Tag Archives: Restricted free agent

Why the 76ers Will Pursue Jimmy Butler

Rarely do Bulls and 76ers news intersect in this current NBA landscape, considering they are polar opposites in the Eastern Conference standings. But this offseason there could be much to talk about for both teams revolving around budding superstar Jimmy Butler.

Before you Bulls fans immediately dismiss this post and furiously smash your keyboards in disgust with me, I just want to preface this piece by saying I don’t truly believe Jimmy Butler will be able to walk away from Chicago this offseason. So just take a deep breath, and as Aaron Rodgers perhaps most famously says, “relax”. However, I do think it’s necessary to be prepared for other scenarios to arise due to the unpredictability of the NBA, and the nature of the business.

Jimmy Butler is quickly becoming one of the hottest commodities of this upcoming offseason, and although Chicago has privately acknowledged they are prepared to sign the restricted free agent Butler to a max deal this summer, other teams (like the Sixers) will be hot on the trail of the young and gritty swingman.

If you take a quick glance at this Sixers team, there’s one glaring similarity between the players on the roster. But no, I’m not referring to the lack of talent (we get it the Sixers are bad). Sam Hinkie has assembled a roster of absolute athletic freaks: K.J. McDaniels, Jerami Grant, JaKarr Sampson, Nerlens Noel, etc. These guys are long, can jump out of the gym, and they disrupt opponents on the defensive end. The smallest guy on the roster is Tony Wroten, and he’s a wrecking ball at 6’5”. Jimmy Butler fits almost perfectly into what Hinkie is trying to build here in Philadelphia. It also doesn’t hurt that there is an undeniable need for a swingman to complete Philadelphia’s future starting five.

rose dime butler

But the “coup de grace” of why the Sixers are a possible landing spot for Butler is because of something that’s rectangular, green, and has pictures of dead presidents on it. Straight cash homie! The Sixers have cleared all of this cap space over the past few seasons for this exact purpose, to selectively wait for a player whom they target as a potential future cog of the team and pounce when the opportunity presents itself. They have more money to spend than any other franchise in the NBA and can really push Chicago’s hand this summer if they so choose.

Like most NBA teams the Bulls don’t have a ton of cap space. They already have a lot invested in players like Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Pau Gasol, who altogether makeup approximately $50 million of the Bulls total team salary. This was one of the reasons why I suggested the Bulls deal Noah before the deadline, due to his injury history, age, and $13.9 million cap hit next season. Although Jimmy Butler certainly looks like he’ll be worth any deal he receives this summer, the Bulls have to know their future may be restricted being committed to so many huge contracts. Last offseason Klay Thompson got a  four year, $70 million deal. Butler’s max deal would be similar to Klay’s, although the Bulls could give Jimmy a fifth year.

In his short time in the NBA, Butler has proven to be a lockdown defender and this season he’s proven to other NBA teams that he can create his own shot, something few believed he’d be able to do when he entered the league out of Marquette. He also has shown that he can lead a team during the grind of the regular season; when Rose was out earlier this season the Bulls didn’t lose a step mostly due to Jimmy’s stellar performance. This enormous improvement to his offensive game is what has made him such an interesting target for other teams this offseason. But his entire skill set is what will drive someone to extend him an offer sheet if the Bulls can’t lock him up first.

(GIF via Gifrific)
(GIF via Gifrific)

Besides the immense dollar figure that may be shelled out by Sam Hinkie to Jimmy Butler, there’s a bright future for the Sixers whether you see it or not; its possible Jimmy could see the light at the end of the tunnel and be swayed and intrigued to become a part of it. He would have a chance to be the team’s leader and possibly over time a face of the franchise, similar to James Harden in Houston after he left OKC.

There are also some concerns about the Bulls future that might influence Jimmy Butler’s decision. Joakim Noah is almost 30 and seems to already be breaking down. Pau Gasol has a ton of mileage and is quite possibly on his last contract. The clouded uncertainty of Derrick Rose going forward will always be a looming problem. Reading between those lines it’s possible the Bulls roster could turnover entirely within a couple years. It’s not entirely inconceivable that in two years, the Sixers will be much closer to claiming a title than the Bulls. Especially if the Bulls let Jimmy Butler walk.

