Dec 16, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jimmy Butler (23) reacts to a call in the second quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
The Jimmy Butler fiasco: Why NBA trade demands rarely work out for both parties
Despite the recent deluge of new reports regarding NBA trade requests, they are historically very rare for All-Star caliber players and even less so for players who for previous/future MVPs. The NBA is a follow fashion league and we tend to see trade requests from their marquee players in waves, every four to five years. Contrary to popular belief, the team that trades away their All-Stars typically do not receive pennies on the dollar. The results have been mixed but it is interesting to notice that once a player has demanded a trade they tend to treat their new team as a stepping stone. We will review who “won” the trades of All-stars in the last 15 years and discuss the circumstance that led to their trade requests. Please note this article does not include players who were traded during free agency and/or any sign and trades as this is a standard business practice within the league.
Bronze Age of Trade Demands
In the early 2000’s the NBA was dominated by the LA Lakers who were led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Due to the lack of social media at the time, their frosty relationship was hitherto unnoticed until Kobe Bryant’s Colorado rape case in which he famously implicated Shaq to police detectives as a serial adulterer who paid off his mistresses. This led to and underwhelming season in which the dragged themselves to the finals and lost to the less heralded Detroit Pistons. Shaq demanded that either him or Kobe be traded and the Lakers decided to send Shaq to the Miami Heat since he was older than Kobe.
Shaq went on to win his final NBA title in 2006 with his new sidekick Dwyane Wade while the Lakers floundered, missing the playoffs the next year and lost in the first round the following two years which prompted Kobe Bryant to make his own trade demand a few years later.
The Heat overwhelmingly won this trade as they won their first NBA championship in their 18th year of existence and also traded a rapidly aging Shaq for Shawn Marion. This title in conjunction with the appeal of Dwyane Wade brought legitimacy to the expansion franchise and they have developed into one of the marquee teams in the NBA.
The only player from the bronze age of trade request still plying his trade in the NBA, Vince Carter was caught up in his feelings in Toronto longer before Drake made it a thing. He was arguably the most popular player in the NBA but not particularly well liked by fans in Toronto due to their perceived slights by him created by his injury record and his decision to attend his college graduation ceremony at UNC the morning of game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers. They lost that game and missed the playoffs the next two seasons. He was traded to the Nets where coupled with All-Stars Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson, he spent his last 5 marquee years in the NBA culminating into two straight NBA finals appearances. The Raptors continued to struggle until Chris Bosh developed into an All Star and promptly left to join the Miami Heat.
Quite possibly the worst return on this list, the Raptors did not acquire any meaningful pieces nor did they bottom out enough to secure a top three draft pick. They also needlessly delayed trading him which ultimately created such a poor return.
The early 2000’s Sacramento Kings were pioneers of the modern pace and space basketball and consisted of skilled ball handlers at every position who could also shoot. They were a lock for 50+ wins each year. For reason that remain unknown their two best players in Chris Webber and Peja Stojackovic hated each other. One year after Peja handed in his own trade request and changed his mind, Chris Webber decided it was time to leave. Proving that NBA players exist in a much different reality that us, he cited the lack of a nightlife and the absence of any soul food restuarants in Sacramento as contributors to his trade request. He was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers where he had three injury riddled and largely forgettable seasons before being waived and then moving on to the Detroit Pistons.
Both teams lost this trade as the the Kings went from winning 50 games the previous season to not making the playoffs to this day. The 76ers went from a hardnosed, defensive oriented team to an injury prone star studded one that only made the playoffs his first year and settled into continuous mediocrity which caused Sam Hinkie to begin, “The Process”. Maybe someone in Sacramento should have opened up a soul food restaurant that morphed into a nightclub and the NBA would have been saved from this mediocrity.
The only person on this list who was not traded. Kobe made his own trade demand after missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. The Laker had a trade to the Chicago Bulls agreed in principle before Kobe actually refused to be traded to the Bulls if Luol Deng was going the other way. He wanted the Bulls to retain enough pieces so that they could mount a credible title challenge and he could usurp Michael Jordan’s legacy.
While this remains as one of the fascinating trades that never happened, the Lakers clearly won the collapsed deal as they went on to win two more championships with Kobe. This is a perfect example of a positive outcome that could be achieved by not bowing to trade demands and trusting that winning could soothe problems.
Silver Age of Trade Demands
The Chris Paul trade demand is particularly unusual in that he stood by the Hornets through losing seasons and a relocation to Oklahoma City due to Hurricane Katrina but abruptly demanded a trade following the 2011 NBA lockout. The reasons for his trade stemmed from a supposed loyalty to previous head coach Byron Scott and the fact that the team was at the time being controlled by the league. NBA commissioner famously vetoed a trade which would have sent to him to the Lakers and later agreed to the Clippers, which ornery Lakers fans still bring up to the day. He single handedly brought the Clippers out of mediocrity with the creation of “Lob City” and creating the concept of verticality. The Clippers went on to make the playoffs for the first time the next season and every season of his tenure there while the Hornets, mainly due to injury and bad luck, bottomed out and got the top pick in the draft that netted them Anthony Davis which is the best NBA draft scenario for a losing team.
