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NBA Rookie Extensions: Jimmy Butler

Can the Chicago Bulls and Jimmy Butler find a rookie extension that makes sense?

Nate Duncan

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The 2014 rookie-extension class is one of the most interesting in several years due to the high number of quality players entering their fourth seasons. As most readers likely know by now, teams have until October 31 to reach extensions with first-rounders entering their fourth season or the players become restricted free agents next summer. This year, many of these players fall into the fascinating middle ground between total busts and obvious max outs, and their negotiations are further complicated by the unknown effect of the league’s recently-announced new TV deal.*

*Teams and agents may also be waiting for additional clarity as the league and union discuss how to avoid too much shock to the system from the new money.

Due to the rising cap, it is useful to think of new deals in percentage terms. For example, a $10 million contract under the $58.044 million cap in 2012-13 was 17.2 percent of the cap. For the 2016-17 season, assuming the cap is $80 million for that year, an equivalent contract would be $13.8 million.

Jimmy Butler
Age: 25 (September 14, 1989)
Draft Position: 30
2013-14 PER: 13.57
2013-14 ORPM: 0.90
2013-14 DRPM: 1.23
2015-16 Cap Hold: $5,021,870

Butler’s extension talks may be the most fascinating on the board. He is universally considered one of the league’s best defenders on the wing at either position. That is the principal source of his value, and is just about unquestioned among basketball cognoscenti.

Yet despite the fact he has featured prominently in nightly jokes about Tom Thibodeau’s minutes the last two years, we still do not know what he is offensively. Which of these two players is he?

Butler 1213

Butler 1314

In 2012-13, Butler shot 38.1 percent on 105 three point attempts, raising hopes that he could evolve into one of the league’s best three and D wings. Those subsided some a year ago. Butler upped his three-point attempt rate to 34.6 percent, but his percentage cratered to 28.3 percent on 240 attempts. Overall he was a ghastly 39.7 percent on field goals. His usage rate increased, but only to below-average 16.8 percent of the Bulls’ possessions. The only saving grace offensively was his gargantuan free throw rate, which allowed him to salvage 52 percent true shooting. This was a very disappointing performance offensively, and one that casts doubt on his ability to avoid being an offensive detriment in big minutes on the wing. That is exacerbated by the fact that he is not a natural ballhandler either, possessing little ability to create off the bounce in the pick-and-roll even on secondary action. The Bulls have devoted most of their resources to point guard and the frontcourt, while Doug McDermott (another non-driver) is the long-term three. Butler’s inability to handle is a structural concern for a squad that must improve its offense to get into championship contention.

But two major caveats apply: The first is that Butler really struggled with a toe injury that cost him 11 games in November and December. Afterward, he seemed to lack his signature lift and shot miserably from the field. The second is that the Bulls had perhaps the fewest shot-creators of any team in the NBA for much of the season. Butler’s open looks were few and far between, which should be far less of a problem on a Bulls team that will have much more firepower going forward.

It seems reasonable to conclude that Butler’s shooting will settle in at a level between his last two years. Recent research has shown that three-point shooting takes about 750 attempts to really stabilize, and Butler has less than half that amount so far in his career. Nevertheless, it seems likely he will always be a made rather than born shooter who is only going to take wide open attempts. The question is whether they go in. The league average on three-pointers is 36 percent, and it probably makes sense to project him a bit below that number at least over the next couple years.

Butler has helped his bid for an extension by coming into camp in phenomenal shape. The bounce has returned and he looks absolutely ripped. He’s been all over the floor in the preseason with steals, blocks, offensive rebounds and hard cuts to the basket off the Bulls’ post players. The only thing missing has been the three-pointer, although his midrange jumper has fallen at a solid rate.

So what is one of the best wing defenders in the league worth? Butler is not quite at the Tony Allen level where he can plausibly shut down a superstar like Kevin Durant for large portions of a game or series, but just about nobody is. Butler makes life as difficult on wings as just about anyone else.

Over the last five years when the cap remained relatively flat prior to this summer, the going rate to extend a rookie contract for a solid starter with upside on the wing has been around $10 million per season. Nicolas Batum (four years, $46.1 million), Danilo Gallinari (4/$44 million), DeMar DeRozan (4/$38 million) are three recent examples, although they were all a few years younger than Butler and thus had a bit more upside. Among free agents, Andre Iguodala signed for 4/$48 million as a 29 year-old in the summer of 2013.

Last summer though, the wing market exploded for even restricted free agents. Normally RFAs experience a chilling effect on offers due to the incumbent team’s ability to match, but the league’s desperation for wings fueled maximum offers for Chandler Parsons* and Gordon Hayward, both of which started at about $14.7 million.