Jimmy Butler signing in Philadelphia could really accelerate the rebuilding process, accelerate it to the point where it’ll be essentially over. A core of MCW, Jimmy Butler, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric (possible buyout overseas this summer) and a top three pick in the 2015 draft (Jahlil Okafor, Karl Anthony Towns, Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson, etc.), is certainly enough to get the Sixers in postseason contention next year in the weak Eastern Conference. The Sixers would present a major problem defensively for any team, and with that core and future draft picks, they’d have more than enough offense to just get by. This is exactly what the Sixers had in mind when we began this rebuilding (tanking) process: collecting as many assets as possible and clearing immense amounts of cap space in hopes that one day a scenario like this would arise.

Realistically it’s unlikely that the Bulls would be willing to let Jimmy Butler sign elsewhere this summer. Butler is the rare wing who plays well on both sides of the ball, and NBA GMs aren’t usually inclined to let young talent just walk out the door. It’s also not really known whether the Sixers are even interested in Jimmy Butler; this is all speculation based off the tendencies of Sam Hinkie thus far into his tenure. Kawhi Leonard is another restricted free agent that the 76ers could throw an offer sheet at as well. Like the Bulls with Butler, the Spurs will almost definitely match any offer sheet that a team proposes to Leonard. But hey, a Sixers fan can dream right?

For the now the Bulls will focus on trying to position themselves higher in the playoff race, while the Sixers will be hunting for second round picks before the trade deadline. But when the dust settles in June and the NBA champions are crowned, whether it’s the Bulls or not, Jimmy Butler and the Chicago front office will be forced to make some tough decisions that could shape both of our franchises for several years to come.

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The Butler: An Unexpected Journey

Jimmy Butler has been a fan favorite for most of his Bulls career, but it wasn’t until this season that he’s played like a true All-Star on both ends of the floor. I won’t get into his incredible life story, but it’s well worth a read if you’re unfamiliar. Most players as talented as Jimmy are great offensive players who take longer to become consistent defenders, if ever (like James Harden or Carmelo Anthony). Butler is the rare player who came out of the gate as an elite defender and has, early on this season, developed into a high level offensive player as well.

While the Bulls are no doubt ecstatic about this development, it has come at a particularly opportune time for Butler financially. In the NBA, first round picks are under cheap, cost-controlled rookie contracts for their first four seasons. The deadline for teams to agree to extensions with these players is on Halloween of their fourth season. (You might remember Taj Gibson receiving his contract extension at the buzzer two seasons ago). After Jimmy’s extremely disappointing campaign on the offensive end last year (which we’re about to dig into), the Bulls were hesitant to hand Butler the $12 million per year plus he wanted. With Butler on the shelf to start the year, the two sides agreed it would be mutually beneficial to revisit contract talks after the season.

jimmy butler

Of course, this could be horrific for Bulls fans. After the season, Butler will be a restricted free agent, where any team can sign him to an offer sheet that the Bulls will have the ability to match. While the Bulls have expressed that they’re happy to match a big contract if Jimmy is worth it, one only needs to look at Houston, Dallas and Chandler Parsons to see how dicey things can get when a savvy team gets creative with the offer sheet. In fact, stay in Houston for a moment and you’ll remember that the Bulls lost Omer Asik to a backloaded offer sheet that had more consequences for Chicago than Houston. The Bulls’ front office was confident about retaining Asik as well.

If Butler keeps up his current level of play, the Bulls will likely match a maximum offer sheet, especially if Derrick Rose’s health issues exacerbate and it becomes time to consider building around other young players like Butler. Let’s take a look at how Butler’s game has gone on the titular unexpected journey towards stardom. Here are Jimmy’s traditional box score statistics over the last three seasons (he didn’t get much run his rookie year):

(stats via Basketball-Reference)
(stats via Basketball-Reference)

The numbers that stand out first are the constant increases in scoring. What’s important to note is that Butler’s minutes increased by nearly 50% from 2012-13 to 2013-14 but have remained at the same insanely high level for this season. He’s fluctuated wildly in terms of efficiency from range, but this season’s small sample size is probably the most indicative of his true rate. While Jimmy’s not bricking his threes this year, he’s upped his scoring in multiple ways. Originally thought to have the ceiling of a “3 and D” guy who could lock down top scorers and knock down shots from the corners, Butler has instead become a dynamic playmaker.

