There is a growing buzz about Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler teaming up next year in free agency, according to a report from Business Insider.
Both Irving and Butler have player options for 2019, meaning if they decline the options, the two stars can become unrestricted free-agents.
Butler and Irving were heavily connected last summer. When Irving requested a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the star guard had interest in a move to the Chicago Bulls so he could form an elite backcourt with Butler as his sidekick. The deal, however, was never made and the Bulls eventually traded Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves on draft night, while the Cavs sent Irving to the Boston Celtics.
The two former team USA Basketball teammates developed a close bond with one another in the 2016 Olympics and are eager to team up. Irving has already said he won’t sign a contract extension with the Celtics this summer and Butler turned down the Timberwolves’ four-year, $110 million extension offer.
In early June, a report surfaced that Butler was uncertain about playing with Andrew Wiggins and had issues with Wiggins’ work ethic and approach on defense this past season. Wiggins isn’t the only player Butler apparently has a problem with. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Butler is fed up with the nonchalant attitude of his younger teammates, especially Karl-Anthony Towns.
With these reports coming out, coupled with Butler turning down the Timberwolves’ extension offer, some have speculated Butler has no intentions to return to Minnesota. More money is available to Butler if he plays out his contract and enters the open market in 2019.
The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets could be well-positioned to land Butler and Irving. The Knicks would have to do a lot of roster maneuvering to create two max-salary slots, though.
Joakim Noah has two years and $38 million left on his deal, Courtney Lee has two years and $25 million left on his contract and Tim Hardaway Jr. has three years and $55 million owed to him.
The Nets, meanwhile, are prioritizing cap space for 2019, when they’ll potentially have money to sign two max players.
Irving’s first year with the Celtics was cut short after the superstar guard underwent season-ending knee surgery in April. Before going down, Irving was averaging 24.4 points and 5.1 assists in 60 games while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 40.8 percent from beyond the arc.
For the Timberwolves, Butler averaged 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists, shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 35.0 percent from three. He suffered a torn right meniscus in late February and underwent surgery, but did return near the end of the season and helped Minnesota make the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.
Both the Knicks and Nets plan to pursue Irving and Butler should they become free agents in 2019.