Looking back at when Jimmy Butler spurned the Rockets’ hot pursuit

Miami Heat Jimmy Butler (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Miami Heat Jimmy Butler (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

In the free agency period of 2019, the Houston Rockets were willing to make all moves necessary to acquire Jimmy Butler, but the All-Star turned them away.

While the Houston Rockets mull over what they can possibly do to improve next season, the one that got away is now on his way to the NBA Finals. When Jimmy Butler hit the open market last summer, he was one of the most coveted free agents in the league. While several teams believed they had a chance at the star, the Rockets were one of few teams willing to give him everything he wanted.

Despite All-Star seasons in Chicago and Minnesota, Butler never had the proper supporting cast to get far in the playoffs, eventually leading him to the Philadelphia 76ers. In his one season alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, Butler was within a Kawhi Leonard miracle shot of making the Eastern Conference Finals.

Despite having success with the Sixers, Butler appeared ready to move on after the last-second heartbreaker. As ESPN reporter and Rockets insider Tim MacMahon revealed in a December episode of Brian Windhorst & The Hoop Collective, the Rockets were ready to do whatever it took to snag Jimmy.

“Look, the Rockets wanted to pay Jimmy Butler the four-year max and he ghosted them,” said McMahon. “They thought they had him and he left them hanging. They had trades lined up for Capela and Gordon and they were ready to pay Jimmy Butler.”

Butler ended up choosing to go to the Miami Heat, perhaps for the spotlight as the team’s star or maybe for the beaches. In any event, it’s hard to swallow the fact that the Rockets could currently have one of the best two-way players in the game on a roster that desperately needs it.

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According to MacMahon, the Rockets felt confident before everything suddenly changed, making the blow even tougher.

“They really liked their chances and suddenly Jimmy had other thoughts,” MacMahon continued. “This was their plan going into July 1.”

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The Butler situation was the first move Houston had in their arsenal last year, meaning the Russell Westbrook trade never would’ve occurred if the Rockets were able to lure Butler back to his birthplace. It’s fascinating how much one decision can alter the entire landscape of a franchise.