Daryl Morey is trying his best to get another star in Houston. Nothing new. Morey does this act every year, chasing after a coveted free agent. Summer after summer, it’s as if Morey just wants to be in the conversation as much as he wants whatever superstar is the flavor of the moment. It’s like Morey just can’t stand to be on the sidelines. In the summer of 2019, the superstar he thinks he wants because it’s a nice headline- but a disastrous Mike D’Antoni problem- is Jimmy Butler.
Jimmy Butler is a great player on both ends of the floor. He closes games and defends the best player. He plays hard every single play. In the playoffs of 2019, his offensive rating was 121. He performs in the post-season better than in the regular season. He’s an anti-James Harden. And this too. He doesn’t cheat the game. That’s why the Rockets want him. Bulter is never going to idly let the Rockets fall on their sword. He’s blood, guts, sweat and tears until the last second ticks off the clock.
But alas, that isn’t the entire Jimmy Butler story.
Jimmy is acerbic, venom spewing (neither teammates or coaches are spared), a fire starter, angry at times, disgusted at times, and it wears on an organization. Jimmy grew up hard and has never eased into a less is more career. A perfectionist, Butler has unrealistic expectations of his teammates. First, he’s not going to just chill in the corner waiting for Harden to give up the rock. More importantly, when Butler is unhappy the whole world knows it. He doesn’t pout. That would be an improvement. He is out to slay people.
A team with questionable chemistry is willing to put all the Jimmy Butler dark side on pause.
But, strangely, it fits in with the Rockets way of doing business. They overpaid Chris Paul and now they can’t move him. They will overpay Jimmy Butler and although they will have a better chance of kicking Butler out the door if he begins an insurgency campaign to humiliate James Harden, in the process they may have ruined whatever chance they had for postseason relevance. This has epic fail written all over it.
That’s what makes it so beautiful. How often do you get to see a train wreck before it happens? The theater is in the anticipation, as Morey tries to be a magician with Philly’s help.
Speaking of the 76ers. Why would Elton Brand help the Rockets? Why would they want to give up Butler? It’s not like they have a replacement. Butler is the perfect compliment for Joel Embiid and after a rough Brett Brown start, it transitioned into a smooth few months, as smooth as things can be with Butler. Losing Butler will put Philly back to square one and re-signing JJ Redick or Tobias Harris won’t solve what they would be losing.
On the Rockets side of things, they have Mike D’Antoni’s history. The offensive guru has said the toughest player he ever coached was Kobe Bryant. Bryant was a dominant personality who knew the game inside and out and D’Antoni wasn’t coming in at the end of the Bryant career and changing him. D’Antoni didn’t complain when Bryant played 48 minutes two games in a row. Bryant then- oops- blew his Achilles. D’Antoni wasn’t stronger than Kobe. He lost every battle.
Butler isn’t Bryant but they come from the same cloth. The difference is Kobe never went public with his bitterness, just on the court. Butler is the opposite. On the court, he is the good solider but then to the press he sets off his grenades and no one is immune.
If there is a good part of the Butler bio is that you know where you stand with him. He’s not fake. But he eats passive-aggressive temperaments to lunch. That spells a D’Antoni disaster.
Butler only does one thing that D’Antoni likes. He moves the ball. But the rest? No. He is not a 3-point scorer. He’s not going to be second fiddle to James Harden. He’s not alpha dog. He’s alpha alpha dog. Jimmy Butler doesn’t have to be the center point of the offense. But he has to have his touches. He has to be included in the system. His skill set ala the midrange jumper has to be respected. Butler forces you to honor him. He will not be ignored, placated, or treated like a third option. He is 1A to James Harden. You better not forget it.
Mike D’Antoni will have a lot of talent at his disposal if the Butler deal goes through. But D’Antoni then has to change his way of doing things and actually coach players and make them accountable. Otherwise, it’s a train wreck that everyone predicted even before this idea of a mess even started.
I’m all for it though.