With the news of how Jimmy Butler ghosted the Houston Rockets during free agency, it’s worth taking a look at whether Butler would have improved the Rockets as currently constructed.
During the summer following the 2018-19 season, Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey made it known who he was targeting: Jimmy Butler. There were reports that Butler and Rockets guard James Harden were discussing a future together in Houston also.
With it seemingly being a done deal, Morey began assembling trade scenarios which would have allowed the Rockets to sign Butler to a max contract. While speaking on Brian Windhorst’s All Riled Up podcast, ESPN’s Tim McMahon reported that the Houston Rockets had deals in place to send away Eric Gordon and Clint Capela, which would have cleared the way for the Rockets to ink Butler.
In a surprising move, Butler opted to join the Miami Heat instead, which left the Rockets scrambling. In the end, the Rockets were able to make a trade for Russell Westbrook, which has been a success thus far. Through 28 games, the Rockets have a record of 19-9 and hold the fourth seed in the Western Conference, although they currently sit just one game out of the second seed.
Although the Rockets are doing fairly well considering the adjustment they’ve had to make with Russ, it’s worth speculating whether they would be better if they had Butler on the roster.
It’s difficult to make this assessment, as we don’t know whether the Rockets would have still shipped away Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, but the Rockets would have certainly faced challenges of shipping away Eric Gordon and Clint Capela. For starters, the loss of Capela would have presented a major challenge on the glass for a Rockets’ team which is averaging 47.9 rebounds per game, which is good for fourth-best in the league. Capela’s 14.5 rebounds per game have certainly played a large part in the Rockets’ rebounding success, as the Switzerland native currently ranks second in the league in rebounds per game.
In addition, Capela has been a security blanket for Harden when he drives to the basket as he often throws the lob pass to the 25 year-old center whenever Harden draws a second defender. Capela also has essentially been the Rockets sole rim protector, as he’s averaging two blocks per game, which are a career-best and also rank seventh-best in the league.
On top of that, the loss of Gordon would have been a major blow to the Rockets’ second unit, which was already thin. This would have meant the Rockets would have had to rely on Austin Rivers and Ben McLemore for nearly all of the bench productivity. We also don’t know whether Mike D’Antoni would have opted for a small ball lineup and started Danuel House or whether he would have also had him coming off the bench.
What’s certain though is that the Rockets would have given up size, shooting and bench depth to land a 3-and-D technician such as Jimmy Butler. While this would have given the Rockets a lethal trio, it would have left them with very little outside of that, which would have been challenging to say the least. On top of that, if the Rockets would have still made the Westbrook trade, it would have significantly hindered their ability to surround that trio with other contributors, due to salary cap challenges and a lack of draft picks.
If the Rockets would have kept Chris Paul, they would have added another strong personality such as Butler to a duo of stars who reportedly didn’t want to play together.
At the end of the day, the national media will certainly find amusement to the fact that Butler essentially ghosted the Rockets, but considering how the team would have been assembled, it’s hard to see how the Houston Rockets would have been better with the Tomball native.