Clippers: Ways To Beat Warriors Ep. 1 – Trade for Jimmy Butler

Apr 13, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) dribbles the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 13, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) dribbles the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports /

How can the Los Angeles Clippers hope to surpass the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference? This is the first episode of a short series to look at some options, considering a trade for Jimmy Butler to begin.

If someone had said that next season all of the NBA rosters would stay the same, I would be feeling very confident about the Los Angeles Clippers’ chances of being crowned champions. The Clippers have three superstars more or less in their prime, a great coach in Doc Rivers, and the continuity and familiarity that could ultimately lead to success.

Seeing how the remaining playoffs unfolded, watching the Golden State Warriors struggle throughout the latter stages, the San Antonio Spurs being knocked out, and the Cleveland Cavaliers sluggish start to the NBA Finals, I watched the NBA Playoffs ruing the basketball injury gods for depriving Chris Paul and company of a ring yet again.

While the playoffs were continuing without the Clippers, I wrote a series of offseason theories for the Clippers that I found plausible. First was trading Blake Griffin to Boston for young pieces and draft picks. Draft night came and went, and my first idea was out. Next was trading Blake for a superstar like Kevin Durant, then it emerged that the Clippers were pitching the Big 4 and trade the rest of the roster, so that idea also went by the wayside. I then suggested the LeBron JamesCarmelo AnthonyDwyane Wade and Chris Paul super team, then found out that LeBron was staying put.

So, it appeared that it was going to be a nice, simple offseason for the Clippers after the hectic free agency period of last year. It looked like the Clippers roster would stay the same, and that the big pieces — Durant and LeBron — would also keep the status quo.

Going into July 1, I was feeling pretty confident about the Clippers’ chances next year, especially when I was convinced that Durant would remain in Oklahoma City for the time being at least.

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But, as I have been a lot recently, I was spectacularly wrong. Kevin Durant went to the one team in the West that really didn’t need him, the side who were favourites to win the league without him, let alone with him, in the 73 win Golden State Warriors.

This has really put the cat among the pigeons and now GMs up and down the NBA are left scratching their heads as to how on earth can they can hope to compete against this juggernaut. The Clippers are no different. In fact, the Clippers have probably been effected more than any other franchise outside of possibly the Cavaliers. With Paul, Griffin and J.J. Redick becoming free agents in 2017, Clipper Nation could well be facing a summer of turmoil itself in a year’s time.

The window of contention for this group could well be shut forever this time next year. With that in mind, it has caused many to question whether the Clippers should make a move to prevent losing them for nothing, like Oklahoma has just experienced. If the Clippers gamble and keep the group together, they could very well sign again, but it is also highly possible that they leave for nothing in return.

The Clippers need to get to at least the Western Conference Finals to tempt these All-Star calibre players to stay, and as Thunder fans found out, even that isn’t enough.

The Clippers need to shake up an already shaken Western Conference to try and manoeuvre their way back into the conversation to win not only this year, but for years to come. Steve Ballmer didn’t invest $2 billion for second place, or as recent history suggests, a second round exit.

With that in mind, here are some plans to catapult the Clippers back into the mix of true championship contenders, that may never happen given my recent track record!

Trade Blake Griffin for Jimmy Butler

Chicago Bulls have been trying to shop Jimmy Butler for some time now. It is unclear why, as he’s a top 15 player in the league who can play at both ends of the floor and has been in the past two All-Star rosters after being voted into the lineup in 2016 with 20.5 points per game over the past two seasons.

He has serendipitously emerged as a superstar for Chicago after getting more responsibility during Derrick Rose’s injuries, which essentially (along with the rumored personal difficulties with Butler) drove Rose out of the Windy City to play with Melo in New York.

Despite the rumours circulating that they only planned to trade one of their backcourt, 48 hours after Rose’s departure, Butler was being shopped to any side that would listen. Boston and Minnesota were both locked in discussions with the Bulls for the 26-year-old guard, but no deal was reached, and Butler remains in Chicago for the time being.

So, what did the Bulls do? They lost ageing big men Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol to the New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs respectively, and replaced them. Not with young forwards, but ageing guards in 30-year-old injury prone Rajon Rondo and 34-year-old injury prone Dwyane Wade.

Beyond the fact they clearly aren’t getting younger and athletic as they said, acquiring a backcourt that cannot shoot — alongside Butler who isn’t a great three-point threat — fills out a starting lineup that has hardly any spacing.

Trading Butler to the Clippers for Blake Griffin could make absolute sense for Chicago. Not that it could overwrite their lack of shooting and lack of defense backcourt, but it can rebuild their weakened frontcourt and give them an offensive focal point. And finally, it would give the Clippers a wing player they have craved for years.

Last season, Butler averaged a higher effective field goal percentage and a higher PER at small forward than he averaged at shooting guard. He spent 18 percent of his minutes at the three, too, and could certainly shift to the position if need be with his size and strength.

Butler would also give the Clippers an elite defender (three-time All-Defensive Second Team) who can go toe to toe with the best wings in the association, in particular Western Conference rivals like Kawhi Leonard and the aforementioned Durant.

It would, however, involve losing a key cornerstone in Blake Griffin which would be a devastating loss to the frontcourt, as the depth for the Clippers bigs would consist of DeAndre Jordan, sophomore Branden Dawson and rookies Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone.

At a push, the Clippers’ small forwards in ageing (or quite frankly past it) Paul Pierce, who may have retired by then, Luc Mbah a Moute and Wesley Johnson could fill the gap, and it’s possible the Clippers could make another move to even try to include a Taj Gibson or a Bobby Portis to sweeten the deal, whilst throwing in C.J. Wilcox who the Bulls tried to trade for last February.

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Alternatively, they can look to pick up a veteran on a minimum deal.

Having someone to guard the elite wing scorers in the NBA would be a major difference maker for the Clippers, even though he obviously can’t stop the Warriors’ Big 4 by himself. The other reason to consider a Butler trade is that he has three years left under contract with a player option for 2019-20, making his highest annual salary of $18.6 million for 2018-19 look like a bargain in today’s market. This extra stability for the Clippers going forward would be immensely valuable when there’s a risk of Paul leaving next summer.

Even if they do go, the Clippers would still have Butler, Jordan, Rivers and Crawford for the start of the 2017-18 season. Hopefully for L.A., Paul stays put, but the acquisition of Butler would avoid the loss of at least one superstar for nothing.

That alone, even if the Clippers fall short to the Warriors along with everyone else, would help their future and avoid losing Griffin for nothing to keep the franchise afloat with some serious talent in Butler.

Next: 5 key takeaways from Clippers' Summer League

Is this the best option for the Clippers to trouble the Warriors as much as possible, though? Could simply doing nothing be better? There are other options that should be favored over a Griffin-Butler deal, so stay tuned for episode 2.