Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Butler has requested a trade, but Sixers should avoid

Spike Eskin
September 19, 2018 - 1:17 pm
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In Philadelphia...

To compete for a championship, the Sixers need a third star, preferably a wing player who can get his own shot, to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

And in Minnesota…

Jimmy Butler, on the last year of his deal, appears to be unhappy with the Timberwolves, and has reportedly requested a trade. 

Perfect match, right? No.

Related: Report: Fultz shooting 3's off dribble, but not off catch

Elton Brand’s first job as Sixers general manager should be to not acquire Jimmy Butler. 

Jimmy Butler, while a very good NBA player who happens to play the position that the Sixers need, is not a good fit in Philadelphia. If I were Elton and the group of front office executives who are collaborating to run this team, I would say thanks, but no thanks.

Butler will be 30 when he starts the first year of his new contract, which will likely be north of $30 million per year. While that’s only slightly past prime age for an NBA player, it’s way past prime age for an NBA player who has spent the majority of his career playing for the overrated, careless, Tom Thibodeau. While the rest of the league is finding ways to get players extra days off and fewer minutes per game, good old Thibs is banking on his seven-man rotation to effectively zig while the rest of the league zags.

Luol Deng, who played a good portion of his career for Thibodeau, saw his productivity fall off a cliff when he turned 31. He went from All-Star level to basically unplayable almost overnight. Joakim Noah also saw his value on the court drop precipitously when he turned 30. Butler has played fewer minutes than both of those guys at similar points in their careers, but 30 years old is 30 years old. Take it from a guy who was once 30 years old.

Let’s also not forget that part of the reason that Butler has played so many fewer minutes is because he’s missed so many games. In his seven years in the NBA, Butler has played more than 67 games just twice. This is not the sort of guy you hand a big contract to.

While calling Butler a malcontent might be a little harsh, it’s not all-together wrong. From issues with Derrick Rose, to issues with former coach Fred Hoiberg, to clashes with young players in Chicago. Remember when Scottie Pippen said he disrespected his teammates, head coach and assistant coaches? And now, in Minneapolis, he appears to have worn out his welcome in just one season.

I wonder how Ben Simmons will feel the first time Jimmy Butler expresses his opinion that he should be the point guard? Or when Butler doesn’t like that Embiid gets more attention, or touches, than he does.

It’s simple to cast Butler’s problems everywhere he’s been, with every group of teammates he’s had, as a reflection of his insatiable desire to win. That’s how he casts it. But that’s not what leaders do. Leaders don’t turn their teammates away from them by demanding they work as hard as they do, they inspire them to do so. Leaders bring out the best in their teammates. If you give me a choice of who will be the dominant voice in the Sixers locker room, I’m picking Joel Embiid over Jimmy Butler any day of the week.

Butler is a skilled, two-way player who helps his team win games, but wherever he goes, it seems quite obvious he wants to be the focal point of the offense. He won’t be that in Philadelphia, where he’d likely be third in line for touches to Simmons and Embiid.

The Sixers are in a tough spot. Their previous general manager did nothing but overpay veterans and give away young players and draft picks for more average veterans. He did so in the name of “not screwing anything up,” and keeping cap space clear for a 2018 free-agency summer in which their prized possession had no intention of coming here.

Still, it’s important they wait for Mr. Right, and don’t settle for Mr. Right Now.