Caron Butler has agreed to sign with the Thunder once he clears waivers Saturday evening. Here is a breakdown on Butler, why the Thunder went after him and what it means for OKC’s roster today and in the future.
WHO IS CARON BUTLER: A 12-year veteran and a two-time All-Star. He’s a 6-foot-7 forward who is known for his toughness — his nickname is “Tuff Juice” — versatility and perimeter shooting. The 10th overall pick by Miami in 2002, Butler has played for the Heat, Washington, Dallas, the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee. He won a championship with Dallas in 2011. Butler, 33, has career averages of 15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.4 steals in 764 career games, 710 as a starter.
WHY IS THE THUNDER SIGNING HIM: Depth. No matter his role, Butler bolsters the Thunder roster because of his size, savvy, skills and experience. He adds another versatile wing player to an already impressive stable. He can defend and knock down open shots (he’s a 37.7 percent 3-point shooter over the past 3 1/2 seasons), two traits the Thunder could use more of. He’s also a true professional, a real Thunder type of guy who carries himself well, is a great teammate and never gets in trouble off the court. Along those lines, think Derek Fisher, Nick Collison, Royal Ivey, Kevin Ollie and Nazr Mohammed.
HOW DID THIS SIGNING HAPPEN: Buyout season brought it about. Butler was in his first season with his hometown Bucks this year. But with Milwaukee owning the worst record in the league while rebuilding, the Bucks had little need for a veteran like Butler. And so the two sides agreed to go their separate ways. A buyout was finalized Thursday, and with Butler set to become an unrestricted free agent after clearing waivers Saturday he had the freedom to sign with anyone. He chose the Thunder.
WHAT DOES HIS SIGNING MEAN: It brings the Thunder roster to 14, one less than the maximum number of players teams can carry. It also means a few current rotation players will lose out on playing time to clear minutes for Butler. Perry Jones III could be the biggest casualty. But others, including Thabo Sefolosha, Jeremy Lamb and Kendrick Perkins when he returns, aren’t immune, either. Butler gives the Thunder an additional weapon and more flexibility to make a run at a title.
WILL THIS SIGNING PUT THE THUNDER OVER THE TAX: No. OKC wasn’t going to agree to anything, whether in free agency last summer, at the trading deadline or with a bought out player, that would have put the team over the tax this season. While it’s not yet clear what Butler will sign for, the deal will assuredly keep the Thunder below the luxury tax line and account for any outstanding player bonuses that can be earned this season. But as a result of some salary cap gymnastics seen in last month’s Ryan Gomes trade, the Thunder is in position to offer Butler more than the minimum while still staying below the tax. Without making what many viewed as a minor deal, the Thunder likely would not have been able to sign Butler and stay below the tax. But because it did, OKC now keeps the start of the clock on the more punitive repeater tax away for at least one more season while still fielding a championship-caliber team that has one more roster spot available for emergency purposes this year.
WHY DID BUTLER CHOOSE OKC OVER MIAMI: It’s a question we’ll have to ask Butler. Both are among the favorites to win the title and both have developed reputations as quality-run organizations. Butler’s decision comes as a bit of a surprise since he played the first two years of his career in Miami, including one season as a teammate of current Heat players Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem. He knows the city and the organization. But there’s a chance Butler can see more minutes with the Thunder, while also making a little extra money. And the Thunder had a few things going for it as well. Butler starred at Connecticut, where current Thunder players Jeremy Lamb and Hasheem Thabeet played. Former Thunder player Kevin Ollie also played at Connecticut and now serves as UConn’s coach. There’s a UConn pipeline in Oklahoma City that perhaps played a part in making Butler feel comfortable signing on. Also, former Thunder guard Mike Wilks, a pro scout for the Thunder, is from Butler’s hometown of Milwaukee. It couldn’t have hurt to have Wilks speaking to Butler on behalf of the organization and selling the Thunder.
WHY DID THE THUNDER CHOOSE BUTLER OVER DANNY GRANGER: We don’t know if that’s the case. It’s also possible Granger never considered the Thunder. Granger has missed the better part of the past two seasons while dealing with knee injuries, and he is widely believed to have been seeking a more prominent role than the Thunder could offer. He is expected to soon sign with the Clippers, a team that could offer him that very thing, maybe even as a starter. But in Butler, the Thunder would be acquiring a player who doesn’t come with as many question marks. While Butler has battled injuries throughout his career, he appeared in 78 games last season and comes with a reputation for wanting to win above all else.
WHEN WILL BUTLER JOIN THE TEAM: If he clears waivers Saturday night, it’s likely that Butler will arrive in Oklahoma City and be with the team for Sunday’s game against Charlotte. It’s unlikely he’ll play in that game. But you never know. A more likely date for Butler’s debut would be Tuesday against Philadelphia.
WHAT WILL THE THUNDER DO WITH THE FINAL ROSTER SPOT: Leave it open for now. It’s a luxury to have flexibility in case someone gets injured and must be replaced. But expect the Thunder at some point soon to start using it as a flex spot to get a look at players on 10-day contracts.
WILL THE THUNDER GO AFTER JIMMER FREDETTE: No. That ship has sailed. Fredette has become a wildly-popular target for many Thunder fans but is reportedly on the verge of signing with Chicago, a team that can offer much more playing time than the Thunder. And that’s what Fredette seeks. He’s played just 2,565 minutes in his first 2 1/2 seasons, or 602 less than reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard tallied last season. His outside shooting would be a great fit with OKC, but the lack of steady minutes is what will keep that signing from happening.