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What would it cost the Denver Nuggets to trade for Jimmy Butler?

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Could the Nuggets pull off a trade for a star 2 guard a la 2012?

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Did ya see the news this weekend?

Apparently Jimmy Butler is going to have a very honest sit down about the future of the Minnesota Timberwolves with head coach and general manager Tom Thibodeu. Butler has already declined a 4 year extension offer from the T-Wolves, presumably under the assumption that he can get a better deal if he waits until next summer. However, there have also been whispers that there is more to the story than that. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times reported that Butler wants to team up with Kyrie Irving at some point in the near future. The story also suggests that Butler is frustrated with Karl-Anthony Towns’ nonchalant attitude and approach to the game.

There are plenty of signs that seem to pointing towards an ugly divorce but what if Minnesota decides to cut bait early, as in, before, during, or shortly after training camp? What if they realize that Butler is hellbent on leaving so they decide to move him while he still has a year’s worth of value? What would it cost the Denver Nuggets?

A couple of weeks back I tweaked the Star Trade Value (STV) system, taking into account a few things like relative value of players going out vs. players going in, and updating our data set since I hadn’t used the system in about 3 years. It’s not a fool proof system. It hasn’t been rigorously tested, it’s sample size is too small, and there’s likely some important variables that aren’t being included. I’m not selling this thing (it is trademarked though so if you want to cut me a check then by all means).

Back to Butler. In Cowley’s article it sounded pretty clear that if Jimmy were to leave Minnesota, he would want to head back to the Eastern Conference and team up with Kyrie. Supposedly that’s what he wanted last offseason as well when both players were getting traded so one can only imagine with LeBron James’ exodus, Butler is even more keen to go East.

The Boston Celtics, Irving’s current team, absolutely have the assets to trade for Butler. Either Jason Tatum or Jaylen Brown could be the centerpiece of a Butler deal to Boston but the Celtics would have a hard time coming up with other players to include in the trade to make the salary match. Boston has acquired three star caliber players in each of the last two offseasons, two of whom were brought in via free agency. So their salary cap is top heavy with players that they wouldn’t include in a Butler deal (Al Horford, Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving), and the rest of their cap-sheet is made up of relatively small deals or guys on rookie contracts. (It gets a whole lot easier for the Celtics to make a trade after January fifteenth when newly extended Marcus Smart becomes eligible to be included in a trade.)

However, players’ plans to assemble a superteams have fallen short before. Chris Paul never ended up with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire in New York, for example. There’s also the chance that the Timberwolves won’t want to wait until Boston can put together a package that includes Smart if another worthwhile offer is on the table earlier in the season.

Enter the Denver Nuggets.

The Nuggets are not going to sign Kyrie Irving in the offseason. For starters they’d have an extremely hard time coming up with the cash to get Irving and Butler here unless they decline Paul Millsap’s option, trade Mason Plumlee, and move on from some other guys on the roster. According to Zach Lowe with ESPN, the Nuggets flirted with the idea of trading for Irving last year but ultimately didn’t get too far in the discussions. Lowe explained that, in addition to uncertainty surrounding a Irving-Nikola Jokic defensive duo, Denver was unlikely to surrender assets for an impending free agent. Reading between the lines, it also didn’t seem like Kyrie had much interest in the Mile High City.

Butler is a different story though. His friendship with Denver Bronco Demaryius Thomas is well documented. In fact, Thomas went as far as to post a picture on Instagram of the two working out together this Summer with a caption that stated “we working...working to see both of us playing for Denver sports teams.” And just this week Butler was on Instagram again and still in Denver.

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preparing for the big stage with @jamesscott.fit

A post shared by Jimmy Butler (@jimmybutler) on

So what would it take to get Butler in a Nuggets uniform? Well, for starters about $140 million over the next 4 years ($35 million per season on average) which does create some long term complications in itself. More importantly though, Butler is one of the best players in the league and therefore is going to require a pretty trade package to acquire. It doesn’t really matter that his growing discontent in Minnesota is out in the public, as long as one other team will want to trade for him (and there will be several) the Nuggets will have to put together a good enough package to beat it, regardless of the Timberwolves lack of leverage. Back to STV, luckily star trades have been happening left and right so we’ve got a nice, current, guideline to reference.

