It's good news for the Knicks and their fans that Jimmy Butler lists them as one of his three preferred destinations, but the Knicks' braintrust shouldn't mortgage their future to trade for him now.
Especially not when Butler, who just turned 29, will be a free agent in the summer of 2019. If he wants to come to the Big Apple next summer, then, by all means, the Knicks should consider making it happen, especially if they could potentially pair him with New Jersey native Kyrie Irving. Of course, Kevin Durant will also be a free agent next summer, so the possibilities are endless and the future -- for now -- looks bright.
The Knicks of Phil Jackson might have made a move now for Butler, sacrificing draft picks and young assets in exchange. But the Knicks of Steve Mills and Scott Perry appear to have a solid plan in place, and the cornerstone of that plan is not sacrificing assets and picks for the future. The Knicks did that once with Carmelo Anthony, and we all know how that worked out.
"We're not going to take shortcuts," Mills said Monday night at a town hall, according to The Athletic. "We're not going to trade our draft picks. Really, we believe New Yorkers will live with a plan and buy into a plan as long as we articulate it and we live it. I've seen when there's something shiny that says 'OK, let's change direction right now because we can go get this guy.' We're not going to do that. We're going to lay out and stick to that."
After the Butler news became public this week, Mills doubled-down Thursday on his original comments, telling reporters, "We're committed to not missing any steps. We're going to take this as a step-by-step process… We're going to continue along with our plan."
Various trade permutations have popped up on Twitter and elsewhere. One involved sending Tim Hardaway Jr., Frank Ntilikina and the Knicks 2019 draft pick to Minnesota for Butler.
Others have involved some combination of Knicks prized rookies Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah, Hardaway Jr., Ntilikina and the draft pick.
"Knox, Porzingis, Frank, CLee and maybe Robinson are guys teams would like," one league source said.
If you're the Knicks, Porzingis should be off limits in any Butler trade, and Knox should be as well. Both guys were among the 17 players at the Knicks' training facility on Wednesday, according to Mills. Who knows if Knox turns into the next Jimmy Butler in the next few years, and you don't want to give up on him at this early stage.
But multiple league sources told SNY.tv that Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota's President and head coach, will want more than the Knicks can realistically offer.
"Not enough for Minny," one NBA executive said. "Tibs wants to win now."
Minnesota obviously has its own chemistry issues to deal with. Butler, who is Thibodeau's guy, is clearly unhappy with the defensive deficiences of Andrew Wiggins and New Jersey native Karl-Anthony Towns. Maybe the Wolves turn around and deal Wiggins now -- who knows?
There are also serious questions about Butler as a locker-room guy, and the Knicks may want to think long and hard about bringing him into a situation with so many young impressionable players.
"I think Jimmy does not see a future in Minny and is not real excited to finish his career playing alongside KAT and Wiggins," the NBA executive said.
"It's all about Jimmy," the executive added. "He is looking to get paid and to be the man."
From the Knicks' perspective, they are on the right track even if the 2018-19 version may not win more than 30-35 games at best. And realistically, how many more games would Butler help them win in a season when Porzingis won't be back until midway through, if at all, after recovering from ACL surgery?
Giving up a Hardaway Jr. or a Lee is one thing, but sacrificing a Knox, a Robinson or the draft pick doesn't make sense. The 2019 Draft isn't going to be real deep, but it will feature Duke freshmen stars R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson, who NBA people are raving about.
Even though Knicks head coach David Fizdale vowed Thursday, "We will not ever tank," the fact is the worse they do this season, the better their odds of landing Barrett or Williamson.
The big picture for the Knicks is maintaining maximum flexibility heading toward the summer of 2019, which means keeping their draft picks and their young players intact.
Going into 2019 and beyond, they could dream of a core that includes Irving, who has deep ties to his alma mater at The Patrick School in Hillside, N.J., plus Butler or maybe even Durant, along with Porzingis, Knox and other young pieces like Ntilikina and Robinson.
If Jimmy Butler really wants to come to New York, the Knicks will still be here in 2019. And maybe they will be more attractive to him if Kyrie signs first, or vice versa. Or they opt to come together. But there's no need to mortgage the future now.