If there’s one thing a top-heavy Western Conference contender built on the ball-dominant shot-creation of two ornery superstars locked in an “unsalvageable” personality conflict needs, it is an infusion of noted mature adult in the room and agreeable teammate Jimmy Butler. Thankfully, that is exactly what the Rockets are after this summer: Jim Butts himself.
Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday that Rockets general manager and bonafide mover-and-shaker Daryl Morey is determined to recruit Butler in free agency, even while his Rockets do not currently have the salary cap room to offer him anything other than one or another of the various roster exceptions. Where that lack of flexibility might be seen as fatal to a lesser personnel honcho, Morey reportedly has a plan for working his way around this:
Once free agency starts on Sunday, the Rockets are planning to recruit Jimmy Butler to push the Philadelphia 76ers for a sign-and-trade deal that would allow the All-Star forward to join James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston, league sources tell ESPN.
The Rockets don’t have the salary-cap space to sign Butler, so they’d need the threat of the Sixers losing him for nothing to a team with the available room to motivate Philadelphia into a trade. The Rockets also would potentially need to make this a multi-team deal to satisfy the rules of base year compensation that would cover Butler’s outgoing salary.
So there are obstacles to getting this done. For one, the Sixers very much intend to keep Butler around long-term, especially after sending away multiple useful players to acquire him last season. For another, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks explains, a CBA device called base year compensation makes the math even trickier than usual for salary matching purposes, which is a consideration in any trade featuring the Rockets, who are operating above the salary cap. Morey tried to work a Butler trade when Butler was agitating his way out of Minnesota, to no avail, but now he’s at least got a chance to bring Butler in on the process. It’s probably a long shot, but if there’s a general manager in the NBA who can navigate all this crap, it’s probably Morey.
Which frankly is great news for the rest of us. The Rockets are a toxic soup of contrasting interests, conflicting personalities, and competitive frustration. Morey has already signaled his willingness to shop everyone not named James Harden in trades this summer. The best part of this report is that it implies that Chris Paul and his kerjillion-dollar contract would still be on the Rockets in this scenario, leaving roughly zero payroll dollars left for anyone not named James Harden, Chris Paul, or Jimmy Butler. The thought of those three sharing a locker room, surrounded by second-round rookies, developmental league standouts, and minimum-salary veterans, irritating the absolute shit out of one another on and off the court, is extraordinarily tantalizing. It would be looney of Jimmy Butler to join these Rockets, but that’s exactly why it could happen, and is exactly why it must happen.