STV - Star Trade Value

Player traded WAR Good prospect/NBA Starter Solid prospect/NBA role player NBA Veteran Long shot prospect Cumulative WAR STV
Player traded WAR Good prospect/NBA Starter Solid prospect/NBA role player NBA Veteran Long shot prospect Cumulative WAR STV
Paul George* 8.75 Victor Oladipo Domantas Sabonis N/A N/A 4.94 1.77
Chris Paul 13 Lou Williams Montrezl Harrell Patrick Beverly Sam Dekker 8.87 1.47
Jimmy Butler 10.26 Lauri Markkanen Zach Lavine N/A Kris Dunn 3.18 3.23
Demarcus Cousins 8.57 Buddy Hield Tykreke Evans N/A Langston Galloway 3.99 2.15
Kawhi Leonard** 12.16 Demar Derozan Jakob Poetl N/A N/A 5.94 2.05

A quick couple things to note: Butler is on the list already. Huzzah! However, the Chicago Bulls performed the worst of anyone by this measure when it comes to trading their star player. The Timberwolves should expect to get more for Butler if they trade him than what they gave up to acquire him in the first place. The second thing to point out is that outside of Chris Paul, Butler has the highest rated averaged WAR of any star player (Kawhi Leonard’s number also includes Danny Green). Remember, we average WAR over the three previous seasons at the time of the trade so now accounting for Butler’s first year in Minnesota, which was pretty much on par with Butler’s career in terms of production, his average WAR is now 10.17. The average STV score in the table above is 1.86, two standard deviations from that gives a range of 1.25 to 2.47. For the sake of our exercise, it’s going to be a requirement to land in that range. Lets spin the trade machine!

A Nuggets friendly deal

In every Nugget fan’s mind, a deal for Butler that doesn’t involve Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray or Gary Harris is ideal. Unfortunately, to put it plainly, it’s extremely unlikely. Argue all you want about leverage, beating a package of Mason Plumlee, Trey Lyles and Malik Beasley is not hard and any number of teams could do it. On the STV side it doesn’t grade out either, registering a score of 3.51; worse than what the Bulls got on their actual Butler trade which, again, graded out worse than any other trade we looked at, and also outside of our allowable range for an STV score.

Lyles Plumlee Beasley

Player traded WAR Good prospect/NBA Starter Solid prospect/NBA role player NBA Veteran Long shot prospect Cumulative WAR STV
Player traded WAR Good prospect/NBA Starter Solid prospect/NBA role player NBA Veteran Long shot prospect Cumulative WAR STV
Jimmy Butler 10.17 Trey Lyles Mason Plumlee N/A Malik Beasley 2.9 3.51

What the Wolves want, what the Wolves need

ANGER! OUTRAGE! Nuggets fans everywhere are closing their laptops in disgust. Without a doubt though, this is where the Wolves are going to start the conversation. And here’s the thing: they’re not wrong to want this and might not even be wrong to expect it. This is where STV has value. From a Nuggets fan’s viewpoint this is an awful trade but STV might tell us something different. On the Nuggets fan side, Denver is giving up their young core for a 29 year old player. Now, obviously this deal would only be considered if Butler agreed to play in Denver long term but even if that is true the price paid feels ridiculous. Is it though?

Harris Murray

Player traded WAR Good prospect/NBA Starter Solid prospect/NBA role player NBA Veteran Long shot prospect Cumulative WAR STV
Player traded WAR Good prospect/NBA Starter Solid prospect/NBA role player NBA Veteran Long shot prospect Cumulative WAR STV
Jimmy Butler 10.17 Gary Harris Jamal Murray N/A N/A 6.92 1.47

By STV, this is a pretty swell deal for the TWolves, but not out of the question. This deal falls within the allowable range and has the exact same score as the Houston Rockets trade for Chris Paul. However, it’s still undoubtedly a better deal for Minnesota than it is Denver. Unlike the Rockets, the Nuggets don’t need to shed salary. While they do have to match salaries with Minnesota, they aren’t in a trade for him now or he walks in free agency next week scenario. The Rockets had to include Lou Williams and Patrick Beverly to make the deal work financially and didn’t have the benefit of time to debate the merits of adding those guys to the deal.

