Caron Butler: Quick Thoughts on the Newest Clipper

The Los Angeles Clippers have come to terms with free agent Caron Butler on a three year, $24M deal. David Aldridge broke the story on Twitter and it has since been confirmed by Ramon Shelburne of ESPN LA. Hat tip to Citizen ILL Eagle for FanShotting it here, and thanks to Citizen mikey p for getting it up on the front page in a timely manner.

Butler was being pursued by four teams: the Clippers, Nets, Bulls and Spurs. The Bulls and Spurs, being over the salary cap, could offer no more than the mid level exception; the Clippers and Nets had more to spend. When their other primary free agency target, Tayshaun Prince, decided to return to the Detroit Pistons, the Clippers moved quickly on Butler. In the end, $8M per season is probably more than they wanted to spend, but one has to appreciate the aggressiveness with which they closed the deal. Three years as opposed to four is a good thing, especially for a 31 year old. There's a decent chance the Clippers will regret paying $8M to a 33 year old in 2014 - but at least they won't be paying it to a 34 year old in 2015.

I remain unconvinced that Butler is a great fit for this team. His most productive seasons came when he was a featured scorer in Washington. With the Clippers, he'll certainly be no higher than the third option behind Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon; depending on whether Chris Kaman is on the floor and/or your view of Mo Williams, he could be the fifth option. Now you may be saying, "Butler did great as the third option behind Jamison and Arenas with the Wizards" but remember that for much of that time Arenas was hurt; regardless, Butler was always a featured scorer in DC, but I'm not sure that should be the case in LA.

Of more immediate concern may be his recent injury history. He missed most of last season with a ruptured patellar tendon for which he had surgery almost a year ago. All told, he's missed 100 games in the last four seasons, for a variety of reasons. They are the kinds of injuries that seem unrelated to each other so maybe it's just been bad luck and he's now 100% healthy. But the issues of signing a 31 year old player with a long history of injuries coming off a major surgery are self-evident.

That's the bad news. The good news is that he can play, and he's a major upgrade at the three spot over Ryan Gomes. He's a well-regarded defender, a solid rebounder, and a volume scorer. However, he's not a particularly efficient scorer, with career effective field goal and total shooting percentages well below the league averages.

The best case scenario here is that Butler accepts a new role with the Clippers and morphs into more of a glue guy - play good defense, rebound, take good shots, move the ball, not use too many possessions. He could also be a featured scorer in lineups where Gordon or Griffin (or both) are on the bench. In fact, although it seems unlikely that he would have signed on for the job, a more logical scenario might be to put him in the 6th man role with the Clippers: start the ultra low usage Gomes, and but give more minutes and lots of touches to Butler with the second unit.

It doesn't win you any ball games by itself, but the Clippers can now feature one of the most impressive "resume lineups" in the league: four All Stars and a FIBA Gold Medalist at five different positions - quite possibly all five starting. By my reckoning only the Boston Celtics can deploy a full lineup with more credentials.

Of course, those credentials don't count for anything once the ball is tossed in the air. People dismiss the All Star appearances of Chris Kaman and Mo Williams as undeserved, and a similar case can be made against Butler: that his All Star selections were based on inflated numbers on a team that played at a high pace. What matters is what this group does on the court this season. The pieces are now in place - how they fit together will determine how many games they win.

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