Free agency wouldn’t be free agency without a twinge of instant regret, and the Clippers may be the first buyers in this year’s market to experience it. According to David Aldridge of NBA.com, Caron Butler has agreed to a three-year, $24 million deal with the Clips, a fair bit more than the league’s more reasonable teams were willing to offer.
Butler’s positional utility is rather obvious, as small forward has been filled by a fluid cast of semi-regulars for Los Angeles over the last decade. Yet in terms of timeline alone, Butler is an unspeakably odd fit. At 31 years old, Butler is nearly 10 years older than the rest of the Clippers’ growing core, aligning his decline perfectly with the rest of the team’s ascent. Just when Blake Griffin and the Clips will be ready to make an actual push for the playoffs, Butler will likely be even less efficient and less productive than he is now.
And that’s before we even touch Butler’s unfortunate injury history, capped off most recently with a 29-game campaign thanks to season-ending knee surgery. Butler has played more than 70 games in a season just three times in his nine-year career.
Don’t get me wrong: Butler is still a very useful player, and his ball-stopping habits are no longer quite as bad as his reputation suggests. He showed a real willingness in Dallas to adapt into more of a complementary role, a fact not revealed in his static usage numbers. Butler still isn’t a terribly efficient scorer (his shooting percentages tend to be acceptable at best), but he’s capable of playing well with others and reining in his less palatable offensive habits. He also played rather well for the Mavs last season on the defensive end, though how he’ll fare post-surgery without the benefit Tyson Chandler’s shadow remains to be seen.
Even with all of that in mind, the Clippers have acquired a player on a completely different course than all of the franchise’s cornerstones, and managed to overpay him in the process. Butler would have been a nice pick up for a team looking to use their full mid-level exception (worth $5 million), but at $8 million L.A. has squandered its financial flexibility and committed more money to an aging star than he was actually worth. And for what? To fill in a bigger name with a more impressive points per game average on the lineup sheet? To sleep better at night knowing that they had secured a superior small forward option than Ryan Gomes?
This signing reeks of haphazardry. The Clippers had money to spend and Butler was looking to fill his coffers, but beyond that the two are an ill-suited match.