The NBA offseason is the best in sports, and this year’s getting an early start that’s centered around Jimmy Butler.
On Nov. 2, 1999, Lil Wayne dropped Tha Block Is Hot. As of June 19, 2017, his album title is officially applicable to the NBA’s trade block. ESPN’s Marc Stein dropped a bomb that the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking to put together a multi-team deal that brings Butler onto their roster. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune then added that the Phoenix Suns could be the third team in the deal because they have the assets to make it worth Chicago’s while since they’d be all-in on a rebuild.
I’m already worried about my Twitter notifications being non-stop all summer long, and this certainly won’t help. On the other hand, I’d love to see a blockbuster deal like this. Every team in the league is looking to compile a squad to take down the Warriors, and the Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs are the two who are capable of doing it even without an additional star. Unfortunately, we never got to see a fully healthy Spurs team against the Warriors. We did, however, get to see the Cavs. And we know how that ended.
Also Read: Andre Iguodala Is a Must-Retain For Golden State
Not too long ago, I wrote a piece on how Cleveland needs to fix themselves internally before adding another star. I believe it. However, I wrote that after hearing the possibility of Carmelo Anthony being the guy they would acquire. Jimmy Butler is a different animal. And if the Cavs could keep Kevin Love, the 2018 Finals would be so explosive that I’m not sure NBA Twitter could handle it. We all knew that Butler would be a hot commodity this summer. Boston tried to make a deal for him around the trade deadline, and it flopped because Danny Ainge didn’t want to part with any of his assets. Now, more teams are in on Butler.
The Celtics are probably still interested. According to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns are also interested. Come to think of it — all the league’s teams wouldn’t mind trying their hand for Butler.
What’s not to like? Before Kawhi Leonard’s explosion, Butler was considered the best two-way player in the league. Now that Leonard’s taken that title, Butler’s dropped all the way down second-place, right above Paul George. He’s one of the few truly elite players who can carry the burden of an entire offense while having to play lockdown defense on the opposing team’s best player. That’s been his M.O. for the last couple of seasons.
Butler’s most recent campaign was his best to date, and it was just a taste of what his prime might be like. The 27-year-old averaged 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.9 steals while shooting 36.7 percent from three — all of those were career-highs. On top of that, he finished third in the NBA with 676 free throw attempts and was 10th in box plus/minus with plus-6.9. His all-around dominance produced a 25.1 PER and landed him on the All-NBA third team, which was a first. (The guys selected for the second and first teams were Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, James and Leonard.)
Also Read: The Most Memorable Moments From The NBA Playoffs
Cleveland’s biggest problem this year was their defense. Butler helps them in that area. First and foremost, it’ll enable LeBron to hide more and not exert himself as much. That’s going to be huge if the Cavaliers continue to enforce their “minutes restriction.” Additionally, Tyronn Lue will be able to play with lineups and work out a rotation that won’t put the bench up you-know-what’s creek when James sits.
There are two ways to analyze every scenario — one with Kevin Love and one without. Is Butler a better on-ball defender than Love? Yes. However, we cannot glance over the incredible defense that Love played in the Finals. His anticipation was incredible, and his rotations were as crisp as we’ve ever seen them. If Love is a piece of the trade pie, then the Cavaliers are a lot better during the regular season and only a little bit better afterward. If Love stays… man, they’d be so much more improved once the coaching staff figures out the best combinations to throw out there.
Cleveland would also have the perfect addition to their small ball lineup. Usually, the Cavs would run Tristan Thompson and Love as the two bigs when playing small. It’s not a bad frontcourt, but even they are going to have a tough time keeping up with guards and wings — it’s just how it is in the NBA. With Butler, they no longer have that problem. They can run Irving at point and Butler and James at the three and four, respectively. Lue now has the luxury of platooning J.R. Smith or Iman Shumpert (or someone else, maybe) at the two and Thompson and Love at the five. It may not be an other-worldly jump, but they’re less vulnerable and aren’t liable to get pick-and-rolled to death.
Also Read: LeBron, KD Made An Incredible Finals
On the other end is where things get interesting. Butler has the growing offensive repertoire to average 26-28 points a night, and that’s more than reachable if he’s on the Bulls. He’s their only shot creator, and he can get looks from almost anywhere in addition to getting to the free throw line at will. For the last few years, Butler’s been a mildly efficient guy who consistently hovered around 45 percent from the field. This past year, he shot 45.5 percent, and most of his attempts were coming inside the three-point line. What makes his clip even more notable is that the Bulls spaced the floor about as well as a field of corn. They finished the year 28th in threes made, 29th in attempts and 24th in percentage (34.0). This means defenders can help off their man harder than usual because they aren’t a threat to can the jumper, and that theoretically makes Butler’s shots harder than they need to be.
I can assure you that the Cavaliers, who had the second-best three-point attack in the league, would be able to extract more from Butler. It’s not outrageous to think he could shoot 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three because of how Cleveland runs their offense. Butler wouldn’t be forced to initiate when James and Irving are on the floor with him, but that doesn’t devalue his offense. He’d be fine working off-ball, and he buried 46-of-113 catch-and-shoot threes, which works out to 40.7 percent.
Now, here’s an interesting stat: Richard Jefferson, whose primary offense is catch-and-shoot threes, went 59-of-164 (36 percent). Take that with a grain of salt because the two players aren’t the same, but think about the options that Butler creates.
If the defender helps off too far, James has no problem making a skip pass to the corner for an open three. On the next possession, Butler has his man just a step closer to him, but James still elects to make that pass. Instead of pulling up, Jimmy G. puts the ball on the deck and blows by his man who was closing out too hard, and now he has the options — either go up or drop a pass off to whoever’s in front of the basket. The second-to-last scenario is Butler’s man clinging to him like a wet t-shirt, which puts the opponent at a disadvantage because the ball handler and roll man wouldn’t face further resistance. Lastly, we have Butler’s man falling asleep and letting him slip back-door. It may not happen often, but it will from time to time.
All of these are going to happen whether Kevin Love is on the floor or not. From Love’s side, he can shoot as well as Butler, but I wouldn’t trust him to consistently put the ball on the floor. Of course, there are other options; Love could always get the ball on the block.
Also Read: Lonzo Ball Has To Be The Lakers’ Guy
In short, I’m not sure how much better (or worse) Cleveland would be on offense if they swapped Butler for Love. My instinct tells me they’d be better, but by how much remains to be seen. The selling point on Butler is his versatility, whereas Love has turned into a lights-out three-point shooter who can occasionally get his shot from other spots on the floor.
All of this is hypothetical. Not many details have come forward aside from the Cavaliers working toward a deal. Regardless, kudos to Cleveland if they’re able to pull this off, but I believe it’ll take James, Irving, Love and Butler to take down the Warriors. Whatever the outcome is, free agency is off to a great start.
Start a conversation with me on Twitter