Jimmy Butler has already been dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers, so it would be understandable if one reacted to the news that he once was interested in the Los Angeles Lakers trading for him with a “who cares.” But this still might matter, and I’ll explain why.
But first, let’s take a look at the actual report. Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report writes that Butler once had interest in joining LeBron James in purple and gold, but that he was lower on the team’s priority list than other options, and that they didn’t have contracts to make a trade easy — at least not until December 15, anyway — which is part of why he’s in Philly now:
Earlier in the summer, Butler had interest in joining the Lakers, but Los Angeles didn’t have the contracts available to match salaries for a swap.
Butler was on L.A.’s list but lower than the likes of Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard.
So why does this matter? Well, it means that Butler was on the Lakers’ list, and that despite conflicting reporting since his original demand, that he wouldn’t have shied away from joining James in Los Angeles.
This is meaningful because a priority list is just that: A list of priorities in descending order. While the Lakers — and 29 other NBA teams — would surely love to sign Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson or Kawhi Leonard this summer, or trade for Anthony Davis, only a few teams will be able to do so during an offseason in which the majority of the league has meaningful cap space.
Thompson and Durant could stay in Golden State, Leonard might stay in Toronto, or sign with the LA Clippers or some other team. Brooklyn and New York loom as major-market destinations with big cap space, and Anthony Davis might not be put on the market in 2019. The Boston Celtics also sit ominously in the distance with tons of assets to use in a star trade, and might be able to outbid the Lakers in any such race for Davis.
There is also the possibility that none of those things happen, but I list them all to point out that it’s far from a guarantee that the Lakers get one of those guys ahead of Butler on their priority list, which is where Butler comes in. Maybe he doesn’t end up enjoying Philadelphia, or feuds with his young teammates. Maybe he just really enjoys the weather in Los Angeles and wants to live there full time.
None of that is a certainty, but it just means that when free agency last call hits, if the Lakers and Butler are both sitting at the bar without a partner, the two sides may just shrug and decide to get together out of convenience rather than going home empty-handed.
Butler is also a really good player! He may not be on the level of the guys the Lakers reportedly have above him, but he’s not nothing, either. He would instantly be the most dynamic wing LeBron James has played with since pairing with prime Dwyane Wade, and if he was coming in free agency, the Lakers wouldn’t have to give up assets to get him. Not wanting to give away pieces for Butler when still trying to take aim at guys like Durant and Leonard is not the same thing as thinking he’s bad, or not wanting him. It’s just an indicator of a preference to sign a better player for “free” versus giving up assets for the right to pay a lesser one.
Now, if the Sixers offer Butler the biggest contract they can give him, this is all probably off the table. But a lot can change between now and July, so it’s at least worth filing away that Butler might still be a decent (and willing) backup option if the Lakers’ plans A, B, C and D all fail first.