The Clippers were the worst team in the history of the league(the only team to have never made the playoffs) and while the would have improved organically had the not made the trade, Chris Paul immediately made them into contenders and the fans were blessed with some of the most exciting basketball the NBA has ever seen. The Hornets(now Pelicans) lucked into Anthony Davis and have basically wasted his entire NBA career with shortsighted trades that have not produced a consistently winning team.
Where to start with this one. The Silver age is best known for stars pursuing trades for off court and non teammate related reasons. Carmelo Anthony let the Nuggets know that he was not interested in signing their 3 years/$66 million extension and wanted to sign with his “‘hometown” Knicks(ignoring the fact that he grew up primarily in Baltimore). The trade rumors dragged from August 2010 creating a serious “Melodrama” in which he demanded to be traded to the Knicks as he was concerned about the upcoming NBA lockout severely impacting his future earning potential. During this time he was linked to numerous teams and received tremendous vitriol from the press and Nuggets fans. The Nuggets, similar to the Chris Webber led Kings were a model small market franchise that consistently won 50+ games. Mercifully, he was finally traded to the Knicks where he got his max extension and brought short lived prominence and playoff appearances before eventually becoming persona non grata. He was later traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a salary dump. This scenario resembles the Jimmy Butler trade request where he wants to dictate his destination and also receive his full max contract extension.
Carmelo got his money and the big market he so craved but the Denver Nuggets were the clear winners of the trade due to the numerous useful players they received for someone who was leaving anyway. They won their third highest games(57) in franchise history the season after he left but have subsequently hovered in the periphery of the playoffs. The Knicks enjoyed a few winning seasons before they grew tired of and the league moved on from Melo Ball. This is a great case study of the follow of trading away assets for a player who signals that he is planning on coming in free agency.
The Dwight Howard Saga is one that the brought in the era of the me first NBA players and perhaps signalled the changing NBA culture due to these entitled “millennials”. Fed up with the lack of moves(trades for his friends) and a deteriorating relationship with head coach Stan Van Gundy, he demanded a traded, preferably to the Brooklyn Nets and then later asked for Van Gundy to be fired as a condition for him to stay. This culminated in one of the most awkward interviews in which Dwight hugs SVG while the coach bluntly states that he wants him fired. At the end of the season the team decided to blow everything up by firing the GM, Head Coach and trading Dwight Howard to the Lakers where he struggled with a back injury before leaving in free agency to the Rockets. The Magic have failed to make the playoffs ever since and have gone through numerous head coaches since.
Another prime example of the follies of trading for a disgruntled star, both team ended up regretting this trade. The Lakers though they had a super team with Steve Nash, Kobe, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard but the rest of the Lakers couldn’t stand Dwight(the first of many high profile teammate clashes). While Dwight did perform admirably on the court while returning from a serious back agency, he bolted to the Rockets while the Lakers begged him to stay. The Magic got a very return in the trade but have squandered every asset save for Nikola Vucevic and maybe Wesley Iwundu. They haven’t made the playoffs since which is a steep fall from playing the NBA finals with Dwight.
Golden Age of Trade Demands
With the me first culture firmly established in the NBA. Paul George was the first in a new wave of NBA players who are demanding trades for no apparent reason except to play for a specific big market team and preferring not to wait until free agency. He told the Indiana Pacers that he did not want to resign with them but intended to sign with his hometown LA Lakers. He thought that this would spur them to trade him to the Lakers in lieu of him leaving for nothing. While this was polite of him to let the team know he was leaving in free agency, which is his right and the reason NBA Free Agency exists. It is disingenuous for players to demand trades to specific teams, especially for non basketball reasons. The Lakers while the preeminent NBA franchise were mired in their worst stretch of losing seasons. The Pacers wisely did not trade him to the team of his choice as the return would have been unsatisfactory and instead traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder. He spent one unremarkable season with the Thunder and then surprisingly decided that he loved playing there and quickly resigned in free agency without taking any meetings with any other teams. The Pacers trade haul which was derided at the time quickly became the core of a new successful era.
Both teams came out winners in this trade but the Indiana Pacers edges the Thunder since they have gotten two players (one All-Star) for the price of one who are much younger than PG13. The NBA is star driven team but people are too quick to dismiss players before they become stars. Victor Oladipo has quickly become one of the best players in the league after being discarded too quickly by the Magic and the Thunder and he returned to the state where he played college basketball. The Pacers have rebooted seamlessly into a new identity that has the potential to be more successful than the Paul George years. This is the best case scenario for any team that has their marquee player demand a trade. The Thunder are in a win now scenario and are capped out and are unlikely to beat the Golden State Warriors nor the Rockets in the playoffs.
