Following a heartbreaking loss to the Toronto Raptors in the second round of the NBA playoffs, Philadelphia 76ers star Jimmy Butler is expected to test the free agency waters this offseason. He has a player option for the 2019-20 campaign worth just under $20 million, but he’s well aware that he’ll make more money on the free market.
The four-time NBA All-Star averaged at least 20 points in four straight seasons prior to 2018-19 and was averaging over 21 with the Minnesota Timberwolves before his trade to Philadelphia. He’s shown plenty of offensive growth during that span, especially from behind the three-point line. Perhaps most importantly, he’s one of the best defenders in the league with four All-Defensive team honors.
Butler will turn 30 just before the start of next season, but he’ll improve any NBA roster. However, the former Marquette University standout will be looking for a contending franchise along with a bigger paycheck. Currently, a few teams fit that mold.
On the surface, the 76ers look to be the best option for Butler, as he can solidify himself as the leader of a strong, young team. However, his individual numbers did suffer a bit in Philadelphia. The following are his numbers during the past two seasons before and after the 76ers acquired him:
Before (with MIN): 69 games, 36.6 MPG, 47.4 FG% on 15.6 FGA (35.5 3PT% on 3.6 attempts), 22 PPG, 4.8 APG, 5.3 RPG
After (with PHI): 55 games, 33.2 MPG 46.1 FG% on 13.6 FGA (33.8 3PT% on 2.7 attempts), 18.2 PPG, 4 APG, 5.3 RPG
It’s clear he took a step back with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons by his side. Even with the dip in playing time and scoring, his on/off splits in Philadelphia were very strong. He appears to have a strong relationship with head coach Brett Brown, though it remains to be seen whether he’ll still be around next season.
The main problem for the 76ers re-signing Butler is the cap space. They have money now, but Simmons will need a new deal after next season and they’ll likely want to try to re-sign Tobias Harris as well. Would Butler be willing to take a small pay cut to stay in Philadelphia? At least Vegas seems to think so.
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks certainly aren’t a team that comes to mind when you think “contender,” but they’re on the right path. The team acquired Dennis Smith Jr., freed up a massive amount of salary cap, and have a high draft pick coming up this offseason. The Knicks will be going after Butler hard, as well as other big-name free agents such as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Butler could team up with another top free agent and bring the Knicks back to relevancy in the NBA’s big picture. New York shot just 34% on three-pointers last season, third-worst in the NBA. Butler should improve that, as he’d carve out a bigger role than he had with the 76ers.
The 6-foot-8 wingman would also be the Knicks’ locker room leader right from the jump, along with whatever other stars New York manages to bring in. The overall roster is young and could develop both offensively and defensively under Butler’s guidance.
Similar to the Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets are sitting on a mountain of cap space for the 2019 campaign. However, the Nets made the postseason during the 2018-19 season and have a budding superstar in D’Angelo Russell running the show.
Butler would fit the mold that the Nets are building. The team was much better defensively this season, especially in defending the three-ball. Opponents shot just 34.1% from beyond the arc against Brooklyn, third-worst in the NBA.
Russell is a restricted free agent this offseason and he’ll require a big payday if the Nets are willing to match another team’s offer. They would still have enough money to bring in Butler, but they wouldn’t be able to land another Durant or Irving-type star; that’s the one advantage the Knicks have over their in-state rivals.
Los Angeles Clippers
Finally, Butler might be inclined to head west to chase a championship with Los Angeles. No, not the Lakers. The Clippers took the seemingly unbeatable Golden State Warriors to six games in the first round of this year’s NBA Playoffs while LeBron James and the Lakers watched from home.
The Clippers have a solid young core and plenty of cap space. Their only player who makes over $10 million next season, Danilo Gallinari, is making just over $22.6 million but will be a free agent in 2020. Like the Knicks, the Clippers could absolutely make a run at two big names this offseason.
While the Lakers have LeBron James as a selling point to join their franchise, the Clippers’ front office and management have been more stable. Along with that, Doc Rivers has done a tremendous job with this overlooked Clippers’ roster. Giving this team a star or two could immediately make them contenders in the Western Conference.