Philadelphia 76ers: It’s time to trade Jimmy Butler

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Jimmy Butler has without a doubt improved the Philadelphia 76ers, but at what cost? Find out why the Sixers must trade him now.

The Philadelphia 76ers are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings shortly after the midway point of the season. With a record of 32-17, they sit just 3.5 games behind the first place Milwaukee Bucks, a marked improvement over their 25-24 record at this point last season. This year’s version is more talented than last year’s team with the addition of Jimmy Butler, and while the team has played well, there’s reason to believe that they’re only going to get better as the playoffs near.

And yet, despite all that, the time is now for the Sixers to trade Jimmy Butler.

It’s no secret that Butler has had a tumultuous past in the NBA. His competitiveness and desire to win is evident, but the Sixers are Butler’s third NBA team in his eight-year career.  Each of his two previous stops ended in trade, which is quite a remarkable feat for a four-time All-Star playing in the prime of his career.

Butler, who was drafted by the Bulls with the No. 30 pick in the 2011 NBA draft, spent his first six seasons in Chicago before being traded to the Timberwolves where his welcome lasted one year and change. Butler’s fiery nature is the driving force for his success. Unfortunately, it’s also been the demise at each of his stops.

Where there’s smoke, there’s often fire. With the Sixers, Butler may have already stroked the match.

In an early January report by ESPN NBA insiders Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne, news surfaced that Butler had already “aggressively challenged” Sixers coach Brett Brown on his role in the offense. Butler, who can opt out of his contract at season’s end, apparently isn’t overly eager to continue playing with the Sixers beyond this campaign, according to Shelburne. While serving as a guest on The Hoop Collective Show Podcast with Brian Windhorst (via ESPN Podcasts), Shelburne – a very connected and well-regarded reporter – assessed:

"“If I were guessing my [opinion], if I were just predicting, I would say the most likely thing is that Jimmy does not re-sign long-term in Philadelphia.”"

Fast forward two weeks to the present day, and now there’s speculation that Butler is on “thin ice” with the team. While appearing on ESPN writer Zach Lowe’s latest podcast, long-time NBA columnist Jackie MacMullan opined:

"“I think he’s on thin ice. And I think he’s a very talented player and no one has ever called him soft either. He’s a very tough player. On paper, he would be exactly what you’d want on a team. He’s not a selfish player; I would never say that about him. He defends, boy does he defend. He gets at it. He makes good decisions on the offensive end of the floor. I don’t know him well enough to know – is it real or is it bravado – this whole idea that I’m going to take everyone on.”"

That cloud you see beginning to hover around the Sixers facility is smoke billowing.

With Jimmy Butler, the Sixers have real potential to compete for the Eastern Conference title this spring. As imperfect of a fit, as he, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons may be on the court, when the trio play together, the Sixers are a formidable opponent to any of the league’s elite. And who’s to say Butler will decide to leave via free agency at season’s end? Truth is he could stay. Truth is the Sixers could – and likely will – add another perimeter player to the mix that helps strengthen this year’s rotation, whether it be from a trade or the buyout market.

Either way, none of those is worth keeping the troublesome Butler around long enough to find out.

More from Philadelphia 76ers

If general manager Elton Brand and Butler agree on a long-term deal, how long will it be until there’s another blowup and Butler demands a trade? Time has shown he will. Save that money and invest it in a player that wants to be a part of a team – not apart from it – no matter how talented he is.

When the Sixers acquired Butler, they gave up two very talented young players in the hard-nosed Dario Saric and premier 3-and-D winger Robert Covington, both of whom are under contract on team-friendly deals for several years. If the speculation is true that Butler won’t re-sign with the Sixers this offseason, then the team will have essentially given away two quality assets for nothing. That is, of course, unless the Sixers trade him.

The Sixers are building a winning program based on culture, and for five years Brett Brown did just that with relative ease. However, since Butler’s arrival, Embiid has criticized his role in the offense, the relationship compatibility between Simmons and Embiid has garnered more scrutiny, and there have even been whispers in league circles about trading Simmons due to the poor fit alongside Butler, which would be a terrible mistake.

The team’s “program,” as Brown alludes, has become more like a reality-TV show, one in which even Kendall Jenner appears courtside. (She is, of course, the on-again-off-again girlfriend of Ben Simmons.) The Sixers organization is no stranger to odd storylines (see Markelle Fultz, Bryan Colangelo’s Twittergate, and even Sam Hinkie essentially being ousted by the league office). Even through these instances, the positive culture surrounding Coach Brown’s program was impermeable – that is until Jimmy Butler’s hostile personality became entrenched in the middle.

Before being traded to the Sixers, rumors circulated that the Timberwolves were engaged in trade talks with the Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers for Butler’s services. While it’s unclear if these teams would still be interested in acquiring the four-time All-Star, Brand and the Sixers would be wise to find out.

Maybe the Sixers win the championship with Butler. Perhaps they don’t. Perhaps he re-signs and, quoting former Sixer and NBA Hall of Famer Allen Iverson; everything will be peaches and cream. But more likely than not, those are just fallacies. It’s not worth the risk of waiting to find out and getting nothing in return. For the betterment of the organization long-term, the Sixers need to trade Butler and get something in return while they still have the chance. That chance expires on February 7 at 3pm EST.

Next. Landry Shamet is a better Belinelli than Marco Belinelli. dark

Meanwhile, that ticking noise you hear is not a clock. It’s Jimmy Butler’s fuse. For the sake of the Sixers’ culture, hopefully, it doesn’t blow on their watch.