Caron Butler will turn 32 with a month and a half left in the 2011-2012 season. He's had knee troubles his entire career, he's coming off a torn left ACL setback, and he's averaged 58.2 games per season since 2006.
Facing a 66-game season, the Los Angeles Clippers have decided to sign that stuff up, dude!
According to NBA.com's David Aldridge, Butler is set to sign a three-year, $24 million deal with the Clippers when the free-agency moratorium lifts on Friday, shocking all manner of observers that assumed Butler would move on to the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs (who have already been spurned by Shane Battier and Tayshaun Prince on Thursday), and surprising those who thought the Clippers might show a wee bit more patience with their $13 million in cap room, as they angle to trade for Chris Paul.
The parts that make sense? Butler was able to sign for about $3 million more, yearly, than he would have made working with the mid-level exception in Chicago or San Antonio. He wasn't wanted by the incumbent Dallas Mavericks (wary of his knees and looking forward to major cap space next offseason), and he pounced on one of the few teams with cap space that was looking to make a big move.
The Clippers? All they have at small forward right now is second-year shooter Al-Farouq Aminu, who became less and less of a shooter as his rookie season moved along, and they badly need what Butler does best -- strong defense, and a good work ethic for the youngsters to learn from. Butler, if you'll recall, nearly defied expectations in making it all the way back from that ACL injury in time to play in the Finals last June, though he didn't see any on-court action.
And the terms, let's be fair, they're not too outrageous; $8 million for Caron Butler won't feel too great for the Clippers in 2012-13, but he fills a need and at worst will be a sound trading chip as the team looks to upgrade its roster around Blake Griffin. The squad really did need a small forward to work with, and that frustration would be in place even if the Clippers pulled off a massive deal for Chris Paul.
That won't stop us from judging both sides of this deal by our own values, though. The side that tells Butler to go play for a sure 55 or 60-game winner for just a few million less. Or the side that warns the Clippers to keep their salary cap space nice and untouched just in case they were able to pull off a Paul trade without having to send much back. As it stands now, the Clippers are just one DeAndre Jordan extension away from using all of that space.
Is Butler overrated by most mainstream outlets? Sure. Had he gone to the Spurs or especially the Bulls, you would have heard pundits pointing to his acquisition as something to put a team over the top, as if they were adding a third star -- something Butler, even before last year's knee injury, most certainly is not. He has a career player efficiency rating of about 16 (15 is average), and his 43 percent shooting mark from long range during 2010-11 seems more like a fluke than an expectation for the career 32 percent shooter.
Worse, Butler is a ball stopper. He doesn't pass, and doesn't create. On a team where he's going to be asked to work as a fourth and possibly fifth option behind Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, Mo Williams and Chris Kaman? This will be tough, even with that massive hole at small forward. And as we mentioned above, expecting him to stay hot as an afterthought from the corner is a bit ambitious.
The terms, though, aren't too awful. He's not worth half of that, certainly not as an aging wing coming off a massive knee injury, but that doesn't mean this isn't workable within the Clipper system (don't laugh).
They're solidly above-average numbers for just a below-average player (Butler's defense helps bring his offensive iffyness up, but his age brings everything down), but we have and will see worse from both the Clippers, and anyone else trying to spend for need in free agency. It doesn't excuse this deal, but we're not going to call it a millstone anytime soon.
Don't pity the Clippers, they can afford it.