Throughout this offseason, rumors of Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler finding a way to play together flared up. And why not? Both had player-options heading into a loaded 2019 free agency class and many teams were clearing up cap space to chase stars that summer. Together, they would create one of the league’s best backcourts and launch any team acquiring them into immediate contender status.
The rumors gained traction as Kyrie Irving gave a non-committal answer in June when asked about his future with the Boston Celtics. He said:
“Well, I mean I know that question is going to come up a lot over the next year, just based upon where my deal is. And, you know, that time will arise and when it does, I think I’ll have a better, clear, concise answer for a lot of people that are going to ask..”
It was also no secret that Jimmy Butler had grown disgruntled with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was fed-up with his younger teammates hunger to win – specifically Karl-Anthony Towns – and told sources he had no intention of signing his extension.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 3, 2018
Soon after, a league source told the Chicago Sun-Times that Irving and Butler “are still trying to figure out a way to play together.” And all signs pointed to the elite guards finding a place to make their own in the East and dominate the conference with LeBron James gone to Hollywood.
The New York Knicks became the Promised Land that all these rumors circled back to. With their emerging cap space, their desperation to win, the fact that both Kyrie and Butler had New York in their preferred destination lists, the Knicks seemed like a logical place for the stars to convene.
“Yes. And the Knicks have a really, really high chance to get them next offseason. I believe that and I promise I think they will.”
Even with Kanter’s vague language (“I promise I think,”) talk shows like the Jump spent segments on the likeliness this whole plot could play out:
Then all the Jimmy Butler madness happened.
After moving his meeting with the Wolves front office from Minnesota to L.A., the situation spiraled into Butler requesting a trade from the team. And while Head Coach Tom Thibodeau said he did not want to trade his two-way star, the inter-team Instagram beefs and owner Glen Taylor’s prodding has led Butler’s future as a Timberwolf to be all but a foregone conclusion – he will play elsewhere sooner rather than later.
So, would the Knicks push the first domino to make this fantasy into a reality and trade for Jimmy Buckets?
No. Knicks president Steve Mills told The Athletic: “What we’re not going to do is trade away assets to get a guy that we can go get on our own later.”
Clearly, they believe Butler is not worth sacrificing the foundation they are putting in place.
But couldn’t Butler and Irving team-up somewhere else? Maybe Butler gets traded, declines his player-option, Kyrie declines his, and they hold out for a team like the Brooklyn Nets to sign both of them.
It’s possible, but this notion/conspiracy is seeming less and less likely.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Butler wants to be traded to a team that plans on signing him to a five-year extension. And right now, the Miami Heat appear the team that’s most interested in acquiring Butler.
If the Heat did trade for Butler, they would lack the necessary cap space to also go after Irving next summer, barring a roster overhaul. The same goes for the Los Angeles Clippers, another destination that’s piqued Butler’s interest.
And Irving’s development in this story has only done more to shut down these teaming-up fantasies. In a recent interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, she asked about these Butler rumors.
The last time (Irving) talked to Butler at length was when they were both playing with USA Basketball, and the two engaged in a spitballing session along with Durant and Cousins about what the future held for each of them.
“And that,” Irving laughed, “was in 2016.”
A little later in the story, Irving spoke about his happiness in Boston and their depth of talent on the roster. While a Butler-Irving backcourt would be tasty, a team that includes Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart looks more like a balanced meal.
Perhaps, then, all these rumors surrounding Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving were only that – rumors. Something to fill the basketball-void during the dry period of the NBA.
And so we should look at all this talk as mostly debunked. Mostly.
There’s always something to be said for Irving’s love for misdirection in the media. And Jimmy Butler’s fiery passion for Ws could lead him to ultimately enter the 2019 free agency class.
But for now, we should stop wasting our breath on the idea of seeing this backcourt come to fruition.