A Caron Butler trade was never imminent, but it seemed a fairly strong bet in the middle of last month that the Kings would ship out the 35-year-old Wisconsin native and that he would end up close to home on the Bucks. Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported December 16th that Sacramento had promised Butler that he’d be traded so he could see more playing time and that Milwaukee was his likely destination. Since then, Bucks coach and prime mover of personnel Jason Kidd went on a leave of absence to undergo and recover from hip surgery and, as Stein reported last week, the team has tabled its interest in Butler. It’s unclear whether Kidd’s hiatus has to do with the team’s apparent withdrawal from the Butler talks, but the upshot is that the veteran small forward’s future is even murkier than it was before.
Butler started in place of an ailing Rudy Gay and played 19 minutes against the Nets on November 13th, but since then, he’s made only three appearances, the last of which was a six-minute cameo on December 21st. The 14th-year veteran who turns 36 in March clearly isn’t what he used to be, but he made 21 starts and played in 78 games just last season with the Pistons, canning a useful 37.9% of his 3-point attempts. The year before that he averaged 10.5 points per game, shot 39.4% from behind the arc, and was one of the most sought-after buyout candidates after the trade deadline until the Thunder scooped him up. He didn’t have the desired effect for Oklahoma City in the playoffs that year, notching a dreadful 6.8 PER, but he remains proficient as a spot-up shooter who can help a contender that wouldn’t ask too much of him.
The Heat might just be that team. Miami drafted Butler in 2002, and he spent his first two seasons with the Heat before they shipped him to the Lakers as part of their package for Shaquille O’Neal. They were one of the early favorites to land him in the 2014 buyout market before he signed with the Thunder. Then, just like now, the Heat had depth at forward that served as a stumbling block for his return to Miami, but that could change if the Heat unload Chris Andersen, Luol Deng or another player in a cost-cutting move. The Heat have incentive to shed salary, since they’re over the luxury tax line and risk becoming the first team ever to pay the onerous repeat-offender tax penalties if they stay over it.
Butler would make a cheap alternative on the two-year, minimum-salary deal he signed this past summer with the Kings, though the Heat would have to unload more significant salary in either a separate deal or involve a third team in a swap for Butler, because the Kings are over the cap and without a trade exception. Still, Butler’s contract is relatively easy to trade, since it doesn’t require the team that takes him in to have cap space, a trade exception or even to match salaries. It fits within the minimum-salary exception, which is freely available to teams at just about any time.
More troublesome for the Kings is finding a deal that nets a palatable return. Sacramento is in a compromising position, given the report of the team’s vow to trade Butler, so at best it would seem the Kings could come away with a second-round pick that isn’t heavily protected. The Sixers have a renewed interest in veterans with chairman of basketball operations Jerry Colangelo freshly on board, but after dealing two second-rounders to the Pelicans for Ish Smith, Philadelphia is without a second-round pick in either of the next two drafts. The Celtics have no shortage of second-round picks, but they seem more likely to hang on to them to aid their quest for a star than to trade them for a veteran presence.
The Thunder have a surplus of second-rounders coming their way, and they were reportedly among the teams expected to pursue Butler in free agency this past summer. Oklahoma City has more weapons, particularly on offense, than it did two years ago, so perhaps a second Thunder stint for Butler would go more smoothly than the first did. The Bulls apparently had interest in Butler this past offseason, too, though they’re only break-even in the second-round pick department. Chicago is reportedly looking for an upgrade on the wing and wants to add shooting, yet Butler wouldn’t be the profound difference-maker the Bulls would no doubt prefer. The Spurs were another of the teams linked to Butler in the summer, but they’re not particularly given to making trades and have no need to disrupt their rhythm as winners of 12 of their last 13. The Clippers are one of Butler’s old teams and, like the Thunder, reportedly had interest in a reunion as of this summer. They have more holes to fill than San Antonio does, but Paul Pierce would appear to play the role that Butler would probably be expected to fill in L.A.
Regardless, Butler has made an impact in his brief time with Sacramento, serving as the public spokesman for the players during a contentious team meeting in November and clearly asserting himself as a veteran leader. Still, even though the Kings have a reputation for turmoil, Sacramento has other veterans on the roster who would likely soften whatever blow that Butler’s departure would deliver to team chemistry, James Ham of CSN California and CSNBayArea.com recently said to Hoops Rumors.
It seems the impetus for a trade is coming from Butler and not the Kings, even as the Sacramento front office sounds like it’s eager to fulfill his apparent wish to play elsewhere. Several reasonably logical trade partners exist, though none of them seem a perfect fit. Many of them could be reluctant to commit to the second year of Butler’s deal, which is a player option, so Butler might have to be willing to decline that option in advance, as Corey Brewer did last winter, to accommodate a trade. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be surprising if Butler has to wait until the buyout window after the trade deadline to find a new home, just as it was two years ago.
Which team do you think makes the most sense for Caron Butler? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.