*Parsons’ started $46,000 below the max, if we’re being technical.

Butler is by far the superior defender to either player, although he cannot compare to either with his playmaking. But if he continues to play as he has in the preseason offensively, or if he returns to 38 percent from beyond the arc on reasonable volume, it is conceivable he could receive a maximum offer sheet as well from a team desperate to upgrade its defense. The Bulls would also run the risk that he receives the now-famous Parsons offer, which could allow him to reach free agency again in two years or stick out a third-year player option. With Butler turning 26 years old next September, a chance to hit the market again before turning 28 could allow him another fat contract under the new TV deal. If he were a free agent right before turning 30, another big long-term contract would be far less likely.

On the other hand, this could be the year he cements himself as an unacceptably bad three-point shooter. That could cast doubt on his ability to be a starter on a championship-level offense.* Butler and his agent Happy Walters can still sell the possibility of an improvement from beyond the arc at this point. If he shoots poorly again this year, that may not fly.

*It should be noted that Butler did have a mildly positive effect on the Bulls’ offense per Real Plus Minus, but in a larger sense it can get really hard to construct a great offense with a perimeter starter who is neither shooter or playmaker. Few, if any, great offenses in the last five years played big minutes with a wing as limited offensively as Butler was last year.

The usual caveats about the security of an extension may apply even more to Butler, who has made comparatively little as the 30th pick in the 2011 draft and must survive another season in the Tom Thibodeau wing minutes meat grinder to get paid sans extension. But the Bulls also face risk if Butler blows up. They would be forced to match a maximum offer sheet for him, since they will be capped out with no way to replace him in free agency.

A maximum offer sheet also poses a particular risk to the Bulls since it could imperil their ability to sign free agents using the full $5.464 million mid-level exception (MLE) and $2.139 million bi-annual exception (BAE), especially should they wish to retain Mike Dunleavy.

Butler Max

*Let’s assume several things, as in the post about Kawhi Leonard: The cap will be $69 million next summer, and $80 million in the summer of 2016. Those are obviously very rough and conservative estimates, but they track with some of the reporting by Larry Coon in this article, which indicates that the increase in the cap due to the TV deal may be smoothed into effect over a four-year period, resulting in approximately a $4 million per year increase on top of the “normal” cap increases. That will probably end up around $9 million per season starting in 2016-17. I included only the Bulls’ main players for this scenario; guys like Aaron Brooks or Nazr Mohammed were not included going forward. The 4-7 year maximum is computed based on a “cap” based on 42.14 percent of BRI rather than 44.74 percent. That’s why Butler’s “25 percent max” is actually 24 percent of the actual cap to start.

If the Bulls have to match a max offer sheet to Butler, they will be only about $3 million short of the projected Apron, including Dunleavy’s cap hold.  If they use either the MLE or BAE, they would be hard-capped at the Apron for the season. Even if they were to let Dunleavy go, they would have difficulty using both the full MLE and BAE while staying below the Apron.*  They also might reenter the luxury tax, although after two years below it and a rising cap in the succeeding years the repeater tax would not be a concern.  A maximum offer sheet for Butler could really crimp the Bulls’ 2015 offseason, and potentially their profits.

*If the Bulls were able to swing a sign-and-trade, they would also be hard-capped.

A compromise could be a four-year contract starting at $11-12 million per year for Butler.  While this is potentially overpaying for Butler, it acknowledges his potential market value if he blows up while giving him security and allowing the Bulls to use the MLE and BAE in 2015. This compromise also acknowledges Butler’s leverage because the Bulls will have no way to replace him since they are capped out. Butler should have a relatively high floor considering his defense and the fact that his offense almost certainly will improve at least a bit from 2013-14, so they will still get quite a bit out of him even if he it not quite “worth” the money.

Butler Compromise

By percentage of the cap, this contract would be similar to those of Gallinari, Batum, DeRozan, and Iguodala in past years.  And the Bulls would be about $7 million below the Apron even with Dunleavy’s cap hold, and by even more if he were to re-sign for less or be let go.  This would allow far more flexibility in potentially using their full exceptions.  A lower salary for Butler in the summer of 2016 could also allow the Bulls to open up maximum cap room with some maneuvering if they were to move on from Joakim Noah (extinguishing his likely $20 million cap hold) at that point, when he will be 32 years old.

