Last summer, the Chicago Bulls traded Jimmy Butler to the new version of the 2011-12 Chicago Bulls—and shockingly, he might not have a desire to spend the prime of his career playing for a team attempting to relive a failed past.
What does that mean, exactly? We can only speculate.
It’s safe to assume that Butler isn’t terribly excited about having to play with the exact players and a head coach—except now older, grumpier and worse than they were—that never truly competed for a championship.
At the expense of developing young players, Tom Thibodeau appears more concerned with bringing the ol’ band back together—but Butler, like any self-respecting player, probably doesn’t have much interest in carrying a group of veterans for novelty purposes. It’s like being a young rock star, surrounded by a bunch of washed up former hit-makers whose skinny jeans don’t quite fit anymore, and whose long locks have been replaced by sad gray patches.
Butler is notorious for his competitive drive—and that, too, has played a part in his displeasure with the Wolves. Karl Anthony-Towns is among the league’s best young players, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously and it’s been problematic for the team’s locker room.
The Wolves traded Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and a seventh pick that turned into Lauri Markkanen for Butler—so they’ll do all it takes to re-sign him when he becomes a free agent this summer. In the event that Butler wants out, though, the Wolves will have to consider dumping him to salvage any trade value he has left.
That’s where the Washington Wizards come in.
Since he’s on the final year of his contract, the Wolves can’t expect to get a haul in return. Teams will be reluctant to part ways with building blocks out of fear that Butler will leave to join, say, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, who will undoubtedly express interest.
That doesn’t mean the Wizards shouldn’t make a call—and perhaps even close a deal. And now more than ever, the Wizards are in a position to convince Butler that D.C. is the place to be.
The window is closing in Washington
John Wall said it himself: teams need three stars to really compete for a championship nowadays. It’s why he was publicly advocated for a Paul George trade.
The Wizards’ day-one plan was to find those stars through developing high draft picks in Washington. Wall is 28 years old, going into his ninth season and has only played with one All-Star in his career. He’s suffered a few knee injuries, including last year when he missed half the season.
If the Wizards want to make a run at it, now is the time.
Washington has made the playoffs four times with its current core of Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, and the team has yet to make it past the second round. Sure—they’ve competed. Pushing the Boston Celtics to a Game-7 was encouraging—but that was two years ago, and the team failed to make progress after its defeat, getting kicked out in the first round and barely making the playoffs the following year.
The team—save the injury excuses, please—has regressed.
All teams should compete to win a championship and the Wizards have a few players who are capable of being stars on a championship-quality roster. Right now, the Wizards have 2.5 stars, with Porter putting up orgasmic advanced statistics, but never able to really—like a star—finish when it matters. Butler could be that third star, adding the extra competitiveness the Wizards lack.
Time is not on the Wizards’ side. They no longer have the luxury of waiting for Wall and Beal. Before you know it, they will both be in their thirties, having never gotten to the Eastern Conference, and the management will want to run it back—again, for the 12th straight season.
Continuity is fine—until it morphs into insanity.
The East is actually open
Remember last year, when the Cavaliers were struggling and people thought the East was “open”? Those people - myself included—forgot about LeBron James. The guy was going to make the NBA Finals and nothing—not Isaiah Thomas nor a Kardashian infiltrating the locker room - was going to stop him.
But he’s actually gone now.
Above all, Butler wants to win. The Wizards, like the other 14 teams in the conference, will say they have just as good of a chance as anyone. LeBron’s gone, after all.
The King’s departure has helped level the playing field, but it’s far from even.
The Boston Celtics were close to making the finals despite missing Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. They’re both returning and Jayson Tatum has a year of pro basketball on his resume. The Celtics have three All-Stars, an elite young wing and depth in the backcourt with Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. They’re the favorites—as they should be.
Add Butler to the Wizards, and things get a lot more leveled.
A core of Wall, Beal and Butler puts the Wizards right atop the East, on par the Celtics and the Kawhi Leonard-led Toronto Raptors. That team would have a real chance to make the Eastern Conference Finals—and if things fell into place, a real chance to compete for a championship in the last round.
That sort of competitiveness could entice Butler to re-sign and continuity, at that point, would be justified.
Is the locker room fragile? Are there questions about how Butler would get along with Wall and Dwight Howard, both of whom have had issues lately? They’re all valid concerns, but they exist even without Butler on the team.
The 76ers are surging and the Celtics will be a contender for a while. Washington’s window for success isn’t as wide as it used to be. Getting Butler would expand it—and give the team an actual reason to be optimistic.