Breaking down the Da’Sean Butler situation
Da’Sean Butler had played his way into a surefire first-round selection in the 2010 NBA Draft with a spectacular senior campaign at West Virginia last season, sinking six game-winning shots, earning second-team All-America honors, and leading the Mountaineers to the Final Four for the first time since 1959. With a first round selection comes the virtual guarantee of becoming a multi-millionaire.
And then one fateful play changed the course of Da’Sean’s career. With a little less than nine minutes remaining in the Mountaineers’ national semi-final match-up with eventual champion Duke on April 3rd, Butler drove to the basket and collided with the Blue Devils’ Brian Zoubek. Moments later, the senior forward lay on his back clutching his left knee, writhing in pain caused by a torn ACL, a sprained MCL and two bone bruises.
The image of head coach Bob Huggins consoling his fallen superstar was simultaneously touching and perhaps just a bit uncomfortable. But we can all certainly empathize. Instead of beginning his preparation for a potential starting spot in the NBA, Butler found himself instead fighting for any place at all.
On April 8, Butler had surgery at The Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, Florida. His doctor said the surgery went “super well.” And so began his arduous rehabilitation process.
When the Heat drafted Butler with the 42nd overall pick just two months later, it was undoubtedly a risk. Da’Sean’s future was on the line. He had been working hard to get himself back into shape, but the reality is that he wasn’t projected to be cleared to play full contact basketball until the end of September, four months after the draft. He was depending on a team to take a chance on him – a guy who had just recently shed his crutches.
For Pat Riley and the Heat, who had bigger plans in mind, it was a manageable risk. If it didn’t work out, it wouldn’t be much more than a minor blip on the radar to a team that had three other second round picks. But if Butler were to recover to be anywhere near the player he was prior to his injury, Riley would have pulled off perhaps the most masterful stroke of draft brilliance.
At the time, things were certainly looking promising. Butler declared himself to be a full week ahead of schedule. The selection was therefore labeled by many as the steal of the draft.
But things didn’t work out as projected.
Butler’s road to recovery now appears as if it is going to take a bit longer than originally expected. He underwent a minimally invasive laparoscopic surgical procedure two weeks ago. He is once again on crutches and resting. He will not be able to return to rehab until the swelling in his knee goes down. Doctors hope that will happen within the coming week. He is now projected to be back on the court sometime in October.
Due to the intricacies of the collective bargaining agreement, it does not appear this setback will hurt Butler’s chances of making the team.
When a player is selected in the second round of the draft, he remains the exclusive property of the team that selected him until at least the September 5th immediately following the draft. At that point, the team needs to make a decision.
In order for the team to thereafter retain draft rights to the player, it must submit to him a “Required Tender” by September 5th. The tender is an offer of a contract that affords the player until at least the immediately following October 15 to accept, has a term of one season, calls for at least the minimum salary applicable to the player, and can be fully unguaranteed. The mere issuance of the tender extends the period during which the team has exclusive negotiating rights to the player until the following NBA draft.
Once issued, the player can then choose to either forgo the tender and seek employment outside the NBA, accept the tender, or reject the tender and instead negotiate with the team for a better contract.
If, instead, the team does not issue the tender by September 5, the drafting team would lose its exclusive rights to the player, and the player would become an unrestricted free agent the following day.
For the Heat with Butler, this is not a realistic option. Under this scenario, Miami will have drafted someone who Riley deemed the 21st best player in the draft only to let him go for nothing just two and a half months later. Even with roster spots dwindling, this scenario seems unrealistically unlikely.
The team is also permitted to include in its tender a provision which requires the passage of a physical examination, to be performed by a physician designated by the team, as a condition precedent to the validity of the contract. However, if the player accepts the tender and subsequently fails the physical, the tender will have been deemed to be withdrawn and the player would immediately become an unrestricted free agent.
For the Heat with Butler, this is also not a realistic option. The Heat knew all the way back when they drafted him that Butler would not pass a physical.
The Heat is therefore, by rule, forced into the following alternatives: (i) issue Butler the tender without subjecting it to the passage of a physical examination or (ii) lose Butler’s draft rights. In other words, the Heat is going to be forced to offer Butler a contract even though he’s unhealthy or lose him for nothing.
