Well that didn't last long.
According to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, the Suns will be receiving Ish Smith and Slava Kravtsov in return:
The Suns have agreed to trade Butler, a Racine, Wis., native, to the Milwaukee Bucks for point guard Ish Smith and center Slava Kravtsov about seven weeks after they acquired Butler and hailed him as a veteran influence for the youthful Suns and part of the future. The Suns gain $5.65 million of cap space for any potential in-season trades but also save that money to make an expected costly waiver of Michael Beasley more palatable. Beasley would be owed $9 million of guaranteed salary.
Butler, 33, has become quite the NBA journeyman. Milwaukee will be the sixth team he's suited up for over the last 12 years. Counting his essentially nonexistent stint in Phoenix he's been a member of seven organizations, averaging more than one jersey change every other year.
This time he's returned home to Wisconsin. But does his addition raise the Bucks' potential ceiling? And what about the Suns? Was their salary dump a smart move?
Milwaukee Bucks: B
Long live mediocrity.
That has to be the mantra in Milwaukee, since it's all the Bucks know. No matter what they do or who they lose, they always find a way to stay mediocre. Following the addition of Butler, their roster projects as a middling team in a capricious Eastern Conference. Go figure.
Butler was a serviceable scorer during his two years with Clippers. Last season he notched 10.4 points on 42.4 percent shooting (38.8 percent from deep). For his career, he's tallied a respectable 15.5 points a night.
Offensive production isn't a hole the Bucks needed to fill, though. Their perimeter rotation already consists of O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal, Carlos Delfino, Brandon Knight, Ersan Ilyasova and Luke Ridnour, among others. Making use of the scoreboard was never going to be an issue.
Just look at how their depth figures to unfold:
Some of the positions are interchangeable, depending on who the starting point guard (Ridnour or Knight) is and whether the Bucks use Ilyasova as a stretch 4 (they should). What you see here, however, is pretty much what you'll get—Milwaukee is going to score.
The Bucks didn't need another outside gunner, however. They needed an additional post scorer to complement the raw talents of Larry Sanders and John Henson. Or an elite perimeter defender. Butler doesn't provide relief in either department.
He's never been known for his defense and though, according to 82games.com, he held opposing small forwards to a below average PER last year (14.8), he gave up 0.96 points per defensive possession, via Synergy Sports (subscription required). The Bucks as a team relinquished 0.87 in 2012-13, so he doesn't stand to improve their outside D in the coming year.
Trading for him wasn't about defense, nor is he the worst defender on his new team. His arrival might not have had anything to do with offense, either. Gery Woelfel of the Journal-Times writes that it's been Butler's (periodic) dream to play for the Bucks. Born in Racine, Wis., that makes sense. Perhaps this was about bringing him "home" more than anything else.
The notion isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. These are the Bucks, after all. They handed Zaza Pachulia $16 million without thinking twice. Butler's acquisition also doesn't present any kind of risk. Milwaukee didn't give up anything of substantial value—Smith wouldn't have seen the court—and his $8 million salary comes off the books after next season. If he is able to bolster the Bucks' already offense-heavy attack, then this trade is a success.
And apparently, for Butler, a dream come true.
Phoenix Suns: A
Tank. Mode. That, or Phoenix knows something about Ish Smith we don't.
I love what the Suns did here. Trading away Butler, who could have been their second- or third-leading scorer in exchange for cheap fillers and cap space was ingenious.
Phoenix will struggle to win 22 games in an insanely deep Western Conference, meaning Andrew Wiggins—or any top-five projected draft pick—may want to acquaint himself with the color purple.
Making this trade even better was the Suns' plausible deniability. They don't have to spin this as tanking. There are a variety of different ways they can justify this deal.
Pulling the trigger saved them more than $5 million. It sent a veteran like Butler to a team he (reportedly) wanted to play for. Most importantly, it basically gives Phoenix the means to part ways with Michael Beasley.
As Coro noted previously, the Suns would have to fork over $9 million to get rid of The Beas. Funneling an extra $4 million (on top of the $5 million they just saved) into a wasted investment wouldn't sit well with anyone, but it's better than an additional $9 million.
We make jokes and poke fun, often forgetting that this is Beasley's life we're talking about. It would be great if he could turn it around, not only becoming a reliable player, but accountable adult.
Yet this is no time for chivalry in Phoenix. The Suns gave Beasley a chance and, to this point, he's squandered it. They're better off removing his 10.1 points per game from the equation and tanking even further.
Rarely, if ever, do teams pay extra to lose (though it seems like something the Bucks might do if they were winning too much), but for Phoenix's purposes, it makes sense.
Losing now allows the Suns to build the future around Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and—until Phoenix comes to its senses—Alex Len, plus another potential star.
The Suns are playing (losing) for Wiggins. For Jabari Parker. For Julius Randle. Or someone else. Dealing Butler helps them plummet toward that better future and, unlike the Bucks, aspire to be something more than mediocre.