With free agency in full swing, the Jimmy Butler sweepstakes are beginning to heat up. According to the latest report from ESPN’s Senior NBA Insider, Adrian Wojnarowski, the Houston Rockets are pursuing a sign-and-trade for Philadelphia Sixers All-Star.
At the moment, the Rockets do not have the cap space to sign Butler in the free agent market. If they want to make it happen, a sign-and-trade is the only realistic scenario.
What is a sign-and-trade?
A sign-and-trade deal in the NBA is a type of agreement in which one team signs an unrestricted free agent to a new contract with the intention of immediately trading the player to a different team. This type of deal is rare for the league and usually explored when a team is interested in signing a free agent but does not have the cap space to add the player in free agency.
Under the new CBA, a sign-and-trade deal allows the unrestricted player to sign a larger contract with his original team before being traded to a different team. In the trade, the team receiving the unrestricted free agent would then be required to send contracts or future draft selections back in order to meet the salary-matching rules. This is where these type of trades get difficult.
How the Rockets could trade for Jimmy Butler
Seeing as the Rockets can’t go any further over the cap to sign Butler in free agency, a sign-and-trade is their only scenario of landing him. In order to do so, they would need to trade a variety of their current contracts to match the impending contract that Butler will receive. As for Butler, signing a max contract with the 76ers gives him the most potential money he could make, a four-year, $146.5 million deal. If the 76ers have interest in signing and trading Butler to the Rockets, it would be a win-win for both sides. Butler would receive a max contract and the 76ers would get assets back rather than losing Butler for nothing in return.
The 76ers, meanwhile have a large offseason in front of them. A likely contender for years to come, the 76ers are built around young stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Although their core is set in place, the 76ers have several key unrestricted free agents this offseason; other than Butler, Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick are both set to hit the market. The 76ers have expressed interest in resigning Butler, but he declined his contract option with the team and now can sign where he wishes. If Philadelphia fears losing Butler in free agency, a sign-and-trade may be the only option to get assets in return for one of the most coveted free agents on the market. As for what those assets would be, we have posed a realistic trade scenario that would land Butler in Houston.
Philadelphia 76ers trade: Jimmy Butler (after signing him to a max four-year extension)
Houston Rockets trade: Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Two future first-round selections
With the 76ers potentially also losing Harris and Redick in free agency, the addition of Gordon and Tucker would provide much-needed depth for Philadelphia. The two future first-round picks would also be valuable assets, whether the 76ers hold onto them or use the picks as trade bait in the future. Although the following trade would appear to work well for both sides, it still would not meet the salary-matching rules.
Gordon and Tucker’s contracts combined are less than that of Jimmy Butler, which makes taking on Butler’s max contract still difficult for Houston. Assuming Butler receives a max four-year deal, he will make an annual salary upwards of $35 million. Combined, Gordon and Tucker are set to make close to $20 million this upcoming season, meaning that the Rockets would need to clear $10-15 million more in cap space for the trade to work. The Rockets would also likely need to find a trade partner for center Clint Capela, who is currently on a five-year, $90 million contract.
Capela is set to make more than $15 million this upcoming season and if the Rockets can dump his contract, it would fulfill the perfect amount needed to match Butler’s salary. The latest rumors indicate that the Boston Celtics and Rockets have had discussions about a potential trade involving Capela, but nothing more than that.
There’s still a lot to unfold and many particulars to figure out to make this potential deal work, but if the Rockets want to acquire Butler, they only have one path.