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Jimmy Butler “ghosted” Rockets in free agency; Houston had deal lined up

The Houston Rockets were much closer to landing Butler than they appeared.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

As Jimmy Butler entered the final year of his contract with the Philadelphia 76ers last year, talks heated up about the Houston Rockets landing him in the offseason, with some reports of them being favorites — all to no avail. Now, a new report says that Houston was a lot closer than we all thought.

According to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, via Brian Windhort’s podcast, the Rockets were a mere deal away from acquiring the former Tomball, Texas resident, but Butler “ghosted them.”

“Look, the Houston Rockets wanted to pay Jimmy Butler the four-year max and he ghosted them,” MacMahon said. “They thought they had them and he left them hanging.”

Of course, the Rockets didn’t have the cap space to simply sign the small forward to a max deal, but they did have some assets they were willing to swap.

“They had trades lined up. I don’t know the teams (or) the destinations, but they had trades lined up for (Clint) Capela and (Eric) Gordon,” MacMahon explained. “They were ready to pay Jimmy Butler. They really liked their chances and then suddenly, Jimmy had other thoughts.”

Those other plans would obviously be the sign-and-trade Butler helped pivot to get him to Miami.

There wasn’t much more details offered up, like exactly how many teams could have possibly been involved, or if there would have still been plans to trade for Russell Westbrook if the trade went through. There is also a report that the Rockets had to decide between trading P.J. Tucker in place of Gordon.

Knowing what we know now, it’s hard to imagine what the Rockets would look like had the deal gone through with the Sixers. The Rockets could’ve possibly been without both of their premier paint protectors in Capela and Tucker. But in return, they would have also gained a prime two-way perimeter player to add on top of their backcourt of James Harden and Chris Paul or Westbrook. If the Rockets did only need Capela and Gordon or Tucker to get Butler, they still would have had the same assets they needed to trade for Westbrook in the first place.

It would be fun to know why Butler eventually picked Miami over Houston, but it might be safe to assume that being the top dog of his own team was more enticing for him.