Three questions for three writers, examining the potential impact of the Thunder’s impending signing of veteran forward Caron Butler:
1. How important would this move be?
Darnell Mayberry (beat writer) - As I’ve said before, the Thunder didn’t have a pressing need. So the signing wasn’t vital. But this team could use more perimeter shooting and toughness on defense, particularly on the perimeter. And Butler brings both. So this is something that will help. Is it a game-changer? No. But I anticipate Butler providing some nice contributions from his first game through the playoffs.
Anthony Slater (beat writer) – Come June, I’m not sure this’ll be the difference between a title or not. But you never know. It’s a solid pick-up that really rounds out this rotation. Butler was probably the best fit of any of the buy-out candidates. And more than anything, I think it provides the Thunder with Jeremy Lamb insurance. Lamb has really struggled over the past month, his field goal percentage dipping to 36 percent overall and 29 percent from three in February. If he can’t turn it around, Butler provides a steady option during the season’s most important time.
Berry Tramel (columnist) - I think it might be as big of a psychological boost as an on-court boost. The Thunder showed that it’s in the game, willing to try new things, willing to disrupt the status quo. The truth is, Butler is a solid player with not a lot of tread left on his tires. He will help situationally, but I assume he won’t make a huge difference. He’ll be Derek Fisher II. If the Thunder didn’t already have Derek Fisher I, Butler would be even more important.
2. How does this adversely affect the rotation?
Mayberry - Well, Thabo Sefolosha better start making shots. Because Scott Brooks just got another shiny new toy with championship experience. His minutes, along with Jeremy Lamb’s, are the most likely to be cut because of Butler’s arrival. If so, I wouldn’t say it adversely affects the rotation. It might be a good thing if Butler can be consistent on defense and as a shooter, something neither Sefolosha nor Lamb has done this season.
Slater - This should be different than the Ronnie Brewer/Ryan Gomes scenarios. Butler has likely been told he’ll get a chance to play (I’d assume that’s part of the reason he chose OKC over other intriguing suitors). So any time for him, naturally, means less for others. The minutes for Lamb and Sefolosha will likely dip. And beyond that, Perry Jones slides another notch down the pecking order.
Tramel - Adversely? Well, it cuts into the minutes of Jeremy Lamb. No doubt about it. Is that bad? This is very much like the addition of Fisher two years ago. Fish’s arrival cut into the playing time of Reggie Jackson. Lamb is a virtual rookie (Jackson was an actual rookie two years ago). But it doesn’t have to hurt his long-term growth. Lamb just won’t be used as much during the stretch run and the playoffs. He should be ready to play even more next season, just as Jackson went from shaky backup point guard to solid backup point guard in his second year.
3. In your estimation, will Butler become a key rotation piece by playoff-time?
Mayberry - Definitely. Again, he has championship experience. I’ll set the over/under on how many times Brooks uses that phrase when describing Butler the rest of the season at 65. And I’ll take the over. But really what this move allows Brooks to do is trot out a smaller lineup more frequently. In Butler, he has another player he can trust to defend consistently without making many mistakes. So I’d expect to see a lot of lineups with Westbrook, Durant, Butler Ibaka and Fisher/Jackson/Lamb/Sefolosha (take your pick depending on who showed up to play that night). So Kendrick Perkins is on notice, too.
Slater - I don’t necessarily see him as a guy that’s gonna get 20 minutes per night. But he’ll be ready. He’ll get some opportunity. And I’d be willing to bet, come May, he’ll have a moment or two. Maybe it’ll be a random 20-point night to spark a key playoff win. Or a couple threes and an important defensive play to help seal a series. In 47 career playoff games, Butler has averaged 13.7 points and 6.1 rebounds. So he won’t be afraid of the big moment.
Tramel - I would guess Butler would average about 10 minutes a game. Get a couple of five-minute stretches per half. Is that a key rotation piece? I would say no. But maybe somebody else’s standards are different. And it depends on how much defense Butler still can play. I have to admit. I have no idea what his defense is like at this point in his career.