lonzo getting him the ball, and he could continue winning championships.
2. Jimmy Butler
While his game isn’t flashy like the style that the name “Showtime” brings to mind, Butler is simply a great all-around player who excels on both ends of the court that would make the Lakers a real title contender if he joined the team.
The 6-foot-7 wing achieved the NBA triumvirate of individual honors last season: He was named to the All-NBA, All-Star and All-Defensive teams for the Minnesota Timberwolves. But there have been reports that Butler isn’t happy in his current location, talk that only gained traction after he recently turned down a $100 million contract extension offer.
Butler has a player option that allows him to become a free agent in 2019. If he chooses that route, the Lakers should be among the teams pursuing him. Butler was a tough rival for LeBron when they were both in the Eastern Conference, so the two know each other’s games well.
Viewed as more grit than glamour on the court, Butler is nonetheless a versatile weapon (22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.0 steals per game last season) who is one of the game’s elite talents.
1. Kawhi Leonard
After LeBron, the Lakers’ top target this summer was Leonard. Of course, the hard part would be prying the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and 2014 NBA Finals MVP away from the San Antonio Spurs via trade, when it was widely reported that the Spurs really preferred not to deal with the Lakers.
Still, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Leonard would be headed to L.A. Not only had he burned his bridges in San Antonio and made it clear he didn’t want to be there anymore, but he’d also reportedly made it clear that he planned to sign with the Lakers as a free agent in 2019. That took away the incentive for a lot of teams to pursue a trade, if Leonard would be a one-year rental at best.
The Lakers still failed to get their man. The Spurs traded Leonard to the Toronto Raptors.
But that may turn out to be a good thing for the Lakers. In order to get Leonard this summer, L.A. would’ve had to trade some valuable pieces from their young core. To get Leonard next summer, L.A. just needs some room under the salary cap, which they should have.
Injuries (and a rumored disinterest in playing when he was healthy) caused Leonard to miss all but nine games last season. But when he’s at the top of his game, Leonard is one of the best players in the league. He finished in the top-3 of MVP voting in 2016 and 2017. In his last full season, he averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
Like Butler, Leonard is not a flashy player. He’s just highly skilled, productive and tough. Which is what “Showtime” is really all about in the first place: Winning games and hanging banners. Leonard can help the Lakers get back to where they used to be.
Before we get into the “Top 25 Players in the NBA,” I need to preface by saying this is if everyone is healthy in the league. For example, I did not lower Kawhi Leonard’s rank because he barely played last season. So, here it is, my “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#25: Ben Simmons
I have already prepared myself for the reactions to the 25th ranked player in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. People are going to say that Simmons is already a top-20, or even top-15 player in the NBA. However, why? I am not saying that Simmons is not going to be a top-10 player in the league one day, but I do not understand how people already have him ranked so high.
Simmons had a very good rookie year in the NBA. Averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game, Simmons ran away with the Rookie of the Year. What makes Simmons’ stats even more impressive is the fact that he did not make a single three last season. With the way the modern NBA is trending, having a non-shooting ball-handler is uncommon.
While Simmons did not make any threes last season, that did not slow him down. Take a look at the GIF below.
It never seemed to matter how far off Simmons’ defender played him last season. Simmons would always find a way to get to the basket and finish at a high clip. Converting on 69.8% of his shots at the rim, Simmons was well-above the 63.1% league average. Just because Simmons is currently ranked 25th in my rankings, it will not be long before he slides into the top-15, and the top-10 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#24: LaMarcus Aldridge
NBA fans often forget how dominant LaMarcus Aldridge really is. Remember his days in Portland? The dude was a walking double-double. Then, he gets out of the spotlight in San Antonio and people forget about him. Aldridge is still one of the most dominating big men in the NBA.
Averaging 23.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season, it is time to acknowledge how talented Aldridge is. LMA led a Kawhi-less Spurs team to the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference. Yes, Gregg Popovich is a mastermind, but teams do not make the playoffs in the West without talent on the court.
