The Los Angeles Lakers will enter the offseason once again after another difficult season eyeing much change in terms of roster personnel.
Following that trend, several players have already been rumored to be on the Lakers’ wish list in free agency this summer. The latest name to cross the wire is Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, who will become a restricted free agent come July 1.
The 25-year-old has quickly risen up the ranks as one of the best young players in the NBA, especially with his improved play this season that helped him capture the 2014-15 Most Improved Player award. Butler has grown leaps and bounds with his offensive skill set, and has stepped in nicely as one of the Bulls’ key offensive cogs with Derrick Rose sidelined due to injury for much of this season.
Although he missed 17 games because of injury, Butler saw an increase in his scoring output this year from 13.1 points per game to 20.0, and also raised his shooting percentage from 39.7 percent last season to 46.2 percent. This altogether while holding down the fort for Chicago through injuries with Rose and Joakim Noah, he earned his first All-Star game selection.
Butler’s vast improvement this season has also certainly come as a huge benefit for himself as it will likely raise the asking price for his services next year to somewhere near or at a max contract.
The Lakers appear to be ready to anti up that type of money for the young star as multiple reports have stated that the team is prepared to present him a four-year max offer sheet. With that said, the Bulls will have the upper hand in retaining Butler as they have seven days to match any offer sheet that he signs with a team.
This puts Los Angeles or any team for that matter in a precarious position as Chicago will have the ultimate say in whether they want to bring him back. In all likelihood, the Bulls will re-sign the three-year veteran because of his promising talent and his importance to the team’s long-term success moving forward.
There is no question that Butler should warrant a high-paying contract offer from the Lakers given what he brings to the table as a two-way player, but should they still pursue a player that is a restricted free agent?
The answer is a difficult one but ultimately is a no only due to the circumstances. If Los Angeles were to present a offer sheet to Butler and he signs, this would leave the organization in a financial holding pattern that could last up to seven days depending on how long the Bulls choose to wait to re-sign Butler.
This could be extremely detrimental to the Lakers’ free agency plans as many of the other players the team wishes to target such as Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol, and LaMarcus Aldridge could make their decisions within that time frame. It would be reminiscent of last offseason where they chose to pursue both LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, which led to them missing out on players such as Isaiah Thomas, Luol Deng, and Lance Stephenson.
If anything last offseason would be a guideline for Los Angeles to act quickly by immediately shifting their attention to players that they desire primarily instead of waiting around for seemingly unattainable players to make their decision. The free agency period is often fast moving, and time is of the essence as it could mean any player could off the market in mere hours.
The Lakers appear to have a game plan in place for this offseason, and putting a bulk of their financial flexibility towards a restricted free agent could be a wrench in their strategy as they it may lead another unfruitful free agency period.
Ultimately, there is little margin of error for Los Angeles to make this offseason, especially after back-to-back disastrous regular seasons. In all reality it is one of the most important summers in franchise history, and they can ill afford to make a mistake.
Bob Garcia IV
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