Unfortunately, one other potential reason for delay looms—that of which Chicago fans must not think of, but management should. If Derrick Rose were to suffer another major injury this year, it would change the entire direction of the franchise. Counting on him would become foolhardy, and could require a total reload in advance of the summer of 2016. Rose will be on the books through 2017, but Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, and Joakim Noah are all potential trade pieces in that scenario. If the Bulls are looking for major signings in the summer of 2016 or 2017, paying a lot for Butler could become a lot less palatable than when they projected to be capped out with this group for the foreseeable future while trying to contend. Getting more information about Rose and the ultimate direction of the franchise is a powerful reason to wait.

Despite the possibility of this doomsday scenario, the incentives seem aligned for a compromise in line with previous wing contracts given the significant risk to both sides from waiting.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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High-Performance Mindfulness: What Players Can Learn From Brandon Ingram

By implementing a Daily Gratitude Practice, Brandon Ingram may be ahead of the game. Jake Rauchbach dives in.

Jake Rauchbach

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For younger players, maybe one of the most important elements of successful progression is their ability to mentally and emotionally self-manage.

Throughout a career, and as the stakes increase, the amount of external variables that a player is faced with processing can multiply exponentially both on and off the court.

For players with effective and leverageable skill sets for clear decision-making, as well as mental and emotional self-management, this is a valuable asset. However, for many, it can be like a trial by fire. This means that habits picked up through a career to cope can be either supportive or destructive.

However, players who have the foresight to employ proactive self-management tools — before the volatility of life hits — have a leg up on overall well-being, and with on-court performance.

Brandon Ingram

Brandon Ingram, who is still only 22 years old, helps to shed light on how important it is to have mental and emotional processes in place.

Ingram, who is having a career-best year in New Orleans, averaging 25.4 points per game on 49% shooting, experienced ups and downs during his time with the Lakers.

Whether through proactively seeking out mental skills or by picking them up along the way, BI has seemed to find a process that works for him. He also seems to have found an understanding of how important it is to train these internal habits.

“People around me, they can give me talks, they can tell me what to do, but if I don’t have the right mentality, then nothing good is going to happen for me because I’m not going to be confident,” Ingram said.

As one of the younger up and coming players in the league, it is no coincidence that Ingram learned early the importance of implementing a Daily Gratitude Practice. He employs this tool both in the morning and at night after practice.

Neuroplasticity & Epigenetics

As neuroscientists like Dr. Joe Dispenza are now showing, the differentiating factor in human potential may be the ability to harness thought and emotion. In his Wall Street Journal bestseller, Becoming Supernatural, Dispenza provides several studies showing how these two variables are being shown to directly affect the up or down-regulation of the human gene. Meaning, for every thought or emotion that is produced in the body, there is a corresponding chemical reaction. Each one of the reactions, whether positive or negative, either up-regulate or down-regulate the gene. This is especially true for longstanding thought patterns.

According to neuroscience, Ingram, through his Daily Gratitude Practice, may be positively influencing more levels to his game than he consciously realizes. Players like Ingram who can entrain to higher mental and emotional habits can positively influence physiology and performance.

Conversely, a player with chronic and ingrained negative thought and emotional patterns, such as depression, often produces volatile or underwhelming on-court results. On a psychosomatic level, their mental and emotional states are affecting their physiology and performance.

A player like Ingram, who self admittedly went through many ups and downs, has been able to stabilize and hit his stride this season with the Pelicans. What about the players that have not been able to right the ship?

A deeper understanding of how mindset and emotional states affect a player’s physiology and performance can help us understand what is going on under the hood.

Player Development tools that do this can work to reshape long-standing mental and emotional patterns. Furthermore, providing players with a systematic way of shifting well-being and performance upwards can provide alignment.

Energy Psychology – Player Development

As discussed in previous columns, Energy Psychology – Player Development works on the habit level of the player to remove mental and emotional barriers that inhibit peak performance and overall wellbeing.

Based on Dispenza’s neuroscience findings, when holding all else constant, there seems to be real evidence to show that a player’s thoughts and emotions are the drivers behind overachievement. With this, EP methods help player’s upshift mental state, physiology and performance by neutralizing subconscious blocking thoughts and emotions.

Whether by the player proactively implementing these techniques or through standardized programs set up by the team, working in this fashion goes much deeper than just getting up shots.

Younger Players & The G-League

Ingram is ahead of the curve in regards to implementing elements of consistent mental skills training into his everyday routine. Other players should take heed.

For younger players still on their rookie contracts — or those just coming into the league — support like this may be a deciding factor in how they move throughout the rest of their career.

The G League also may be an ideal proving ground. A proactive mental performance initiative could provide players still trying to solidify an opportunity for an added skill-set. This could provide a leg-up, not only on the court once that call-up opportunity does come.