Aldridge’s 29.1% usage rating last season was the highest it has been in his career with San Antonio. Aldridge made it work too. Developing his game to continue to fit the modern NBA, Aldridge posted the highest offensive rating of his career. Fans often forget about how good Aldridge is, it is time to continue to acknowledge that fact.
#23: Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is one of my favorite players to watch in the entire NBA. His skill set for a center is wildly unheard of, but wildly productive. I mean, come on, how many NBA centers can make this pass?
Jokic’s basketball IQ and passing ability alone make him one of the top centers in the NBA. However, there is so much more to his game. With averages of 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game, Jokic brings it all to the table.
Perhaps the biggest improvement in his game last season was his three-point shooting. The Joker attempted a total of 280 threes last season, connecting on 39.6% of the attempts. Jokic has made it a point of emphasis to continue to adjust his game to stay up-to-date with the modern NBA.
Last season, 27.7% of Jokic’s attempted field goals were from three-point territory. The season before, just 16.3% of his shots were from three. This is a good sign for the Nuggets and their big man. Jokic has been able to adapt and stay productive while the league changes. This is why Jokic is in my top-25 and why Denver just inked him to a max contract.
#22: DeMar DeRozan
Another season has gone by and another season has ended for DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors at the hands of “The King.” After going into the playoffs as the top seed in the East, the Raptors did not even manage to win one game against Cleveland in the second round. However, this does not alter DeRozan’s playing ability.
Last season marked the fifth straight year that DeRozan posted at least 20 points per game. Recording 23 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game, DeRozan solidified himself as one of the game’s top two guards. Having his usage rate drop from 34.3% in the 2016-17 season to 29.6% in the 2017-18 season, DeRozan remained effective attempting the most threes in his career, and connecting at the second-highest clip on those shots in his career.
In addition, DeRozan posted a 9.6 win share stat, making him one of the most valuable players in win shares in the league. Most of the stats speak for themself. DeRozan gets to his spots on offense, and he takes advantage of his matchup. There was little debate in my mind when deciding if DeRozan belonged in the “Top-25 Players in the NBA” list.
#21: Rudy Gobert
Mark Rudy Gobert down as one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Gobert is not a flashy player by any means, which is why he is seldomly mentioned in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” conversation. Just because Gobert is not a three-point shooting five does not mean he is not one of the best centers in the league.
Gobert does most of his damage on the defensive side of the ball. Averaging 2.3 blocks per game last season, Gobert solidified himself as one of the best paint-protectors in the league. However, there is more to his game than his defense. Gobert recorded 13.5 points per game last season while shooting 62.2% from the field, a career-high. Yes, most of these points came on dunks or lobs from the “Spanish Unicorn,” but that is where Gobert does his damage.
It is mind boggling why Gobert is not talked about more often. His stellar 122 offensive rating and 99 defensive rating should put him in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” with few questions asked.
#20: Victor Oladipo
Who would have thought that one year ago at this time that we would have Victor Oladipo in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA”? What a year it was for Oladipo with the Indiana Pacers. Oladipo silenced all his haters averaging 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. Vic led the Pacers, who were a projected lottery team, to the fifth seed in the East and took LBJ and the Cavs to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
I had trouble finding a spot for Oladipo in the rankings because of how unexpected last season was. But, when you look at all the numbers as a whole, he definitely deserves to be in the top-20. In addition to his gaudy offensive numbers, Oladipo averaged 2.4 steals per game, ranking him first in the NBA last season. The winner of the Most Improved Player is bound for another successful 2018-19 season. His determination to win was on full display right after the game seven loss to the Cavs. The first thing he did after the game was text his trainer asking him when the work started up again.
#19: Paul George
Well, Thunder fans, PG13 is there to stay. Congratulations. One year after you traded for a “rental,” the team has convinced a top-20 player in the NBA to stay in Oklahoma City. Now, Thunder fans may be wondering why George ranks lower than others have him in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. Averaging 21.9 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game, PG13 had an interesting season adjusting to the OK3.
