Lakers Rumors: Free-Agent Target Jimmy Butler Has Always Wanted to Play for LA

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistJune 27, 2019

Philadelphia 76ers' Jimmy Butler in action during the second half of Game 3 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Toronto Raptors, Thursday, May 2, 2019, in Philadelphia. 76ers won 116-95. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

With the Los Angeles Lakers clearing enough cap space on Thursday to create a max slot heading into free agency, one name to keep an eye on is Jimmy Butler.

ESPN's Nick Friedell said during an appearance on The Jump (around the 49:05 mark) that Butler has always wanted to be a Laker:

"If we're looking for the 'wow' move, there's one name on that list [of free agents] that jumps out to me now that they've cleared this space: Jimmy Butler. Jimmy has always wanted to play for the Lakers, in Los Angeles. If he, in his mind, can go to a place where he knows, 'I'm not the man, but I can help try to win a title...'"

When Rachel Nichols asked if Butler would want, or be willing, to take on more of a supporting role, Friedell continued:

"LeBron's gonna have to make that call. We talk about free agency and recruiting: If LeBron James wants Jimmy Butler, and Philly is not comfortable offering him that fifth year and all the max money—if LeBron calls and says 'Jimmy, I need you to win a title, you'll be in L.A. and you'll get all the trappings of being a star in this place,' I think that's the guy to call."

Obviously, there are a lot of caveats to consider. Would Butler really want to play third fiddle for the Lakers, leaving a situation with the Philadelphia 76ers where he was the team's late-game closer? In L.A., Butler wouldn't get those looks with James and Anthony Davis on the court. 

And would James want Butler in that role? While Butler is a superb two-way wing and would give the team a secondary ball-handler, Butler never seemed happy in Philadelphia when he was asked to be a catch-and-shoot player. He was far happier, and more effective, when he was given the reins to the half-court offense. 

In Los Angeles, however, the ball would go through James and Davis first. While Butler would get his touches, he'd likely be returned to more of a catch-and-shoot role. 

And if the Sixers come with a five-year, $189 million contract, will the 29-year-old Butler be able to turn down such a mammoth offer? If Butler returns to the Sixers, they'll be title contenders, and if the Sixers re-sign Tobias Harris as well, the team that took the Toronto Raptors to seven games and gave them their toughest series would arguably be the favorites in the Eastern Conference, especially if Kawhi Leonard heads West.

For Butler, the consideration will be this: Do you stay in Philadelphia on a title contender where you can get the most money and years on your contract and where you have a defined role as the team's late-game closer? Or do you choose the team that you've reportedly always wanted to play for, in the appealing market of Los Angeles, but where your role will be as the team's third fiddle?

Obviously, Butler's decision may include other teams. A sign-and-trade with the Houston Rockets has been rumored. Several teams reportedly want to pair him with Kawhi Leonard, perhaps the Los Angeles Clippers or New York Knicks (though obviously just about every team in the NBA would want that duo). He'll have his suitors.

But both the Sixers and Lakers offer very intriguing pitches, and his decision will have major ramifications heading into the 2019-20 season.