On October 25 Adrian Wojnarowski announced that the Houston Rockets had offered four first round picks for the services of Jimmy Butler. Those talks have waned, but the Rockets are expected to make another run at the disgruntled guard. Much talk has been about how Butler could, and would, improve the Rockets but it is Philadelphia who should be going all out to convince Tom Thibodeau to part with four time NBA All-Star.
The Philadelphia 76ers were, at the very least, interested in trading for Butler earlier in the summer. Reports suggested Thibodeau wanted Ben Simmons in return, something the 76ers couldn’t possibly have entertained. Since then much has happened. Butler has done his utmost to force an exit. He has publicly embarrassed his coach and the team’s franchise player in Karl-Anthony Towns. Philadelphia on the other hand have stalled to start the season and sit at 4-3. This only makes a trade all the more probable.
Butler’s stats speak for themselves. He is averaging 21 points, five rebounds and three assists per game through the first five games of the year. He is also averaging career highs in field goal and true shooting percentage while his usage rate is at a four-year low. In short, Butler is being as efficient as he has ever been.
Butler has played most of his career, particularly at Minnesota, as a ball dominant guard. We all know how it ended when Fred Hoiberg brought in Rajon Rondo to handle the teams offense in Chicago, Butler didn’t react well. However there are signs that Butler can be more than effective working off the ball. And enough evidence to suggest he would not necessarily clash with Simmons. Last season, he shot an impressive 38.9 percent from three on catch and shoot situations. This season he is shooting the ball within the first two seconds of his possession on 38.6 percent of attempts, proving he is moving away from the isolation scorer he has been in the past.
Far away from all the stats, Butler passes the eye test. He plays with a toughness which will only inspire the likes the Joel Embiid and Simmons. Embiid has been crying out for a pick and roll partner and Butler can be just that. The 6’8” wing would add an extra dimension to the 76ers offense, which should improve a team who are ranked 20th in offensive rating. With Butler the Timberwolves had a top five offense in the league. If he’d stayed healthy all year Minnesota would have won a projected 51 games, enough to be third seed in the West.
Butler would improve pretty much every team in the league, so why should it be Philadelphia who trade for him? The 76ers have regressed this year, while they have seen teams around them improve. The Toronto Raptors added Kawhi Leonard, the Boston Celtics have got Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back, the Milwaukee Bucks have seen what it’s like to have a great coach in Mike Budenhozer, and even the Detroit Pistons have looked much improved under their new coach Dwane Casey. It’s not necessarily that the 76ers have regressed in personnel, but in this league if you fail to improve then you will fall behind.
Therefore, the most important reason they need to trade for Butler is that Philadelphia needs another star. It is becoming increasingly obvious that Markelle Fultz, the former number one pick, is not the answer. Simmons is a generational talent who plays the same position and Fultz has not convinced anyone that he can fit with this team. He is still only 20-years-old but he’s in the wrong situation. His minutes have increased this year but that hasn’t been reflected equally in terms of production. His usage rate, along with assists, has decreased.
The 76ers have struggled to find any balance on offense with Fultz and still haven’t found a way to incorporate him in the half-court. This team needs a third star and Butler is the best one available.
It is possible that the 76ers could decide to effectively sit out this year. After picking up their options on Fultz and Simmons they project to have approximately $43 million in cap space next summer. This is enough to make a run at one of the many stars available. They would surely demand meetings with Leonard, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and also Butler should they not trade for him. Maybe if they try hard enough, they could convince one of them to sign. However the salary cap increases next year and there will be a host of teams in play for these players and sadly for Philadelphia, some from much bigger markets. The 76ers can’t rely on bringing another star in through free agency. Similar to Toronto, their best chance is to add a star is to trade for one and convince them to stay.
Now, in all honesty I don’t know whether Thibodeau gives up Butler at any costs. You can argue his job is reliant on Butler – he doesn’t like to negotiate and anything less than getting a player of equal value could spell the end of his tenure. However should he wake up and smell the coffee, and the 76ers should offer anything it takes to make that leap. Butler may be the difference between a second round exit for Philadelphia and a Conference Finals appearance, at the very least.
Featured photo – via USA Today Sports / Double Clutch illustration