He won’t be the biggest fish available this summer, but Jimmy Butler, one of the league’s top two-way wings and a player coming off an 18.7/5.3/4.0 campaign will have a bevy of suitors once he hits the open market as an unrestricted free agent come July 1.
The common belief is that the incumbent Philadelphia 76ers are the heavy favorites to re-sign Butler this offseason, and with good reason – they gave up multiple key pieces to get him, they own his Bird Rights (facilitating things from a financial sense) and he was one of their best playoff contributors this year, proving his importance to the team. But that won’t stop rival teams from trying to get in on the sweepstakes.
Franchises flush with spending cash who miss on their top free-agent targets would undoubtedly love to circle back on a player of Butler’s caliber, and if the Sixers hesitate to offer him the full max, things could get iffy between the two parties, opening the Marquette product up to a potential departure.
It doesn’t seem that likely now, but things can get hectic fast in free agency, so just in case, we decided to break down four potential landing spots for Butler this summer, along with what a return to Philadelphia could look like.
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The team with the second-most cap space available this summer, the Los Angeles Clippers, are coming off an impressive campaign that free agents around the Association undoubtedly took note of.
There hasn’t been much tying Butler to Los Angeles, at least not that team in Los Angeles, and most expect the Clippers to go harder after other small forward options such as Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant – but that doesn’t mean plans can’t change.
With Butler on the wing alongside Danilo Gallinari, head coach Doc Rivers would have two extremely efficient swingmen to build around, and during stints where the duo share the floor with Lou Williams, the Clippers’ offense could get downright nasty. Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor, Butler would give Los Angeles a much-needed boost as far as wing defense, an area where the seven-year veteran truly shines.
So although there may not be much of a connection between Butler and the Clippers just yet, he would be a great fit there. Plus, once free agency opens up and contracts start flying, things tend to change quickly.
Very quietly, the Indiana Pacers have a good amount of cap space opened up for the summer of 2019. With just six players under contract for 2019-20, Indiana is projected to have nearly $45 million in spending money this offseason, enough to sign one player at the max and more than enough for additional role players as well.
Per usual, little leaks are coming out of Indiana as far as their offseason plans go, so there’s a chance they choose to play it safe and use their money on re-signing the majority of their impending free agents. That wouldn’t be a poor path to take; Indiana, even without their star player Victor Oladipo for a good chunk of the year, still managed to win 48 games in the regular season. There’s no doubt they have a strong team as is.
Regardless, if the Pacers do decide to swing for the fences, going after a guy like Butler would make a lot of sense.
His hard-nosed, two-way style of play would fit in perfectly with what head coach Nate McMillan expects out of his players; he would form a fantastic 1-2 punch with Oladipo – two stout ball-handlers who like to bully people on both ends; and he could turn Indiana into legit contenders in the Eastern Conference.
It would come out of nowhere, but with the money and need on the wing (especially if Bojan Bogdanovic walks this summer), the Pacers could be a very interesting landing spot for the four-time All-Star.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
If you want rumors and predictions, they’re not hard to find in this gossipy league. Rival executives will tell you, without hesitation, that Durant is bound for the Knicks; that Irving is likely to join him; that Leonard likes the Clippers; that Butler might choose the Lakers – unless he chooses the Nets.
Heading into the summer, the common notion is that the Lakers’ top two targets are Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis, but if they wind up missing on one, or both, Butler could be a good fallback plan. The team clearly lacks that second star to take over the offensive load for LeBron James – a role Butler would fill well thanks to his inside-out scoring ability – and could use another strong wing defender to go with Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball – an area in which Butler is a monster.
He wouldn’t be a Davis- or Irving-level addition, but considering where the Lakers sat around Christmas record-wise before James got hurt, acquiring Butler should be enough for Los Angeles to at least make the playoffs, which would be a major step forward for a club that’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons for a good while now.
When Butler originally made his trade request from the Minnesota Timberwolves, one of his preferred destinations was the Brooklyn Nets.
Now, according to betting odds, the Nets have the second-best chance of landing Butler this summer:
Butler joining the team that he just helped eliminate would be somewhat surprising, though far stranger things have happened in the NBA. Besides that, there’s no reason to think these two parties wouldn’t be interested in a potential marriage.
The Nets have boatloads of cap space (over $50 million worth, to be exact), they have a fantastic culture with great young talent and they need a star to help them take things to the next level.
Butler could very well be that guy.
What’s more, by getting rid of the final year of Allen Crabbe’s contract, Brooklyn will have enough to offer up two max deals this summer, meaning landing Butler could pave the way for a second star to join the Nets – a guy like Kyrie Irving, for example, who is reportedly interested in what Brooklyn is trying to sell.
With a core headlined by Butler and Irving, and featuring role players the caliber of Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen, the Nets could undergo a major transformation this offseason, taking the difficult leap from good to great.
Exciting times could be ahead for the Nets.
Nevertheless, regardless of the limited buzz about him signing elsewhere, most signs point to the Sixers ponying up, offering Butler the max and re-signing him this summer. That may not be the fun outcome fans who prefer a strong dose of chaos in their free agency are hoping for, but there’s a reason Philadelphia has by far the highest betting odds in the Butler sweepstakes.
The 76ers gave up two promising fan-favorites in Robert Covington and Dario Saric to land Butler, acquired his Bird Rights in the process, and then watched him become the team’s leader in the playoffs, especially during times where it looked like things could go south for Philadelphia.
For all of those reasons, it only makes sense for the team to do everything in their power to re-sign Butler this summer, even if that means offering him a max contract. The fact they have his Bird Rights will make that cap hit sting less, and with a full offseason to develop him alongside Embiid, Simmons and Harris, Philadelphia could be heading into 2019-20 with a whole lot of momentum.
That is, at least, if they’re successful in re-signing their two big acquisitions from 2018-19.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.