Once free agency starts on Sunday, the Houston Rockets are planning to recruit Jimmy Butler to push the Philadelphia 76ers for a sign-and-trade deal that would allow the All-Star forward to join James Harden and Chris Paul, league sources tell ESPN.
The Rockets don’t have the salary-cap space to sign Butler, so they’d need the threat of the Sixers losing him for nothing to a team with the available room to motivate the Sixers into a trade. The Rockets would also potentially need to make this a multiteam deal to satisfy the rules of Base Year Compensation that would cover Butler’s outgoing salary.
The Sixers plan to be aggressive in signing Butler to a new deal, sources said, and could blunt a Rockets push with a full five-year, $190 million offer at the start of free agency on Sunday night. The Sixers could offer Butler a four-year, $146.5M deal, too.
Butler would be eligible to sign a four-year, $140 million contract on the way to the Rockets, but Houston would likely need to include center Clint Capela and guard Eric Gordon to make the financial deal work, sources said.
The 76ers are facing a free agency that includes Butler, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick. They’re expected to make a significant four- or five-year offer to keep Butler, whom they acquired in a trade with Minnesota for Dario Saric and Robert Covington in November.
The Rockets offered Minnesota four future first-round picks before the Timberwolves agreed to the trade with Philadelphia, league sources said.
If the Sixers were to lose Butler in free agency — and were in position to keep Harris and Redick — it is possible that the Sixers could simply want the payroll flexibility and dismiss the potential idea of a sign-and-trade scenario for Butler.