The rumor mill has put Jimmy Butler back on the market, which means people will begin talking about how he’d look in green; it’s just how things work in this world.
But as fans debate potential trades that Danny Ainge could cook up with the Bulls, people often like to bring up the fact that the Boston Celtics wouldn’t be in this position if Ainge had just taken Butler in the draft instead of JaJuan Johnson back in 2012. This is something that has to stop.
Boston did take Johnson with the 27th overall pick that summer and Chicago took Butler 30th. This never looks good on paper, but how can you guarantee that Butler would have had success in Boston.
Just look at what happened during the 2011-12 season. Boston went to the Eastern Conference Finals with a veteran loaded roster that still included the entire Big Three – for the last time – and Rajon Rondo. The rest of the rotation was also filled out with a number of experienced players like Jermaine O’Neal (33 at the time), Keyon Dooling (31), Marquis Daniels (31), Mickael Pietrus (30), Chris Wilcox (29), Sasha Pavlovic (29) and Brandon Bass (26). All of this paired with the rise of then 21-year old Avery Bradley made it almost impossible for any of the rookies to play with the exception of Greg Stiemsma, who was a 26-year old undrafted rookie signed out NBA D-League and got minutes as a true center when O’Neal required season ending wrist surgery late in the season.
Not playing as a rookie wouldn’t have been that big a deal for Butler in the long run because he didn’t play much for the Bulls anyway, averaging 8.5 minutes and just 2.6 PPG per game across just 42 appearances Johnson averaged 8.3 minutes and 3.2 PPG across 36 appearances with the Celtics. But the rise of Buter is something that you almost have to question because of what happened in Boston that next offseason.
The deep playoff run made Ainge think about the quickly closing window instead of looking at the bigger picture. They resigned Wilcox, handed Jeff Green a four year contract after missing the entire season with a heart condition, swung for the wall in the draft by taking Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo while also signing Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa in free agency. This was not a team ready to make way for the younger guys on the back of their roster as they were trying to load up for one final title run with Paul Pierce, which would have forced Butler to ride the bench for a bench for a second straight year.
And there is no guarantee that Butler would have even been on the Celtics that season. Keep in mind that Lee came to the Celtics in a sign-and-trade that summer and Johnson was tossed into the deal and subsequently waived by the Houston Rockets. Working under the assumption that Butler and Johnson had somewhat similar rookie campaigns, there’s a realistic chance that Butler would wind up a Rocket.
Now this is all speculation and it’s quite possible that Butler would be having an excellent career with the Celtics if he was drafted by Boston back in 2011, but it’s still silly to argue the “what could have been” on draft would hold up because there are so many variables.