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Why The Blazers Should Offer Jimmy Butler a Max Deal

Friday, May 15, 2015



With Chicago being ejected from the playoffs on Thursday, it behooves the Blazers to take a long, hard look at Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler. 

Indeed, Butler may just be what Portland needs.

To be sure, Wesley Matthews performed admirably before suffering a season-ending injury in March, rupturing his achilles tendon. Matthews, like Butler, becomes a free agent this summer. 

But unlike his Bulls counterpart, Matthews is coming off an injury that absolutely brings into question his ability to reach former heights. After suffering same, a number of older players  retired (Matthews is 28). Many of those who did rehab and return were never the same. From a study of NBA players who suffered an achilles tear:

"...in the first year back from injury, players played 5.21 fewer minutes per game. That number dropped to 4.42 in the second year back. More tellingly, player efficiency rating (PER) dropped by 4.64 the first year back and 4.28 the second. To understand how severe that drop is, consider: This year, a difference of 4.64 PER is the difference between Kobe Bryant and Ersan Ilyasova."

In other words: regardless of how motivated he may be, Matthews' best days on the court may well be behind him. At 25, Butler--winner of this year's NBA's Most Improved award--is only now entering his prime.

In some ways the two guards are similar. Both are hard-nosed and extremely competitive. Both too are tenacious defenders. But here, Butler has the edge. He was named second-team all-NBA defense last season. (2015's team has yet to be announced.) Some pundits talk about Butler as a Defensive Player of the Year type, and he received a smattering of second and third place votes in this season's tally. And two inches taller than Matthews, Butler is better-suited against bigger guards as well as small forwards. He's also a better leaper.

At 20 points per game, Butler scored more than Mathews (16 per). He also grabbed two more rebounds and one assister per game than Matthews.

Matthews is a better long-range shooter than Butler, but not by a whole lot. In 2014-15 Matthews shot %39 from beyond the arc to Butler's %38. Matthews did, however, have a lot more makes on a lot more attempts.

A critical factor in the comparison is pace and system. The Bulls have a slogging, sluggish, often totally jammed offensive. The Blazers go up and down and heave three's like they're going out of style. As such, it's not hard to imagine Butler's points per game going higher in a more free-flowing, offense-centric system.

Now, conventional wisdom suggests that Butler will remain in Chicago. I'm not so sure. Like the Blazers, the Bulls enter a summer full of questions. Indeed, Chicago's future as an Eastern Conference contender is anything but assured.

As their playoff run showed, the Bulls' are a physically fragile squad. Some of that is due to age--the veteran Pau Gasol missed the final three games of a series against the Cavaliers in which he was desperately needed. Joakim Noah, a former defensive player of the year, has visible trouble moving laterally. And then there's Derrick Rose, who plays better with rest, and who seems one more injury away from retirement

The Bulls' situation going forward is anything but rosy. Chicago too has a tenuous relationship with coach Tom Thibodeau. Rumors are swirling he will be fired. 

On top of that, Chicago's owner Jerry Reinsdorf is notoriously cheap. As such, he many not be willing to offer Butler a max contract.

But Butler is worth it--especially considering the way the NBA salary cap is expected to swell after the 2015-16 season. After that, even if he does get a max deal, Butler will look like a steal.

Portland, however, have an owner in Paul Allen who is willing to spend. As such, the Blazers should extend a max offer to Butler. 

After Matthews' injury, banking his return to form would be a mistake. But had Matthews never suffered the injury in the first place, Butler would remain the more promising player. 

Blazers' General Manager Neil Olshey should give him a call.


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