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NBA Daily: Sixth Man of the Year Watch — 12/6/2019

A Washington sharpshooter joins the ranks of the league’s best reserves, but the Sixth Man conversation still focuses on Los Angeles in Douglas Farmer’s opinion.

Douglas Farmer

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In this update on Sixth Man of the Year candidates, one name must be bid farewell. Unexpected to begin the year but increasingly expected in recent weeks, Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham has played too well to keep coming off the bench, most recently shining with 33 points on 10-of-16 shooting from deep Wednesday. In a lost season for the Hornets, Graham’s emergence may be the brightest silver lining, hence his starting their last 13 games.

A similar fate is set to befall another name below in the absence of an injured superstar, but technically speaking, that Brooklyn Nets guard has not started half his team’s games yet, so he remains in this listing one more time …

5. Dāvis Bertāns — Washington Wizards

Bertāns’ recent shooting spurt has not brought the Wizards many wins, but it has led to him reaching double digits in eight of their last nine games, including four instances of 20 or more points. During that stretch, Bertāns has hit 47.5 percent of his looks from beyond the arc, the type of shooting that earns notice.

At this point, he is averaging only 13.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, numbers that may not bring out the checkbook this summer, but if Bertāns keeps at his recent pace, his contract year should elicit a worthwhile payday. That would be true in any summer, but even more so in an offseason devoid of many pertinent free agents like 2020 should be.

4. Dwight Howard — Los Angeles Lakers

No. 39’s numbers have not taken off, and they will not, but this space will continue to trumpet Howard’s impact because it has been surprising and quietly important. Even beyond his counting stats — 7 points and 7 rebounds per game — playing fewer than 20 minutes per game will keep Howard from broader recognition for most of the season.

In the Lakers’ 12 wins by 10 or fewer points, Howard has totaled a plus-38. As long as Anthony Davis stays healthy and Los Angeles is the title favorite, Howard’s contributions should not be diminished, even if he is not the prototypical sixth man candidate.

3. Spencer Dinwiddie — Brooklyn Nets

When the Nets face the Hornets tonight, Dinwiddie’s nominal bench status will be in the rearview mirror for the foreseeable future. Through 21 games, he has started 10, fitting the sixth man qualification by one role night. With that distinction, his 20.8 points and 5.8 assists per game place him firmly in this conversation.

If he will have started half Brooklyn’s games by the end of the day, then why include him between Howard and a three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner? Because when Kyrie Irving returns from his extended absence (shoulder injury), Dinwiddie may return to the bench and skew his games off the bench back to the majority of his action.

That effect combined with Dinwiddie keeping the Nets steady and in the East’s top half without Irving is a unique combination of a contribution.

2. Lou Williams — Los Angeles Clippers

Death, taxes and Lou Williams. He has broken 20 points in 14 games this season with two more cracking 30, averaging 21.1 points per game. That was to be expected, even with his slow start to the year. The 14-year veteran is a metronome of a bucket-getter.

His 6.3 assists per game, however, are on pace to be a career-high. While that may not have been anticipated, this will be Williams’ fifth year in a row raising that average. Those dispersals have not shorted Williams’ scoring, as everyone knows. That is all to say, the league’s ultimate sixth man, maybe its best ever, has improved as a complete player in the latter half of his possibly interminable career.

1. Montrezl Harrell — Los Angeles Clippers

At some point this year, this biweekly Sixth Man listing may need to become a one-man testament. Harrell is rendering the preceding four nominations moot. His 19.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game are impressive, but his pivotal role with the Clippers is even more deserving of lauds.

His 29.7 minutes per game are fourth for Los Angeles — a category Williams actually tops — and his plus-156 leads the Clippers handily, with only Kawhi Leonard’s plus-144 within 60 of Harrell. Yes, Harrell’s on-court impact in Los Angeles rivals Kawhi Leonard’s, despite one of them coming off the bench in 20 of 22 games and the other being the reigning Finals MVP.

The season is still in the early aughts — but some classic and new frontrunners are here to stay. For now, we’ll have to see how Paul George, Kyrie Irving and others ultimately impact the leaders on this list, but the Sixth Man of the Year race has only just started to heat up.

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NBA Daily: Equal Opportunity System With Butler Fueling HEAT

Seemingly always trapped in “good but not good enough” territory, the Miami HEAT have finally turned a corner. They might even be contenders, writes Drew Mays.

Drew Mays

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209 wins, 202 losses.

That’s what the Miami HEAT have to show in the record column since LeBron James left in the summer of 2014.

Their record tells us out loud what we’ve known over the last five years: Miami is a proud franchise. The team maximizes what it has and is a perennial postseason threat no matter who is on the roster.

