Before the Los Angeles Lakers tipped off their regular season in October, LeBron James told Rachel Nichols of ESPN that he didn’t feel the need to force the front office to make a trade for a superstar player like Kawhi Leonard because he was happy with the roster they had.
“I love the young guys that they have, and I’m not trying to force my hand in no way, shape or form. I believe Rob [Pelinka] and Magic [Johnson] and Jeanie [Buss] have done an unbelievable job of reshaping what the organization should be, keeping Dr. Buss’ dreams and what he was all about, to keep that going. I feel like they know what’s best for the team and I wanted to be a piece to continue that motion of being back to a championship franchise where they should be,” James said then.
Since then, the Lakers have inquired about two All-Star players to pair with James. The first, of course, was Anthony Davis in February. The second, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN, was Jimmy Butler in November before he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers:
L.A., sources said, was one of several teams to inquire about Butler before the swingman was traded to Philadelphia, for instance.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard Butler linked to the Lakers this season.
In November, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report reported that Butler “had interest in joining the Lakers,” but the team didn’t have the contracts to make a trade work.
Pincus also noted that Butler was on L.A.’s “list,” but his name reportedly isn’t as high on that list as Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Davis, and there was a separate report that the Lakers were floating Brandon Ingram’s name in the potential deal.
With free agency a hair under three months away, Butler currently seems like the most realistic free agent target for the Lakers. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is open to interpretation.
Yes, Butler is a surefire All-Star talent and arguably a top-three two-way player in the NBA, but there are reasons to be legitimately concerned about giving Butler his next long-term deal because of how poorly Tom Thibodeau coached players have aged in the past (i.e. Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, etc.).
Butler’s shown some signs of regression this season, averaging 19.1 points per game through 62 games with both the Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves. That’s not bad offensive production by any means, but it’s the fewest points per game he’s averaged since the 2013-14 season. Last season, he averaged 22.2 points per game on a more efficient 47.4 percent shooting from the field.
Butler has also shown some slippage on the defensive end, posting a career-low defensive rating of 107.4. For context, James is posting a defensive rating of 106.9.
Is Butler a good player? Yes, there’s no denying that, but he might not be the player the Lakers want to commit a big money, long-term contract to — especially with a younger and better Anthony Davis set to hit unrestricted free agency next summer.
On a short-term deal, Butler would be a fine addition to the L.A.’s roster, but at 29 years old, he’ll likely be looking to cash in one on more max deal. If the Lakers want to avoid the same problems the former front office had, they’ll think twice before offering it to him.