It is therefore in the Heat’s best interest to issue the tender.
Butler would then have several alternatives with which to respond.
He could reject the tender and wait out the season.
Under this scenario, Butler would continue to rehabilitate his knee injury unaffiliated with the Heat. As long as he has not signed a professional basketball contract anywhere in the world by next year’s draft, the Heat would lose its draft rights, and Butler would become eligible for the 2011 NBA Draft.
This might be a conceivable alternative if Butler truly believes he could be a first round draft pick next year, after a successful rehabilitation. The first round selection would make him the guaranteed millionaire some feel he lost this year as the result of his injury. But it’d be a huge risk. Butler was already fringe level first round pick before the injury. Now with the injury and one full year later, a year spent entirely away from the game, it is highly questionable whether a team would risk a first round selection on him. If he were to drop to the second round, he would once again be forced through this very same process he’s in now, this time with his new team after having sacrificed a full year. If he were to go undrafted, he would become an unrestricted free agent. But that would also mean that no team wanted him.
Given the risks, this approach is decidedly unlikely.
He could reject the tender and play somewhere else.
Under this scenario, Butler would rehabilitate his knee injury unaffiliated with the Heat, and then try to find work outside of the NBA – whether it be in the D-League, with a European club, or elsewhere. This is a path taken by many second round draft picks who have little chance of making the opening day rosters of the teams which selected them in the draft, including Patrick Beverley and Robert Dozier last year. Since the tender wouldn’t be guaranteed anyway, they instead choose to play elsewhere, typically overseas, both to gain experience and to earn a living. These players know that if they instead accept their tenders, they will ultimately be released, and left without an organization that believes in them and is grooming them. They also know that by the time they are released (perhaps after training camp, sometime in late October) most roster spots on teams around the world will have already been filled. They will have lost the opportunity to secure a roster spot elsewhere, without having earned a dime in the interim. Many simply cannot afford this option. By forgoing the tender, they give themselves these several months to find alternate work. By rule, once a draft pick signs a contract to play professional basketball somewhere other than in the NBA, the team retains the player’s draft rights for one year after the player’s obligation to the non-NBA team ends.
This is not nearly as attractive an alternative for Butler as it is for many other second round picks. He’s injured. He’s not likely to get a job playing in Europe or Asia or even the D-League until he is fully healthy. That’s mid-October at the very earliest. So why reject the tender?
He could accept the tender.
Under this scenario, he’d be under contract to the Heat. It would likely be a fully unguaranteed one-year minimum salary contract. He would be no different than Shavlik Randolph, Kenny Hasbrouck, and perhaps Patrick Beverley – competing for one of the Heat’s final roster spots. Other players could show their value on the court. The most he could do is show a commitment to his rehab. The math is simple. There’d be 18 players competing for 15 spots. Randolph is likely gone. Hasbrouck is likely gone. That leaves him and Beverley likely competing for one spot. But the Heat have shown a type of commitment to him that they haven’t yet shown to Beverley. He’d have the inside track.
He would also know that the worst case scenario is to be waived sometime in late October, at which point he’d be an unrestricted free agent and, once healthy, able to compete for a spot with all thirty teams. Comparatively speaking, that’s still a pretty good outcome.
It would therefore be in Butler’s best interest to accept the tender.
Ok. So it is in the Heat’s best interest to offer the tender, and it is in Butler’s best interest to accept the tender. So Butler and the Heat both already know that Butler will be under contract to the Heat at some point in the next couple of months.
With that it mind, the Heat and Butler have two choices: (i) be resigned to the one year minimum salary contract that the required tender calls for or (ii) negotiate a contract that is more mutually beneficial.
Recent history gives us a clue as to what they’ll do.
The Heat gave Shavlik Randolph a two-year minimum salary contract in exchange for a $250,000 guarantee. They gave Kenny Hasbrouck the same two-year minimum salary contract in exchange for the same $250,000 guarantee. These guarantees were unnecessary, but the Heat seems to like giving them. For whatever reason. Expect Butler to get the same type of deal.
Look for the Heat and Da’Sean Butler to come to agreement on a two-year minimum salary contract with a $250,000 or so partial guarantee at some point within the next five weeks.