For the Brooklyn Nets, the trade of All-Star Jimmy Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers takes a potential 2019 free agent out of play, but Butler wasn’t a fit.
America’s — or at least Minnesota’s — long nightmare ended Saturday with news the Minnesota Timberwolves had agreed to a deal that would send All-Star Jimmy Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers. But the Brooklyn Nets aren’t a loser in this scenario.
The Nets are projected to go into the offseason with lots of cap space and a free agency group that will include Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and may also have Butler, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard (all have 2019-20 player options they are expected to decline).
Irving essentially took himself off the market last month when he told the crowd at the team’s Fan Appreciation Night he intended to remain in Boston.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski’s report on ESPN.com, Butler and the 76ers plan to formalize a long-term deal this summer, once Butler declines his 2019-20 option. So that ostensibly removes another piece from the free agency chess board.
This one doesn’t hurt the Nets, however, as Butler was not a good fit in Brooklyn for a number of reasons.
As much as every coach and general manager, regardless of sport, wants to believe he is the guy who can reach the troubled star player, the fact is Butler has been a locker-room malignancy in each of his last two stops with the Timberwolves and, prior to that, the Chicago Bulls.
He’s also a player who will be 30 by the time next season starts. Not just a 30-year-old NBA star, however. Butler will be a 30-year-old star with a history of knee problems and an even lengthier history of heavy minutes under coach Tom Thibodeau both in Chicago and Minnesota.
Even this season, when Butler demanded a trade from the Timberwolves, Thibodeau used Butler for 36.1 minutes per game on the nights General Soreness opted to report for duty with the rest of the troops.
In three seasons as a starter for Thibodeau in Chicago, Butler averaged 38.1 minutes per game and missed 15, 17 and 15 games, respectively.
After playing 76 games — the most Butler has played as a starter — with the Bulls under Fred Hoiberg and averaging 37.0 minutes per game (he played a career-high 2,809 minutes in all) in 2016-17, Butler was reunited with Thibodeau in the Twin Cities last season.
He missed 23 games with injuries and averaged 36.7 minutes per game.
His career minutes per game average is a bit deceptive. That 32.3 figure includes Butler’s first season, when he was a back-of-the-rotation guy for the Bulls averaging 8.5 minutes a game, and his second year, when he mostly came off the bench and played 26 minutes a night.
Including this season, his sixth as a full-time starter, Butler has played 37.5 minutes per game in 344 games, starting all but one, but missing 73 games over that span.
Butler might not even be as big of a difference maker in Philadelphia as some are making him out to be.
And while Embiid likely has a strong enough personality to deal with Butler’s inevitable prickly side, Simmons’ reticence to shoot 3-pointers may make him a target of the star’s ire.
The 76ers gave up two starters to get Butler, surrendering forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric. Butler likely steps into Covington’s vacated spot and the smart money is on Wilson Chandler starting as a stretch 4 now that he’s healthy.
That starting five of Embiid, Butler, Simmons, Chandler and Markelle Fultz looks decent enough on paper.
It’s also a starting five that has accumulated four seasons that were missed entirely due to injury (two for Embiid and one each by Simmons and Chandler), while Butler has an injury history and Fultz missed most of his rookie season.
And behind that group you have an elite shooter in J.J. Redick, a promising rookie in Landry Shamet … and a lot of questions. Depth was a concern for Philadelphia before dealing away two rotation guys to get one back.
None of this is intended to say I don’t like Butler’s game — he’s a solid scorer, has turned himself into an average floor spacer and he defends like nobody’s business on the perimeter.
It’s the sideshow he seems to inevitably bring with him, one that developed in tandem with his rise to stardom as the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2014-15.
He wants to win. But he demands a lot from his teammates and generally seems to be the antithesis of a harmonizing veteran leader.
Given that and projecting his injury history and past workload as potential indicators of a decline that could be both quickly approaching and rapid once it arrives, is this really a guy you want to lock in for his age 30, 31, 32, 33 and 34 seasons?
If I’m the Brooklyn Nets, that’s a hard pass.