The Nuggets, on the other hand, have more options with their contracts to mix and match salaries to get where they need to go. Also, Denver has more flexibility thanks to a $30 million team option on Paul Millsap, meaning the prospects of re-signing Butler while still carrying a guy like Gary Harris are more stomachable than trying the re-sign CP3 and Clint Capela while also re-upping Williams. Bottom line, good deal for Minnesota, plausible deal, but not likely.

Swing back the Nuggets way

I think this is the deal most Nuggets fans are selling themselves on. They give out a high-ceiling young prospect in Michael Porter Jr, a quality backup for Towns in Plumlee and a solid young player in Lyles. Add in the first round pick and it feels like we should have a deal, right? Well actually no, not by STV at least, though it is close. The STV rating for this deal is 2.65, just outside of the 2.47 max of our range. In theory, if Minnesota is desperate and if things are getting worse by the day and if Boston refuses to add Tatum or Brown to a deal and if the Lakers refuse to add Ingram or Lonzo ball to deal then yes, this deal could have some traction. Problem is, we stacked up three “ands” right there and all have to happen to make this deal feasible. This package is a long shot at best.

Lyles Plumlee Porter

Player traded WAR Good prospect/NBA Starter Solid prospect/NBA role player NBA Veteran Long shot prospect Cumulative WAR STV
Player traded WAR Good prospect/NBA Starter Solid prospect/NBA role player NBA Veteran Long shot prospect Cumulative WAR STV
Jimmy Butler 10.17 Trey Lyles Mason Plumlee N/A Michael Porter Jr 3.84 2.65

The Fair Deal

And we have a winner! Here’s the issue the Nuggets face, Murray and Harris is too much, but either by themselves is not enough. Using Harris as the centerpiece is difficult as well because Harris is a significant salary and Harris plus one of the Nuggets other power forwards, even Lyles, doesn’t quite get into the allowable STV range. Murray however doesn’t carry the same dollar figure as Harris while having similar production meaning one of the Nuggets other prime contributors with a decent salary can be added to the deal. In this case it’s Plumlee who is a bit overrated by the system because it’s accounting for his last full season in Portland, which was also his best season as a pro and the last season he spent as a full time starter. Still, 1.65 is on the high end of the STV range. Dropping Plumlee’s last full year in Portland, or dropping both his last full year in Portland plus the year he was traded and only taking into account last season still only pushes the STV score to 2.3, which is still within the allowable range. Likewise, if the Wolves wanted the Nuggets to sweeten the deal they could swap out Plumlee for Will Barton, but that would tilt the trade pretty heavily in favor of Minnesota and couldn’t be completed until after December 15th when Barton is eligible to be traded. Plus, with Justin Patton going down with another foot injury, one has to wonder if the Wolves wouldn’t want Plumlee more. Lastly, Lydon is pretty much a throw in, whether it’s Lydon, Juancho Hernangomez, Malik Beasley or Trey Lyles, the STV score doesn’t change very much.

Murray Plumlee Lydon

Player traded WAR Good prospect/NBA Starter Solid prospect/NBA role player NBA Veteran Long shot prospect Cumulative WAR STV
Player traded WAR Good prospect/NBA Starter Solid prospect/NBA role player NBA Veteran Long shot prospect Cumulative WAR STV
Jimmy Butler 10.17 Jamal Murray Mason Plumlee N/A Tyler Lydon 6.18 1.65

Ideally, the Nuggets could find a way to land him without giving up any of their core but it’s very hard to make up a package that’s realistic without Harris or Murray.

There is of course another option the Nuggets have: wait it out. With Millsap’s team option available at the end of the season and Lyles as an expiring contract, it wouldn’t take a whole lot for Denver to be able to create the cap room to sign Butler outright in the offseason. It likely means losing Millsap (unless he re-signed on a very team friendly deal) but when you consider that Butler is younger and the Nuggets have Lyles, Hernangomez, Lydon and Vlatko Cancar in their pipeline plus ideally some PF minutes end up going to MPJ then at the end of the day maybe swapping Millsap for Butler is the best direction to head towards.