Is Offering Four 1st-Round Picks for Jimmy Butler Really That Crazy?

2013 Houston Rockets 1” by Michael Tipton is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

If you haven’t already heard, the Houston Rockets have upped their offer to the Minnesota Timberwolves to four 1st-round picks for Jimmy Butler.

Your initial reaction, like mine, was probably something like this: “Four 1st-round pick?!?!? That’s crazy!!”

Is it that crazy though? The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve felt like giving up four 1st-round picks for a player like Jimmy Butler might actually be worth it for the Rockets.

Now you probably think I’m crazy too, but at least hear me out on this one. Let’s start with the draft picks they’re offering.


1st-Round Picks Every Other Year

As a result of the NBA’s Stepien Rule, every team must have at least one 1st-round pick in every other draft. The NBA also doesn’t allow the picks to be traded more than seven years out. It’s because of this that the Rockets could offer the Timberwolves their 1st-round picks in 2019, 2021, 2023 and 2025.

If Houston did trade four 1st-rounders to the Timberwolves, it’s not like they’d be giving up their 1st-rounders in four consecutive years. They’d still have 1st-round picks in 2020, 2022, 2024 and 2026. If the Rockets take a significant decline within those years, it’s not like they’d be stuck with nothing during their rebuilding period. That brings me to my next point.


Draft Position

Houston was one game away from going to the NBA Finals last season. They’ve been to the playoffs six straight years now. Despite their slow start this season, pretty much everyone expects the Rockets to be back in the playoffs. What does that mean? That means their 1st-round pick in 2019 won’t be in the lottery. At the very least, the pick would be 15th overall in the NBA Draft.

I’m not saying the 15th overall pick is bad, but most of the time you’re not going to find your superstar player with a pick ranging from 15th – 30th overall. There are some exceptions, Kawhi Leonard being one of them, but it doesn’t happen every day. A team is way more likely to find a superstar player with a pick ranging from 1st – 14th.


The “Aging” Rockets

I know I only spoke about the Rockets’ 2019 1st-round pick, but I wanted to make this point before getting to the next three. Many think giving up those 1st-round picks is too much because the Rockets are an aging team. They’re not entirely wrong.

Chris Paul is 33, while both Harden and Butler are 29. Yes, I’m leaving Carmelo Anthony out. By the time the 2021 comes around, Chris Paul will be 35 years old. That’s getting up there for an NBA player, but even at age 33, Paul hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down. Maybe he won’t be the same at 35, but he’ll still be a good player.

Harden and Butler will both be 31. That’s getting closer to old, but really it’s only two years away. Do you really think James Harden and Jimmy Butler will be that much worse than they are right now in two years? If they all stay together, they can still be a very good team heading into 2021.

When we get to 2023 and 2025, the story might be a little different. Chris Paul will be 37 and 39 in those years, while James Harden and Jimmy Butler will be 33 and 35. At that point, they likely wouldn’t be the same team.


Back to the NBA Draft

When we get to those 2023 and 2025 draft picks, then they might be in the lottery. How early in the lottery? I don’t know. Going back to my first and second points, the picks are every other year. The 2019 and 2021 picks likely wouldn’t be that high, but the 2023 and 2025 picks might be.

Even if the Rockets are a declining team after 2021, they’d still have their 2022 and 2024 1st-rounders. It’s not like they’re giving up four straight years worth of picks. Yeah, it might be a little frustrating to not have a 1st-round pick in a year when you’re a bad team, but they’d have a 1st-round pick again the next year. Not an ideal situation for rebuilding, but it’s not the worst.

So here’s what the Timberwolves would be getting: a 2019 and 2021 1st-round pick not in the lottery and a 2023 and 2025 1st-round pick that might be in the lottery.

I’m really not trying to make non lottery picks sound bad, but those 2019 and 2021 picks will likely be toward the end of the draft, probably in the 25 to 30 range. Minnesota could find a decent player there, but likely not a star. So the Rockets’ 1st-round picks in 2019 and 2021 aren’t worth that much anyway.

This isn’t the NFL Draft. A player drafted in the range of 25 to 32 could end up being the best player in the entire class. The chances of that happening in the NBA are, well, not good. There’s just not that many star players in an NBA draft class. Anyway, you get the point.


What About the Nets & Celtics Trade?

I see the comparisons between this potential trade for Jimmy Butler and the trade made between the Nets and Celtics a few years back. The two main players in that deal were Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The Nets gave up their 1st-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018. The Celtics could also swap picks with the Nets in 2017.

Sounds similar to this potential trade for Jimmy Butler doesn’t it?

Here’s the difference. The Rockets are trying to get a 29-year-old Jimmy Butler to pair with Chris Paul and James Harden. We’ll thrown Clint Capela in there too. Yes, still leaving Carmelo Anthony out.

Again, this is a team who was one game away from going to the NBA Finals last year.

When the Nets acquired Garnett and Pierce, Garnett was 37 and Pierce was 36. They were both just about done. They were not the same caliber players a 29-year-old Jimmy Butler is right now.

The Nets also weren’t a team who could seriously think about contending for a championship. Who were they trying to build around? Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson. Not on the same level as Chris Paul, Clint Capela and James Harden.


Still Think It’s Crazy?

You may still think four 1st-round picks for Jimmy Butler is crazy after all that. I don’t blame you if you do.

Would you still think it’s crazy if the Rockets win a championship? I’m not sure if Jimmy Butler can elevate them to that level, but I do think their chances are better with him than without him.

I don’t think this trade offer is as crazy as it seems, but what do you think?

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