Should Lakers Pursue Jimmy Butler?
The case for the Lakers signing Jimmy Butler to a max contract should they fail to sign one of the top five free agent superstars
With LeBron James recruiting him and Arash Markazi tweeting that he would “join the Lakers in a second if they offered him a max deal,” Jimmy Butler has suddenly emerged as a viable free agent target for the Lakers this summer.
Should the Lakers strike out with the top five superstar free agents, there’s a good argument to be made that signing Jimmy Butler to a max or near max contract despite his age, mileage, and baggage could be a better option than trading the #4 pick and pieces from their young core for Anthony Davis or Bradley Beal. With a well-deserved reputation as a clutch offensive player and tough defender, Butler would be a great backcourt fit next to Lonzo Ball.
More importantly, signing the 29-year old Butler as a free agent would enable the Lakers to keep the #4 pick in next month’s draft and young stars Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart or use them in a trade for veteran players better prepared to help LeBron compete for a championship. The Lakers could even trade for Anthony Davis or Bradley Beal although that would likely leave them without the depth to compete for a championship.
While he’s older and not as ideal a fit on the Lakers as the top five free agent superstars, Butler’s a proven clutch shooting guard who’s a tough competitor with a reputation as a plus defender, although his regular season DEFRTG of 106.8 actually ranked 14th on the 76ers. Jimmy averaged 18.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in 33.2 minutes per game last season. He finished the regular season as the 76er’s #2 scorer, #5 rebounder, and #2 playmaker.
How players perform in the playoffs is a more reliable indicator of their true value than how they performed during the regular season. To Butler’s credit, he raised his game in the playoffs, averaging 19.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.2 assists in 35.1 minutes. He was the team’s #2 scorer, #4 rebounder, and #2 playmaker during the playoffs. More importantly, his DEFRTG of 100.5 for the playoffs ranked second on the Sixers only behind Joel Embiid’s 91.4.
Positionally, the 6-foot-8 232 pound Butler would be an outstanding fit as the Lakers’ starting shooting guard playing alongside point guard Lonzo Ball. That would enable the Lakers to move Brandon Ingram to his natural small forward position and play LeBron James at power forward. The Lakers could then re-sign JaVale McGee with their room exception to start at center or try to sign-and-trade for a stretch five like Brook Lopez or Dewayne Dedmon.
There are definitely legitimate concerns that signing Jimmy Butler as a free agent might not be as good a move for the Lakers as trading for Bradley Beal, who’s 4 years younger and a more prolific and accurate three-point shooter. The Lakers might be able to get Beal for Ingram, Hart, and the #4 pick, which would leave them $20 million in cap space to sign multiple free agent role players like Brook Lopez, Dewayne Dedmon, Danny Green, or Terry Rozier.
Should the Lakers ultimately decide to pursue Butler, they might be wise not to offer him a max deal and to limit his contract to a three-year deal or make the fourth year a team option. With his age and mileage, Jimmy could end up being overpaid and under productive his last two years. The Lakers already have a promising young player in 21-year old Brandon Ingram whose game and upside project to match what Butler can produce within a year or two.
Bottom line, if the Lakers fail to sign a top five superstar free agent, Jimmy Butler could become a viable option to trading for Anthony Davis or Bradley Beal provided he would agree to less than the max and less than four years.
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