Heat Check

Could Butler be next disgruntled star Heat targets? Plus, Ellington watch continues

Minnesota Timberwolves’ Jimmy Butler, left, keeps the ball close as Houston Rockets’ PJ Tucker defends during a playoff game in April.
Minnesota Timberwolves’ Jimmy Butler, left, keeps the ball close as Houston Rockets’ PJ Tucker defends during a playoff game in April. Associated Press

So is Jimmy Butler the disgruntled star who could lead to the next chapter of Miami Heat basketball?

It’s a fair question to ponder after a report Tuesday from the Chicago Sun-Times suggested the 28-year-old All-Star swingman has no intentions of signing a contract extension with Minnesota next summer because he is all but fed up with the nonchalant attitude of his younger teammates specifically Karl-Anthony Towns.

The report goes on to say Butler is trying to figure out a way to play with former Team USA Basketball teammate Kyrie Irving, who is also set to become a free agent next summer, and the two could be looking for a destination to build an elite backcourt together — possibly in Celtics green or elsewhere in the Eastern Conference.

Tuesday’s report is the kind of scintillating stuff that has Heat fans (and those from other teams in the conference chasing Boston and Philadelphia) already dreaming up scenarios of how to get back into the championship mix. So, how could Pat Riley pull this one off?

With $118 million tied into nine players already for next summer, Miami’s best shot at putting this dream scenario together is trading for Butler and then creating the cap space to attract Irving, 26, in the summer (good luck with the last part).

Trading for Butler would start with outbidding other teams with an attractive enough package for Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden to consider pulling off the switch. Thibodeau, who coached Butler in Chicago, would first have to be convinced there’s no way Butler, whom they just traded for last summer, can find a way to repair his relationship with Towns, a budding young star who himself is about to receive a big pay day and isn’t expected to be shipped out of town.

Minnesota, which finished eighth in the Western Conference and was bounced by Houston in the first round, have forward Andrew Wiggins signed long term, point guard Jeff Teague due $19 million each of the next two seasons and big man Gorgui Dieng (due between $15-$17 million next three seasons) signed through 2021.

If Butler really wants out, the T’Wolves might prefer to replace him with a defensive-minded similarly skilled swing man. Josh Richardson (due $9.3 million in 2018-19) would fit that need, but the Heat would have to find a way to come close to matching Butler’s salary ($20.4 million) for this season. Including Dion Waiters ($11.5 million) or Kelly Olynyk ($11.1 million) in the deal would do the trick.


The Heat remains interested in bringing Wayne Ellington back, but also conscious of keeping itself in the best position possible to avoid an expensive luxury tax-bill at season’s end.

And after three days of free agency spending across the league, the leverage in the negotiation process between Ellington and the team he would like to play for continues to swing in the Heat’s favor.

Coming off a regular season in which he set a franchise record for three-pointers, Ellington was understandably looking to earn the most lucrative contract of his career and find a way to stay in Miami long term after bouncing around the league with six other teams prior to the Heat.

But the 30-year-old former North Carolina guard has fewer suitors than he did at midnight Sunday when free agency began because contending teams looking for shooters (Indiana, Philadelphia) and those on the rise (Lakers, Mavericks, Suns) have already spent their big money elsewhere. The only remaining teams with significant cap space are non-contenders like the Chicago Bulls ($23 million), Atlanta Hawks ($21 million) and Sacramento Kings ($18 million).

Ellington, who made $6.3 million last season, is basically down to three options: take the Heat’s offer (which has to be less than he was hoping for), sign with a non-contender with cap room (the Bulls, Hawks and Kings are most likely holding onto cap space to take on bad contracts from other teams in exchange for draft picks) or take exception money from a team that lacks cap space, but may have a role and need for him.

The most the Heat could offer Ellington is a deal starting at $10.9 million next season. Other shooters who have agreed to deals include Doug McDermott (3 years, $22 million with Indiana), Joe Harris (2 years, $16 million with Brooklyn), Marco Belinelli (two years, $16 million with San Antonio) and JJ Redick (one year, between $12-13 million).

Something else to consider: Ellington struggled in the playoffs. He shot 40 percent from three-point range (12 of 30), but was a non-factor in the five-game series against Philadelphia.

The Heat, though, was 20-8 in the regular season when Ellington made four or more three-pointers in a game and coach Erik Spoelstra built Miami's dribble hand-off game around him.

Pat Riley explains why it’s been hard thus far to upgrade the Heat’s roster via trade and why it could be a quiet summer for Miami.

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