Philadelphia 76ers: Philly should go all-in on disgruntled Jimmy Butler

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

After reportedly turning down a four-year, $110 million extension, the Philadelphia 76ers should make an offer on troubled All-Star Jimmy Butler.

Following weeks and weeks of speculation the Philadelphia 76ers may finally have a chance to secure a star player moving forward, only it may not be the star player most people expected.

That’s right, as many Philly fans still hold out hope that Kawhi Leonard will somehow find his way to the 215 at some point during the 2018-2019 NBA calendar year, the Jimmy ButlerTimberwolves situation just took an unlikely turn that couldn’t make his exit from Minnesota all but guaranteed.

A few weeks back we reported on Butler allegedly being fed up with his current team and their star center, Karl-Anthony Towns‘ nonchalant attitude (which you can read about here), but up until today that was nothing more than speculation. However, if new reports from the city are any indication, it looks like that divide may be all too real.

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In a move that’s mildly surprising to those outside of the situation, Butler has turned down a deal worth reportedly $110 million over four-years and firmly intends to play elsewhere in 2019 when he will be an unrestricted free agent.

Though this does bear a striking resemblance to the current Spurs-Leonard situation, the intricacies of Butler’s situation give him much more power in this case.

When Butler was traded to the Wolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the 2017 first round pick that would eventually become Lauri Markkanen, he was in the middle of a five-year, $92 million deal that he signed under Tom Thibodeau when he was still the Bulls head coach back in 2015. Because Butler’s contract has a player option for the 2019-2020 season, he will essentially become an unrestricted free agent next June, able to sign with whatever team he’d like. Though the Timberwolves do technically have the ability to offer him a super-max deal, something that no other team in the league can, their current four-year, non-max offer effectively proves that they don’t believe Butler is a cornerstone player. While we can argue whether or not a player like Butler actually deserves a max contract, this without a doubt was the straw that broke the camel’s back and it appears incredibly unlikely that Butler will wear a Timberwolves Jersey after the 2018-2019 season if he even suits up in one this fall.

To put it simply: the Timberwolves effectively traded away a sizable portion of their assets to acquire a player like Butler and while he has played well for them, if he were to walk after his contract expires it would leave major egg on the franchise’s face. While it may not be a popular decision in Minnesota, it looks like Jimmy Butler has effectively forced the team to trade him.

Which brings us to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Though Leonard may remain the apple of many Philly fans’ eyes, he is far from a perfect fit with the team both on and off the field and is reportedly going to cost much more than the current package the team is offering: Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and two future firsts. This, when coupled with Leonard’s recent volatility and very public desire to play on the west coast could make giving up big assets for a one-year rental a very risky move for the Sixers.

Butler, on the other hand, has much more leverage in his negotiation.

Because he’s unlikely to sign a max contract next offseason, either a hometown five-year or an open market four-year, Butler is much more likely to take his talents to a team with a winning culture, like, say, the Spurs. After toiling away on a pair of Thibodeau coached non-contenders in Chicago and Minnesota, Butler may be willing to take a slight discount to join a team interested in winning, a team like the Sixers.

And from a purely basketball standpoint, a move to acquire Butler actually makes sense.

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Though he’s far from a transcendent 3-point shooter, having only averaged over 35 percent of his ball from deep over the last four seasons, Butler very well may be one of the top-three wing defenders in the entire league, capable of shutting down players 1-5 anywhere on the court. This flexibility is obviously nice, but Butler’s work ethic is what could really in endear him into the hearts of Philly fans worldwide.

After being selected 30th overall in the 2011 NBA draft following a three-year career at Marquette, Butler tirelessly worked his way up from a fringe player to a legitimate NBA star worthy of a big-time deal. Unlike a player like Leonard, who sat out all but seven games due to a thigh bruise, Butler is on the outs with his team because he feels as though his teammates aren’t working hard enough in their pursuit of a championship and wants to join a team all in on postseason success.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the definition of ‘Philly Tough’ to me.

While it would likely cost a similar package to what Philly is offering the Spurs now for Kawhi, let’s say Saric, Covington, and the 2021 unprotected Miami pick, it appears Philly has already crafted the roster in a way to effectively ease said transition should they lose both of their starting forwards.

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A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on what Wilson Chandler‘s role on the team would be in 2018, and whether he would supplement Covington in the starting five, or be a nice complement in the second unit (read more here), and one of the major takeaways of the piece was that a team typically doesn’t give starting-caliber money to a starting-caliber forward only to have him come off the bench. Though this may very well be what happens with Chandler going into the regular season, if the team were to trade Saric and Covington it’s totally within the realm of possibility to imagine Chandler and Butler sliding in at power and small forward respectively, effectively shifting the team starting five in the process. With Ben Simmons effectively a power forward on the defensive end of the court anyway, often perched under the basket to use his plus-athleticism as a shot blocker, the addition of Chandler and Butler would effectively allow Brett Brown to place Butler on the opposing team’s best guard defensively, with Chandler taking on the team’s small forward. While Chandler isn’t an NBA All-Defense caliber player like Covington, the combination of Butler and Chandler is certainly better than Saric and Covington when paired with Simmons.

This flexibility would also be apparent on the offensive end of the court. Though Chandler and Butler are far less effective outside shooters than Covington and Saric, they are both proven vets who will surely be much less erratic from game to game. After watching Covington average over 40 percent from the 3-point line one month and sub-30 the next, swapping out his hot and cold offense for some veteran consistency, while also bolstering the team’s calling card defense should amount to a plus-sum gain overall.

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Though it will surely look bad on Thibodeau to lose out on his former pupil after explicitly trading away some of his team’s best assets to acquire him, it would look even worse to lose Butler to free agency for nothing, severely weakening the team moving forward. While a package of Covington, Saric and Miami‘s unprotected 2021 first round pick may not be the most attractive offer on the surface or one that would be universally applauded by the Wolves’ fan base, it would effectively swap out one departing star for two starters who play good defense, and give the team a future lottery pick to play with down the road, very similar to what the Indiana Pacers accepted for Paul George only one summer ago. While only time will tell if the Philadelphia 76ers actually make a move to acquiring the four-time All-Star guard/forward, his addition could without a doubt help Brown’s squad out both in the regular season and as they attempt to dethrone Boston as the best team in the Eastern Conference.