In my opinion, George hasn’t been the same since his gruesome injury with Team USA. He has not been as explosive and does not show the same burst he showed in those playoff battles against LeBron and the Heat. This was to be expected based on the injury, but that is the biggest reason he is 19th in the rankings. In addition, George has never been a great clutch player, often underperforming in crucial situations.
This season, George shot 42.2% from the field in the fourth quarter. In addition, he shot 38.3% from three in the fourth quarter. Now, do not get me wrong, 38% from three is not a bad number, but it is lower than his 40.1% from three throughout the season. Finally, who can forget game six of the playoffs last season against the Utah Jazz. In an elimination game, George juiced just five points. Paul George is a great player, I am not trying to say he is not, but for me 19 is where PG13 belonged on the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” list.
#18: Karl-Anthony Towns
The Big KAT had a terrific third season in the NBA, and now he is going to get paid. Karl-Anthony Towns is reportedly in negotiations with the Minnesota Timberwolves on a five-year, max contract. Towns made his first all-star appearance last season and he is not looking back.
Documenting 21.3 points per game and 12.3 rebounds per game, Towns was one of the most versatile offensive bigs in the NBA. Notice how I said offensive, because his defense is a whole different discussion. Towns shot 42.1% from three-point range last season, the highest percentage of any Wolves player. Ranking 14th in the NBA in percentage from downtown, Towns has adjusted his game with the modern NBA.
Helping lead the Wolves to their first playoff series in over a decade, Towns had a disappointing playoff series. Averaging just 15.4 points per game and shooting under 50% from the field and under 30% from three, Towns had a less than pleasing first playoff series of his career. However, in games three, four, and five of the series against the Rockets, Towns was back to averaging 21 points a night. He struggled mightily in the first two games, but seemed to overcome his struggles and put it past him.
As one of the most versatile bigs in the NBA, Towns already ranks in the top-20. But, it will not be long before he is in the conversation for the top-10 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#17: Klay Thompson
Mark me down as a firm Klay Thompson believer. What he does every night for the Golden State Warriors is invaluable. Thompson is one of, if not the best, shooter in the NBA. Averaging 20 points per game last season on 44% shooting from three-point range, Klay solidified himself as the best third option in the NBA. Imagine what Klay could be doing as the first option on a team? He is a free agent in 2019, could we see him as a first option?
Getting past his future with the Warriors, when we look at Klay Thompson’s game, it is nothing but good things. We all know about his stellar shooting and his ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the court, but what some people do not know about is his defensive ability. Watch below as Klay Thompson absolutely locks down Paul George as the shot clock expires. Not many people can hang with a top-level offensive player like PG13, but Klay Thompson can.
#16: Joel Embiid
Trust the Process. Well, the process is working. It will not be long before Joel Embiid is a top-10 player in the NBA. Playing in 63 games last season, the Kansas big man averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds per game. Embiid did work in every facet of the game shooting over 48% from the field and recording 1.8 blocks per game. However, there is still work to do if Embiid wants to be a top-10 or top-5 player in the NBA.
The first thing is development from three. In his “rookie” season in the NBA, Embiid shot 36.7% from three, a very respectable percentage for a big man. However, last season, that percentage dropped to 30.8%. There is potential for Embiid to have his downtown shooting percentage climb, and he will need it to climb to take the next step.
In addition, speaking in general terms, Joel Embiid has the mindset and attitude of a top-level NBA player. Embiid cares about one thing and one thing only: winning. Whether you like it or not, Embiid’s trash talking on the court helps him gain an edge and it causes problems for opponents. Joel Embiid is on his way. Even though I do not have him ranked as my top center, it should not be long before “The Process” claims that spot in “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
I already know it is coming. People are going to think I am crazy for putting Cousins ahead of Embiid. Since these rankings are not taking injuries into the picture, Cousins still ranks as my top center. People forget of how dominant Cousins is. Players feed the ball down low and Boogie gets a bucket, it is usually as simple as that.
