Things happen far too quickly in the NBA. A year ago this time, Jimmy Butler was just two weeks removed from a first round playoff loss as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he’d led the team to their first playoff birth since 2003-04.
Following a pair of trade demands over the summer and a strange start to the 2018-19 season, Butler ended up on the Philadelphia 76ers. Their season ended on a heartbreaking buzzer beater in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Toronto Raptors. Butler was a bulldog in the playoffs and after some early chemistry issues right after the trade, he seemed to fit in well and it's expected he returns to Philly.
Eight year veteran Jimmy Butler is a former first round pick of the Chicago Bulls, where he was selected 30th over all in 2011. Butler signed a five year extension (the fifth year is a player option) with the Bulls in 2015, a year before the NBA salary cap spike.
After six years in Chicago, Butler was traded on draft night in 2017 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Following a year and change with the Wolves, Butler’s spent most of the 2018-19 season with the Sixers.
Jimmy Butler is an outlier in basketball terms. Late round selections trend towards role players, yet Butler found himself in the strange position of being the best player on the recovering Bulls following the knee injuries to former MVP Derrick Rose. Despite securing a large contract in 2015, Butler’s been clear in his frustrations with other lesser players like Andrew Wiggins receiving contracts that pay more while not performing as well.
Butler is a prototypical play making guard/forward, ideal in the current era with plenty of space to drive to the basket. Like fellow free agents Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard, Butler’s at his best with the ball in his hands. However, despite having great size at 6’8, 230 pounds, he’s not in the athletic class as either of the aforementioned players. He’s an above average three point shooter, solid rebounder, and underrated passer.
On the defensive side of things, Butler’s been extremely impactful during his career. His size and instincts make him an excellent man defender in an era where defense is hard to execute.
By all accounts, Butler has an extraordinary work ethic and will to win, even for a professional. His demeanor could work quite well with a coach like Rick Carlisle.
At nearly 30, Butler has a great deal of wear and tear on his body over the course of just eight seasons. Playing for head coach Tom Thibodeau has had real consequences for other players; six of Butler’s eight seasons in the NBA he’s played at least 36 minutes a night. With that mileage has come some knee injuries, though Butler did manage to stay mostly healthy this season.
Past injury and wear and tear concerns, Butler’s played on three teams in less than a year. He simply rubs his teammates the wrong way and there’s no way around that. Whether he’d fit in the younger Mavericks locker room is a question worth asking. With the retirement of Dirk Nowitzki, there's a giant hole for leadership and stability. Does Butler help or hurt there?
Fit with the Mavericks
On the basketball court, Butler checks many of the boxes of need for Dallas. He’s an excellent defender, pretty good at rebounding, a very good ball handler, and a winner. A Luka Doncic-Jimmy Butler closing combination sounds powerful simply because both men would want the ball for a last shot.
Off the court it’s a questionable fit at best. Butler’s a known agitator and doesn’t have much patience for youth despite his own relative youth (for NBA circles, at least). While he’d probably fit fine, the juice might not be worth the squeeze for a Maverick locker room in flux from the transition away from Dirk Nowitzki.
He’d also want a full four year maximumm contract from Dallas, which might not be best for the Maverick timeline. Butler’s earned every dollar coming his way, but he’ll be 34 when it expires with a lot of minutes on his body. For many players, particularly those dependent on their athleticism, declines can come sharply. Would Dallas be willing to take that sort of a contract risk, which would expire around the time Luka Doncic enters his basketball prime?
It’s an unlikely outcome at best, yet stranger things have happened in the basketball world.