From Joe Cowley of the Sun-Times to [my boss] Jason McIntyre to Zach Lowe to now Business Insider (???), there’s been a lot of chatter about how Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving could team up together next season, possibly in New York with the Knicks or Nets. If this is where you’re hinging your hopes as a fan of either of those two franchises, you’re in for more years of profound disappointment.
Jimmy Butler will be 30 years old when next season tips off. This isn’t an ordinary 30 either. There’s a lot of Thibs miles on his tires. Luol Deng was 31 when he signed with the Lakers two years ago. How has that worked out? Or what about Joakim Noah, who was also 31 when he signed with the Knicks? (Both signed four-year, $72 million deals that were instantly regrettable for their new teams.)
Butler has missed 15 games in four of his last five seasons, including last year when opted for a meniscus surgery that enabled him to return for the playoffs instead of undergoing a full-blown repair. I know superstars are at a premium in the NBA, but do you really want to be on the hook for the back-end of his next max contract?
Kyrie Irving will be 27 when next season tips off and still ostensibly in his physical prime. But, he’s played 60 games or less in four of his seven NBA seasons. He also missed most of his lone season at Duke due to injury. So, while Irving is undoubtedly a great scorer whose prowess was sorely missed by the Cavs in the NBA Finals (if he would have been healthy, anyway), it’s a real risk to commit a max contract to him for four years when you can’t count on his durability.
If Butler and Irving were both healthy, I’m not sure a team with that core is better than what the Celtics and Sixers project to be in a year either (obviously, the Sixers have their own healthy issues to worry about as well). Maybe one year the dice roll well together and the team that signs them would have the privilege of losing to the Warriors in the Finals, but a Butler/Irving pairing is fraught with risk.