Cousins was having a career-year before going down with injury last season. Posting 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game, Cousins looked primed to appear in his first playoff series. Unfortunately, the NBA Gods had different ideas. But, the injury does not take away from the player Cousins is. DeMarcus Cousins is, plain and simple, dominant. His footwork on the low-post and his continued development from three make him the most effective center in the NBA and 15th in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#14: Draymond Green
There are fans of the NBA who cannot stand Draymond Green, and I am in the same boat. However, I respect him as a player and the energy that he brings to the game. It hurt me to put him 14th in these rankings, but it was what he deserved. Green affects the game in so many ways that the Warriors would not be the same without him. He does it on offense, defense, leadership, and of course, in trash talking.
There is not a player in the NBA that I can think of who plays with more energy than Draymond Green. Green is pure heart and effort every time the ball goes up in the air. Yes, his passion for the game can get him in trouble from time to time, but his passion is usually used positively. Green averaged 11 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game last season. However, it is what does not show up in the box score that makes Green a difference maker. Green’s 105 defensive rating and 6.1 defensive win shares make him one of the top defenders in the NBA.
Another part of Green’s game that makes him so good is his ability to play the five. The Warriors made the small-ball lineup a thing, using Green at the five. This death lineup is what makes the Warriors so good. Teams can try to put Green in a pick-and-roll when he is at the five, but Green has the ability to switch onto guards and shut them down. It is unfair at times and part of the reason he ranks 14th in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#13: Damian Lillard
“Dame Dollar.” “Big Game Dame.” Whatever you want to call him, Damian Lillard is a special talent. While he has never found much success in the postseason, Lillard is one of the best guards in the NBA. His shiftiness and sudden explosion make him a must-watch. Filling it up with 26.9 points and 6.6 assists per game last season, Lillard had arguably his best season in his career.
Lillard made 227 threes last season, just two less than his career-high, which he posted in 2015-16. Dame kept defenders guessing last season. If the defense came up and pressed Lillard, he would explode past them and finish at the rim. If the defense laid off, Lillard would pull up from Mars and drain a long three in your face. Don’t believe me? Check out his game-winner against the Lakers below and think again. There’s no reason that Lillard should not be in the top-15 of any “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#12: John Wall
Why is everyone starting to hate on John Wall? He gets hurt for one season and everyone is starting to act like he is falling off. No way. Not a chance. John Wall is still one of the most dominant and explosive points guards in the association. Even after injury last season, Wall managed to post 19.4 points and 9.6 assists per game. No, he was not his normal self, but that is expected coming off an injury that sidelined him for more than a month.
No matter what anyone says, there shall be no John Wall slander. Wall is one of the toughest covers in the entire league, and when he brings out the gang signs, it is over. The speedster has never been a great three-point shooter or defender, and he might never be. However, the way he attacks the rim and creates for his teammates, Wall deserves to be 12th in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#11: Jimmy Butler
Jimmy Buckets. All kinds of rumors are surrounding Butler and the Timberwolves this summer. There have been recents reports that Butler will not re-sign with the Wolves. There has been reports that he is unhappy with the effort shown by Karl Towns and others. If you need a refresher on the whole situation, I broke it down in an article. Anyways, on to Butler as the player. Butler is the second-best two-way player in the NBA (behind Kawhi.) There are no words to describe his value to the Timberwolves last season. Without him, the Wolves would have been in the lottery and nowhere near a playoff team.
To further prove that point, Butler missed 23 games last season. The Timberwolves were 10-13 without Butler last season. With him, the Wolves were 37-22. Butler was one of just a handful of Timberwolf players that decided to play defense last season. Butler’s defense was so good that the Wolves held opponents to 7.2 points lower in offensive rating when Jimmy was on the floor. Jimmy, along with other veterans like Taj Gibson, was the main reason the Wolves did not allow 150 points per game.
