After declining his player option for the upcoming season, Jimmy Butler is an unrestricted free agent.
Butler, 29, is coming off of one of the more interesting seasons of his eight-year NBA career. After 10 games with Minnesota, he was traded to Philadelphia where he would form a Big 3 alongside All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. It would eventually become a Big 4 when the Sixers acquired Tobias Harris ahead of the trade deadline.
In Philly, Butler would become the team's go-to guy in clutch situations and average 18.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists over 55 regular-season games. In the postseason, Butler averaged 19.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists over 12 games while the Sixers came within one win of making the Eastern Conference Finals.
Should he return to Philly, Butler could sign a five-year deal worth roughly $190 million while a max deal elsewhere would be four years and worth roughly $140 million.
If he stays, the Sixers again will be a favourite to come out of the Eastern Conference. Should he decide to sign elsewhere, he would immediately bring his new team to another tier.
What should Butler do? Let's make the case for a few options.
The 76ers came excruciatingly close to advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals - it was literally a matter of a few bounces that lifted the Raptors in Game 7 of the semifinal round.
After coming within a few plays of defeating the eventual champions, why not run it back?
With another year of experience under their belts and the sting of the Game 7 fuelling them, this Sixers team would again be a top-three team in the Eastern Conference should Butler re-sign. Last season was a scramble, as Philadelphia was forced to get accustomed to playing with one another on the fly while continuously making roster moves and fighting through injury in the process.
The Sixers' postseason starting unit of Butler, Embiid, Simmons, Harris and JJ Redick only had 10 regular-season tuneups; although Harris and Redick are also free agents, a Big 3 of Butler, Embiid and Simmons is just as talented as any trio in the league.
By remaining intact, the Sixers trio would have training camp and the majority of the 82-game season to develop more on-court chemistry and develop clearer roles regarding who gets the ball and when. Butler and Embiid have displayed great chemistry off the court and Simmons will continue to come into his own as a playmaker and distributor.
With free agency decisions looming for other Eastern Conference contenders (Kawhi Leonard, Khris Middleton, Kyrie Irving), the Sixers retaining Butler could potentially make them the preseason favourite.
There's no place like home.
Butler, a native of nearby Tomball, TX, would not only have the opportunity to return to his roots in joining the Rockets, he would also be joining a team with a legitimate shot to compete for an NBA title.
Things change quickly in the NBA; after it had appeared the Rockets window as serious contenders had closed, the unfortunate and untimely injuries of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson put a halt to the Golden State Warriors dynasty. In addition to their injuries, both Durant and Thompson could leave via free agency; essentially, the Western Conference is wide open regardless of what they do.
Due to cap constraints, it will be tricky for the Rockets to acquire Butler but reports have emerged that Houston is exploring potential sign-and-trade transactions to add him to its roster.
Should Butler join the Rockets, he would form a solid trio alongside MVP runner-up James Harden and Chris Paul. While Paul will be 34 for the better part of the 2019-20 season, adding Butler would relieve much of the pressure that negatively impacted the point guard's performance in the 2019 postseason.
Butler's ability to create on the offensive end would make things more difficult for defences, who would now have to game plan to focus on he and Harden, who has led the league in scoring for the past two seasons. On the defensive end, Butler would be able to key in on the prolific wing scorers that some of the league's elite teams possess.
It's somewhat of a long shot, but the intrigue of a lineup featuring Paul, Harden and Butler is enough to make things more interesting in a Western Conference that may be undergoing a power shift.
Los Angeles Lakers
Along with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Butler would round out one of the most talented Big 3s in the NBA.
After reports surfaced that the Lakers would move Isaac Bonga, Jemerrio Jones and Moe Wagner to clear cap space, an additional report came out saying that Anthony Davis would waive the $4.0M trade kicker in his contract, meaning the Lakers could offer Butler the max contract he desires.
As mentioned already, the uncertainty surrounding Golden State essentially means the Western Conference is as wide open as it has ever been and regardless who joins other Western Conference teams, a roster that has LeBron, AD and Butler would likely be the favourite to win the West and the title.
Things could get tricky with three wing-oriented players (Butler, James and Kyle Kuzma) but the talent and basketball IQ present in that locker room would be more than enough to figure things out by the midway point of the season. On the defensive end, Butler and Davis alone is a scary duo and while LeBron will turn 35 next season, he still has the IQ and fundamentals on the defensive end to make plays when the team needs it most.
The scary part about Butler joining the Lakers would be the fact that they would have multiple guys on their roster that have shown the ability to step up in the clutch and make big plays. Opposing teams would be on their heels all game long and would often find themselves in compromising positions when deciding who - and who not to - to give the bulk of their attention to on the defensive end.
Butler would be an interesting option for the Clippers, who are trying to lure in two max contract players.
If they could get Butler to commit, it'll be easier to get another big-named free agent to commit. Butler is coming off of a postseason that essentially earned him the right to demand a max contract. He put out gutsy performance after gutsy performance to keep the 76ers alive and running as long as possible, and he could have led them to an NBA title should a few bounces have gone their way.
Butler proved he's more than capable of being a No. 2 option on a team that's competing for a championship, and the Clippers are already deeper than the 76ers were. They're bringing back a handful of young talent in guys like Montrezl Harrell, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet. Lou Williams continues to somehow get better at scoring with age and Danilo Gallinari is an extremely solid fourth option if you're trying to make a playoff push.
If the Clippers can get Butler and another max player - whether it's Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson - they'll have as good a shot as anyone in the West to reach The Finals. That would have to be a year down the road if it's Durant or Thompson, but if that's the case, it'll be worth the wait.
Butler would be a great first domino down to try and recruit a second superstar to the Clippers.
The Nets were reportedly on a short list of Butler's desired teams when it initially became clear that he wanted to move on from Minnesota prior to last season. Brooklyn is unique in that it has the cap flexibility to bring in two players on max contracts without sacrificing the structure of its roster.
A young, talented, scrappy team that features the likes of rookies Nic Claxton (20) and Jaylen Hands (20), Dzanan Musa (20), Jarrett Allen (21), Rodions Kurucs (21), Caris Levert (24) and Spencer Dinwiddie (26). 23-year-old D'Angelo Russell is a restricted free agent but led the Nets to the playoffs in 2019 after registering the best season of his four-year career. Russell could stay and continue to build alongside a young crop of talent or bring in more assets in a potential sign-and-trade.
Butler saw this Nets team exceed expectations firsthand as he and the Sixers were tested in their first-round series with the Nets, though they would eventually advance in five games.
Despite all of the talent already on the roster, this team clearly missed having the guy, and Butler could fit that role perfectly. With his experience and ability to step up in the game's most crucial moments Butler would take this team to another level.
Let's not forget that Brooklyn still could bring another All-Star type player in addition to Butler and Kyrie Irving is a name that has been linked to the Nets in numerous reports. The two won a gold medal together at the 2016 Olympics and are said to have a solid relationship; with Butler and Irving a 1-2 punch, talent alone makes this Nets team very scary in the Eastern Conference, and a favourite depending on how other free agent chips fall.
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