Heat still frontrunners in sweepstakes for Wolves’ Butler

Star swingman Jimmy Butler remains a member of the Timberwolves ... for now.

The Miami Heat are the favorites to land Minnesota Timberwolves star swingman Jimmy Butler and when it comes to the rest of the field, the Houston Rockets may be in last place.

That’s the latest report on Butler, who requested a trade from the Timberwolves two weeks ago. It comes from Marc Stein of the New York Times, who wrote the Heat are trying “as hard as anyone” to put together a package to acquire Butler.

It’s been repeatedly reported that the Heat are Butler’s preference, and according to Stein, that actually does count for something.

Why? Because Butler turned down an extension from the Timberwolves and can therefore be a free agent at the end of the season. So teams not on his list might be afraid to make a deal — as Butler could turn into nothing more than a one-year rental in that scenario.

Meanwhile, the Rockets’ interest in Butler has been no secret. They would love to find a way to pair him next to Chris Paul, James Harden, Carmelo Anthony and others.

But according to Stein, that’s precisely why the Timberwolves don’t want to trade Butler to Houston. They don’t want to turn the Rockets into more of a power than they already are, considering both teams compete in the Western Conference.

An offer from the Rockets would likely include Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and draft picks, Stein wrote. If that’s the case, maybe the Timberwolves’ decision-making contingent of owner Glen Taylor, general manager Scott Layden and head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau will reconsider.

But maybe not, too.

The Heat are reportedly willing to work on a number of ways to obtain Butler, including the likely prospect of needing to bring in a third team (Sacramento Kings, anyone?).

Along with the Heat and Rockets, the Timberwolves have held Butler talks with at least 23 or 24 teams. They were reportedly shot down in their overtures for Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons and Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton.

For now, it appears the Heat are in the lead, the Rockets are at the bottom, and everyone else is just sort of watching and waiting — including, it seems, Butler and the Timberwolves.