Jimmy Butler is a terrible idea for the Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets are coming off their second consecutive playoff series loss to the Golden State Warriors, and they’re looking to make a significant move to change their fortunes — which isn’t surprising. But acquiring Jimmy Butler, in hopes of him being the missing piece to their championship aspirations, is a terrible idea.
One of the hottest rumors in the NBA right now is the Rockets trying to find a way to acquire Butler, who is part of a stacked free agent class. They’re apparently enamored with getting the All-Star wing so much to the point where they’re entertaining a sign-and-trade with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Is Butler worth a max contract? Yes. He’s an elite two-way player who can serve as the focal point of an offense and is a stout defender. He proved that he can share the limelight this season while playing alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with the 76ers. At the same time, Butler has experienced some issues with big-name players such as Derrick Rose and, most recently, Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s not to say that he was a bad teammate, or didn’t try to adapt, but sometimes teams haven’t operated well with Butler.
If Butler theoretically joined the Rockets, he’d be playing with James Harden and Chris Paul. From a talent perspective, that would be the best big three in the NBA, but you have to give to get, and the Rockets would be surrendering some crucial members of their roster to get Butler.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi, the Rockets are calling teams about moving center Clint Capela, as well as wings Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker to acquire a first-round pick to send to the 76ers for Butler.
Consider what the Rockets would be moving.
Capela is one of the best centers in the NBA. He’s an elite rebounder, their defensive backbone, and part of a killer pick-and-roll duo with Harden. Gordon can serve as a go-to scorer, creates his own shot, and is a reliable outside shooter. He has been an unsung hero for the Rockets offense the last two years. Meanwhile, Tucker is arguably the Rockets best pure defender.
Moving two, or even one of those players would be a blow to head coach Mike D’Antoni’s rotation. The Rockets not being able to beat the Warriors without Kevin Durant last month wasn’t because of their reserves, or secondary scoring options; their high-profile guards, who supposedly can’t stand playing with each other, were the culprits.
Since being eliminated from the playoffs, recurring reports have surfaced regarding disconnect between Harden and Paul. Regardless of how accurate those reports are, ball movement was an issue for the Rockets in the playoffs, and their backcourt was at the center of it. So what should they do about it? Stick with the two players.
The best change that can take place is Harden and Paul adjust to one another’s game and/or sacrifice some touches. They’re too good to not coexist with one another. Harden averaged 36.1 points, while Paul averaged 15.6 points per game this season. What did Harden’s scoring barrage do for the Rockets other than provide popups on people’s phones?
Now, is it possible that the Rockets would acquire Butler and then look to move Paul? Maybe, but surrendering Capela, Gordon, or Tucker for the sake of that much roster turnover would be perplexing. There also doesn’t seem to be a smidgen of interest in Paul via trade, and even if they moved his salary, the Rockets wouldn’t have the money to replace his impact.
Can the Rockets find veterans to take minimum deals and fill out their rotation? Of course, but they’re not in a situation where they have to make a move for a star; they already have two. They also have a great chance to win the Western Conference next season.
Yes, the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers showed signs of improvement, the Utah Jazz acquired Mike Conley, and the Los Angeles Lakers are pairing Anthony Davis with LeBron James. But none of those developments are utterly shocking, or even the biggest storyline in the West; that’s the current state of the Warriors.
Regardless of whether they re-sign them, Durant and Klay Thompson may miss all of next season due to injury, which heavily stacks the odds against the Warriors to win the Western Conference for the sixth year in a row.
The Rockets are the only team in the West that has consistently challenged the Warriors in the playoffs. With the Warriors now severely undermanned, why would the Rockets mess with what has put them in position to win the conference in the first place? All they need is some fine-tuning. If you add another outside sniper and wing defender to their rotation, the Rockets are in a great position to win the West.
Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has a tendency to be aggressive in the offseason, but that mentality can lead to impulsive decisions. Moving heaven and earth to acquire Butler, a ball-dominant player, further complicates the Rockets’ biggest issue.
Butler’s arrival would also eliminate continuity from the Rockets roster, an aspect of sports many teams in the West have embraced.
The Nuggets have groomed their young core of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris on a yearly basis; they were the two seed in the conference this season. The Trail Blazers stick with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and others; they made it to the Conference Finals. The Jazz have built through Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Joe Ingles. Last week, they made the decisive trade for Conley and now look like a force to be reckoned with.
Optimism oozes out of the three aforementioned teams. The Rockets? Doubt, internal struggles, and rumors about drastic panic decisions highlight their current state. They have the best healthy star duo in the sport, and they’re financially committed to it, which means they should be looking to build around the two stars and not make decisions that could alter the pairing.
Paul wants to run the Rockets offense. Harden wants to run the Rockets offense. Butler is going to want to be a vital player in the Rockets offense. The Rockets should be trying to deepen their roster while eliminating chaos and confusion. Acquiring Butler does the opposite.
Memo to Daryl Morey, by way of the fore-thinking Luke Skywalker: “This is not going to go … the way you think!”
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