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The Houston Rockets believe they have a shot at landing Philadelphia 76ers guard/forward Jimmy Butler in free agency this summer, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Tim MacMahon reported Friday on the Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective podcast.
“I’m hearing these rumblings about Jimmy trying to get back there,” Windhorst said (h/t RealGM).
“They’re real rumblings,” MacMahon noted. “The Rockets think they have a chance.”
Butler, who turns 30 years old in September, averaged 18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists for the Minnesota Timberwolves and 76ers last season.
He turned it up a notch during a grueling seven-game Eastern Conference second-round series against the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors, posting 22.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.6 assists.
Even if there is mutual interest, Houston faces significant handicaps to landing the four-time All-Star.
For one, the 76ers can offer more money than Houston through a five-year max deal, and MacMahon is confident Philadelphia will post that deal.
“I’ll put it at 99 percent Philly is coming with a five-year max,” MacMahon said. “I’m pretty confident on that.”
ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan also said on the podcast that Philadelphia is more concerned about signing Butler than 76ers forward and fellow free agent Tobias Harris.
Furthermore, the Rockets would need to get creative with their cap situation. Per Basketball Reference, the team is committed to anywhere from $106.7 million (2021-22) to $120.5 million (2019-20) against the cap between 2019 and 2022.
The salary cap is set at $109 million next season and $118 million the following year, per Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic. That means significant work will be needed to create a new big three of All-Stars in Houston.
Windhorst speculated on how that could come to fruition: “It would take cooperation. It would take one of two things to happen: Either they would have to take all of those first-round picks that they offered for Jimmy initially, and they would have to trade them to a team with salary-cap space,” such as the New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls.
“They would have to trade [those first-round picks] to a team and use those picks to do one of those big—remember how the Warriors wiped the books for Andre Iguodala? They would have to do that and then sign Jimmy. Or they would have to work a sign-and-trade with the Sixers, which would be very difficult because then they would lose their ability to be a tax team.”
The Rockets’ past interest in Butler is no secret. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Rockets offered the Timberwolves four first-round picks for Butler before he was eventually traded to Philadelphia in November.
However, that interest may not amount to Butler’s signing with Houston given the hurdles the team must overcome.