Which Realistic Suitors Make the Most Sense for Jimmy Butler?June 29, 2019
The 2019 free-agent class is shaping up to be one of the more exciting professional bouts of round robin in NBA history.
Among the most prized free agents who frequent the national conversation are Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard and even DeMarcus Cousins, who share a remarkable 31 All-Star appearances. They are regularly tossed around in conversations as the focal point of attack for teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics.
Jimmy Butler tightropes the crevice between alpha superstar and championship-caliber sidekick, but his pedigree should earn him the same faculties as his free-agent brethren.
Could Butler have fallen to the second tier because, unlike his classmates, the 2015 Most Improved Player, four-time All-Star, four-time All-Defensive Team member and two-time All-NBA honoree was drafted outside the lottery as the 30th overall selection in 2011?
Could it be Butler's capricious nature or his questionable escapade involving three teams in three seasons, including a highly publicized practice in which Butler took an organization hostage with his personality both on and off the court?
Some will point to Butler's age as a sticking point in max-level conversations, but the soon-to-be 30-year-old has played 59 games or more each season except his rookie year, even earning the nickname "Ironman" during his tenure in Chicago.
So what gives? Why are we only hearing Houston and Philadelphia associated with Butler in this season's free-agency period?
Here's a list of teams that shouldn't think twice about taking on "Ironman."
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers carved out the necessary space to acquire Butler with some intelligent cap management. As part of the Anthony Davis trade, they'll send Mo Wagner, Jemerrio Jones and Isaac Bonga to the Washington Wizards, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe. They also somehow convinced Davis to waive his trade kicker, per Wojnarowski.
The Lakers have already secured a meet-and-greet with two-time Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, the Los Angeles Times' Brad Turner reported, but "settling" for Butler would still give the front office the home run offseason it seeks.
Should the Lakers land Butler, they can then use the room exception to pair Butler with former teammate Rajon Rondo in addition to re-signing Reggie Bullock. The initial depth—including James, Rondo, Butler, Davis and Kyle Kuzma—should vault the Lakers into the championship conversation immediately and give them the resources to challenge for the Larry O'Brien Trophy in 2019-20.
And why wouldn't the Lakers use this newly available space to take a swing on Butler? His win-now veteran experience, motivation and mental makeup will marry perfectly with the Lakers' organizational direction. He would also come off the books just one season after James, allowing the Lakers to reset going forward with Davis and an endless supply of cap space.
Butler gives the Lakers the perimeter defender they desperately need. He finished fourth among guards in defensive real plus-minus and seventh in real plus-minus.
Per Wojnarowski and Lowe, the Rockets are set to move critical contributors like Eric Gordon, Clint Capela and PJ Tucker as they pursue a sign-and-trade with the 76ers for Butler.
Instead of sending out three valuable role players on cost-effective contracts, they'd be better off dealing Chris Paul.
A lineup of Harden, Gordon, Butler, Tucker and Capela would put the Rockets in a better position than rounding out the roster with minimum contracts and sending out future draft capital to invest $120 million in a backcourt, especially considering Paul's continual regression.
Paul may not have many productive seasons left. During the 2018-19 campaign, he produced the worst field-goal percentage of his career (41.9); his worst effective field-goal percentage since 2010-11 (50.8); his second-lowest assist total; his most turnovers per game since 2015-16; and his lowest plus-minus since 2010-11. His playoff numbers were similar.
Availability is a concern for the 14-year veteran as well. Paul has dressed for 61 games or fewer in each of the previous three seasons and has played in 71 or more games just twice since 2010-11.
Finding a taker for Paul could be tricky, as Philadelphia would certainly have little to no interest in pairing him in a backcourt with Ben Simmons. But if the Rockets could deal Paul to the New York Knicks and send some version of Dennis Smith Jr. and Allonzo Trier to the 76ers, could that be better for the Sixers than allowing Butler to walk for nothing?
If the Rockets can move Paul and acquire Butler, they will have the firepower to challenge any team in the Western Conference.
The Nuggets are in perfect position to take the plunge and enter the market for a big-name player. Armed with plenty of resources and overstocked with depth, the Nuggets took the Portland Trail Blazers within a game of the Western Conference Finals in 2019. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray will carry that valuable experience into the season with a wide-open gaze across a league void of a prohibitive favorite.
