The Bucks officially announced the acquisition of Racine native Caron Butler on Thursday afternoon, 24 hours after Gery Woelfel first reported that Milwaukee was working to seal a deal for the 33-year-old small forward and two-time all-star. As Paul Coro of AZCentral.com first reported late last night, the Bucks have shipped out the paltry sum of Ish Smith and Slava Kravtsov to bring Butler home, making the deal a pure salary dump for the rebuilding Suns.
The move is an obvious respectability play for the Bucks, whose small forward rotation was thin even before news broke yesterday that Carlos Delfino (rehabbing slowly from a broken bone in his foot) may not be ready for the start of the season. Butler is still a legit NBA rotation player and figures to be the Bucks' starting small forward so long as he's healthy, but he's also a long way from his all-star form of '07 and '08. Gone are the days of 20/5/5, though Butler still brings good size on both ends, projects to be a valuable locker room presence and has been a solid spot-up three guy over the past three seasons. So as with every other veteran acquisition the Bucks made this summer, your view of this move will hinge in no small part on your tolerance for the Bucks' uncontrollable urge to gun for one of the final playoff spots in the East.
Yeah, that's still a thing.
Thankfully, this isn't a go-for-broke move either. Neither Smith nor Kravtsov had any real value as players or assets, and the Bucks had to shed a roster spot anyway in order to get down to the 15-man roster maximum. While Butler's no bargain at $8 million this coming season, he'll also be a free agent next summer and thus doesn't impinge on the Bucks' long-term cap flexibility. At this point Milwaukee projects to have $49 million for 12 guaranteed deals in 14/15, leaving open the possibility of more wheeling and dealing next summer. The downside is that the Bucks' $7.5 million in cap space is now more or less gone (just under $2 million remaining), but Butler's expiring deal could also be of use in the event that the Bucks look to deal at the deadline.
Then again, the Bucks haven't been sellers at the deadline since John Hammond arrived, so odds are Butler sticks around like every other expiring contract the Bucks have had of late. That also figures to cut into available minutes for Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, but I don't expect the 18-year-old Antetokounmpo to be ready for any meaningful minutes this season and MIddleton figures to play whenever Delfino and Butler are unavailable. Which given Delfino's foot issues and Butler's age figures to be fairly regularly. Who knows, they might even learn something from a year of apprenticeship under the man they call Tuff Juice. That's the optimistic angle at least. Keeping Antetokounmpo in bubble wrap for most of this season may be best for all parties, as no player in the league figures to have a bigger learning curve. I'm hoping the Bucks are far less cautious with Middleton, but as with any former second round pick, the odds are against him ever amounting to much. That said, we won't know until we see him on the court, right?
Odds are none of these things will make a big difference in terms of the Bucks' long-term fortunes of course. The Bucks are a better team for adding Butler, but probably not by much; look at this as a depth move than a major talent upgrade. That probably explains why the Bucks didn't end up with Butler back at the start of free agency when they helped facilitate Phoenix's acquisition of Eric Bledsoe and Butler from the Clippers. It stands to reason the Bucks were hoping to use their cap space on bigger and better things than Butler at the time, but instead they settled for spending $20 million on rotation guys with a bundle of cash left over. One of those guys was of course Delfino, whose rehab may turn out longer than the Bucks expected when they signed him (hmm...stay tuned). And so with a hole in their small forward rotation and nothing better to spend their money on, Butler likely became a whole lot more attractive over the past month.
As for how attractive Bucks fans will find this move, there's nothing really to get riled up over either way. It's August, so depending on how cynical you feel, every move can be argued as a glass half full or half empty. A half-glass of Tuff Juice, anyone?