Middling seasons aren’t necessarily a good thing by NBA standards, however. Competitiveness is a stepping stone to title contention. Without contention, it makes sense to bottom-out and rebuild through draft capital and assets. 40-win seasons are neither of these things.

But what the HEAT have in their favor is their location. NBA stars love South Beach. And this summer, Miami got what it needed: A star to push them over the hump in Jimmy Butler.

Butler wasn’t the shiniest addition, but he was one of the most important. A top-15 player, Butler’s antics in Minnesota frustrated his value over the past few seasons.

Those annoyances were overshadowed by his play for Philadelphia in the playoffs last spring — even with Joel Embiid, Butler may have been the 76ers’ best player. Either way, he was definitely their most important. He took control of games as a ball-handler down the stretch, repeatedly working from 15-feet and in and running pick-and-roll when the games screeched to a halt and defenses were loaded up. With Butler in tow, the Sixers were a few bounces away from the Eastern Conference Finals — although, he’d tell you they would’ve won the whole thing.

Instead of running it back in Philadelphia, Butler flew south in free agency to where he’d always wanted to go: Miami. His signing, followed by the arrival of rookie Tyler Herro, the emergence of Kendrick Nunn, a jump by Bam Adebayo and the support of the rest of the roster has the HEAT at 15-6 and poised to make a deep playoff run.

Miami has seven players averaging double figures. Kelly Olynk, averaging 9.2 per game, is close to making it eight. The balance extends beyond scoring numbers – those eight players all play between 23 and 34 minutes, with fifth starter Meyers Leonard as the lowest-used regular at just under 19 minutes per game. No one shoots the ball more than Nunn and his 13.8 attempts per game, and four players average over 4 assists each night.

While most teams are built on top-down schemes with a few stars and role players filling in the blanks, Miami is thriving in an equal-opportunity system. Much of this has to do with their culture and ability to amplify each player’s talents.

This even attack wouldn’t exist if Herro wasn’t flourishing in his rookie season; if Nunn hadn’t become a revelation after going undrafted in 2018; if Adebayo hadn’t made a leap, detailed recently by Jack Winter; if Goran Dragic hadn’t accepted going to the bench after starting essentially the last seven years; if Duncan Robinson hadn’t developed into an NBA rotation player.

All of these things are hard to predict individually, let alone them coming together at once. But with Miami, and with what we know about Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra, it was almost a foregone conclusion.

Butler’s infusion into Miami’s culture has been the perfect marriage 20 games in. His toughness matches the HEAT’s, and he seems to respect the work ethic of his teammates – something that’s been a huge problem in the past. He’s been able to be “the guy” without forcing it, leading Miami in scoring, but trailing Nunn in attempts per game.

The HEAT’s diversity on offense has led to an effective field goal percentage of 55.2 percent, second-best in the league. They’re 3rd in three-point percentage, 6th in two-point percentage, and 7th in free throws made. They’re 10th in assists. Even with their league-worst turnover percentage, they are 11th in offensive rating and 6th in overall net.

Defensively, the team is doing what Miami has traditionally done. They’re eighth-best in opponent field goal percentage and 2nd in the entire league in three-point percentage at 31.6%. In today’s NBA, defending the three-point line that well will breed success.

After defeating the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday — and the defending champions’ subsequent loss to the Houston Rockets — the HEAT are tied with them for third place in the Eastern Conference standings. And we’re 20 games in, so what we’ve seen from them so far is real. They are contenders to represent the East in the Finals in June.

Toronto and the Boston Celtics are good. They’ve both had strong starts, bolstered by the ridiculousness of Pascal Siakam and the insertion of Kemba Walker, respectively. But they aren’t markedly better than Miami. Are their offenses good enough to overcome the HEAT in a playoff series?

The Milwaukee Bucks, the proverbial frontrunner, still have the glaring non-Giannis weaknesses. They lost Malcolm Brogdon and showed their vulnerability by losing four straight in the conference finals last year. Philadelphia struggled out of the gate, but have won 8 of their last 11. But sans Jimmy Butler, the Sixers face the same questions they faced before his arrival in 2018-19: Who is the guy down the stretch? Who can create offense late in a playoff game?

That hasn’t been answered for Philadelphia yet. There’s no assurance that it’ll be answered at all. That question is answered in Miami.

They have Butler now. They have their star.

Combine that with Herro, Nunn, Adebayo, Dragic, Justise Winslow — who they haven’t even had for half of their games thus far — and the rest of the package, and Erik Spoelstra has what he hasn’t had since LeBron James was still in Miami.

A contender.

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