The Nuggets could upgrade the small forward position with Butler in one of two ways. They can forgo Paul Millsap's team option ($30 million) and trade Will Barton into a team's salary-cap space (Pelicans?), or they can attempt to send out salary in a sign-and-trade. The Nuggets could match perfectly with Millsap (combined with picks), or they could combine the wages of any two of Mason Plumlee, Gary Harris and Barton. The Nuggets also have all of their first-round picks going forward as well as appealing youngsters like Malik Beasley, Monte Morris and Michael Porter Jr.
Butler, Murray and Jokic could form one of the more exciting and devastating trios in the Western Conference. Butler could make up for Murray's lapses defensively and take the veteran leadership role he'd probably never gain in Houston or L.A.
The 76ers came calamitously close to advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. It took an impossible shot from Kawhi Leonard and a lingering injury from Joel Embiid to prevent what would have been a compelling matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Simmons, Embiid, Butler and Tobias Harris didn't get much time to jell in the regular season, but in their 179 minutes together, the group posted a decisive advantage of 21.2 points per 100 possessions.
The 76ers may not be Harris' first option in free agency, but he should be Philadelphia's given the haul it unloaded to acquire him for just 27 games.
Should the 76ers win the Harris sweepstakes and re-sign Butler, they would again be one of the favorites in the East to ascend to the NBA Finals. They would also gift the fans many more interviews like this one.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers have as legitimate a shot at the newly vacated throne in the Western Conference as anyone, having advanced to the Western Conference Finals after a seven-game slugfest with the Denver Nuggets.
But the Blazers still seem a step below the elite in the Association and will need to make a splashier move than a Kent Bazemore-Evan Turner swap to move to the next level.
True, the Blazers could use an upgrade at the 4, where Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu have fallen short when teams have concentrated their defensive efforts on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. An upgrade with Cleveland Cavaliers big man Kevin Love could be their optimal move.
However, with the impending free agency of JJ Redick and just two years remaining on McCollum's deal, a Butler-McCollum swap makes sense for a lot of reasons. Butler would provide a two-way alpha capable of taking over games late, something that failed the Blazers in third quarters against the Golden State Warriors and cost them in a first-round sweep versus the New Orleans Pelicans in 2018. McCollum is set to earn $27.6 million in 2019-20, making his deal compatible in a straight swap, but if the 76ers desire a bit more, a player of Anfernee Simons' stature could seal the deal.
The Nets approached the offseason with eyes on adding two max-level free agents, as evidenced by their pursuit of Kyrie Irving and their costly dump of swingman Allen Crabbe to the Atlanta Hawks.
Kevin Durant has been understandably linked to Irving and the Nets, but with his health and ever-shifting intentions in flux, the Nets could pivot to a secondary option in the form of Butler.
Irving, Butler, Joe Harris, Rodions Kurucs and Jarrett Allen give the squad everything it needs to match up with almost any contender in the Eastern Conference. The Nets have the shooting, the creation, the perimeter defender and the rim protector to stymie nearly every attack. They also have depth with Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and Taurean Prince already established before filling out the roster with their room exception.
Butler could play on the big stage alongside a polarizing star in one of the more stable and professionally run organizations in the NBA.
The Heat have made a late surge in the Butler conversation, per ESPN's Zach Lowe. They could be a logistical landing spot for Butler's personality, and he'd work well in Erik Spoelstra's backcourt alongside Josh Richardson.
The Heat would need plenty of help from the 76ers and a third team to match salaries, but they do have their own first-round picks going forward—sans the 2021 first now owed to the Clippers (via the 76ers) in the Harris deal.
They also have a few players who might interest teams with available space in Dion Waiters, Justise Winslow and Kelly Olynyk. The Heat would prefer to deal Hassan Whiteside and/or James Johnson, but moving just two of the previously mentioned guys would help.
What would the allure be for Butler? Miami, first of all, hasn't shied away from a big splash in the past, famously landing LeBron James and Chris Bosh in 2010 and Shaquille O'Neal in 2004. Stars seem to want to play in Miami, and no state income tax doesn't hurt, either.
Most importantly, the Heat have president Pat Riley and won 37 or more games since 2008, making them an intriguing landing spot for any would-be veteran free agent in search of a stable organization and front office.