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NBA Free Agency Rumors: Butler, Leonard to Clippers “increasingly possible”

Could Jimmy Butler be Kawhi’s co-star in L.A.?

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NBA: Playoffs-Toronto Raptors at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, league sources indicate that Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard teaming up on the L.A. Clippers is becoming an “increasingly possible scenario.” Amick reports that the Clippers are somewhat on the outside looking in when it comes to Kevin Durant, but that Leonard is interested in Butler as a potential teammate.

Butler would presumably also receive a maximum-salary deal from the Clippers. In order to have space to add two free agents at $32.7M apiece, the team would need to move Danilo Gallinari’s expiring $22.6M contract. There should be several potential landing spots for Gallo’s short-term deal following a career year last season, but timing may become tricky as teams around the league pursue other players with their cap room.

One option could be sending Gallinari back to Philadelphia in a sign-and-trade deal. On the topic of the Houston Rockets reportedly pursuing Butler as well, Amick notes that it’s “looking likely” that Philadelphia would participate in a sign-and-trade for Butler so as to avoid losing him for nothing. If that’s the Sixers’ stance, it seems that they’d at least be open to talking to the Clippers about a similar arrangement should Butler choose L.A.

Because Butler will be signing a new contract for much more than his prior salary, the NBA’s base year compensation rule limits his outgoing salary-matching figure in a sign-and-trade to his prior year’s salary—$20,445,799. However, for his new team, his incoming salary would be the full $32.7M max, making a trade that is legal for both teams tricky. If the Clippers simply absorb Butler into their cap room, a Butler-Gallinari swap is very straightforward: the Sixers can take back Gallinari’s 22.6M salary using normal trade rules, and the Clippers can take back Butler’s larger deal as long as they’re under the cap by the end of the trade.

If the Clippers wish to operate above the cap, which could give them some wiggle room to improve their roster around Butler and Leonard, they would need to send out more than Gallinari to make salary-matching work to bring in Butler’s $32.7M deal. Combining Gallinari with Jerome Robinson’s $3,567,720 deal works from the Clippers’ perspective, but presents a problem for the Sixers. Jimmy’s outgoing number of $20.4M would only let the Sixers bring back around $25.6M—not enough for Gallinari and Robinson. A deal would still be possible if a third team absorbed Robinson into cap room.

By making such a deal after using their cap space, the Clippers would gain additional flexibility to add other players. By simply swapping Gallinari for Butler and absorbing the additional salary into cap space, the Clippers would likely have about $12M in additional room to sign a replacement power forward after adding Butler and Leonard. However, if they work a deal that sends Robinson to a third team, allowing them to exceed the cap to acquire Butler, they would have $22.5M (that number can increase by $1M each if they decide to not extend qualifying offers to Zubac and/or McGruder) to add another big name (or a couple smaller pieces).