The Los Angeles Lakers finally landed a second star to pair with LeBron James after months of back-and-forth, sending out Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and picks for the services of Anthony Davis. With the draft out of the way, the Lakers immediately switch gears to building around Davis and LeBron. The Lakers likely won’t have enough space for a full max contract, but they can create enough cap room to offer a good player something close to a max. They’ll just need to find a match.
One potential suitor whose name has been floated around is Jimmy Butler, who is an unrestricted free agent after his trade to Philadelphia last season. Max Kellerman, for one, believes it would be a good fit. Butler’s playing style and injury history, however, show he wouldn’t be a good fit with LeBron, or the Lakers as a whole.
The biggest issue at hand is that signing Butler would require LA to offer a four-year contract worth over $100 million to a man who has a lot of basketball miles on his legs. It was only two years ago he suffered a torn meniscus that sidelined him for much of his first season in Minnesota, and things aren’t exactly going to get better. History isn’t on his side, either; graduates from the Tom Thibodeau School of Defense don’t age well, especially those signed to big contracts.
Take Luol Deng, who signed a four-year deal worth $72 million with the Lakers entering his age-31 season back in 2016. He’s played in 23 total games over the last two seasons. Or Joakim Noah, who also signed a $72 million contract over four years as he turned 31 with the New York Knicks in 2016. He fell off quicker than Deng, and the contract was labeled the worst in the league until the Knicks finally bought him out last year.
As it so happens, Butler is going to be 30 next year. While there’s no certainty he’d follow the same path as his former teammates, there’s a lot of evidence to argue Butler’s play will decline rapidly sooner rather than later after averaging 35 minutes a night for five years. Committing to paying Butler $25-$30 million during his early 30s doesn’t seem like the smartest move.
This isn’t even to mention Butler’s game, which doesn’t match the LeBron blueprint. Davis is a natural complement to James, a superstar who doesn’t need to facilitate the offense and can lock down the paint on both ends of the floor. Butler would be an ideal fit as a hard-nosed defender who can hit his open shots, if that’s who he was as a player. But this past year in Philly showed Butler isn’t suited to only be an elite 3-and-D player. He shoots merely 34% from deep, and doesn’t get into a groove unless he has the ball in his hands, attacking the basket and taking mid-range jumpers.
This occasionally caused problems in Philadelphia, and Butler would bring the offense to a screeching halt with his ball-stopping. The Sixers didn’t mind, because he usually did that at the end of games to close out an opponent. The Lakers, for all the holes they have, don’t need a closer. They have LeBron James, one of the most unstoppable players in the world at any given moment. Butler would help out defensively, but there are a lot of different ways to find that level of defensive production. Giving one man a max contract to provide that isn’t the solution a smart team would pursue.
Butler doesn’t fit with the Lakers, and the franchise shouldn’t be fighting for position in pursuit of paying him a ton of money as he ages. They should be looking for role players to feed off the space LeBron and AD will create, pure shooters and defenders who have made a career out of doing all the little things right. Butler can’t be relied upon to be play consistently given his injury history and past examples of other former Bulls who received big contracts entering their later years. If anything, the Lakers should be prioritizing availability over everything after seeing their team unfold without LeBron last season.
LA has a lot of options this summer. What they shouldn’t do is pay an aging star max money when he doesn’t fit with their other stars, much less one with that many minutes on his body. There are many ways they can tackle this offseason. They should eliminate this one.