In addition, Jimmy got his buckets. His 22.2 points per game led the Timberwolves. Furthermore, Butler was who the Wolves went to when the team was in dire need of a basket. Butler was the go-to man down the stretch and led the Timberwolves to the playoffs.
#10: Chris Paul
What could have been. That will be the question in NBA and Rockets fans head for the months leading up to the 2018-19 season. The Rockets were one game away from defeating the “undefeatable” Golden State Warriors. Then, Chris Paul went down with an injury at the end of game five that kept him out of game six and seven. Paul’s value to the Rockets was much more than scoring, finding teammates, and defending. Paul was a leader on and off the court for Houston.
Multiple times throughout the season, the Rockets looked like they would fall apart during a game; however, they held on. Why? Chris Paul. Paul kept the team together in games that were spiraling out of control. Paul got the team buckets when they needed them most, and he controlled the game like a true floor general. While CP3 posted his second-lowest assist total of his career, the ball was out of his hands a lot. People wondered how he and James Harden would co-exist. And to put it lightly, I think they did just fine.
Chris Paul seems to fit in nicely with whoever he plays next to. He is the true definition of a great leader and a great teammate. The only thing preventing CP3 from being ranked higher than 10 is the other unearthly players sitting higher in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#9: Kyrie Irving
Another great “what if” story from the NBA last season. The Boston Celtics took the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics did so without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. So, Boston fans everywhere are dreaming over what could have been for the team last season if even Irving stayed healthy. In his first season post-LeBron, Irving averaged 24.4 points and 5.1 assists per game. His handles and offensive wizardry continued to dazzle in Beantown.
I have Irving ranked as my third best point guard, behind Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry. However, at just 26-years-old, Irving is bound to soon be the top point guard in the league. It is amazing what Irving is doing at such a young age. If injuries stay out of his way, top-5 is on the way for the former Duke guard in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#8: Giannis Antetokounmpo
For the longest time, the Greek Freak was on his way. Well, it is official, he has arrived. Now the best player in the East with LeBron gone, Antetokounmpo is just what his nickname says “a freak.” Giannis recorded 26.9 points and 10 rebounds per game last season. Every season that he has been in the NBA, Antetokounmpo has made a jump in PPG from the previous season. If that continues, it will not be long before Giannis is averaging 30 PPG.
In addition to his ridiculous scoring numbers, Giannis is a terrific passer and defender. Averaging 4.8 assists per game last season, Giannis made defenses pay when they doubled him. On defense, he recorded 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. His length and athleticism makes him a top-five two-way player in the NBA. Before you start debating whether Giannis should be ranked as the top player in the Eastern Conference without LeBron, chew on this:
#7: Russell Westbrook
For the second season in a row, Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double. I do not care what you think of stat-padding or anything of that nature, averaging a triple-double is impressive. The amount of energy Westbrook puts forth every night is next to none. Westbrook plays with a similar intensity as Draymond Green. Ever since Kevin Durant left the Thunder, it seems like that energy has doubled. Westbrook is out to prove something, and he wants to prove it with a championship.
Ranked as my number two point guard on the list, it is Westbrook’s explosiveness and offensive abilities that get the job done. Averaging 25.4 points per game last season, Russ shot 44.9% from the field. His 5.5 offensive win shares makes you realize just how great Russ is on that side of the ball. If Westbrook could develop a 36-40% three-point shot he would be virtually unstoppable. The only chance teams have of stopping Russ is letting him shoot and hoping he misses. Because once he gets to the rim or on the fastbreak, it is game over.
#6: Kawhi Leonard
The summer of LeBron was quickly flooded by the summer of Kawhi. After requesting a trade out of San Antonio, fans have been on the edge of their seats waiting to find out where Leonard will land. Leonard has been on the record saying he wants to be in Los Angeles, but there might not be a deal that makes sense for the Spurs/Clippers/Lakers. Wherever Leonard lands, the team will be getting the top two-way player in the game.
