An NBA All-Star is demanding a trade, and he wants to come to the Clippers.
Yes, this is actually quite surprising.
Not even during Lob City when the team was a bona fide contender were stars angling to make their way to Los Angeles (Carmelo Anthony excluded, depending on how you define “star”), but the Clippers have suddenly become a prime destination for the best and brightest in the NBA.
Jimmy Butler wants out of Minnesota, and after listing the Clippers, the Nets, and the Knicks as his three preferred teams in his meeting with the Timberwolves brass, later reporting indicated that Los Angeles is on top of that list. We’ve already examined how the Clippers could go about acquiring the four-time All-Star, but now the question is: would trading for Butler be a good idea?
Butler is objectively a top-15 player in the league, having made All-NBA third team each of the last two seasons. After being drafted at no. 30 in 2011, Butler rode the bench for a couple years before turning himself into an All-Star in 2015, his fourth season. It’s worth noting that that no current Clipper has ever been named to an All-Star team. Advanced stats judge Butler very kindly as well. He is a high-usage, high-efficiency player who rarely turns the ball over. He also frequently creates scoring opportunities for his teammates and draws fouls at a high rate.
On the other side of the ball, Butler is an excellent defender. He has one of the highest steal percentages among wings while rarely committing fouls, and he has been recognized with four selections to the All-Defensive second team. His only real flaw on the court is his reluctance to take threes, which only constitute 20 percent of his shot attempts, but he has managed to be efficient offensively in spite of that.
Statistically speaking, Jimmy Butler is a stud. His major weakness has been his health. He has only played 82 games once, in his sophomore season. In his last five seasons, for as long as he has been a regular starter, he has averaged 67 games per year, missing time with injuries to his left elbow and both knees. Missing 15 games a season isn’t ideal, but it can be dealt with.
So we have an unquestioned All-Star, still 29 years old, with a reasonable minutes load for his age because of how late he entered the league. Why wouldn’t the Clippers want him?
Health is tricky to consider. Butler didn’t look right when he returned late in the season for Minnesota after injuring his right meniscus. A summer of recovery should put Butler in good shape to start the year, but it’s impossible to know anything for certain without being his doctor. The important thing to know is Butler has been able to play in the playoffs each year, even if he was limited.
Butler’s work ethic is also unimpeachable. He was homeless for parts of his childhood, managed to transfer from junior college to Marquette University, and built himself up from the no. 30 pick to be one of the best players in his draft class, and in the league.
And yet, Chicago traded him away because the Bulls didn’t believe Butler could be the number one guy on a championship contending team, There was definite friction in the locker room with Butler and Dwyane Wade versus the rest of the team. It’s an open secret that Minnesota’s locker room is in shambles, with a strong divide between Butler and the young core led by Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Butler apparently doesn’t think Towns and Wiggins take their jobs seriously enough, and footage of Towns playing video games late into the night before games only strengthens Butler’s belief.
Butler’s individual credentials are impressive, but the Clippers need to gauge if he is the type of star who can lure additional talent. Rumors abound that Kyrie Irving and Butler want to team up in the future, and if Butler is capable of recruiting a player of Irving’s caliber, then he is worth bringing along. Not to mention, it would realize a wonderful what-if of Irving playing for the Clippers after the team traded the pick that became Irving to dump Baron Davis’ contract. (right before they were about to get an amnesty. nope, not bitter)
The Clippers are chasing even bigger fish than Irving in the form of Kawhi Leonard, who has also expressed interest in playing in Los Angeles, specifically for the Clippers. Leonard and Butler have somewhat redundant skill sets, but you can never have enough wings in the modern NBA, and that perimeter defense would be unbelievably stifling. Stars in this league generally want to play with other stars, and the Clippers would most assuredly become a more attractive free agent destination with a player as good as Butler on the roster. The question is if Butler’s locker room issues would preclude him from being that player.
Ultimately, if the Clippers want to jump above the middle-class purgatory they currently reside in, they need to make a big move. Tobias Harris is a fine player, but he doesn’t move the needle like Butler does. The Clippers are so deep that they could move expendable rotation players, slot Butler in for Harris, and even compete for the playoffs this year before adding another free agent in the offseason. LA was a game back of the eighth seed when the team traded Blake Griffin, and Butler is a better player at this point. On a related note, the Clippers would love to make the playoffs and send their first-round pick to Boston this year to avoid future obligations.
None of the stars who have demanded a trade in the last year or so, including Irving, Leonard, and Paul George, have ended up on a team from their wish list. The likelihood of the Clippers bucking that trend is low. But if the situation presents itself, the Clippers should absolutely trade for Butler. Opportunities like this don’t come around very often.