By Argie Grigorakos
In pro sports one of the hardest tasks is determining the value of an individual player from a monetary standpoint. Team presidents and owners can look at a players statistics and make a final decision, but the complexity that the current salary cap presents, in most professional sports, can make it difficult for many organizations and their players to agree upon a fair income for both parties involved in the negotiation. The Chicago Bulls currently face somewhat of a dilemma as they, and their current starting shooting guard Jimmy Butler, are in the middle of negotiations on a contract extension. The dilemma is negotiating a number that would be appropriate for both the team and Jimmy moving forward. The Bulls can wait until next season to officially sign the wing player, but they run the risk of losing him as a restricted free agent. As a restricted free agent the Bulls would be able to match any offer provided to Butler but history shows, especially after losing Omer Asik a few years ago to the Houston Rockets, the Bulls could be extremely outbid and left with losing an asset for absolutely nothing.
The 30th pick in the 2011 NBA draft has carved himself an important role in Coach Tom Thibodeau’s overall system, and has become an elite wing defender at his position. Last season he was voted to the All-NBA defensive second team, as he has built a reputation of a true defensive stopper. Jimmy can truly guard 4 positions on the floor, as he has displayed great strength, concentration and speed matched up against the best offensive players in the Association. Be it Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant or Tony Parker, Butler has shown that he can truly disrupt the NBA greats, and totally unsettle any offensive scheme. Nowhere was that more evident than in the 2013 NBA playoffs when Jimmy was matched up against the best player in the league LeBron James and his Miami Heat. The Heat did go on to beat the Bulls in the gruelling second round match up, but what was clear was the great defensive job Jimmy Butler did on LeBron James. In the match up with the Bulls, LeBron averaged 23.6 ppg and shot only 43% from the field, which was significantly less than the 26.6 ppg, and 50% he shot against the other opponents in the playoffs. Obviously Jimmy Butler matched up with LeBron James for most of the Heat and Bulls series, and he made life miserable for the “King”.
The Marquette alum has strongly shown a tenacity and resolve that could arguably tag him as the best defender in the game and it is definitely not going unnoticed. ESPN recently ranked him as the 65th best player in the league, and the 4th best shooting guard in the NBA. With all these accolades and recognition coming his way it can be easily said that a big payday should come Jimmy Butler’s way, however there are other factors that could make circumstances difficult for both the Bulls and their starting shooting guard when it comes to agreeing to a fair deal for both parties at the negotiation table. What gives the whole contract situation great pause is the offensive struggles Jimmy showed last season. He shot 39.7% from the field and a miserable 28.3% from the 3 point line. Those are very alarming stats for a starting shooting guard on a potentially championship contending team. What is more nerve wracking is the fact that in the 2012-2013 season Jimmy showed great promise by shooting 47% from the field and 38% from deep.
The inconsistency from year to year must make the value of Jimmy Butler difficult to set for Bulls Management, especially knowing that Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol are locked into expensive multi-year deals. Definitely the regression Jimmy Butler showed the last couple of years on the offensive end shouldn’t go unnoticed, but the Bulls should consider that Jimmy had to adjust last season to the surprise injury of his backcourt partner Derrick Rose, and the trade of his good friend Luol Deng. Jimmy saw his minutes rise to the top of the league per game, and that may have been a contributing factor to his offensive struggles. Tired legs can definitely affect a jump shot. Speaking of Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler supporters could argue that the market was set this past summer by Jimmy’s former teammate when the man from Sudan inked a multi-year 10 million dollar per contract with the Miami Heat. At this point of their careers one can say Jimmy Butler is a slightly better defender than Luol Deng, and a few years younger, but Deng is a recent former 2 time All Star with a more polished and reliable offensive game. Offensively, you know what type of game a team can get from Luol Deng, you can’t say the same about Jimmy Butler presently.
If the Bulls envision Jimmy Butler as a player who will continuously defend at an elite level, and remain inconsistent offensively as his career progresses, the team may look at other premiere perimeter defenders and negate from their contract situations. For example the Memphis Grizzles best defender Tony Allen has had numerous years of strong defensive play, but struggled to provide strong scoring for his ball club. Last season Allen shot 49% from the field which is respectable, but his 3 point percentage was horrific as he shot a poor 23%. The stats were somewhat similar to Butler’s last season which can help the Chicago Bulls organization drive down the price that is being negotiated. Tony Allen in 2014-2015 will earn 4.8 million, in 2015-2016 he will earn 5.1 million and in 2016-2017 he will be paid 5.5 million. Now many observers will say that Jimmy Butler’s offensive game is much more advanced and versatile than Tony Allen’s, and they would be absolutely right, but the Bulls guard only showed 1 full season of positive efficiency which may prove to be a small sample size.
Many Chicago writers are also guessing that the Bulls may take the same approach in the Jimmy Butler meetings that they took when negotiating with Taj Gibson on an extension a few years ago. Similar to Taj, an agreement may be agreed upon very near the October 31st deadline, but what is most compelling is the idea that Butler and Gibson followed similar paths in their NBA careers. Both were low draft picks by the Bulls who developed through the system and evolved as basketball players with only one team. They are definitely a part of the Bulls core, which may have the team reward Jimmy in a similar fashion to Taj. At the time of negotiations, Taj Gibson agreed on a 4 year 38 million dollar contract extension. Taj averaged 7.9ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.29bpg and shot 48% from the field for his career in mostly a reserve role leading up to the extension. Taj Gibson was, and still is the defensive anchor of the second unit and a vital contributor to a championship calibre team. As the years have gone by Taj has developed a solid post game with a reliable mid range touch, thus in hindsight the earnings he garners is fair and well deserved.
Looking at the play of his peers in the NBA, at the pay they receive, it is fair to say that Jimmy Butler deserves a 4 year 28 million dollar contract. That is a appropriate raise for a player who averaged 1.3 million dollars per year since the 2011-2012 season. Consequently what is seen as fair to the general public may differ from the player themselves. With the new television deal being announced earlier this month, players know that the salary cap will increase the next few years and therefore the idea of increased revenue will be leveraged in current and future contract negotiations. The last few months the Chicago Bulls have gone through the process of updating their roster and improving the team immensely which should excite the fan base, but in doing so the organization may have shot themselves in the foot with the numerous signings they made, specifically the addition Nikola Mirotic. The addition of the Montenegro star may directly affect the numbers agreed upon in the Jimmy Butler negotiations. The former Real Madrid forward inked a 3 year 16.6 million dollar contract with the Bulls which works out to a little over 5.5 million dollars per year. Mirotic comes into the NBA as an unproven player, a rookie nonetheless, and garners a greater salary than most his age in the league. The Butler camp will not be overjoyed earning a little more than a player who may see very limited playing time in year 1.
At the end of the day all sports is a business and different tools are used at the negotiating table. Jimmy Butler is a vital piece to the Chicago Bulls puzzle. If the Bulls are to win a championship, the intangibles Jimmy brings to the table are necessary in order to overcome the superstars of the league. Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system requires a wing defender who is willing to commit to its schemes and sacrifice for the team. Chicago Bulls fan have seen Jimmy fill that role many nights on the basketball court, but the question that must be asked is how much is Mr. Butler willing to sacrifice off the court the achieve something special? With the October 31st deadline quickly approaching a decision will be made and it is going to be very interesting to see which side blinks first.