Nobody will truly know what prompted Kyrie Irving to demand a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers but their have been indications that he was no longer happy playing second fiddle to LeBron James. He went from never making to playoffs to multiple finals appearances with the Cavs(one title) and then decided it was maybe time to spread his wings. What is noteworthy about his trade request was that he did not specify which team he wanted to go to. The Cavaliers waffled on the decision to trade him before sending him to their direct rival, the Boston Celtics. The Cavaliers went on the beat the Celtics in the playoffs with neither traded, star PG involved.
The true loser of the trade ended up being Isaiah Thomas who went from being a max contract candidate with the Celtics to signing a one year deal with the Nuggets. The Celtics received 60 typical Kyrie Irving game before he succumbed to another season ending knee injury. If he remains healthy and resigns with the Celtics(is not traded by Danny Ainge) then the Celtics may be able to claim they won the trade. The Cavaliers essentially have turned Kyrie Irving into George Hill, Rodney Hood, Ante Zizic and Collin Sexton. As with every NBA rookie, he will need to play at least one season before his career trajectory can be determined but the early returns of the trade have been positive even though it did not prevent LeBron James from leaving but the general consensus in retrospect was that he was always heading to the Lakers.
Jimmy Butler -2017
Let’s begin with Part 1 of the Jimmy Butler trade saga. Jimmy Butler has had a solid career after humble NBA beginnings but friction began to develop between him and the NBA front office when it came to his contract extension. This resulted in a long running feud that ended with the Bulls acquiescing and giving him a 5 year/$95 million extension. He remained disgruntled with the Bulls and did not particularly enjoy playing alongside other ball dominant guards in Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade demanding a trade in 2017 even though both Rondo and Wade had already left. The Bulls waited until they got a desirable return and sent him to the Minnesota Timberwolves, reuniting him with former head coach Tom Thibodeau. Another trade that was prematurely ridiculed at the time( prognosticators must learn to never judge a trade that involves rookie players). The Timberwolves went on to have their most successful season in quite some time, making the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. All of the players the Bulls have become essential members of their team and their future is much brighter had they retained Butler.
The Minnesota TImberwolves have won this trade in the short term but will pay the true cost of winning. You will make the same trade 9 times out of 10 if it gets you to break a 14 year playoff absence. His subsequent trade demand away from the Wolves should ultimately be viewed as the cost of doing business. A more patient GM would have retained the pieces and hope that the developed with the rest of the Wolves team to become a contender in the future. The Bulls got their franchise player in Lauri Markkannen(which this author predicted being a valuable member of the Timberwolves) . Kriss Dunn and Zach LaVine have improved their games and time will tell what their ceilings are but they are starting NBA caliber players.
In another weird non-basketball related saga. Kawhi Leonard sulked and hid from the Spurs for the better part of the season while “demanding” a trade without verbally requesting one. He’s the most notoriously private person in the NBA so unsubstantiated rumors ranged from his lack of injury care by the team to the secret machinations by his uncle to steer him to a big market team. It is unheard of for a player to demand to leave the best run franchise in the NBA especially one which developed his game and helped him win a title. This dragged out during the entire season until the Spurs finally traded him to the Raptors which were decidedly not close to being one of this favored destinations.
TBD. Both team initially come out as winners as they have swapped All-Stars. The Spurs have also gotten a mobile, defensive minded center and a future 1st round pick which we all know that the Spurs will both be able to develop. DeMar DeRozan gets to round out his game and hopefully fix some of the mental aspects by being in the most secure franchise. The Raptors got the best player in the deal and one of the best role players in the NBA, one of the original 3 and D players. When healthy Kawhi Leonard is a top five player in the league and can single handedly win any playoff series. This ultimately be a coup is he is healthy and resigns with the team. You must be bold to win a NBA championship and this is the ultimate risky trade.
Part 2 of the Jimmy Butler trade saga involves his documented dissatisfaction with his teammates and their supposed lack of maturity. I’m not sure if he’s the best person to call people immature since he’s yelling at coaches and players in practice yesterday. This is what happens once you embolden NBA players, there’s no amount of power that they are satisfied with and they lack the patience and willingness to work with the franchise and teammates to ameliorate the situation. The Timberwolves won 47 games last year and have a lot of young skilled players but apparently that is not enough to satisfy Jimmy Butler. Any team that is interested in trading for him should be very concerned with his history of alienating teammates and salary demands especially as he will end the season as a 30 year old with lots of Thibodeau miles on his legs. As usual, NBA trades are rarely discussed in the media prior to execution so we can summarily dismiss rumors to the Heat and Rockets. With the insistence of Glen Taylor, owner of the Wolves, being involved in the deal, we can expect him to be dealt prior to the beginning on next season to a team that has no previously been mentioned. I believe that he will end up on the Raptors as they posses the combination of players, picks to satisfy the salary matching and return request from the Wolves. Lastly, the Raptors GM Masai Ujiri is one of the boldest traders in the NBA and will not hesitate to trade for Jimmy Butler knowing that he is a flight risk when the reward could be a NBA finals appearance playing alongside recently gruntled, smiling Kawhi Leonard.