To really dig in, we need to look at the advanced stats, which are actually quite simple. Usage % is an estimate of the possessions that a player uses while he’s on the floor. With five guys on each team, an average usage rate would be 20%. Free throw rate (FTr) is the number of free throw attempts per field goal attempt; it tells us how proficient a guy is at getting to the charity stripe. Three point attempt % (3PA%) is the percentage of FG attempts that come from long distance. Assist, rebound and steal rate measure how often a player accrues those statistics. Finally, Win Shares per 48 Minutes (WP/48) quantifies the number of “wins” a player contributes on a per game basis. It’s a stat that encompasses many aspects of the game and the career leaders are MJ, David Robinson, Wilt Chamberlain, Chris Paul and LeBron. (All advanced stats besides FT rate do not include Tuesday’s loss to the Nuggets):

stats via Basketball-Reference
(stats via Basketball-Reference)

The most shocking development in Jimmy’s game has been his usage rate. For his first three seasons in the league, Butler was a markedly below average player in terms of volume on offense. At times last season he would disappear for entire halves. Of course Butler was playing through turf toe, but his role was severely diminished regardless. Jimmy has not just been an important part of the offense this year; he’s been the integral part. Using almost 23% of possessions has made Butler the first or second option most nights on a team that has played far more often than not without its highest usage player (Derrick Rose).

Key to Butler’s increased volume has been the efficiency coming with it. On last season’s anemic Bulls squad, Jimmy took a very high 34.6% of his field goal attempts from long distance. Because he shot so poorly from range, he brought very little value on the offensive side of the floor. By bringing that number under 20% in the early part of this season, Butler has regained his efficiency through a vastly improved post game and constant activity cutting and driving to the basket. Furthermore, taking less contested jumpers has brought Jimmy’s three point percentage up to a more acceptable 33%.

Of course, the most important part of Jimmy Butler’s emerging offensive game is his ridiculous free throw rate. After setting a career high with 18 free throws made in 20 attempts in Denver, Butler’s free throw rate now stands at .588 which is higher than DeMarcus Cousins and free throw legend James Harden!!! It’s no wonder Stacey King loves comparing Butler to Harden (.579 FT rate). Getting to the stripe has always been a big part of Jimmy’s game, but it’s been a delight seeing him continue to rack up free throws as his volume increases so significantly.

Finally, we can see by using WS/48 that Butler may truly be ready to join the league’s elite. Going into Tuesday’s loss to Denver, his WS/48 of .209 would have ranked in the top ten in 2013-14 and is notably higher than his two previous seasons. Combining Jimmy’s constant All-NBA defense with his improved offensive game is lethal. If Butler can keep up what he’s shown thus far, he’ll be a no-brainer All-NBA and maximum contract player.

 

Player Profile: Nikola Pekovic

nik and zach

Name: Nikola Pekovic

Team: Restricted free agent (Minnesota)

Height: 6’11”

Weight: 291 lbs

Nikola Pekovic’s pinky toes are manlier than your biceps, glutes and nuts combined. The dude is a wall of beautiful Montenegrin steel. In 2011-12, Pekovic burst onto the scene out of nowhere as a quality rebounder, inside finisher and interior defender. In fact, he helped carry my bruised and battered fantasy team to a face-saving second place finish. Thanks, Nik! His bruising style of play meshed well with Kevin Love’s finesse. Last year, Pekovic continued to improve, averaging 16.3 PPG and 8.8 RPG as the Wolves’ only reliable big man.

Assumed to be another foreign big with no hands, Pekovic proved that he has a soft touch at the rim as well as the ability to bang in the post with any center. The only knock against Pekovic is that he’s battled a litany of minor injuries throughout his career. Even so, none have been more severe than a sprained ankle and Nikola is tough as nails. A big man that can play at a high level on both ends of the floor is valuable; Tiago Splitter, an undoubtedly less talented player, just scored $36 million on the same RFA market Pekovic is in. As such, Pek should receive an offer of at least four years, $40 million and Minnesota needs to match it. However, at the time of writing, there’s been basically zero buzz surrounding Pekovic. Why is that? One possible reason is that Pekovic has always planned on staying up north and is negotiating* a new contract as we speak.

Regardless, I can’t foresee a situation where Pekovic receives any less than the aforementioned $40 million. Two way big men don’t come around often, and the Wolves have one in their lap. I’d be shocked if Pek isn’t in Minnesota next fall, but crazier things have happened.

*-negotiating? Nikola Pekovic laughs at your negotiations. Now sit down and sign that contract in your blood, Flip.