After basically sitting out an entire season, it is easy to forget just how good Kawhi is. He is nicknamed “The Klaw” for a reason. Kawhi absolutely shuts down the opposing team’s best player each and every night. He has made a living on the defensive side of the ball. His defense is what got him into the NBA. Kawhi was never a great offensive player coming into the league, but his defense was enough to get him a spot.
Since he has been in the league, Kawhi has developed his offense. Kawhi is now one of the biggest offensive threats in the NBA. His ability to knock down shots and over power people on the way to the rim make him such a scary matchup. If Kawhi Leonard played last season, and we were able to see his further improvement, he very well could have made the top-5 in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#5: James Harden
Yes, your eyes are not lying. I have the MVP ranked fifth in my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings. James Harden is great, that is not a question, but there are just players that do more than Harden. Harden makes his living on the offensive side of the ball, and in particular, at the free-throw line. Harden attempted over 10 free-throws per game last season. His 8.7 points per game that come from the stripe accounted for 28.6% of his total points.
There is no doubt there is a skill in getting to the free-throw line, but sometimes the way Harden gets to the line is hard to watch. His flopping and wild body movements draw the refs into a ton of whistles when there is really no contact. This, along with his sub-par defense, which is recently improved, made Harden land in the five hole in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA.”
#4: Steph Curry
The former two-time MVP and unanimous MVP has a great story. The sharpshooter was labeled as “too small” coming into the draft. People thought that he was just a cinderella story that went to Davidson, and they predicted Curry would fall off the map. Well, Golden State took a chance on Steph, and boy has it paid off. Curry takes the most threes out of anyone in the NBA. Curry attempted 501 threes last season in just 51 games, that is almost 10 threes a game. And, while he attempts those 10 threes a game, he connects on 42.3% of them.
Hats off to Steph Curry. The NBA has arguably changed because of guys like Curry who attempt threes in bunches. Curry has no problem pulling up and shooting from anywhere on the court. He is one of the deadliest offensive players the NBA has ever seen. Widely regarded as one of the best shooters in the history of the NBA, there was little doubt to put Curry in the four spot in the “Top 25 Players in the NBA” rankings.
#3: Anthony Davis
When DeMarcus Cousins went down with an injury last season, most thought the Pelicans playoff hopes were over. Anthony Davis had different ideas. Davis averaged 28.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game last season. He continued to develop his game to fit the modern NBA, shooting 34% from three. In addition to the offensive work he put in, Davis showed his worth on defense too. Recording 2.6 blocks per game, Davis made any player think twice before testing him in the paint.
Davis has the potential to be one of the all-time greats. Yes, I said it. At just 25-years-old, Davis is showing how good he can be. If Davis can continue to develop his three-pointer and start winning more playoff games, he will be first on the list before too long.
#2: Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is great. There is no other way to put it. What KD does on a nightly basis is unheard of. The two-time champ is the best pure scorer the game has ever seen. Durant fills it up in so many different ways. He will take you off the dribble and finish at the cup. Durant will explode by you just to stop and pop from mid-range. Or, he will not worry about dribbling at all and just take a 30-foot bomb that he knocks down with ease.
There are so few words as to how one would describe Kevin Durant and the way he can score. So, I am going to leave it as that. As the best pure scorer the NBA has ever seen, KD will go down as an all-time great.
#1: LeBron James
LeBron James tops off my “Top 25 Players in the NBA” list. When I said it was hard to describe Kevin Durant? It is even harder to describe LeBron James. What LBJ did this past season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, leading the team back to their fourth straight finals appearance is only supposed to be possible in movies. LeBron James single-handedly dragged the Cavs to the finals, and that is an understatement. And if it was not for J.R. and his foolishness in game one of the NBA Finals, who knows how that series plays out.
LeBron James is simply great. Perhaps the greatest to ever play the game. Now, in Los Angeles, LABron will continue to cement his legacy as the best player in the NBA.
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