NBA Notebook: If Jimmy Butler hits trade market, which Celtics rivals in East have assets to land him?

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The 2019 NBA free agency bonanza will be one of the biggest subplots of the upcoming season and Jimmy Butler stands to be one of the most sought-after names on the star-studded group of free agents.

The 29-year-old Wolves guard has already been linked to potential destinations in Los Angeles and New York ahead of the final year of his contract (earning $20.4 million in 2018-19 with a player opt-out for next summer) in Minnesota. Those whispers will only grow louder this week after the All-Star guard requested a meeting to talk about the future with Minnesota’s brass on Monday, a story first reported by the Athletic on Saturday.

Butler’s future in Minnesota has been a sensitive subject amid a disappointing finish for Minnesota in the postseason last year and questionable chemistry with teammates like Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butler and Wiggins didn’t mesh well on many nights on the wing and while Towns is a nice building block, it’s unclear whether he and Butler will be able to make some noise in a loaded Western Conference. 

One year after getting shipped north from Chicago with two guaranteed years left on his deal, Butler turned down an extension offer from the Wolves for the same reasons that Kyrie Irving turned one down from the Celtics (Minnesota couldn’t offer fair market value based due to CBA rules on extensions). 

Head coach and team president Tom Thibodeau has tried to downplay any concerns with Butler and the entire group over the summer but it’s evident that this situation will be one to watch all season long, even if the two sides are able to work through Butler's concerns on Monday. 

From afar, moving Butler now is probably the smart move from a long-term perspective for Minnesota. It’s hard to make a case for them as a top-4 team in the West even if everything goes right this year and it’s going to be tough to convince Butler to stick around long-term with the bright lights of Los Angeles and New York calling if there is no clear path to a contending up north.

However, as the team’s top basketball executive and head coach, Thibodeau may have no real interest in taking a step back from a basketball standpoint this year by dealing Butler. The All-Star could force his hand by asking out now, but even if he does, Thibodeau could drag his feet by asking for an unrealistic package.

While it’s far from certain how this situation will play out, it’s an ordeal that the Celtics will be watching intently in the coming weeks.