The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” doesn’t apply to Jimmy Butler, especially not after the Bulls’ lack of athleticism was on center stage during Thursday night’s 97-87 loss in Denver.
Due to his turf-toe injury, Butler’s health status is currently a major source of concern to Bulls fans, as the third-year swingman has become regarded as not only a key component of the squad, but one of the better young wings in the league. Because of his emergence during the second half of last season and building upon that in the playoffs, he became a major object of affection for Bulls loyalists, becoming viewed as one of the franchise’s building blocks for the future, along with former league MVP Derrick Rose, All-Star center Joakim Noah and top reserve, all of whom are presently signed to multi-year contracts.
It’s still extremely early in the regular season, but after all the buzz he received throughout last summer, it’s fair to wonder how much Jimmy Butler is worth to the Bulls. After all, if he’s going to be either Rose’s backcourt partner or a potential replacement for All-Star small forward Luol Deng—assuming the longest-tenured Bulls player doesn’t re-sign with the team next summer—and the likelihood of the front office capitalizing on an offseason in which they could revamp the roster indeed holds true, considering exactly how much it will take to retain the athletic, defensive-minded, hard-nosed and energetic wing is prudent.
The organization clearly values his multi-faceted game and picked up the fourth-year option on his rookie contract late last month, ensuring he’ll remain in Chicago for the 2014-15 season. But Butler now has an increased profile around the league and is in a class of young wing players who can make an impact on both sides of the ball and will either hit the open market or receive long-term contract extensions to stay with their current teams next summer or in 2015.
Butler would be eligible to receive a new deal July 1, but given the Bulls’ track record of waiting until the last minute to complete negotiations, nothing should be expected until next Halloween or so. However, given his rising stature, it’s prudent to already examine what kind of salary he could command on his second contract in comparison to his aforementioned peer group.
That group includes: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio’s starting small forward and fellow member of the 2011 NBA Draft class; Golden State sharpshooter Klay Thompson, who was drafted the same year; Utah’s Gordon Hayward, a 2010 draftee who wasn’t given an extension this fall and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer; Indiana shooting guard Lance Stephenson, a 2010 second-round pick who will also hit the open market in July; Houston’s Chandler Parsons, a 2011 second-round pick in a unique situation; and New York’s Iman Shumpert, the recent subject of trade rumors.
Leonard, at the moment, is widely regarded as the cream of the crop, after his NBA Finals performance last spring. Additionally, due to his fit as a player and from a character standpoint in the Spurs organization—along with the fact that San Antonio has historically had a hard time attracting big-name free agents, something that factors in even more when the ages of future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and sixth-man extraordinaire Manu Ginobili is considered—it wouldn’t be surprising to see Leonard’s deal negotiated early on in the offseason and in a potential salary range of anywhere from upwards of $12 million per season to approaching a max contract, depending on the season he has and the offensive potential he displays, as his defensive prowess, rebounding for his position and elite athleticism are unquestioned.
Thompson, because he’s evolved into one of the game’s elite sharpshooters, a major commodity in today’s game, could garner $10 million or so annually, given his chemistry in the Warriors’ “Splash Brothers” backcourt with Stephen Curry, size for the position and underrated defense. Golden State is a franchise making a push to be a perennial Western Conference contender, so even with hefty contracts doled out to the likes of Curry, power forward David Lee, swingman Andre Iguodala and center Andrew Bogut, with promising second-year player Harrison Barnes looming in the future, expect Thompson to remain in the Bay Area, regardless of the eventual luxury-tax penalties.
Hayward is in a different situation, as the Jazz declined to offer him a contract extension this fall—curiously, Utah did extend the more unproven Derrick Favors, giving the raw big man a reported four-year, $49-million deal—meaning he will become an unrestricted free agent. The athletic swingman is the team’s leading scorer and while other squads around the league don’t necessarily project him in that role moving forward, he is well regarded and as the Jazz’s floundering season continues, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Utah prioritize a potentially franchise-changing high draft choice capable of filling his spot, such as Duke’s Jabari Parker (of the Mormon faith, the scoring small forward would be a hit in Salt Lake City), instead of bringing him back.
Because Stephenson, who has shown improvement early this season after becoming a full-time starter in veteran Danny Granger’s absence a year ago, was a second-rounder, he will hit the open market, but all indications—from both sides, as Stephenson is grateful for the Pacers’ faith in him early in his career, particularly team president Larry Bird—are that he will remain in Indiana. A great fit on the wing next to Paul George because of his toughness, energy, defensive ability and improved outside shooting, he also functions as a primary playmaker alongside George Hill, who is more of a spot-up shooter, so to keep him in the fold, it wouldn’t be surprising to see even productive players such as veteran Luis Scola move on in order to accommodate Stephenson’s payday.
Parsons’ dilemma, or rather Houston’s, as alluded to earlier, is more complicated than the others, as the second-round pick agreed to an inordinately long initial contract and after the ongoing campaign, the Rockets have a fourth-year option for him—if exercised, it would make him an unrestricted free agent in 2015; if not, he would be a restricted free agent next July—putting the team in a tough situation, especially because he reportedly served as the primary recruiter for marquee addition Dwight Howard, with whom he shares representation. His unique game, consisting of versatility, long-range shooting, excellent size for the position and underrated ball skills, athleticism and toughness, blend in well anywhere, so Houston, knowing Parsons’ potential value on the open market, might be better off sacrificing whatever savings an option year would bring in order to reach a more reasonable long-term deal, perhaps in the $7-million range, if found acceptable through informal negotiations.
Then there’s Shumpert, apparently out of favor in New York at the moment, but based on his pre-ACL injury explosiveness and defensive prowess, has value as a high-level role player with a chance to develop into more of offensive threat. If the Knicks indeed deal him away—with reigning Sixth Man of the Year J.R. Smith and rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. also at shooting guard, there’s a logjam at shooting guard—a more prominent role elsewhere and subsequent recovery of his previously dynamic game could make Shumpert a bargain in the range of $5 million a season on a multi-year contract.
It should be understood that all of these proposed contract numbers are simply speculation, but there is some precedent, based on recent deals handed out to young wings around the league, starting with Indiana’s George (five years, $90 million) on the high end of things. Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan is a comparable player to many of the aforementioned players—if not on the defensive end, at least as a proficient wing scorer—and he received an extension for approximately $40 million over four seasons last fall. On the lower end of the spectrum, Charlotte’s Gerald Henderson, a restricted free agent last summer, got a reported three-year, $18-million contract, arguably a steal for the Bobcats, but representative of the floor for many of the players discussed.
Getting back to Butler, however, the Bulls’ specific circumstances have to be taken into consideration. With fellow 2011 draft pick Nikola Mirotic, last season’s Euroleague MVP, potentially coming from overseas and due diligence having to be paid to the free-agent market, what’s reasonable to offer Butler, not a primary scorer, but an extremely valuable role player and one of the Bulls’ few high-flying athletes?
Assuming Deng moves on and the organization exercises the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer in the final summer they can avail themselves of that option, perhaps slotting the swingman into a deal similar to the one doled out to Taj Gibson, another late-round sleeper who panned out, makes sense. Of course, a lot of it will have to do with the type of season Butler has, but if he proves to be a low double-digit scorer, possessing even more offensive potential, and displays the defensive prowess necessary to take over a stopper role on the wing, something in the ballpark of $8 million per year to keep him in Chicago seems fair.
The final tally will probably differ a bit, but given the organization’s pleasure with how the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft has developed and Butler’s desire to remain with the team, count on him remaining a Bull for the foreseeable future.