It has been clear to anyone familiar with the NBA that the Brooklyn Nets are big-game hunting this summer. They’ve made the necessary moves to create cap space and sit in prime position to sign two star free agents. Per Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn is almost a done deal. The Nets will surely try to convince Kevin Durant to join Kyrie as well. However, after rupturing his Achilles tendon in the NBA Finals, Durant could be more inclined to pick up his player option and remain with Golden State.
If, for whatever reason, Kevin Durant does not team up with Kyrie next season, there are still a number of free agents ready to play alongside Irving. Philadelphia 76ers free agent Jimmy Butler is viewed by many as a prime candidate. The New York Post’s Brian Lewis brought attention to the possibility back in May.
“The feeling around the NBA is the Nets will have a very real chance to pry four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler away from Philadelphia.”
Butler is 29 and will undoubtedly be looking for a four-year max-deal. Brooklyn can make that happen. Does a Jimmy Butler-Kyrie Irving pairing actually make sense for the Nets?
Brooklyn was one of the feel-good teams of last season. Led by D’Angelo Russell, the Nets surprised many around the NBA on their way to their first playoff appearance since 2015. They were one of the most entertaining teams in the league. They ran hard, shot a ton of threes, and seemed to enjoy playing with one another.
They’re dancing in Brooklyn!
— Ryan Field (@RyanFieldABC) March 5, 2019
Bringing in Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler would surely increase the Nets’ chances of making a Finals run, but it would come with certain risks.
Signing Butler and Irving would give depth to Brooklyn. In order to get their best players on the floor, the Nets could use a lineup of Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Butler, and Jarrett Allen. Four of those players are most comfortable with the ball, including Allen. A lot of the offense would likely be Irving-Allen pick-and-rolls with Butler, Dinwiddie, and LeVert contributing on smart cuts and catch-and-shoot looks.
Butler and Dinwiddie both shot around 37 percent on 3-point catch-and-shoot looks last season. LeVert was significantly lower at 27 percent. He could be replaced in this potential lineup by Joe Harris, a 48 percent shooter on catch-and-shoot attempts. A lineup featuring Irving, Dinwiddie, Harris, Butler, and Allen has the spacing and shooting ability to contend on offense. Defense would be a problem.
Allen is a strong rim protector and Butler has earned his reputation as a tenacious defender. LeVert, Harris, and Dinwiddie are all average defenders and Irving is below average on that end of the floor. They would run into problems when matched up against longer teams such as the Milwaukee Bucks or Toronto Raptors. In those instances, they would easily be put into matchup disadvantages due to size limitations.
Additionally, Butler is aging and has quite a bit of wear and tear on his body. His time with the Bulls took its toll. His naturally hard-nosed style of play doesn’t do him any favors. I would worry about his durability on a team that may ask him to guard bigger players on a regular basis.
Another risk of signing Butler and Irving would be the potential for locker room distractions. Throughout last season Irving’s feelings on his situation in Boston garnered nearly as many headlines as his performance on the court. It was an open secret that he and his younger teammates did not get along. Would his demeanor in Brooklyn be any different? Butler is no stranger to locker room turmoil either. His forced trade from Minnesota was one of the most discussed events of the NBA season.
Nets general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson have worked hard at building a constructive, winning culture in Brooklyn. Bringing in Irving and Butler would immediately put that culture at risk.
Signing Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler would immediately elevate the Nets to the upper levels of the Eastern Conference. It would be a move that has its risks, but the potential payoff could be worth it.